Closing, consolidating and relocating

Scrutinizing the brewery venues that closed in San Diego County over the past year

In the past year, 17 brewing facilities and brewery-owned venues in San Diego County have closed. At first blush, that may come across as a large number. While it’s not insignificant, it’s only slightly higher than the 13 breweries and tasting rooms that closed the year prior. And, as detailed below, that statistic is not as alarming as it appears on its surface.

Out of the beer biz

While the locations that shuttered register in double digits, only a half-dozen brewing companies went out of business. The longest-tenured of them was Bay Bridge Brewing, a 16-year-old concern operating out of an industrial park in Chula Vista. More surprising to local beer fans than the business’s sudden closing last November was the fact it had lasted so long, as it had made few updates and done little marketing since opening in 2006. Despite being the South Bay’s longest-running beermaking concern, Bay Bridge was little-known outside of — or even within — its home city. This is a common thread among this year’s closure class.

A longtime fixture on the north end of downtown Escondido‘s main drag, Plan 9 Alehouse, celebrated its 10-year anniversary in June, then quietly closed its doors. It was one of the county’s smallest brewing operations and known more as a quirky, sci-fi-themed spot to get a good meal than a beer producer.

The following month, the only brewery Lemon Grove had ever known, 13 Point Brewing, shut down after four years. The business was well-received when it opened in 2019, but operating almost exclusively under the shadow of a global pandemic impacted the business’s ability to cultivate a broad enough customer base to keep going.

Of the companies that permanently exited the industry, only a pair were more widely distributed and known outside their home bases. One was Bitter Brothers Brewing, a 7-year-old Bay Ho operation that had begun to see popularity and sales drop ahead of the pandemic and made up for revenue shortfalls by contract-brewing for other brewing companies. They never officially announced their closure, but another brewing interest has since taken over their facility and is producing its beer there.

Unlike the above companies, 4-year-old Attitude Brewing was well-known, but for the wrong reasons. Despite an impressive win for one of its hazy IPAs at a prestigious international brewing competition, the World Beer Cup, the Barrio Logan-based business was unable to find success or overcome a negative reputation among industry contemporaries, nor skirmishes with its distributor, landlord and contractors. Last month, ownership threw in the towel after an unsuccessful attempt to sell the business.

The county’s most recent closure came a month ago when Pacific Islander Beer Co., a Santee business simultaneously celebrating beer and culture, shut down after eight years. In doing so, founder Ku’uipoaloha Lawler cited ballooning operating costs including rent, which doubled in 2023, leading to the decision to close the brewery despite it being well-patronized.

Oceanside’s Breakwater Brewing (pictured above and below) can relate. Though still open, ownership has announced the brewpub’s closure is imminent even though it cannot provide an exact date. The Breakwater’s landlord has notified them their Coast Highway space and neighboring businesses will be razed to make room for a city of Oceanside redevelopment project. Fortunately, Breakwater is a tenant at CoLab Public House, a Vista beverage collective where they operate a retail counter and share a brewhouse and cellar space with Barrel & Stave Brewing and Laguna Beer Co., allowing them to stay in business and potentially benefit from lower operating costs brought about by consolidation.

Breakwater Brewing in Oceanside
Photo: Meg McLaughlin

Pulling back

Consolidation is an avenue being explored by brewing companies facing a shrinking market and greater competition at retail than ever before.

Following its purchase of Ballast Point Brewing in 2019, Chicago-based Kings & Convicts Brewing moved its headquarters to its acquired concern’s Miramar production facility. In January 2022, Kings & Convicts took over the Miramar brewery and Leucadia tasting room left vacant by Saint Archer Brewing following its parent corporation, MolsonCoors, discontinuing the underperforming brand.

Both were rebranded and used to produce and vend Kings & Convicts beers, but less than a year later, with their leases coming to an end, the company was ready to offload them and moved out to make room for new tenants.

Kings & Convicts now manufactures its beers at Ballast Point’s headquarters. Their former tasting room is now operated by Miramar-based Duck Foot Brewing, which opened the location under their flag in March, while growing North Park interest, Fall Brewing, now operates the brewery and the tasting room, which opened to the public last month.

