Welcome to North Park’s Newest Brewery
San Diego’s beer mecca gets a new addition with North Park Beer Co.
North Park Beer Co.'s Hop Fu IPA | Photo by Bruce Glassman
If you know the beer scene in San Diego, you know that North Park—especially the 30th Street area—is a craft beer lover’s paradise. Dozens of great beer bars, tasting rooms, and beer-centric restaurants provide tons of options for enjoying the best of what’s local and on tap. This is a neighborhood with a seriously sophisticated palate, so—if you’re a brewer who’s going to set up shop here—you better bring your A-game.
Kelsey McNair is ready to get into that game. He’s the owner and founder of North Park Beer Co., a resident of North Park, and a guy who has had a longtime dream of opening a brewery in the neighborhood.
He may be new to pro brewing, but Kelsey’s no newbie to the brewhouse. As a longtime home brewer, he’s won numerous and major awards in lots of different style categories, but his most notable awards have been for various IPA recipes. Some of his winners have been infused with fruit, others with habaneros, and his most successful beer was an American IPA named Hop Fu. That IPA, which he wound up brewing twice with Beachwood BBQ in Long Beach, won a total of 3 gold medals, 1 silver, and 1 bronze in national homebrew competitions.
When I went to check out the new space (big and beautifully designed) and taste some beers (including that Hop Fu, clearly the standout), I sat Kelsey down to get a few quick thoughts about what it’s like to be in the big leagues.
How does it feel to finally make the leap from home brewing to pro brewing? Is it scary? Exciting?
It’s awesome. It’s everything I’d hoped it would be and more. It’s very overwhelming and exhausting, but it’s also very rewarding, for sure.
Before opening this place, you were still home brewing out of your house on a 20-gallon system. Now you’re working on a 15-barrel system, which is a 24-fold increase. How hard has it been to ramp up your homebrew recipes?
It hasn’t been too bad. I had some exposure to scaling up by getting to brew with some other pro breweries, so that took some of the guesswork out of the equation, but I still had some challenges on the new system that weren’t so much recipe scale, they were more just learning the proper procedures on the new equipment and using it for larger quantities.
What’s the single hardest thing about making the leap from home brewing to pro brewing?
It's really the equipment difference, I’d say. It’s mostly been about understanding how all the aspects of the equipment operate. Once you go through it once, you see it’s really a series of pretty easy steps.
You decided to open up in North Park, which is arguably one of the most sophisticated beer areas in San Diego. Has that been a good thing?
My wife and I moved to North Park in 2008, and I had my heart set on opening a brewery in this neighborhood at some point in time. Now, it’s several years later, and the neighborhood has definitely gotten more sophisticated in terms of what the beer is, but I still think this is the right place for this brewery to be.
You took on a big space for this project. That must have been part of the inspiration, I would guess. This used to be a kickboxing place, right?
Yes. It was called ‘Undisputed.’ I brought Basile Studio in to do our interior design and a lot of fabrication for this space. I’m actually as much of a geek about brewing as I am about Craftsman architecture and the wonderful bungalows that are prevalent throughout North Park. So, when I went to Basile Studio, I said I wanted to bring the feeling of the neighborhood into the commercial area. No one is using this Craftsman style. But I also told them I wanted them to do the things that they do so well, like the metal work. I wanted them to give the “Basile approach” to Craftsman.
We conceived the ground floor as the “commercial district” of the space, so we have streetlamps and a runway down the middle. We wanted to put the brewery on one side of the runway and the bar and cold box on the other side so we could put all the people in between. It’s something you don’t see; it’s a different kind of environment from most breweries. I think people really enjoy being in this space.
The North Park Beer Co. tasting room, designed by Basile Studio. | Photo by Bruce Glassman
And what about the mezzanine?
Starting out, we’ll use the mezzanine for special events, but eventually we’re going to build out that area as well. The concept we’re going to go with there is—since the ground level is the “commercial district”— the upstairs would be the “residential district.” So it would have a fireplace motif and a living room kind of feel. We’ll have a second bar up there, which will be very event driven. For example, it may feature a collaboration brew or two with a bunch of other beers from the guest brewers featured with it. This space also has a large basement, so I intend to do a barrel program as well. Once beers start coming out of the barrel program, we may also focus the upstairs on some of our special releases, which will be very limited.
You’re also planning to have a full kitchen. What’s the concept going to be for that?
That’s actually going to be operated by Mastiff Sausage Company. Those guys are obviously a known quantity and they do really great stuff. They’re going to break through the boundaries of their food truck menu, which is mostly centered around sandwiches and sausages, and they’ll offer a full menu that will cater to lots of different dietary considerations—they’ll even be doing vegan and vegetarian dishes. There will be kid-friendly items on the menu as well. We’re trying to make sure that this space is really for the neighborhood and is welcoming to all.
You’ve been welcomed too, I assume, by the other pro brewers in the community, many of whom you already know and have a relationship with.
It’s been great. I‘ve been hanging out with those guys and going to Brewers Guild meetings for years—and now, what’s cool is seeing those folks, my peers, coming in here and having my beers. And then it’s even cooler when I see them coming back again. We’ve only been open a couple of weeks but I’m already seeing return visits from people I have a lot of respect for, and that makes me feel great.
North Park Beer Co. is located at 3038 University Avenue (right near 30th street) and is open most days from lunchtime until late evening (except Mondays when they don’t open until 3 p.m.).