I caught up with Tom Nickel of O’Brien’s American Pub just before things started picking up on Alpine’s Bad Boy/O’Brien’s IPA release night. We grabbed the few remaining leather chairs that litter the interior with comfort.
“Friday night was super busy,” he answers my question as to how the AleSmith Night of a Million Zillion Speedways went. “Physically getting the beer into the hands of the customer was difficult. With the line going out the door and down the block for 2oz tasters, I knew I did something right when people came up to me at the [San Diego Brewers Guild] Festival the next day and thanked me even after waiting in line.” I asked him what he would do differently. “Next year, we need more beer.”
A native San Diegan, Tom began brewing when he was 18. He couldn’t buy beer legally, so once a friend mentioned that he could make it himself, he gave home brewing a shot. Leaving for Yale out east forced him to budget his brewing time. Spring break at home he would brew for summer vacation, while he would spend all summer brewing for winter break. The cycle continued until he was continuously drinking and brewing beer during his time at home.
As a longtime player in the San Diego Craft Beer Community, Tom has perspective on what makes this a great beer town. He was the head brewer for Oggi’s, a brewer for Pizza Port Solana Beach, collaborator with Alpine on the aptly titled O’Brien’s, and an alumni worker of Home Brew Mart. While O’Brien’s is his main gig, Tom calls throwing beer festivals his hobby (see Pizza Port Carlsbad’s Belgian Beer Festival, as well as O’Brien’s Wet Hop Festival).
I asked him how this SDBW was going compared to the last. “The media has been more involved, and there has been greater interest in terms of people coming in from out of town.”
“With San Diegan breweries doing so well when craft beer only commands a small percentage of the beer drinking market, there’s high growth potential.” I pressed him further on what his thoughts were on the future of San Diego Beer. “Someone once asked me what is one thing that I like now that I will like five or ten years from now. I answered: I don’t think there’s going to be a time in my life when I won’t like Iron Maiden. Now, I would say there’s never going to be a time in my life when I won’t like Iron Maiden or craft beer.”
As the bar began to fill up, it was time for me to let the boss get back to work. Tom left me with a parting thought: “Generational beer drinkers that grow up in a community of craft beer drinkers aren’t going to trade down. If you grow up in a community of great beer, you aren’t going to drink anything else.” How lucky we are, San Diego.
O’Brien’s is heavily involved with SDBW. Check out a listing of their upcoming events by clicking here.