In 2021, 6-year-old Rouleur Brewing was eager to expand beyond its Carlsbad home base. Wanting to have a presence in San Diego proper, owner Rawley Macias took over a corner spot abutting the North Park entertainment venue, The Observatory, and bar-and-restaurant, West Coast Tavern. A year in, seeing less overflow patronage from those businesses and North Park residents, Macias opted to surrender the spot as part of an overarching strategic move to decrease production to meet current demand versus chasing growth he says simply isn’t there at present.

Elsewhere, rather than extending the lease at the Vista facility where it opened in 2017, Ebullition Brew Works, opted to move out and contract-brew its beers at another brewery to support its remaining location, a bar-and-restaurant in Carlsbad’s Bressi Ranch development. And in April, Denmark-based brewing interest, Mikkeller, completed its exit from the U.S. by closing its 5-year-old taproom in downtown San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood. That closure followed the company’s 2022 shuttering of the Miramar facility where it had operated offshoot Mikkeller Brewing San Diego since 2015.

Moving on, moving in

Some venue closures aren’t a case of “see you” so much as “see you later …elsewhere.” Four companies — California Wild Ales (CWA), The Lost Abbey, Piston Pete’s Brewery, and Rincon Reservation Road Brewery (3R Brewery) — moved out of locations in Sorrento Valley, Vista, San Marcos, and Ocean Beach, respectively, to relocate.

Known for its barrel-aged sour and wild ales, CWA has since moved into a space in Point Loma that it shares with Five Star Fish Processing. Similarly, The Lost Abbey is now a tenant of Vista’s Mother Earth Brew Co., where it shares production and administrative space and is constructing its own tasting room. Piston Pete’s is now in San Marcos, while 3R Brewery has transitioned to a not-yet-announced tasting room space it found superior to its previous OB location thanks to an on-site kitchen that spot lacked.

The county’s brewery closures have been balanced out by the opening of additional locations from veteran operations, including Harland Brewing‘s South Park bar-and-restaurant, Mission Brewing’s Kensington taproom, and North Park Beer Co.’s kitchen-equipped Bankers Hill satellite, as well as the arrival of new brewing companies such as Barley & Sword Brewing, InZane Brewing, and GOAL. Brewing. The latter debuted last month in a lease-to-brew spot at North Park’s CRAFT by Brewery Igniter facility, which it subleases from now-shuttered Attitude Brewing.

Breweries and tasting rooms left vacant by other companies have become hot real estate. Most are snatched up immediately after—or even before—a brewing company makes their exit. Case in point, Oceanside-based Black Plague Brewing now operates Rouleur’s former North Park taproom, Chula Vista’s Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing has opened in Mikkeller’s Little Italy spot, and Pizza Port Brewing has taken over The Lost Abbey’s San Marcos facility.

Countywide closures

These are the brewery-owned venues that have closed in the county in the past year. Six of these brewing companies have shuttered permanently (indicated by an asterisk).

  • 13 Point Brewing – Lemon Grove *
  • Amplified Aleworks – East Village (consolidating)
  • Attitude Brewing – Barrio Logan, Chula Vista, North Park *
  • Bay Bridge Brewing – Chula Vista *
  • Bitter Brothers Brewing – Bay Ho *
  • Breakwater Brewing – Oceanside (pending, consolidating)
  • California Wild Ales – Sorrento Valley (relocating)
  • Ebullition Brewing – Vista
  • Kings & Convicts Brewing – Miramar, Leucadia (consolidating)
  • The Lost Abbey – San Marcos (relocating)
  • Mikkeller Brewing San Diego – Miramar, Little Italy
  • Pacific Islander Beer Co. – Santee *
  • Plan 9 Alehouse – Escondido *
  • Rincon Reservation Road Brewery – Ocean Beach (relocating)
  • Rouleur Brewing – North Park (consolidating)

A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the September 6, 2023 edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune

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