A shiny black Camaro with tinted windows slaloms across the parking lot and stops in front of Pure Project Brewing in Miramar. Out jumps a tall, handsome man wearing Wayfarers and a green Pure Project T-shirt. A hops vine tattoo winds up his left arm. It is Winslow Sawyer, head brewer for the brewery. At six-foot-three his long strides carry him quickly into the brewery to join the rest of the Pure Project crew for a media collaboration event.
Pure Project Brewing began in 2014 when Jesse and Agi Pine and friend Mat Robar started up their original brewery, Manuel Antonio Brewing, in a Costa Rican rainforest. They were brewing small batch artisanal beers, sometimes during fierce tropical storms, with ingredients found at small local farmers markets.
“Our first beer was Valle Pura Vida which was inspired by all the fruit in Costa Rica,” Agi told us. “It is made with organic ginger and orange peels. And our second beer was a coffee stout, Milagro, made with organic coffee from our friends at Cafe Milagro, a microroaster in Costa Rica.”
Craft brewing in Costa Rica was in its infancy back then, and the beers Manuel Antonio Brewing produced quickly became popular within the small town. As they ramped up production to meet demand, however, Jesse, Agi, and Mat became aware of the amount of wastewater the brewery was generating. Unfortunately, the little beach town where they were brewing lacked the infrastructure to handle it.
“Our biggest struggle was figuring out a way to not impact the environment,” recalled Jesse. It was one of the major reasons they migrated the brewery to San Diego to become Pure Project Brewing. At the same time, H.G. Fenton’s Brewery Igniter project had a new ready-to-brew 7-barrel brewery for lease, allowing the founders to save time by not having to build one.
“We’re all about quality and making great beer, but not at the expense of the environment,” Mat said. “We aspire to follow the philosophy of Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia.”
Along with Chouinard’s philosophy, the Pure Project team practices “Pura Vida,” a Spanish phrase that means “pure life” in English. It is a philosophy encouraging simple appreciation of life and celebration of good fortune. According to Wikipedia, it is the official motto of Costa Rica.
Pure Project’s tasting room reflects both ideals in its design. Bar stools are made from repurposed wood, the walls are decorated with natural wood, sustainable materials, and tropical plants like Devil’s Ivy, Split-leaf Philodendron, Sword Fern, and Dracaena.
“We aim to be an environmentally conscious brand, carefully operating our brewery with sustainable brewing methods when possible to reduce its impact.”
– Mat Robar, Pure Project
In one corner is a huge eucalyptus log that has been partially milled flat to create a comfortable bench. Even the restroom embodies the ideals with its upcycled earth friendly decor.
“We did a lot of the build-out ourselves while waiting for licensing,” said Mat, looking around at their handiwork. “We wanted to create a destination for both locals and beer travelers alike to come and taste what globally-sourced beers are all about. And while they are here, we’ll tell them the story of the beer in their glass.”
What is in the glass is important to the entire team, but especially to Winslow. “I like to start with the ingredients instead of a style when I brew a beer,” says Winslow, whose background is in sustainable agriculture. His thesis at U.C. Santa Cruz was about sustainability in the brewing industry, which he practiced while brewing at Boulder Creek Brewing for four years in the Santa Cruz mountains. When that brewery burned down, Winslow was out of a job and moved to brewery rich San Diego to find a new one. As luck would have it, he found one at Pure Project.
“The beer is one thing, but it’s all about the process,” Winslow told us. “We focus on small batch beers with high quality ingredients. We brew tropical inspired beers with fresh, sustainable ingredients… a spectrum of flavors for all.”
Mat and the team often sojourn to surf, climb, ski, backpack, and explore the wonders of nature. The team looks forward to taking periodic “sourcing trips” in order to bring back unique ingredients to the brewery for Jesse and Winslow to use in their beers: yeast cultures from Copenhagen; hops from New Zealand; exotic ingredients from Africa and Central America.
“Beer is an art form, and making it is my Zen place,” Winslow continued. “We want to create beers with a story, highlighting the agricultural processes, people, and ingredients involved in the making of the beer in your glass. We want to brew artisanal, well-balanced beers using the vast array of unique ingredients available. All without using chemicals in the process. Just “Pure Beer.”
One example of this brewing philosophy is La Vie en Rosé (6.5% ABV), a tasty Saison brewed with organic hibiscus flowers from Africa, honey from Mikolich Family Farms in Temecula, and spices from Morocco. “It is refreshing,” Winslow said when he described the beer. “The hibiscus adds tartness and tannin. It has a white wine aroma. It’s bright, light, and clean.”
Another example is Milagro (5.3% ABV), a delicious Dry Stout made with hand-roasted, shade grown organic coffee from Costa Rica and vanilla beans sourced from Madagascar. “Milagro is a Dry Stout, so it has a light body, making it very drinkable,” Winslow explained. “We serve it on nitro which enhances its creamy texture. It has a pleasant bitterness that comes from the roasted malt, hops, and coffee. The vanilla beans smooth it out, and it finishes clean.”
Brewing such interesting and delicious beers quickly got the attention of people in the San Diego craft brewing industry. For example, West Coaster Magazine recently listed Pure Project as one of “The Best New San Diego Breweries of 2016.”
“What has been amazing to us is how we have been embraced by the local brewing industry,” Mat said humbly. “People reached out to us, came by to visit, offered help… We got tons and tons of support from other breweries,” Jesse added.”We’ve been open five months and are having a good time.”
“Our philosophy is details matter,” Jesse continued. “We are making refreshing beers that are drinkable and unique by using both locally and globally sourced ingredients.” He added that their current three year business plan is to stay at the current location, “but after that we would like to be in our own place. When the time is right,” he smiled.
Like brewing quality beer, giving back to the community is very important to the Pure Project team. They are committed to contributing positively to the environment and community, and their good works show it. Organizations they support include Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Coast Keeper, Outdoor Outreach, and 1% For The Planet. “We want to be known for quality, not compromise, in everything we do,” said Mat. “And sustainability,” Winslow added.
We highly recommend a visit to Pure Project the next time you are out. Experience “Pura Vida” while tasting brewery fresh beers with unique ingredients and a story to help you give context to the beer in your glass.
For more information about Pure Project Brewing and to register for special releases, tastings, and events, go to www.PureBrewing.org