In a world that’s moving faster than ever, with our attention being pulled in so many directions, it’s easy to get caught up in the here-and-now. But we can’t know where we are going without knowing where we have been. It’s important to take time to look back and survey the landscape gracing the route that led us to where we are today for context and clues as to what may lie ahead. Such is the case with the San Diego brewing industry, a faction both revered across the country for the quality of its beers and the companies that produce them, as well as its positive impact at home and abroad.
San Diego’s brewing industry and overall beer scene didn’t spontaneously occur. It was forged over decades by thousands of entrepreneurs, craftspeople, employees and fans. And key to it all have been the brewing companies that have added their own unique spirit, personalities, motifs, influences and, of course, ales and lagers to the equation. In San Diego Beer News’ latest feature, Rear View Beer, we are taking a moment to look back and honor brewing operations that are no longer with us; companies both large and small that leant their passion, ideals and liquid wares to the local scene before exiting it. Today we remember Intergalactic Brewing with founder Alex van Horne.
Alex van Horne (pictured above, second from left) was sucked into a craft-beer wormhole while attending college in Tempe, Arizona. At the time, he lived just a few blocks from (then-independent) Four Peaks Brewing and he and his buddies began frequenting the award-winning spot. After moving home to San Diego, he was inspired to start making his own beer after a visit to Home Brew Mart, and by 2012 he was working for a nanobrewery in Miramar. When that business went under the following year, he decided to take a shot at opening his own small operation, one which would simultaneously celebrate suds and science-fiction. Going by the name Intergalactic Brewing, it was a cult-fave of members of both subcultures, who dug its cosmic vibe, movie-poster décor and beer-name references to all manner of spacy cinematic fare. Its May the Fourth events remain legendary to this day, half-a-decade after van Horne reluctantly closed the business. But he remains in the industry today and has accomplished a great deal.
What did you seek to bring the San Diego beer scene with Intergalactic?
My biggest goal was to enjoy what I did and have people enjoy our products. In that, we accomplished a lot. My brewing philosophy revolves around practical enjoyability, which to me means clean, traditional beers, often with a twist of the fantastic, but shying away from some bogus marketing-driven concoction for the sake of shock value.
How did you put your personal stamp on the business?
Our theming was always enjoyable. I love science-fiction, particularly Star Wars and Star Trek. Being able to play with that theme with pop-culture set us apart a little bit. Now, everyone and their mother makes some sort of Infinite Intergalactic Gargleblaster Double Dry-hopped Saison Cold Hazy IPA with Vegan Marshmallow Fluff, so not so different now in branding. But our devotion to quality traditional styles is still my starting point everywhere I have been and informs the beers that I create. Whenever somebody tells me that they miss Intergalactic and they loved that our menu would have a lot of depth and quality, I feel like I did my job well.
What are some of the most memorable moments for you over Intergalactic’s lifespan?
I remember in 2015 I was at my mother’s house and the results from the Los Angeles International Beer Competition came out. Intergalactic won like nine or ten awards, the most of anyone in the competition—trust me, I counted—and I ran next door to my friend Jake Collins’ (pictured above, back row center) house, since we grew up as neighbors and our folks still lived there. He happened to be home, so I got a really great high-five and maybe a hug, too. And winning the washers tournament with him at the first (and only) Beer Olympics at Societe Brewing’s fourth-anniversary event that same year was awesome. Though this is fraught with melancholy, I’ll say handing out stuff to staff and customers who wanted a little piece of something in the weeks following the brewery’s closure. I’ll never forget it. Hearing peoples’ stories about why that was their favorite beer, or how they always sat at that table, or why that movie poster always made them smile; it made me feel like I did something to impact peoples’ lives in a positive way. While it was sad to see it go, it was a reminder of all the joy that was had.
If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?
I’d be a little better on the backend with bookkeeping. I had never run a business and was completely out of my depth. Sourcing some more funding would have been ideal, too. Maybe being more aggressive in social-media content. But otherwise, even looking back now, I would still make many of the decisions I made then.
Which of your beers do you miss the most?
Our wheat beer, Shut Up Wesley Wheat. I haven’t been able to brew that one since. Other beers I love and brewed at Intergalactic I now get to brew at my new job since I run the entire beer side of the operation. So our best seller, The Cake is a Lie coffee cream ale, gets brewed a couple times a year along with our oatmeal stout, Märzen and English Bitter. All these are slightly updated recipes and have won awards for me at my current brewery.
What have you been up to the past five years?
I’m now the Head Brewer at Summer Fox Brewing in Fresno, California. My wife and I moved to Wichita, Kansas, for a little bit after we closed Intergalactic. I love brewing beer and fostering those memories and joy that the community can bring, so I hope I’ll keep going strong for years to come. I’ve also taken the role as President of the Central Valley Brewers Guild this year (and probably next year, too), and am helping build the craft-beer community here. It’s been super-exciting because this market is a lot younger with a lot of growth potential, not just in terms of business but also community. I’m excited to see it grow into something as world-class as the scene in San Diego. I think a few breweries up here would do well down there.
Do you miss San Diego and its beer scene?
I would really love to engage again with the San Diego beer community. We brought some beers down to O’Brien’s Pub a few years ago when I took the gig in Fresno, but I don’t get down there enough. So if anyone down there wants to do something together, I’d be all for it. I’ve got my brewery and the Central Valley Brewers Guild ready to work with anyone who wants an opportunity up here. A string of collabs or a cross-guild festival would be really amazing. To throw it out there, hopefully one day we can come back to San Diego and I can brew there again. Opening a new brewery is definitely a possibility with the right team, so maybe Intergalactic 2.0 will happen one day. More likely something new, but never say never.