I write a Cheers! column every week, but there is always so much going on in the world of North County beer and drink. Simply put, I can’t get to everything. This week, I’m turning my column over to Jeff Spanier, co-host and co-founder of the “I Like Beer Podcast” who, along with his “I Like Beer” team, recently interviewed the owners of South O Brewing Company and attended the grand opening event. Enjoy!
By Jeff Spanier
Meeting with the South O Brewing team days before their grand opening, it was clear that they had trepidations. Were they ready? Would anyone come? Could they open a neighborhood brewery?
On Dec. 4, they realized their anxieties were all for naught. Their grand opening was a success as neighbors and beer enthusiasts showed up en masse.
That is great news for South O Brewing co-founders Trevor Whitehead and Joel Steinmetz, as well as head brewer, Maurey Fletcher (formerly of Golden Coast Mead). During a recent interview, they generously shared their story and beers with us. It was immediately clear that their primary goal is to represent the history and culture of South Oceanside.
As Whitehead explained, they wanted the brewery to be “sort of a love letter [to Oceanside], a place locals could be proud of.” They met with the Oceanside Historical Society to learn about the historical significance of their community and to collect images from decades past to decorate the brewery.
Art, maps and photographs from South Oceanside’s past give the venue an authentic, endless summer vibe but also make it feel welcoming. It’s a working brewery, yet features seating and space to allow groups to gather. The patio opens up to the Coast Highway with the beach just blocks away.
We asked what inspired Whitehead and Steinmetz to make this business venture now–with all the uncertainties of COVID. “[The decision] may have come out of the sheer boredom that was COVID,” Steinmetz answered, half-jokingly.
They were homebrewing in Whitehead’s garage which allowed them to experiment and rework recipes. “Well, you know how this goes,” Steinmetz continued. “One night you have too many and you end up thinking we could run a business doing this.” Whitehead interjected, “We thought, ‘Sure we could do this. We could be a real brewery’…and the next day we woke up and asked, ‘Are we still doing this?’”
When the opportunity to open up in the iconic Oceanside College of Beauty building came along, they took it. Just blocks from their own homes–and the neighbors who had been enjoying a lot of free beer–they built a brewery honoring South O.
The story’s an intriguing one and can be heard in its entirety on our podcast, but none of it would matter if the beers were not up to San Diegan standards. Nothing to worry about on that point. Bringing in Fletcher as head brewer helped them scale up production, fine-tune recipes and add some new beers to their menu.
Fletcher shares the founder’s vision of serving true-to-style beers with a few twists available. One twist, a porter ale, Tremont, inspired by Turkish Delight. Another, Ditmar, an Australian Sparkling Ale weighing in at a light 3.6%. Many of their beers are named after streets in the community around them.
Other beers, such as Graves House West Coast IPA and Beach Club Blonde are named after iconic Oceanside landmarks or neighborhoods.
Every beer we sampled, which is to say all the beer, proved excellent. We have attended soft openings and grand openings and chosen not to comment on the beers knowing that brewers are still figuring out brewing at scale in the early days. That was not the case here.
Two beers, in particular, stole the show: St. Malo Czech Pilsner and Horne New England IPA. These were as good of beers as we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy in our years of brewery touring and podcasting.
St. Malo, brewed with floor-malted Bohemian and Munich malts, received our highest praise — a Shawshank beer.
“Historically beers exist because somebody did something great, and [we] owe it to them to recreate and replicate the styles,” Fletcher said.
For IPA lovers, South O offers a number of beers but our team favorite was Horne NEIPA. Brewed with Galaxy, Centennial and Mosaic hops, Horne NEIPA was full of tropical flavor but with a dialed back bitterness. Unlike the palate wreckers of yesteryear, Horne NEIPA was a crushable, refreshing beer, balanced and flavorful. No worries for those who love West Coast IPAs. The Graves House IPA offered all the bitterness and citrusy goodness expected of the style.
Back to the South O Brewing Grand Opening. Live music, food trucks and plenty of people. Bicyclers rolled in off the Coast Highway and neighbors strolled in filling the space. It did indeed feel like a community celebration. Everyone had a favorite beer already (we asked). South O Brewing has a vision and they are seeing it come true right from day one. Cheers!
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Got an interesting story about your drinking adventures or love the new brewery in your neighborhood? Reach out! We want to hear about it.