In the forest of Mira Mesa craft breweries, Amplified Ale Works has set up camp and is already brewing some award-winning beers. Whammy Bar Wheat won a 2016 World Beer Cup Gold Award, and at this year’s San Diego International Beer Festival (SDIBF), a Silver Award. Sell Out, an American-style lager, also won a Silver Award at this year’s SDIBF.
In addition to the winners, Amplified Ale is also brewing its experimental “Soundcheck Series” beers in Miramar, the newest being a fresh hop pale ale which will be released during a “campout” on September 17th. Their well known core beers like Electrocution and Pig Nose, are also being produced at the new site, in quantities greater than ever before.
“The new brewhouse here at Miramar is helping to grow the beer side of our brewpub in Pacific Beach,” co-founder Alex Pierson told us during a recent visit to the brewery. “This bigger system cut brewing time from two days to five hours, doubled production, and enables a wider variety of beer styles to be brewed,” he continued. “Plus, we needed to get the brewhouse out of the kitchen.” Now, beer gets started in Miramar, then wort is trucked in a 7-barrel tote to Pacific Beach to fill two 7-barrel fermenters for finishing at Amplified’s brewpub.
Alex is an avid music fan and homebrewer who turned professional. His demeanor is mellow and laid back. Raised on his dad’s favorite beer, Karl Strauss’ Red Trolley Ale, he knows what good beer tastes like. He’s also completing his Brewing Certificate from UCSD by the end of the year, so he knows what it takes to make it.
Alex could easily be mistaken for a grunge band guitar player (due to his love for flannel shirts, blue jeans, baggie shorts, and ball caps). He has come a long way since his days as a Disc Golf Junior Champion from San Diego’s Balboa Park.
“Our approach to brewing has changed over time, from big, hoppy, bold flavors to subtle, light, and sessionable beers,” Alex continued. “For instance, we wanted to bring back an American lager with flavor. It takes five to seven weeks to brew due to conditioning.” So, Amplified created Sell Out, the lager that won Silver at this year’s San Diego International Beer Festival.
The overarching theme at Amplified Ale Works has always been music. Its founders admit they are obsessed with music, especially when it is live. And, they are also crazy about making beer. Music served as an inspiration for the brewery, which actually started years ago in a garage as their employee house band.
“Our approach to brewing has changed over time, from big, hoppy, bold flavors to subtle, light, and sessionable beers.”
– Alex Pierson, Amplified Ale Works
Before there was a brewery, however, there was a restaurant. In 2009, Alex and his Cornell University classmate, J.C. Hill, co-founded a little restaurant, California Kebab, right next to San Diego State University. They had just left short, but very successful corporate careers in the hospitality industry, to strike out on their own.
Three years after opening California Kebab, they opened a second restaurant in Pacific Beach. In 2014 the name was changed to Amplified Kitchen & Beer Garden, where they added a 3-barrel brewhouse with two 7-barrel fermenters to make it a brew pub.
At first, Amplified Ale Works was a side project at the restaurant. Then Cy Henley, previously from Alpine and Ballast Point, helped grow the brewing side of the business. Beers focused on West Coast-style ales, Belgian-inspired ales, and a variety of experimental batches across all beer styles.
Later, the brewing team expanded the brewhouse with an additional 10-barrel fermenter and four 5-barrel serving tanks, but it still was not big enough to meet demand from their ever growing fan base.
“It was a constant battle of having beer to not having beer,” Alex told us. “Plus, we needed to get the brewhouse out of the kitchen.” So, the team decided to lease one of H.G. Fenton’s Brewery Igniter spaces in Miramar, next door to Pure Project Brewing, and commenced brewing.
“It’s fun to be next to Pure Project Brewing because we get to work together,” Alex said smiling. “For example, we combine malt deliveries, share food trucks, and we even collaborated on a beer.” Centerpointe (4.0% ABV) is a Belgian-style Pale Ale collaboration beer Amplified made with Pure Project. Hopefully, there will another collaboration beer between the two breweries in the future.
