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Brooklyn Brewery's Beer Comes to San Diego

The East Coast icon is now on tap around town


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Beers from Brooklyn Brewery are finally available in California | Photo: Brooklyn Brewery

We just celebrated the 30th anniversary of our very own Karl Strauss, the company generally credited with starting the craft beer revolution in San Diego. Thirty years is a long time, but—on the other coast—Brooklyn Brewery was actually making craft beer about a year earlier than we were here. Perspective is a good thing.  

Doing what I do, here in our little corner of the coast, I can often lose perspective about the larger world of craft. I spend so much time around our great breweries, talking beer, tasting beer, and watching our industry flourish, that I often forget that San Diego—while great—is not the only craft beer mecca in the world. That’s why it was particularly good to sit down with Brooklyn Brewery’s founder and president, Steve Hindy, and acclaimed brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, to talk about things from the East Coast point of view, and to celebrate the fact that Brooklyn’s beers are now finally available in California.

Brooklyn Brewery is the eleventh-largest independent craft brewer in the United States; its beers are already available in 30 states and in 30 countries on five continents around the world. So, naturally, my first question for Garrett and Steve was, “What took you guys so long to get here?”

“We’ve had really good fortune exporting beer,” Steve explains, “and that was something we hadn’t planned on; it just sort of happened to us. About fifteen years ago we started to focus on the export markets and it’s really been quite a job putting it all together. Only now have we come to a point where we’re actually ready to come west. We’ve had people from California calling us for years—distributors and retailers, but we didn’t want to just send beer out here. We believe that people build brands, and we wanted to do it right.”

Garrett goes on to say, “One of the reasons we’ve done so well in Europe is that we’re always there, and people know us, and they know us personally. And we don't sell beer to strangers. So it’s taken us quite a while to put it together, but now we’re ready to be in California.”

Steve Hindy (left), Lee Chase (center) and Garrett Oliver celebrated the California launch of Brooklyn Brewery at Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights | Photo: Bruce Glassman

A large part of getting ready was putting a plan in place to significantly increase production—enough to slake the thirst of a state with 40 million people. It took many months, but Garrett and Steve made it happen. Of course, they had little work to do convincing distributors of the quality of their product; Brooklyn Brewery has a long history and has been admired by San Diego’s beer leaders for decades. Even though major respect preceded their arrival, Garrett knows it doesn’t mean Brooklyn gets a free pass. “In California, I think you always have to prove yourself, and the fact that people have been really welcoming and we feel we can come here and add something to the beer scene is very cool. Other beers don’t taste like Brooklyn Lager, or Bel Air Sour, or Sorachi Ace Saison. There are a lot of beautiful beers here in California, but Brooklyn beers taste different.” Garrett goes on to point out that the signature of a Brooklyn beer is not actually a flavor per se, but rather “balance, structure, and elegance.”

I asked Garrett if San Diego had influenced his brewing style at all. The basic answer: Not really. (Perspective!) Part of that may be because, as Steve says, “The one thing about Garrett is that he doesn’t really follow anyone. He’s always thinking independently. And he’s a creative genius, as well.”

Certainly a taste for hoppier beers has permeated the craft scene on the East Coast, but not to the extent we San Diegans would like to think. By and large, East Coasters are still big on the classic European styles. Brooklyn Lager is, after all, the flagship beer for Brooklyn Brewery. As Garrett points out, people tend to forget that it takes often takes less time to fly from New York to London than to California. “The fact that we’re actually suspended right in between the West Coast and all the great brewing capitals of Europe gives us a unique perspective. We’re so close that we have a whole different set of influences and we tend to blend what we do with influences from England, Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and even from the worlds of wine and cocktails.”

“Craft beer has got to be all about diversity and different influences,” Steve says. “There’s a big danger to be romancing only one style. That’s what it was back in the ‘bad old days,’ right? It was all light lager. The beauty of the craft beer movement is about the diversity of styles.” There’s certainly plenty of variety to choose from in the BB portfolio; they make more than 30 styles of beer, including sours, low ABV stout, Brett beers, barleywine, pilsner, IPAs, summer ale, brown ale, schwarzbier, amber lager, and dozens more.

Stone Distributing will be Brooklyn’s Southern California partner. Right now, the brewery’s Brooklyn Lager, Defender IPA, Bel Air Sour, and popular seasonal, Summer Ale, will be available on draft as well as in six-packs. A 12-can variety box, Brooklyn Mix, will also be available, in addition to Stonewall Inn IPA and Brooklyn Limited beers, which include Black Chocolate Stout and Sorachi Ace Saison.

Bel Air Sour Ale is one of four beers currently available in San Diego, along with Brooklyn Lager, Defender IPA, and the popular seasonal, Summer Ale | Photo: Brooklyn Brewery

Steve and Garrett recently embarked on a tour of great California beer spots to promote and kick off their entry into their newest markets. The first two stops on that tour were Blind Lady Ale House and Hamilton’s Tavern. I asked Lee Chase, one of the owners of Blind Lady, what Brooklyn Brewery is going to add to the San Diego scene. “I think they bring a historic take on craft beer,” Lee says. “Their long history—like from the early ’80s, bringing influences back to Brooklyn—they helped America grow up on craft beer. We had Sierra Nevada and Anchor out here to set the course for what we know about craft beer, but all the other stuff that was considered craft early on went through New York before it got out here. And then you have Brooklyn doing their thing—their takes on the classics. They’re not chasing down the flavor of the month. They’re still innovating, originating, but keeping some traditional spins on it. I’m not a big fan of using the candy aisle at 7-Eleven for ingredient choices, and Brooklyn does things with more of a nod to tradition and a tip of the hat to history, all while making really nice beer.”

Scot Blair, owner of Hamilton’s, also feels that the San Diego beer scene will be enriched by the addition of Garrett Oliver’s beers to the mix. “Garrett is a true iconoclast,” Scot says. “He loves all things delicious, and that has always shown in the beers he and his team have produced. Case in point: Sorachi Ace Saison is arguably the best use of Sorachi Ace hops I’ve ever had. Brooklyn always pays it forward with their fresh takes on the Old World ales they grew up drinking. Hoppy, malty, sour, fruited, simple and complex. They are using decades of artisanal brewing experience to craft their flavors.”

How do Steve and Garrett feel about their formal acceptance into the California craft beer universe? “It’s a big deal,” says Steve. “California is the Garden of Eden of the craft beer revolution, and we look forward to making new friends with the craft beer community on the left coast.”

“California is the spiritual home of craft beer and modern American cooking,” Garrett adds. “It just makes sense for us to finally be a part of this exciting scene. We’re going to have fun!”


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