Unlike so many craft breweries that start out by building their brand around a homebrew, Aztec Brewing Company did the reverse. They built a homebrew around an old brand. That brand just happened to be famous, and exactly what they were looking for.
“I was researching old California beer brands for a line of T-shirts I was designing,” John Webster told us during a recent visit to his family brewery in Vista. “I was intrigued by the old Boca Brewery in Truckee, and while searching the San Diego History Museum’s website, I discovered the Aztec Brewing Company brand.”
John is a graphic artist and creative genius. Fortunately, for him and his partners, the Aztec Brewing Company brand, like an old California gold mine, was abandoned in the 1950s. He and his business partner, artist Claudia Faulk, secured the trademark rights to the brand and started home brewing along with their son, Tristan.
The Old Version
The original Aztec Brewing Company (A.B.C.) was founded in Mexicali in 1921, a year after Prohibition began in the United States. For 12 years, the company brewed beer in Mexicali, including their flagship, “Famous A.B.C. Beer.” Once Prohibition ended in 1933, A.B.C. built a new brewery in Barrio Logan, and the operation moved to San Diego. There the brewery grew quickly, distributing its beers throughout southern California, parts of Arizona, and other western states for 15 years.
The Altes Brewing Company of Michigan bought out Aztec in 1948. The company brewed beer using the brand until 1957, and then abandoned it.
The New Version
Fast forward 50 years, and John, Claudia, and son Tristan, started bringing the old brand back to life. “It was a total leap of faith,” John said, looking back.
The family became involved with North County Homebrewers Association and started to experiment with recipes that incorporated adjuncts associated with the ancient Aztecs, such as chocolate, cinnamon, chipotle, and agave. Aztec Chipotle IPA is one of those original recipes, along with Agave Wheat. Eventually, the new Aztec Brewing Company opened in 2011 with these, and other innovative beers.
“I joined the team in 2012 and started brewing on the original three barrel system,” Paul Naylor, head brewer at Aztec informs us. “With my background in culinary arts, I changed, fine-tuned, and improved the beers. I started buying quality ingredients and made the production more efficient. That innovation was based on flavor, which carried over to our current 15 barrel system.” Aztec Brewing has a 1200-barrel capacity. Last year they brewed 850 barrels (26,350 gallons) of beer.
Aztec Brewing would not be what it is today without Tristan. Like his artistic parents, he was there from the beginning bringing his medium of music to the brewery’s blend. Tristan introduced the gift of music to the business and made it an integral part of the brewery.
Aztec Brewing is unique in the way it has integrated San Diego’s community of musicians and other artists into the brewery operation. Tristan also helped the brewing community by being active in the Vista Brewers Guild. He even served as past president of the guild and continues to advocate for local breweries in Vista.
“We’re here because we live here, we give back by integrating with other local businesses.”
– John Webster, Owner Aztec Brewery
Aztec Macaroon Nut Brown (5.5% ABV/33 IBU)
This special beer is Paul’s liquid “ode” to his grandmother. “We needed a dessert beer,” he told us when we asked for the story behind it. “The smell of my grandmother’s Macaroon cookies is a favorite memory. So, I created a beer inspired by her cookies.”
Aztec Macaroon Nut Brown is an American Brown Ale made with English Ale yeast, brown malt, caramel malt, chocolate rye, organic coconut, and Tahitian vanilla.
The brew has a pleasant coconut aroma and flavor, light mouthfeel and body, a deep dark rich color, thin beige head, and nutty almond notes. Overall, this beer is fresh and delicious to drink.
“We like to use hibiscus, chocolate, chipotle, and cinnamon to feature the flavors of Southern California, making for a more complex beer,” Claudia adds when asked about Aztec’s other beers.
Hop Serpent Imperial IPA (9.9% ABV/103 IBU)
Made with Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Galaxy, and Summer hops, Hop Serpent is a fine example of a West Coast-style Imperial IPA. It’s huge burst of hop flavor at the finish is amazing. “I lower the bitterness by using Galaxy hops,” Paul explains about making the beer. Hop Serpent has a honey-orange color, peach, mango, papaya, and grapefruit aromas and flavors, and a crisp, clean finish.
“This is my favorite beer,” John said smiling, as we tasted it.
Noche de Los Muertos (10.2% ABV/64 IBU)
Winner of a Bronze Medal at the 2013 San Diego International Beer Festival, Noche de Los Muertos is reminiscent of a Russian Imperial Stout made better by cinnamon. Opaque black with a tan head, it flaunts roast coffee, chocolate, brown sugar, and cinnamon aromas and flavors. This beer is nicely balanced, full-bodied, and delights with a rich, creamy mouthfeel. Overall, this beer is exemplary of the style with a well-hidden alcohol level.
New Version of a Historic Beer Brand
The modern Aztec Brewing Company is a small, family brewery distributing craft beer throughout southern California, New York, and Mexico. By distributing in Mexico, the brewery has actually come full circle.
Open 4.5 years, Aztec brews beers with authenticity and heart. “Brewed, bottled, and labeled with love,” Claudia said with a smile as we left to get back on the Hops Highway.
To learn more about the brewery, visit their website or pay them a visit. You will see first-hand John and Claudia’s artwork in the bottle labels, T-shirts, and swag. Hear the music Tristan brings to the brewery, nightly. Taste the art of Paul’s beers daily. The new version of a historic beer brand is music, art, and beer.