In 2015, developer H.G. Fenton, feeling bullish about the craft-beer boom, introduced its Brewery Igniter concept, constructing a pair of leasable, ready-to-brew units in a Miramar business park. Two tenants with very different intentions—veteran Pacific Beach-based brewpub operation Amplified Ale Works and complete newcomer Pure Project Brewing—signed contracts and moved in the following year. Not long after, H.G. Fenton took over a former gentlemen’s club in North Park and converted it into a three-suite Brewery Igniter campus that attracted a pair of rookie interests—Eppig Brewing and Pariah Brewing—as well as one of the county’s oldest fermentation ops, San Diego Brewing. With those spaces filled, H.G. Fenton built its third Brewery Igniter in Carlsbad—a twin-unit business-park spot similar to the original—attracting two new companies, Rouleur Brewing and Wiseguy Brewing.
With Brewery Igniter’s first tenant, Pure Project, about to celebrate three years in business, this seems a good time to revisit this model, which was foreseen as a path to entry and means for proof of concept for new brands, but has also been utilized as a method for increasing production for brewpubs with manufacturing space restrictions. After all, this was a concept that was new to San Diego, and many wondered if it had legs. As time went by and tenants began griping about the cash-intensive nature of the model or backing out of their contracts altogether (San Diego Brewing retreated in December 2017, while Wiseguy proactively bowed out after less than six months of unpromising returns three months prior), doubt about the viability of the Brewery Igniter option only seemed to grow. Rather than let rumors and conjecture rule the day, we consulted all of H.G. Fenton’s current brewery tenants who have been in a Brewery Igniter unit for a year or more.
First up is one of the most successful of the Brewery Igniter sect, Eppig Brewing. This resurrected family brand opened for business in November 2016 and quickly gained a solid reputation for its wares—particularly Old World lagers—which are the product of a pair of veteran brewers plucked from Ballast Point Brewing. According to owners Todd Warshaw and Stephanie Eppig, even as they were signing on with H.G. Fenton, they knew it would be essential to move out of their Brewery Igniter unit if their business proved successful.
They cite not only the North Park campus’ notoriously high-rent, but the limitations of the limited space in their 1,842-square-foot rented home. Aside from the challenges and pains of brewing “Tetris-style”, their system and cellar only allow for production of just over 1,000 barrels per year, and they can hold only eight-to-ten pallets of beer in their cold box at a time. Their stymied production capabilities have necessitated contract brewing at Miramar’s AleSmith Brewing in order to can some of their more popular brands. While a workable solution, it is not an option they wish to entertain long-term.
Considering all of the above, one may wonder why they went with Brewery Igniter in the first place. There are numerous reasons.
“Going with Brewery Igniter allowed us to open our doors during what we feel was the peak of San Diego beer versus a year later after we got our funding when we would have had to fight for attention and shelf space,” says Warshaw. “It allowed us to launch with less capital and risk, and gave us time to learn and course-correct without experiencing large-scale losses. We were allowed more trial and error and, because of that, our eventual facility will be more improved and efficient.”
“We were able to open our second location in Point Loma, thanks to the brand exposure an a successful first year in the Brewery Igniter space” adds Eppig, referring to a satellite tasting room on the waterfront. We wouldn’t be in a position to explore opportunities to relocate to a larger production facility without our second location. Plus, we lived in North Park when we opened the brewery, so there was a convenience factor for us.” The marrieds have since moved to Point Loma, allowing for engaged management of their second location, but they still spend a lot of time on the road actively seeking a larger, production-geared space that will allow them to grow and offer their brewers some relief.
Over the past two-plus years, they’ve looked all over the county, focusing on communities with lower-cost, industrial-ready spaces. This has led them to spend the majority of their time exploring North County municipalities. To date, they have worked seriously toward acquiring a dozen facilities and negotiated a pair of leases that have fallen through. Still, they remain hopeful that they will find an adequate home in the near future, while feeling thankful for the platform that Brewery Igniter provided when they needed it.