It’s been three decades since Karl Strauss Brewing opened its doors in downtown San Diego. Being the oldest brewing interest in the county, one might expect stodgy adherence to “the good old days,” but over the past half decade, in particular, the company has made efforts to keep in line with today’s marketplace.
Utilizing its network of 11 brewhouses, the company consistently challenged its brewers to generate new small-batch beers, resulting in three year-round core IPAs that bubbled to the top: Aurora Hoppyalis, Isomerizer, and Mosaic IPA. Most recently, examples of “changing with the times” include the release of Boat Shoes Hazy IPA and, soon, a brut brewed in collaboration with Taylor Guitars that will debut to the public during a special event on April 26 at Karl’s Pacific Beach tasting room.
The company also bolstered its barrel-aging efforts, while expanding brewing capabilities and its distribution effort. The latter effort resulted in Karl Strauss Distributing, which delivers the company’s own beers to market, along with those of other local beverage producers. Former Stone Brewing head of sales and distribution Chad Heath was brought aboard as senior director of sales and logistics to steer that operation and is in the process of filling out Karl’s distribution portfolio. That assemblage includes beermakers Black Plague Brewing, Bitter Brothers Brewing and Anaheim’s Asylum Brewing, as well as Scripps Ranch’s Newtopia Cyder, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, and some other businesses that are currently in the works. Products from those brands are distributed throughout San Diego County, throughout Orange County and the Inland Empire, and up to the west side of Los Angeles (Malibu to Redondo Beach).
“A year-and-a-half ago, we decided to work with breweries to distribute small brands. In doing so, we want to get back to what made the public excited about craft—education and getting to know a lot about brands,” says Heath. “Our sales reps aren’t just order-takers. They actively work to educate accounts on the nuances of Karl Strauss and our distributed brands, which we are incredibly selective about.”
Part of that selectivity includes adding brands that don’t compete against each other so all can flourish. Looking at their beer brands alone, Bitter Brothers is currently riding a low-calorie ale and numerous fruited kettle-sours, Asylum is an out-of-towner with beers spanning the spectrum, and Black Plague’s fun, adventurous approach to beer separates its brews from Karl Strauss’ core line-up.
Karl Strauss has also continued to expand in San Diego and beyond at a time when few brewing companies feel bullish about the state of the industry to do so, opening brewpubs in LA, Orange, and Riverside Counties. And they’re far from done. The company has long been headquartered in two buildings at the end of Santa Fe Street on the east side of Interstate 8 in PB. One houses its production brewery, tasting room and beer garden, while the other houses administrative offices.
Karl Strauss recently took over a large building directly between the aforementioned properties, which will allow for expansion of brewing operations, dry storage, and installation of a 6,500-square-foot cold box, a big upgrade from its former 1,600 square feet of refrigeration. The building will also house a new canning line and other upgrades. Additionally, having a connected campus should allow for enhanced public events such as the company’s Changing of the Barrels anniversary soiree, and summertime Arts and Amps affairs (May 25, June 22, and July 27 this year). Its popular Collabapalooza beer festival could also find its way to PB.