Breweries are bringing a dimension to the region and further boosting the destination value of ‘Wine Country’
Friday, March 8th, 2013
Issue 10, Volume 17.
Commonly referred to as craft brewing or microbrewing, the process of creating a variety of beers in small quantities is surging in popularity. With dozens of microbreweries functioning in nearby San Diego County, several out-of-the box thinkers have opted to plant roots in our Valley.
The Brewers Association defines craft brewers as "small, independent and traditional." The starting point of most beer begins with the four simple ingredients of water, yeast, malt and hops. The quality of the primary ingredients is critical to the finished product, which is one thing the brewers can count on as the ingredients are controlled and consistent.
From that point on, the sky is the limit. By adding other ingredients, craft brewers can create a limitless range of unique and distinctive brews. Dreaming up and creating the trademark brews is the fun part of the craft.
For the wine country enthusiasts, the addition of these vibrant new options should not be seen as competition. To the contrary, these breweries bring a new dimension to the region and further boost the destination value of the Temecula Valley.
The Brewers Association also notes that craft brewers "tend to be very involved in their communities through philanthropy, product donations, volunteerism and sponsorship of events." Most people are familiar with the philanthropic and community-minded efforts of residents of this region, so there is little doubt these new businesses will feel at home and the ones already operating have experienced such a welcome.
The number of local microbreweries in the region is growing quickly, which indicates this trend is taking root. With many beer lovers developing discerning tastes, some have focused on the craft brews that are known for their exotic and original tastes.
In addition to Wiens Brewing Company and Refuge Brewery – both in Temecula – there are several others in town. One of them is Ironfire Brewing Company on Zevo Drive in Temecula. President John Maino says they offer a large variety of brews beyond their flagship beers. They range from IPAs and stouts to flavorful varieties such as Habanero Pale Ale, Cucumber Ale and Dragon Fruit Ale. He and Vice President Greg Webb met when they worked at Ballast Point brewery in San Diego. They both started there as keg washers – literally the bottom of the barrel, so to speak. After some time there as brewers, they joined forces to open Ironfire and offer "Ales for Outlaws."
Another brewery to watch is Craft Brewery in Lake Elsinore. Craft opened in 2010, making it part of the first wave of microbrewers to plant roots in the region.
"Craft takes great pride in our beers," said Kirk Medeiros, one of four partners of the firm. "They are the hallmark of who we are and that shows in the craftsmanship of our beers."
Craft’s flagship brews include Friar Bob’s Raspberry Wheat, Raven Stout, Warlock IPA, Fallen Angel Blonde and Four Headed Heff. Craft is ramping up production and its wares are distributed or served at 27 locations throughout Southern California. The company’s tasting room is open seven days a week at 530 Crane Street.
Zoning and land use regulations dictate why many breweries and tasting rooms are located in industrial areas. Brewing beer is considered manufacturing, so the breweries need to be located in areas zoned for that function. The exception is for breweries attached to a restaurant.
Stadium Pizza in Wildomar opened its microbrewery expansion, known as the Locker Room, in May 2012. The Locker Room offers 16 guest taps that offer craft brews from all over California and beyond. Two of the eatery’s taps feature the frequently-changing Stadium-brewed beers that have included Pumpkin Session Ale, Gridiron IPA and Honey Blonde, a local favorite. Owners Sandy and Rick Kordick wanted to bring something new to the community that locals would enjoy, and as a result, offer their customers "pizza with an edge." Stadium is at 32278 Clinton Keith Road, suite 101, in Wildomar.
Word on the street is that Redhawk Golf Course is also looking to launch a brewery. Keep your eyes peeled for that information to be released once it has been confirmed.
Kristine Baker has also launched the Women’s Craft Beer Collective in Temecula. With two tasting events every month, according to Baker, "the purpose of the collective is to educate women (and men) in the enjoyment and fine art of craft beer."
"We participate and strongly support the local craft breweries of the Inland Empire through tasting events at the breweries as well as engaging in the social aspects of craft beer drinking," said Baker.
Refuge Brewmaster Curt Kucera started brewing beer at home in 1987. An engineer by trade, Kucera describes craft brewing as "process-oriented," which appeals to his technical mind. The ingredients that go into the brews remain fairly constant over time, which shifts much of the focus to how the product is made.
Refuge got its name in part because Kucera and his partners wanted to create a place for their customers to escape their hectic lives. The brewery is owned and operated by Kucera, his son, Jake, and Glenn Wichert. They all live in Temecula. The brewery opened in mid-December 2012.
"Since opening, we have had steady customer growth," said Kucera in an email interview. "We have been very pleased with the reception our brewery has seen from the local Temecula area."
Craft brewing gives Kucera and his team the opportunity for creativity, and the result is the brewery’s tasty variety of Belgian-style beers.
"In particular, the popularity of our Refugee Tripel has been overwhelming," stated Kucera. "Belgian-style beers have long been a favorite of mine and it was fantastic tolearn there is such a following for them in Temecula."
