East County brewers showcased during San Diego Beer Week

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What do you call people who compete with each other in business but spend most time alternately praising their professional counterparts’ camaraderie and extolling the family atmosphere of enterprises in their craft? You call them East County brewers.

Central hubs for multiple San Diego Beer Week events in East County included urbn st. brewing co. in El Cajon and Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Co. in Santee. (Other local breweries opted for limited events, hosting in-house specials and participating in countywide SDBW gatherings.)

What do you call people who compete with each other in business but spend most time alternately praising their professional counterparts’ camaraderie and extolling the family atmosphere of enterprises in their craft? You call them East County brewers.

Central hubs for multiple San Diego Beer Week events in East County included urbn st. brewing co. in El Cajon and Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Co. in Santee. (Other local breweries opted for limited events, hosting in-house specials and participating in countywide SDBW gatherings.)

The big fraternal event of the week, celebrated on Nov. 13, was East County Brewers Night at Oggi’s in Santee. Several lead brewers from the eastern portions of the county attended, mostly for friendly shoptalk and to briefly answer beer lovers’ questions about their respective establishments and about the state of East County craft brewing in general.

Jerry Warren, of Jamul Brewing Co., in business for about 14 months, was the newbie in the group. Warren and his partner, Ron Lerberton, built this new endeavor by piggybacking off an existing companion winery business, J. Pilar, which has been running for about five years. Warren brought along Jamul’s Steel Bridge India Pale Ale and a lovely Vanilla Bean Porter, as delicious and palate pleasing for afternoon quaffing as for an after-dinner dessert beer. He is positioning his new company for the long haul, saying he plans on the “slow approach, with grassroots support” and growing on a solid foundation “a piece at a time.” His beers, available in kegs only now, should be out in bottles by mid-2015.

Daniel Cady, head brewer with Twisted Manzanita, was enthusiastic about expanding sales internationally. He mentioned selling cans of Manzanita’s core beers in South Korea, paired with brewery merchandise.

“We are our own little pocket out here,” he said of East County.

Manzanita’s president and founder Jeff Trevaskis agreed, describing the business cycle as “nerve wracking but exciting,” with Manzanita growing its products into seven states and five countries. Trevaskis is now savoring sour beers made from IPAs as his current favorite, such as the Oh Geez v2.0, featured that night, punning on the “Oggi’s” name.

Seth Hirschenbein, craft beer manager at Oggi’s, served as host of the brewers gathering

“Tonight’s been great,” he said. “I am very pleased with the turnout of brewers, customers and beer lovers.”

Tom Paden, one of the owners at BNS Brewing & Distilling Co. of Santee was on hand, as were his brewery’s standout autumn beers Jackyl Pumpkin Pie Pale Ale and Model 1859 Märzen. He spoke with enthusiasm about his establishment’s year and a half of operations.

“Business has been good and steady,” he said, “Beer Week has featured East County’s finest. I almost wish we had Beer Month. With approaching 100 breweries in San Diego, we could do it. We are happy to be here tonight supporting Oggi’s.”

From Butcher’s Brewing, brewmaster-owner Rey Knight serves tasty brews at his Santee establishment since opening his nano-brewery’s doors in May 2013. For Thursday night, he brought along his delicious Continental Breakfast Stout and an easily drinkable session IPA dubbed Out of Step, clocking in at a mild 4.5 percent ABV. Knight assessed his business as “great,” getting bigger and upgrading with new equipment.

“I am amazed to see tonight. This is an exciting time, with East County growing so much. There were four breweries last year. Now look at this year,” he said. “I am very happy.”

Hirschenbein concurred, “East County participation in Beer Week gets bigger and stronger every year. One thing I’ve noticed that is different about this year is that breweries from Los Angeles and San Francisco are also attending.”

Earlier in the week, Oggi’s had staged a Vintage Beer Night, featuring eight barrel-aged brews. Bartenders served aged versions of the house stout, Scottish ale and IPA, alongside barrel-aged offerings from Escondido’s Stone Brewing, including Woot Stout, urbn’s saison farmhouse ale, and Twisted Manzanita’s Gillespie Brown Ale. Barrel aging, whether in fresh oak bourbon barrels or re-used wine barrels, adds complexity to well-crafted brews. And, as Hirschenbein noted, these beers are “meant to be aged.”

Grant Fraley, co-owner with his wife and head brewer of ChuckAlek from Ramona, also favors older “historical” beer styles. The business is named in homage to Fraley’s and his wife’s grandfathers, who hailed from Germany and Poland, respectively. ChuckAlek opened in January 2013 and is often mentioned by other brewers as among the best around. Fraley believes is brewery’s porters are excellent, and the Conductor Baltic Porter being poured that night was delicious and enticingly drinkable for a hefty, dark beer. He described the East County brewers as a “nice cohort” within the “critical mass” of beer businesses that bring attention to a region.

“East County is coming together to showcase East County brewers,” said Hirschenbein.

Justin Fort is a co-host on Hank Watson’s Garage Hour, which is dedicated to radio discussion of “cars, trucks, beers and guns.” Fort described San Diego County as the craft beer capital of the nation. “And this is the next wonderful San Diego beer moment,” he said.

He listed the unique features of East County that make the region an attractive location for breweries.

“East County has fewer costs, fewer regulatory hurdles,” he said. “This is a friendly environment for business, so a brewer can make a real impact sooner here than in other areas. It’s just less expensive to brew here.”

El Cajon’s newly opened urbn st. kicked off the week’s features with a November 7-8 weekend East County Tap Takeover. Highlighting the brew menu were specials from Julian Hard Cider and beers from Alpine Beer Co. ChuckAlek, Nickel Brewing, Twisted Manzanita, BNS, Butcher’s and Jamul. And urbn st. was major destination host of the Nov. 15, Hop On Hop Off Brew Bus tour around El Cajon beer-drinking establishments, while that night featuring stouts as a beer style.

Hirschenbein summed up the weeklong participation of East County, “This is the golden age of beer in San Diego County, and I am just happy to be a part of it.”

In El Cajon, urbn st. brewing can be visited at 110 N. Magnolia Avenue. When in Santee or hopping off the endpoint of the San Diego Trolley’s Green Line route, Oggi’s is footsteps away from that last stop, in Trolley Square at 9828 Mission Gorge Road.

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