By Jen Van Tieghem
For as much of a beer mecca as San Diego County has become, La Mesa may not spring to mind for those looking for a craft brew. But while we may be a little late to the party, our neck of the woods is making up for lost time with a brand new brewery, growing tap lists around town and a forthcoming brewery restaurant.
Bolt Brewery opened in December at 8179 Center St. after a lengthy city approval process. Nestled in an industrial area just north of Interstate 8, the site has been everything from a roofing company to a military supply warehouse over the years; most recently it was basically a dump site, which left Bolt’s owners with their work cut out for them.
After approximately a year of building and brewing, they are now serving four different beers, two of which are also available on nitro taps. I recommend the Citra Pale Ale, which is refreshing with a crisp hoppiness, or their Chocolate Stout on nitro for a creamy dark treat.
Co-founder Clint Stromberg says the response for the brewery — La Mesa’s first — has been great, with a steady stream of visitors, a private event already under their belt and food options being vetted. When I visited 15 days into their illustrious start, Stromberg noted the many customers patronizing the taco station set up for the evening.
The grounds of Bolt themselves are worth a mention. On one end, beer brews in vats inside a Quonset hut. On the other end, the taps and bar area are built into a converted shipping container. The unique set up is an homage to the industrial roots of the area surrounding the brewery. The landscaped patio between the two landmarks is clean and attractive with a few plants and a natural flow for drinkers to make their way from the serving area to a seat.
At least 50 drinkers made use of the various seating options, all outdoor, on the late Friday evening I visited. The clientele included groups of 30-somethings, families with children and solo beer drinkers who welcomed a taco plate pairing. The long wooden tables encouraged groups to mesh together and the buzz of conversation made it clear that folks were making friends.
As they find their footing, Bolt’s owners plan to include a food option six nights a week with a regular rotation of vendors so visitors will know what to expect. The brewery has a strong social media presence, which they started before opening, and their Facebook page is updated daily.
While Bolt is the only La Mesa brewery at the moment, they won’t be lonely for long. Rumors of several other brewery projects have swirled, and at least one seems to be on its way.
The shopping center at Fletcher Parkway and Dallas Street — which currently includes Souplantation, Michaels, the recently closed Parkway Bar and other businesses — will become home to Depot Springs Beer Company by fall 2015 if everything goes according to the owners’ plans. Their website shows renderings of a 20,000-square-foot property to include a brewery, restaurant and a courtyard for live entertainment. The restaurant will serve Depot Springs’ own brews as well as other local favorites, according to news reports.
Another addition that will tap into the market of beer lovers in La Mesa (and beyond) a bit sooner is Craft Kitchen at 4253 Palm Ave. The beer-centric restaurant is slated to open in mid- to late-January with 30 taps and a food menu to match the brews. Owners Randy and Dena Shamoo also own Palm Springs Liquor just a block away. The store was opened by Randy’s family 22 years ago and recently has gained a reputation for its diverse and robust selection of both local and national craft beers.
“[At Craft Kitchen] we will definitely have a strong San Diego presence on our line with beers from our local brewers such as Bolt, El Cajon and Jamul Brewing (and more),” said owner Dena Shamoo, who will also manage the restaurant. “With both my husband and I being born and raised in San Diego, it’s important to us that we support our fellow San Diegans both at Palm Springs Liquor and Craft Kitchen.”
Dena gave me a tour of what will become a restaurant with walk-up counter for food and seating to accommodate just shy of 50 people. The building was a long-standing 7-Eleven store, but the only clue that remains of that are glass doors that now look into a large walk-in refrigerator. The taps, lines and kitchen appliances are all coming together. Flat screens will soon be mounted above the bar for game watching.
“Hopefully in time for a Super Bowl party,” Dena said.
The menu in the works will feature items meant to pair well with beer. A chef has been hired to design the offerings from fresh ingredients with sandwiches, flatbread pizza, tacos and more in the works. Dena said they plan to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
With Dena at the helm of the restaurant project, husband Randy will split his time between the new spot and the liquor store. Dena says Palm Springs Liquor has been a destination for many who visit San Diego for the beer and want to take home their favorites.
“We have definitely noticed the boom in the last five years, I would say. We have a ton of locals who come in to pick up their favorites and try the new, seasonal items, and then we have the tourists who come in with a list of beers they’ve heard of and are looking to find,” Dena said. “People will browse the store for 30 minutes to an hour, searching the beers on their smartphones, reading reviews. The craft beer boom has been a neat and interesting thing to be a part of.”
Dena says they plan to host special events at the restaurant as well including “meet the brewer” nights and “keep the glass” tastings.
Hoffer’s, at 8282 La Mesa Blvd., is another craft beer spot that utilizes themed special events and enjoys business from loyal locals. Bartenders there tapped several Christmas-themed brews on the weekend preceding the holiday. The Lost Abbey’s Merry Taj and a bourbon barrel-aged version of Port Brewing’s Santa’s Little Helper topped the most popular items served, according to bartender Carl Tickner.
Hoffer’s manager Ryan Bartman said they schedule special beer events about once a month. In early February they plan to have a night featuring barrel-aged beers, which have been successful in the past. A visit to Hoffer’s, which also specializes in cigars, will put one alongside many regular, but the bar gets its fair share of destination drinkers as well. Through the website, thirsty folks can check a frequently updated tap list before making the trek.
While these aforementioned businesses specialize in beer, another trend in La Mesa are local-driven beer lists in typical bars and restaurants. Where standard domestics once reigned, tap lists have grown to include craft beers as a whole and especially San Diego’s finest. The newly opened The Hills (8758 La Mesa Blvd.), BO-Beau Kitchen and Garden (8384 La Mesa Blvd.) in the downtown village area, and Riviera Supper Club (7777 University Ave.) are just a few destinations that cater as much to drinkers as they do foodies.
With Craft Kitchen’s impending arrival, Bolt Brewery off to a strong start and a laundry list of bars and restaurants tapping local craft brews, it seems La Mesa has caught up to the herd. While brewery tours and tourists have revered North County’s and central San Diego’s offerings up until now, it’s not hard to imagine La Mesa being next on the list for beer-loving travelers.
– Contact Jen Van Tieghem at email@example.com.