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Make Your Own Craft Beer

On-premise brewing may be the next big thing


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Citizen Brewing | Photo by Bruce Glassman

You can’t walk fifty feet in this town without tripping over a great pint of beer. So, why would anyone want to spend the time, money, and effort to brew their own? Turns out, there’s lots of reasons.

Craft beer lovers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages—and they also vary widely in their experience with beer. Some are longtime home brewers, many of whom have been crafting excellent quality quaffs in their kitchens, closets, or garages for years. Others love beer but don't have the vaguest idea how it gets made. Still others know a bit about brewing, but have never had the chance to try it out firsthand. Up until recently, folks with an interest in exploring the home brewing process had to go out and purchase equipment and ingredients from a home brew shop, and then they had to teach themselves how to brew (or learn from someone). But now, Citizen Brewers in Mission Valley has changed all that.

Opened in May 2015 by home brewer and QUAFF member Judd McGhee, Citizen Brewers offers San Diegans a unique opportunity to craft personalized beers with the guidance of an expert. And—best of all—you get to have all the fun and there’s no cleaning up!

Citizen offers a choice of 12 basic house recipes (developed by Judd and fellow QUAFF member Brian Trout), each of which can be used as the foundation of the beer you want to brew. Patrons are free to change up the ingredients in any of the house recipes, swapping out different grains or hops, and adjusting proportions to customize and personalize their beer. “Most people want to add something, or specialize it in some way, to make it their own,” Judd says. “Maybe it’s just taking out one little thing in the recipe, or tweaking or modifying it another way. They want a one-of-a-kind beer.” The house recipes are all designed to use a mix of grains and extract, as well as a mix of hop varieties. House recipes include a Kölsch, pale ale, IPA, double IPA, Saison, amber, Hefeweizen, India Pale Lager, wheat beer, a brown, a stout, and a porter; but most people—true to their San Diego roots—choose to go the hoppy route. “Every other beer I brew in here is an IPA,” says Judd. But he notes that every IPA recipe is unique. “There’s so many ways to manipulate it and get it to do something different.”

Each beer requires two visits: One to brew the beer (about two-to-three hours) and—a few weeks later—a second visit to bottle and label (also about two or three hours). Total costs (including bottle and labels) vary a bit from recipe to recipe, but most styles fall between $260 and $300 for a 50L batch (that’s 72 22-ounce bottles).

Brewing process: Pouring grain into the mill / Adding hops for the boil / Weighing out extract | Photos by Bruce Glassman

People from all walks of life and all sorts of brewing backgrounds come to Citizen Brewers to craft their own masterpieces. “It does take all kinds,” Judd says. “My very first customer was an ex-brewer. He had a brewery in Ecuador. I guess he had a lot of stuff in storage, and he wanted to come in and use the facility so he wouldn’t have to pull everything out and clean it and wash it.” Most of Citizen’s visitors, according to Judd, are people who want to try the equipment because they really don’t know what’s involved in the brewing process. At this facility, curious novices can come in, use the place, get a feel for brewing (guided by Judd), and just see if they enjoy it.

With a few months of business under his belt, Judd already sees certain patterns emerging, and he’s been fascinated to observe how people’s professions seem to influence their beer. He’s noticed, for example, that brewing with a police officer is different from brewing with an attorney. “It’s almost like the beer mirrors the individual, kind of like a pet would,” he says. Some folks come in with super-high ambitions for their first brew—rarin’ to make a clone of Russian River’s Pliny the Younger, for example. This can be something of a tough challenge. As Judd explains, “When someone comes in and says, for example, ‘Oh, I want to create this AleSmith beer,’ that’s a pretty tall order. But it’s fun. It raises the bar.” Other people show up with elaborate plans for big, bold, crazy flavors. “I do get a lot of people wanting to go off the high dive,” Judd says. “They say let’s not just do the porter, let’s add the chocolate, the chili, whatever you can throw at it.”

Despite some delusions of grandeur, most patrons approach the process with appropriately realistic goals. Many come in with their own specialty grains and hops, wanting to do the basic house IPA recipe, but also wanting specific flavor profiles or specialty hops for dry hopping. Because Citizen Brewing is not a home brew shop, Judd says he has a “symbiotic relationship” with home brew retailers in town. “My intention is to have a facility for folks to use, and to offer it as a place where people can come in a collaborate over the process.”

As part of his quality control, Judd tastes all the batches and makes sure that everything is on target with fermentation and flavor development. Sometimes he is even surprised by a beer he didn’t expect to like. “One guy did an IPA and added a bunch of grapefruit to it,” Judd recalls. “It’s not my style, but something about that beer was tight. I begged for a couple of bottles of that one.” For the most part, Judd has been very happy with the quality of beer his patrons have been able to achieve. And, if repeat customers are any indication, his patrons are happy, too. Return visits are particularly satisfying for Judd. He loves to see people who didn't know the first thing about brewing come back and feel completely comfortable with the process.

Eventually, Judd will add more house recipes to his basic lineup.

“A lot of people are coming in and asking about kettle sours,” he says. “I’d love to do a Berliner Weiss. I’d be very excited to do that. Or a black IPA. Or more lagers.” Judd wishes there was more demand for the lesser-known styles, so he could expand the Citizen repertoire for everyone. “There are a couple of beers I’d like to accomplish,” he says, “but part of the process I’m hoping for is to let the people that come in here discover the new beers for me. So fingers crossed.”

Citizen Brewers, 5837 Mission Gorge Road, Suite A

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