Amplified Ale Works Plugs Into East Village
The brewery’s third major location includes a full bar, a coffee shop, and an upcoming sour facility
I’ve been a fan of Amplified’s beers since they started pouring them at their Kabob House restaurant in Pacific Beach. That was 2012, and the first beers they made were brewed on a tiny three-barrel system set inside what was basically a closet. When I first visited, I think they only had two of their own beers on tap, but their delicious Bier de Garde—with its tropical and bubblegum aromas and beautiful bready, raisiny flavors—made an impression on me. I thought, If all of Amplified’s beers turn out to be as good as their Bier de Garde, they will have a bright future.
Fast-forward six years and it becomes obvious that Amplified is doing just fine in the world of San Diego beer. Not only have they expanded their presence at the Pacific Beach location by adding Backstage Beer Lounge—a tasting room and event space that hosts live music and other shows—directly below the restaurant this April, they also opened a seven-barrel brewhouse and tasting room in Miramar in 2015, which has been expanded with more tanks. Also this year, Amplified took over a freestanding building on 14th Street and Island Avenue downtown (formerly Halcyon) and transformed it into its largest restaurant and tasting facility yet.
There’s lots of cool new stuff that comes with the downtown spot, including proximity to Petco Park, an expansive outdoor patio that overlooks an urban green space, a coffee venue, a big, bright tasting room with a full kitchen, a brick oven, guest taps, and a full bar.
In addition to making particularly good beer, the folks at Amplified have worked hard to make their tasting rooms and brewery spaces about more than just sitting and sipping. Their fondness for combining beer with other things—music, food, coffee, cocktails—serves them well; it makes their spaces unique, interesting, and welcoming. The East Village spot, in particular, has enabled Amplified to combine a whole bunch of their favorite elements in one place, making it, in their eyes, an almost perfect location. Cofounder Alex Pierson knew 14th and Island was a good fit right from the start. “Interestingly, we looked at this space seven years ago, before we even landed on Pacific Beach,” he explains. “We looked at it when this was just a shell of a building. We knew it was still a little early in the neighborhood back then—it’s still a little early—but this is a much better time. We’ve kind of gone full circle on this.”
The Amplified team sees lots of parallels between the downtown space and what they built in PB. Both feature beer gardens, small-batch fermentation capability, and full kitchens, for example. “We were looking to find a similar location to PB for a while,” Alex says. “The physical layout of East Village is similar to PB, and—just as we did in PB—we’ve moved into a neighborhood where we can become a community hub, which is what we like to do.”
The downtown location is also set in the middle of a burgeoning area that will see major growth in the next few years. Only blocks from the Pinnacle, Icon, Shift, and Alexan residential towers, Amplified predicts their new neighborhood will see about 7,000 people move into the neighborhood within the next two years. In addition to the residential boom, major development is slotted for 14th Street. By 2020 or 2021, the city plans to convert 14th into a pedestrian-only corridor that will connect a park near G Street to Ballpark Village. This new walkway will go right past Amplified at Island Avenue.
Live music and other performance events are also integral to Amplified’s vision for its locations. The new place does have a live music license, and once their Type 23 liquor license is final, it will allow them to brew on site and expand the premises four times a year, which means “activating the park” and putting on bigger, more inclusive beer-and-music events right outside their doors.
A large basement space adds yet another major dimension to the East Village digs. Here, Alex and his team plan to create a barrel aging and souring facility that they’ve dubbed “The Acid Vault.” Currently, the plan is to make wort in PB and bring it to East Village in a seven-barrel tote that fits onto a trailer. According to Alex, East Village will do some combination of primary and postprimary fermentation, and secondary fermentation in barrels. They’re also looking at the possibility of building a small foeder for mixed culture fermentation.
Most of Amplified’s beer production has historically been done on smaller systems—three-barrel or seven-barrel brewhouses. Even as they’ve expanded their tank capacity, they have remained happy with smaller-scale brewing equipment. “We like having the flexibility of a seven-barrel system,” Alex says. “It means we can do more of a variety of styles and we don’t have to commit to doing everything in big 60-barrel batches.” According to Alex, Amplified brewed about 100 styles in 2018 and completed 140 different brews. That’s a lot of variety.
The sour facility is a new component for the company, but so is the Amplified coffee shop that’s adjacent to the tasting room. “Coffee wasn’t exactly something we anticipated doing,” Alex explains, “but it was an opportunity that was here when we moved into the building.” The previous business was also a coffee shop / breakfast place, and, according to Alex, it was an important part of the neighborhood. Evidently he heard from lots of locals who really wanted to see the coffee shop stay. “We took that community feedback to heart and tried to figure out a way where we could incorporate it into the business plan,” he says. “We kind of jumped into it headfirst, but we did it.”
It’s clear from talking with him and seeing the East Village space that the new spot offers Amplified everything they want in a location. Even more than the anticipated population and economic growth taking hold in the neighborhood, this venue offers the Amplified team yet another way to become an integral part of their community and to stay focused on the needs and desires of their customers. All those aspects, along with the ability to make cool new beers and host live music, made the choice to open downtown, as Alex says, “a natural transition.”