Amplified Ales Turns Up the Volume
PB’s coolest brewery plugs into the Miramar beer scene
Amplified Ale Works recently opened a tasting room in Miramar. | Photo by Bruce Glassman
For years, Cy Henley toiled away, brewing on Amplified’s tiny 3 ½ barrel system in the back kitchen area of California Kabob in Pacific Beach. From the get-go, Cy was making a limited variety of truly delicious beers, but the problem was the emphasis on “limited.” And therein was the challenge: There were only so many hours in a day and so many brews he could produce on a system that small. Inevitably, the proverbial “brewer’s worst nightmare” came true: The world was clamoring for Amplified’s beers but Cy couldn’t make enough to keep up with demand. Lucky for Cy and owner Alex Pierson (and Amplified’s legion of fans), they found the Brewery Igniter project. [Brewery Igniter is a program run by the H.G. Fenton real estate company that provides fully equipped, move-in ready brewing spaces for brewers that want to make the leap from nanos or homebrewing. More in depth on Igniter in a future post…]
Finding the Brewery Igniter project happened sort of by accident. Alex and Cy ran into Mel Gordon from TapHunter while attending a beer event in Mexico. Alex told Mel that Amplified was in an “interesting place” in terms of their growth and future business needs. “We couldn’t make enough beer down at the beach, but we didn’t necessarily want to build a huge new brewery,” Alex explains. “Contracting didn’t feel right, since we wouldn’t have control, so we needed to figure out what our next step would be.” Mel suggested they look into the Brewery Igniter program and, the minute they were back stateside, that’s what they did.
Inevitably, the proverbial “brewer’s worst nightmare” came true: The world was clamoring for Amplified’s beers but Cy couldn’t make enough to keep up with demand.
Originally, the people they spoke to at H.G. Fenton explained that the program was really great for guys that want to “jump from home brewing into the big leagues,” but when Alex explained their growth goals as an established brewery, the Igniter folks agreed it was a perfect fit. Within a few weeks, the deal was done and the paperwork was signed. (Amplified was actually the first brewery to become an Igniter project, even though fellow Igniter and next-door neighbor, Pure Project, opened a few months earlier.)
Alex and Cy are thrilled with the way the Igniter program works. Essentially, H.G. Fenton builds out the entire space, equipping it to be a fully functioning brewery with a brew house, fermenters, bright tanks, a cold box—just about everything. Cy and Alex decided to add their own reverse osmosis system because they really wanted to focus on water profiling. “That’s a big part of the clarity and the quality of our beers,” Cy says.
In return for use of the space, Amplified pays an enhanced rent that includes the value of the build-out and the equipment, and they have a lease with an option to stay for up to four years. “The idea is they’re encouraging us to grow beyond the needs of this place and to grow into a larger brewing facility,” Alex says. Cy adds, “We’re already looking at other locations and trying to break out into something bigger as soon as possible. We’ve already forced more production out of the equipment and the setup than I think they expected.”
The new Miramar location. | Photo by Bruce Glassman
When the new location officially opened in May, the shiny new 7-barrel brew house had already been working for a few months. Amplified now enjoys a spiffy new tasting room and, equally important, some real room to brew. In fact, Cy now has so much room that he won’t be making wort in Pacific Beach any longer, but he will eventually start fermenting in the tanks that still remain there. In the meantime, Amplified’s enhanced capacity will enable Alex and Cy to bring finished beer over from Miramar to PB in order to keep fans at both locations well-stocked and happy.
Even though it was gratifying to have such consistent demand for their brews back in PB, constantly running out of beer (especially Electrocution, their super popular IPA) became a source of frustration for Alex and Cy. It basically took Amplified three weeks to make their IPA, but it only took an average of 10 days to sell out. “We could only average three beers on tap,” Cy says, “whereas now we have fourteen on at the beach, which is two more than we have here.” The bigger system, which enables them to offer a much wider variety to their customers in both locations, has really moved the brewery to a new level. “It’s allowed us to create a whole new platform for us to really showcase ourselves out in PB,” Alex says.