The Refuge team isn’t looking for meteoric growth. It is more important to them to become part of the community and to earn the business and loyalty of regular customers.
"We’re young, very young in terms of the breweries life cycle, and we are very pleased with how the local community has embraced us," shared Kucera.
Kucera and his partners see the craft brewing industry in Temecula as a natural extension of the local wine industry. San Diego County boasts more than 80 craft breweries and it has become a Mecca for beer aficionados. The Refuge team sees this as a way to tap the craft brewing awareness in Southern California. And Temecula is a perfect fit for Refuge, Kucera says.
"The city and (its) planning department have been very supportive, and they see the same opportunities we recognized," he said.
The 16 taps in the tasting room offer eight to 10 brews flowing at any given time. Refuge will also be brewing their own root beer and sodas for those who choose not to imbibe. They will be creating seasonal brews and welcome the requests and feedback of customers.
"Brewing on this relatively small scale allows us to maintain quality at a finite level that would be increasingly difficult on a larger system. However, our five fermentors, with a capacity totaling 80bbl, allows us to maintain a variety of beers on tap all year long," states Refuge’s Web site.
Kucera hopes to develop a strong following and be recognized as a "hometown brewery." Refuge offers on-site tastings, growler fills, and would like to eventually bottle their products.
"We are just starting to distribute our products to local restaurants," shared Kucera. "Most recently, Baily’s and Public House added our taps to their already amazing line-ups."
When asked where they were headed in means of expansion, Kucera stated, "We still have plenty of capacity available to us. But with the popularity we have realized, we have hired a full-time tasting room attendant and a part-time brewing assistant."
Refuge Brewery describes itself by saying: "At the Refuge, we believe it’s important to go beyond producing outstanding ales. We strive to provide a complete brewery experience to everyone who passes though our doors. When you walk into the Refuge, you’ll be immersed in our brewery. Sitting at our hand-built concrete tasting counter, you’re only feet away from our equipment, where our knowledgeable staff will be happy to explain the art of brewing or to take you for a walking tour. With the feel of warm woods and slate contrasting with the cool concrete and stainless steel finishes, we know you’ll find refuge over a glass of great ale."
Refuge is located at 43040 Rancho Way in Temecula. They can be found at www.refugebrewery.com.
Wiens Brewing Company
The Wiens family may be best known for the "Big Reds" at their Rancho California Road winery, but that is about to change. Wiens Brewing Company opened its doors to the public on Diaz Road on Nov. 10, 2012. When asked why he opted to open a brewery, owner Dave Wiens gave a tongue-in-cheek reply.
"It takes a lot of beer to make good wine, so we figured why not make the beer, too?" he quipped.
The family has been dreaming of brewing beer for many years. About two years ago they made the decision to press ahead. That prompted the family to purchase the equipment needed and obtain the necessary building permits.
Wiens’ brother, Peter, has a degree in fermentation science from the University of California, Davis, and he has been working for Anheuser-Busch as a brewmaster. The family wanted to share their passion for beer the same way they share their passion for wine, hence their slogan "Family Craft Beer."
"Since our opening, we have been doing very well," said Peter Wiens. "Business is growing every week."
The brewery’s tasting room initially had six flowing taps, but that number is always open to growing. Some of the brews available include their Front Street Lager, Plateau Pale Ale, Old Town Amber, and any of their three IPAs – Insomnia regular, Braun brown, and Descend black, which Dave Wiens describes as "very hoppy." Seasonal offerings will include porters, red ale, and Wiensfest, an Oktoberfest-style beer.
"We have two best-seller brews," shared Peter Wiens. "They are the Insomnia IPA and the Front Street Lager. The Front Street Lager is very approachable and Insomnia has 3.2 pounds of hops which provides a lot of depth."
A new brew is always in sight with there being a new pale ale produced every four weeks.
"It’s very interesting," said Peter Wiens. "There’s always something new since we work on creating a single hops pale ale every month."
Visitors to the tasting room will enjoy tastings, pints for purchase, half-gallon growler fills and kegs available for purchase as well. Their newest addition is a line of bourbon barrel-aged beers, and these are available at the tasting room only.
Come April, Wiens’ bourbon barley-aged wine will be available for purchase at a discounted rate.
"Hopefully, we will also have barrels available," said Peter Wiens.
Wiens has high hopes for growth and wants to become known throughout Southern California and beyond. Next on the agenda for Wiens is a bottling line.
"We’re looking to have our own line of bottles and that’s very exciting for us," stated Peter Wiens.
Wiens is located at 27941 Diaz Road, Suite A, in Temecula. They can be found at wiensbrewing.com.
A common thread emerged in the interviews with many of the featured brewers. They began their journey in craft brewing at home, they are all proud of their products and excited about their prospects in the industry, and, most importantly, they are committed to being a solid piece of their communities and having fun.
Each of the breweries has extended a warm welcome to visitors and patrons and each one offers something different in atmosphere, ambiance and ale.
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