Amplified’s Miramar brewery opened in May. Its tasting room aesthetics are tasteful, clean, modern, and minimalist. Vintage rock music posters, mementos, and used concert tickets adorn the vertical surfaces. On one wall, reverently-framed posters for the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd hang lovingly with photos of classic rockers and bands. On another, a giant black-and-white photo of the D.C. Punk Rock band, Bad Brains, fills the entire wall, with H.R. frontman in the center, frozen in time.
Lighting is simple in the 12-tap tasting room. Strings of festival lights zigzag overhead while natural light streams in from the front picture window. Sports TV or music video feeds get projected high up on a back wall. The floor of the room is shiny, sealed concrete and above it is an open and exposed industrial ceiling.
Alex’s dog, Lucy, quietly and gently patrols the tasting room, though she mostly relaxes back in the brewhouse, happily chewing on her favorite toys. Her favorite spots are in front of the lab room or near the cool collection of whiskey and bourbon barrels.
The new brewhouse is a 7-barrel system with four 15-barrel fermenters, and four brite tanks. Head Brewer Cy Henley is assisted by cellarman Alex Forsman. Jeff Campbell, who used to be with Rip Current Brewing in San Marcos, is Director of Brewing Operations. Amongst many of his responsibilities, Jeff oversees the reverse osmosis water conditioning system installed along one wall.
Though the brew team at Amplified may be small, they are mighty. Brewing quality beers on two different brewing systems that are 13 miles apart is hard work. The logistics alone are staggering. Their close working relationship, diligence, and shared goal of making great beer is what makes the magic happen.
All beers made by Amplified Ale team are gluten-free. Amplified is the first to brew gluten-free/gluten-reduced beers in San Diego. They use Clarity Ferm, an enzyme made by White Labs, to improve clarity and strip out the gluten during fermentation. The result is a gluten-free/gluten-reduced beer whose taste is not affected by the process.
One such beer is Amplified Ale’s flagship beer, Electrocution (7.2% ABV/60 IBU), a classic, San Diego-style IPA:
Pale gold in color with a white head, the hop aroma is reminiscent of orange blossoms, grapefruit, tropical fruit, and pine. Flavors are similar, blending with a smooth, tasty bitterness. It has a pleasant mouthfeel, light-medium body, and a crisp, clean finish.
Another delicious beer is the new Whammy Bar Wheat (5.0% ABV), the beer that won Gold at this year’s World Beer Cup and Silver at San Diego International Beer Festival. In our opinion, it is exemplary of the American Wheat Beer style:
Brilliant golden color, quite clear, with a tall white head, it has a light, sweet, floral aroma. It is light and flavorful, subtly sweet,with bready notes, and balanced well by a slight bitterness. The body is soft, medium-light, with medium carbonation and a crisp, clean finish. This beer is perfect for drinking on Amplified’s brewpub patio on a warm, summer day.
Like so many other breweries, in addition to brewing great beers, Amplified Ale is involved in giving back to the community. Alex, for example, is on the board of beautifulPB, a Pacific Beach non-profit whose mission is to improve the Pacific Beach neighborhood.
Aligning with beautifulPB’s mission, Amplified Ale and Karl Strauss Brewing teamed up to collaborate on an on-going series of beers called Pathway Ale which is sold exclusively in the Pacific Beach community. Every $50 dollars of each keg sold goes to the organization to improve bike paths. Amplified Ale is also involved with Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurant program, and a sponsor for San Diego’s Climate Action Campaign.
We highly recommend visits to Amplified Ale Works in Miramar and their brewpub in Pacific Beach. Enjoying one of their brewery-fresh beers on the deck of the brewpub while looking out at the blue Pacific Ocean is one of our favorite things to do.
To learn more about Amplified Ale Works, their Mediterranean-style food, and fresh, innovative beers, visit their website at www.amplifiedales.com.