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Brewery Spotlight: Pure Project

Miramar’s newest brewery lets the ingredients do the talking


Pure Project | Photo by Bruce Glassman

During their three years living in Manuel Antonio, where the jungle meets the coast in Costa Rica, Agi and Jesse Pine came to appreciate the beauty of fresh, seasonal ingredients. When they came home to San Diego, they returned with a well-developed plan to open a brewery—it was a dream that couldn’t be realized in Central America. That’s how Pure Project was born.

“The whole concept of opening up a brewery actually originated in Costa Rica,” Agi says. “While we were living there, we started out drinking the pilsners, which were great, but we wanted to introduce new styles of beer to the locals.” Jesse and Agi started home brewing with an eventual eye toward expanding their passion for beer into a full-fledged brewery. When they met up with longtime friend Mat Robar for their annual backpacking trip in Colorado, the three friends started to talk seriously about opening a brewery in Costa Rica. A business plan was developed, and capital was raised, but the biggest obstacle was finding a location that could support the facility. Most rural areas like Manuel Antonio lacked basic infrastructure; they were missing crucial things, like a sewer system. Other options included a septic system, but that would have been complicated, very costly, and would have negated the team’s firm desire not to negatively affect the environment. The only solution they could come up with was to develop their own water treatment facility, but they soon realized how prohibitively expensive that option would be. “It kind of killed our budget and really killed our dreams,” Jesse says. With the Costa Rica option gone, the trio reset their sights on San Diego and found a perfect space in Miramar.

The new brewery would be set up in San Diego, but Agi and Jesse wouldn’t leave everything about Costa Rica behind. They were intent on bringing back a bunch of the recipes they had developed in Manuel Antonio, especially ones that had been inspired by the beauty and diversity of the country they grew to love. They decided that their opening lineup would include two of their Costa Rican home brews: Their Valle Pura Vida blonde ale brewed with ginger and citrus peel and their Milagro coffee stout, which was developed in partnership with the small coffee roasting company and café that the Pines used to visit often. (They wanted to bring the recipe back to San Diego in its entirety, so they now import Milagro organic coffee in order to stay true to the original brew.)

Pure Project Tasting Room | Photo by Bruce Glassman

The fact that the Pines stayed with their original coffee source says a lot about the Pure Project brewing philosophy. It not only highlights their dedication to sourcing, it’s a testament to their pursuit of authentic flavors. “There’s not really a specific style that we focus on,” Jesse says. “There are so many great styles out there, and so many forgotten types of beer. Instead of focusing on a set lineup of styles, we focus on the ingredients. We use the word pure because it comes from a saying in Costa Rica, ‘Pura Vida,’ which means ‘pure life.’ We wanted to bring a little bit of that back with us.”

The goal at Pure Project is to source only organic ingredients and to have those ingredients be as sustainable as possible. The Milagro coffee is one example, but so is the grapefruit, ginger, Valencia oranges, Himalayan pink salt, and hibiscus from Burkina Faso that went into some of their opening selections. Jesse says that, moving forward, some ingredients will be local, but some may be sourced internationally, like coconut, which you can’t get in California. “We’re trying to create the whole Farm to Glass experience,” Agi adds. “So everything we brew is in small batches, with pure ingredients—and using as much organic as possible.” This approach means some beers may only be done once. Others may only have certain unique ingredients for a limited time. No matter what’s on tap, the flavors and ingredients in Pure Project beers will always be determined by season and availability.

We’re trying to create the whole Farm to Glass experience, so everything we brew is in small batches, with pure ingredients—and using as much organic as possible.

It was interesting to see how varied the Pure Project debut lineup was. The breadth of styles was particularly impressive, especially for such small brewery. Jesse attributes the diversity of their beers to the talents of brewmaster Winslow Sawyer. Winslow was the former brewer at Boulder Creek Brewery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and—because he came from up north—he had a different take on the styles he wanted in his lineup. Upon opening, the tap list featured eleven beers, including a grapefruit Gose, a rosé Saison, a Berliner Weiss, a Kölsch brewed with rice, and an orange-vanilla cream ale. There were also solid IPAs, a Belgian, and a couple of stouts—and even those beers tasted somewhat unique. Jesse explains that Winslow learned brewing in Northern California, so his influences were different from those in San Diego and his palate developed differently. With IPAs and pales, for example, Winslow learned to hold back on hops during the boil (which produce bitterness). Instead, he focuses on the dry-hopping phase, which brings out bigger aromas and fresh hop flavors. “So instead of lingering bitterness,” says Jesse, “all of our beers finish really crisp and dry and you get tons of aroma and flavor out of it.” Jesse also points out that Winslow specializes in sours and barrel-aged beers, which will be an additional part of their program very soon.

They’ve only been open for a month or so, but the team is very encouraged by what they’re hearing from their customers. Of course, Jesse and Agi are eager to get feedback and thoughts from visitors in the tasting room, and they’re particularly interested in figuring out which beers will become the core favorites. This will not be an easy task. The comments they’ve been getting so far have not helped the Pines narrow anything down. Jesse says, “When I ask people, ‘What’s your favorite beer?’ a lot of them say ‘I don’t know. I love all of them.’” So, no one knows which beers will ultimately endure, but—in this case—it’s not a bad problem for Pure Project to have.

Pure Project, 9030 Kenamar Dr, San Diego, CA 92121

A Note: Pure Project is a member of 1% For the Planet. Through that organization, the brewery gives 1% of sales (not profits) to environmental causes, such as Surfrider, San Diego Coastkeeper, and Outdoor Outreach.


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