It was exactly a year ago that brewer Chris West pulled me aside at a crowded beer festival to tell me he’d be departing his then-employer Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery to take the helm as head fermenter at an upcoming and, as-of-then-unnamed, local project. That business now has a building, brewing system, beers and a name—Bay City Brewing Company (3760 Hancock Street, Point Loma). It also has an official opening date set: August 27.
Soft-opened since earlier this month, the tasting room is open for business, though admittedly not at the level it will be when the curtain goes up for real. Now is a time for getting systems in place and details down, but ownership and staff know where they’re going and what they want to be, starting with West, who is determined to “work really hard and make people happy.” Back at Monkey Paw, he enjoyed seeing patrons order the house-made Bonobos “San Diego-style” (read: HOPPY) pale ale, take a sip and, before being able to set the beer down, take another sip because they enjoyed it so much. He hopes to see that happen at his new spot, which is located on the backside of Valley View Casino Center, not far from Lomaland’s only other brewery, Modern Times Beer.
Siting Bay City Brewing in Point Loma was the plan from the start, according to co-owner Ben Dubois. He, like his partners, live in and have history in the neighborhood. Finding an industrial space that worked for a brewery model was tough, but they are happy with their location as well as the parking it provides for customers, enough that they have also leased the 2,100-square-foot space next door for the next five years.
Bay City Brewing’s future 1,200-square-foot outdoor drinking area and logo-adorned north wall is visible from Interstate 8. Inside, roughly 750 square feet of space are devoted to the tasting room, which includes a stylish, hand-crafted bar. Assisting West in the brewery beyond that L-shaped structure is Aaron Williams, a recent UCSD graduate with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Williams met West two years ago over beers at Monkey Paw, and the two formed a fast and mutual respect for one another.
Together, West and Williams have crafted an initial line-up of beers that includes a Vienna lager, stout, nitro porter, session India pale ale, San Diego-style pale ale and an experimental pale ale. That last one is a piney, mossy 5.5% ABV beer brewed with Nelson Sauvin and Columbus hops which features nice tropical fruit aromas. Future editions of the beer will change from batch-to-batch, but the initial recipe was brewed using techniques gleaned from Fall Brewing Company brewmaster Ray Astamendi, and Monkey Paw and South Park Brewing Company head brewer Cosimo Sorrentino, plus findings from discussions about hops with Half Door Brewing Company brewmaster Dan Drayne.
With a 20-barrel brewhouse double-batching into 40-barrel fermenters, Bay City Brewing’s current annual capacity is 2,400 barrels, but could be pushed to 3,500 according to West. The company projects it will sell roughly 20% of its beer at its tasting room, with the rest being kegged and sent to accounts. They also plan on doing very limited micro-bottling using friends and a trusty beer gun.
In the not-too-distant future, West and Williams will get more experimental, tackling what the former refers to as “the next frontier”—beers fermented with Brettanomyces. He says that, for the most part, many breweries have a “pitch and pray” approach to Brett beers, but he hopes to spend time learning how to consistently harness the positive attributes of these wild yeast strains then, hopefully, share that information with fellow brewers to help raise the collective tide.