Iron Fist Brewing (1305 Hot Spring Way #101, Vista, CA 92081) began operations in 2010. Originally a family affair, son Brandon Sieminski brewed, while parents Greg and Eve Sieminski invested and helped out around the brewery. In 2016, they brought on partners Wayne and Cindy Seltzer. The Seltzers have lots of experience in the hospitality industry, plus ties to the Padres, which allowed Iron Fist to begin selling at Petco Park. They opened a tasting room in Barrio Logan, the first of five breweries and tasting rooms in the neighborhood now. Then, in 2017, they brought on Tom Garcia as brewing production manager to help them plan and execute “phase two” of Iron Fist’s growth.
According to Garcia, Iron Fist was 95% there and it was just a matter of some tweaks to get it to the next level.
Garcia should know: He was at Stone Brewing in Escondido for several years before starting his own brewery, Off Beat Brewing, in 2012. Off Beat was a well-regarded spot, popular with workers from Stone after their shifts. But with new family responsibilities Garcia found that he was spending too much time at the brewery and not earning quite what he needed, so he decided to change directions and reluctantly closed his brewery in 2017. Luckily, coming on at Iron Fist has been a great fit for everyone concerned.
In addition to bringing in talent from the outside, Iron Fist also develops talent from within. Chris Fitzgerald, head brewer, began working at Iron Fist in 2013 as a beertender. Now Fitzgerald, together with Garcia and recently hired assistant brewer Jose Rios, brew a variety of beers that are mostly European in style. They aren’t interested in chasing trends and would rather make “beer flavored beer.” When they do brew with “adjuncts” (as brewers call additions that are not malt, hops, yeast or water), they focus on the making the base beer excellent. Their blood orange IPA, they emphasized to me, is an excellent IPA first, with a subtle addition of real fruit (not syrups or concentrates). As Fitzgerald puts it, “Beer first.”
This small crew runs tightly and efficiently. They are brewing between 3,000 and 5,000 barrels annually. Peaks and troughs are based on demand. For example, they brew a lot more when Petco Park is busy. Garcia says that, “With every batch we brew, we are making a statement,” about who the brewery is and what its ideals are.
Their competitive spirit and drive for excellence comes out even when they are enjoying beer at other breweries for fun. Fitzgerald says that when he tries a really good beer made by someone else, he has the dual response of, “I love this! Damn you!”
The drive to always be better means that Iron Fist beer is excellent and consistent. The emphasis on following processes perfectly and ensuring quality at every step comes through in beers that are well-made, clean and delicious. They do tasting panels every day to make sure there are no problems with their beers. The crew prides themselves on running clean, and they point out that they do heat treatment when cleaning the brewing system, not just chemical sanitation as most other small breweries do.
Iron Fist beer has long been available in large and small bottles, but that era is over. A newly purchased canning line allows the three-person crew to fill 40 cans per minute. Currently, five core beers plus various one-off releases are available in cans.
The most recent new beer release, in July, was Catalina’s Revenge, a golden copper colored, mildly bitter West Coast Pale Ale with a caramel maltiness and citrus, floral and tropical hop notes. Iron Fist’s next can release, on Aug. 9, is a Double Black IPA that clocks in at 8.5% ABV. It has the flavor and aroma of an IPA. While it is jet black and has a lot of body, it is clean tasting: They wanted to avoid the ashy, leathery and roasty flavors sometimes present in black IPAs, and from what I sampled, they succeeded.
In other North County beer news: The grand opening of Kilowatt Brewing Oceanside Taproom and Provisions (406 Mission Ave, Oceanside, CA 92054) is on Friday, Aug. 2. They have been in a soft-opening phase since early July.
Top: Iron Fist’s brewing production manager, Tom Garcia, from left, head brewer Chris Fitzgerald and assistant brewer Jose Rios. Photo by Bill Vanderburgh