“Once we max out all our fermenters here, we’ll need to go ahead and start fermenting and using that system in PB,” Alex explains. “We’ll also be doing some one-off specialty beers that’ll be fermented over in PB. Some of those beers may make their way back here, but with only twelve taps here in Miramar, they may just stay at the beach.”
Their new brewing system offers Amplified the opportunity to really start optimizing their processes and production significantly. “It was actually quite nice for us,” Alex explains, “because everything doubled up from where we were. We used to be double-batching 3 ½-barrel batches into 7-barrel fermenters in PB and now we’re double-batching 7-barrel batches into 15-barrel fermenters. And numbers-wise it even worked out well with recipes, since everything doubled. So it was an easy transition.”
Being one of the smaller guys in the midst of a lot of the bigger guys is another huge plus. Being so close to Ballast Point, AleSmith, Saint Archer, and many others, Cy can harvest yeast from mega-batches that would otherwise be going down the drain. Every time Amplified can do this, it saves them hundreds of dollars in yeast costs.
More space is not the only benefit the Amplified team is enjoying in Miramar. The new location also means that they’ve become part of a bigger beer community overall. The PB location is somewhat isolated from lots of other breweries, which is quite different from Miramar, where there are more than a dozen breweries within ten minutes of each other. “It’s great to be in Miramar,” Alex says. “Now that we’re here, we get to see the guys from Ballast (who Cy used to work with), and the AleSmith people, and whoever else happens to be around.” Having more brewers closer has also been a boon from an operations standpoint. “The other day we needed some Belgian Abbey yeast and White Labs said it was going to be ten days out,” Alex says, “but we needed it right away. So we hit up a few people around town here and within a couple of hours we had three options.” Being one of the smaller guys in the midst of a lot of the bigger guys is another huge plus. Being so close to Ballast Point, AleSmith, Saint Archer, and many others, Cy can harvest yeast from mega-batches that would otherwise be going down the drain. Every time Amplified can do this, it saves them hundreds of dollars in yeast costs.
Doubling their production means Amplified can now focus on expanding distribution a bit, but they’re not looking to traditional channels right away. “We’re trying to get into some music venues right now,” Cy says, explaining that they hope to have a bunch of music-related accounts that would be exclusive carriers of the Amplified line. “Bottling we’ll do by hand,” Cy adds, “like some of the barrel-aged stuff, and we’re looking at potentially doing some canning runs down the road.”
Cy and Alex also look forward to getting back to some of the lagers they love doing, but those beers have been on the back burner due to the previous shortage of tank space. Now, with four 15-barrel bright tanks in Miramar alone, they’ll have the capacity to do lagers on a more regular basis—especially Sell Out Lager, which won a silver medal at the San Diego International Beer Festival. “That one made me laugh,” Cy recalls, “because it was PBR (gold), Amplified (silver), and then Busch (bronze). I was like, okay, that doesn’t hurt my feelings!”
More recently, Amplified’s Whammy Bar Wheat won a gold medal at the prestigious 2016 World Beer Cup in Philadelphia. That beer was one of the first things they brewed on the new equipment, and one of the first to benefit from their upgraded lab and analysis capacity. “It was the very first category that they announced at World Beer Cup,” Cy recalls, “and we were there. They announced the bronze and silver and we all just went…’Shit.’ And then they said ‘Gold’ and we said ‘Wha?!!’ So it was pretty cool.”
Alex and Cy are still a little giddy about their cool new operation, and they both have big plans to start doing things that were previously impossible. “I’m getting to play with barrels a lot more now,” Cy says. “I have five different Brett strains going right now with two different beers.” He recently returned from Sonoma, where he bought a bunch of wheat whiskey, rye whiskey, and bourbon barrels from Sonoma County Distilling. “We have a Bourbon Barrel Belgian Dark Strong aging in some of those now,” Cy says. The plan is to have those beers ready to release for Amplified’s fourth anniversary, which is November 3 (during Beer Week). And lots of other dreams are also in development, including an ever-expanding lab program, a rotating hop series, and a plan to do a bunch more specialty stuff. “We’re still ramping up to get there,” Alex says with a big grin, “but it’s on the horizon.”
Amplified Ale Works, Miramar Tasting Room, 9030 Kenamar Drive #309