Eppig Brewing’s new Vista brewery (1347 Keystone Way) is now in a soft-open phase. That news alone is exciting for craft beer fans.
What’s even more exciting is that the new location is brilliant. Looking over a valley, there is a large patio with a fireplace and great views of the sunset. Huge glass doors from the patio open into the main room where you’ll find a leather sofa and armchairs, a long high communal table, and plenty of bar space. Through large windows behind the long end of the L-shaped bar, the shiny silver brew house is visible, with its 30-foot ceilings and skylights. Down the wide hallway past the short end of the bar are very well-appointed restrooms and then a high-ceilinged beer hall that is still under construction, but which should be ready for the grand opening festivities on the weekend of Nov. 16.
By a pleasant coincidence, that grand opening date is also the third anniversary of Eppig Brewing’s original grand opening in the North Park Brewery Igniter. They will keep operating in North Park until the beginning of December. After that, you have a choice between the Vista brewery and the (also gorgeous) Point Loma tasting room.
The brewery is named after the family of head of marketing, Stephanie Eppig. She is one of the four founders — together with her husband Todd Warshaw who handles operations, head brewer Nathan Stephens, and brewer/sales and distribution guy Clayton LeBlanc.
The original Eppig brothers, German immigrants, were major brewers in Brooklyn from 1866 until Prohibition in 1920, their brew works occupying whole city blocks. Although the brewery survived prohibition by transforming into the Interboro Cereal Beverage Corporation, the mob got involved and pushed the Eppigs out. The brewery eventually became part of the Schlitz empire.
Today, the San Diego reincarnation of Eppig Brewing brews a wide variety of beers but they have made their name on lagers. Stephanie Eppig remarks that, “A big source of pride for us is that our lager program didn’t evolve because of the trend (for craft lagers over the last couple of years), it was what our brewers were interested in brewing. Plus, it is true to the company’s roots, since at the Brooklyn brewery in the 1800s, they brewed only lagers.” Still one of the few local breweries with an extensive lager program, Eppig Brewing always has six on tap. That’s not all they do, though: There will be 24 taps altogether.
The interior design of the tasting room is meant to echo the original brewery’s Brooklyn roots. Reclaimed beams from a Kentucky horse barn that was the same age as the original Eppig brewery compose the ceiling and are complemented by exposed metal structural members designed to resemble those you’d find in an 18th-century New York building. Like the beer, the tasting room is meant to be, “Our homage to tradition, but with our own take on it,” according to Stephanie Eppig.
Clayton LeBlanc and Nathan Stephens worked together at Ballast Point for several years. Although LeBlanc had originally been employed in sales, time off due to a back injury gave him time to re-think his career path. He had fallen in love with the beer industry when he was a waiter at Karl Strauss during college, so beer seemed like a good career move. He quickly worked his way up the ladder to brewer at Ballast Point during their rapid expansion, right before they were sold to Constellation Brands in 2015.
Stephens was also a brewer at Ballast Point, and the two become close friends. Stephens had been a homebrewer. Although he worked as a structural engineer for eight years, he decided to follow his true passion and got a job in the early days of Ballast Point. The four founders got together after LeBlanc borrowed a kegerator form Warshaw, and the rest is history.
After that very intense period at Ballast Point — which he describes as, “the hardest, best thing I’ve ever done, aside from operating a business” — LeBlanc now says, “Unequivocally, I know there is nothing else I want to do.”
Partly because of their expertise in brewing lagers, not to mention the popularity of some of their other beers including 10:45 to Denver IPA, Eppig Brewing has been receiving a lot of requests for kegs and cans from north country. Until now, their original North Park brewery was just too small to meet those requests.
In fact, Special Lager (voted the best lager in San Diego in the 2018 West Coaster reader’s poll) and 10:45 to Denver were so popular that they had to have them contract brewed elsewhere.
Now, though, they have a used three-vessel 30-barrel system purchased from an auction in South Carolina, seven fermenters (three 60-barrel and four 30-barrel), and two brite tanks (30 and 60 barrels). That triples their brewing capacity over North Park right out of the gate. This will allow them to bring all their production back in-house. Plus, they made sure that there is lots of room for future expansion in the Vista location — including installing concrete floors reinforced to handle 140-barrel fermenters when the time comes. Besides helping them to be able to meet the demand for their kegged beers, the new system (and the extra space in the brewery) will allow them to begin canning more of their other beers. For the time being they will still use a mobile canning service, but there is room to add a canning line of their own when they need it.
As this goes to print, the first beers brewed at the new location will be going into kegs, ready for eager drinkers.
Stephens says he is excited “to stay on the same path, making beer we are proud of, and be able to reach a larger audience. We have room to grow organically over time.”
“Nathan is the true talent,” LeBlanc told me. “I’m a functional production brewer. We jibe well together, we like the same beers, and we have similar senses of humor.” Because of their long experience working together in brew houses, there is “lots of trust” between them. “Picking your business partners is so important. We have managed to make democracy work. We don’t always agree, but we are comfortable saying, I trust you on this one, I know you’ll execute.”
Warshaw visited almost 100 commercial rental properties over the last couple of years, before finally finding this location right as it was being built. They signed the lease immediately so they could shape the building, and the result is a real gem.
The entrance to the large parking lot is on the left-hand side at the very end of Keystone Way. You’ll pass Helia Brewing on the way, and within the next few weeks a golf-themed Dogleg Brewing will open on the other side of Eppig Brewing. There’s never been a better time to be a beer lover in Vista.
Bill Vanderburgh writes the Craft Beer in North County column for Coast News. He started his award-winning blog, CraftBeerInSanDiego.com, in 2016 and has since reviewed every brewery and tasting room in San Diego. He loves sailing almost as much as beer.