A company doesn’t grow to include seven restaurants, two breweries, pizza and coffee brands, plus a bar and beverage distribution business south of the border by being inflexible. Grant Tondro, co-founder of 3 Local Brothers Restaurant Group (3LB), a hospitality company best known for its trio of Urge Gastropub venues in North San Diego County, knows it’s important to keep tabs on and respond to consumer desires. This is a key reason he and the brewing team at 3LB’s Mason Ale Works are flipping the script on their methodologies and portfolio.
“A very good friend told me last year that our beer ‘wasn’t generating the conversation that the other breweries are,’” says Tondro. “It was hard to hear those words, but I realize he was right. We are blessed to have some very talented brewers on our team and are capable of turning out some incredible beers, but we were so focused on making beers for ourselves that we weren’t focusing enough on what our guests really wanted. It’s not that different from having a chef who cooks for themselves instead of the people who are keeping the lights on.”
Tondro notes that, with more than 160 operating brewhouses in San Diego County—more than Arizona and Nevada combined—it takes more than solid beer to stand out. It also takes shaping product lines to match what people want. As such, director of brewery operations Ben “Shaggy” Blaney and his team are working on specialty barrel-aged beers, increasing and varying their use of adjuncts such as cacao nibs, vanilla, almonds, sea salt and coffee, and breaking into the hazy market with a Nelson Sauvin, Citra and Simcoe IPA called Peer Pressure, which was brewed collaboratively with Artifex Brewing. Tondro says Mason Ale Works will continue to produce core beers such as Jambi IPA and its Mexican lager, Respeto, which is now available in 16-ounce cans.
Mason Ale Works’ upcoming releases will include:
- March: Baker’s Dozen Maple Syrup Bourbon Barrel-Aged Barleywine with Cacao Nibs, Vanilla, Geisha Coffee & Maple Syrup, Undercover Hoperative Super Juicy Clear IPA (collaboration with Melvin Brewing)
- April: Project X Super Juicy Hazy IPA, The Duke Triple IPA (anniversary release)
- May: Cutwater Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cash Imperial Coffee Stout; Cloud Cover Hazy IPA with Sauvignon Blanc Grapes
“We recently poured our newer releases at the Zombie Fest in Las Vegas and had a line at our booth for an hour-and-a-half,” says Tondro. “We’ve even had to short our distributors’ orders while we try to keep up with the demand for beers that now seem all too obvious. We have no intention of being like every brewery out there, but we think we are in a unique position to give our guests the beers they’re looking for and build a name for ourselves along the way.”
Experimentation with hop treatments, yeast strains, wine-grape additions and barrel-aging are all ongoing at Mason Ale Works, which brews out of Urge’s brewpubs in San Marcos and Oceanside. The company brewed a total of 5,300 barrels of beer in 2018 and is aiming for 7,000 barrels this year. Tondro says if the last two months are any indication, they won’t have any problems reaching that goal.