What is it about Latitude 33 Brewing that inspires craft beer lovers to search out their brewery? After all, even members of the brewery team admit it can be hard to find.
Is it the enormity of the brewery with its ceiling-high stainless steel vessels that gleam from the shadows of the brewhouse? Or the large open floor space for visitors to hang out and enjoy beer?
Maybe it’s the dog friendliness, led by resident mascot Kumo and brewery ambassador Barlow. Or could it be the bottled beers, scattered about San Diego County like pebbles that enthusiasts pick up and follow back to the brewery?
Come along with us to learn the answer, as we did one special sun-showery day this fall, when we were awed by the quality of their beers and passion of the staff.
The brewery co-owned and operated by newlyweds, Mike & Treasure Ingram is named for the 33rd parallel north that crosses just about where the brewery is located. Within the shell of its vast light industrial unit are towering brewing vessels, coppers for mashing and a regulation size pool table. Even the size of the tasting area is impressive.
As a brewery, Latitude 33 is a 10K, meaning its production capacity is 10,000 barrels (BBLs). Keep in mind a barrel is 31 gallons. As an indicator of how quickly the brewery is growing, last year it produced 750 barrels, while this year they will brew 3,500.
“Most of that production was for other breweries we do contract brewing for, such as Belching Beaver, Legacy, and Reel in L.A.,” President and co-owner, Mike Ingram told us. “But now that those contracts have ended we will just be brewing our own beers.”
Ingram’s plan is to continue building the business and expand distribution beyond San Diego, methodically radiating out into the western states. “We want to double or triple current capacity in the next two to three years,” he added.
Ingram grew up in Vista and was educated at SDSU and UCSD where he studied accounting, economics, and finance. His clear green eyes and face lights up excitedly when he talks about the brewery and what has led to its success. He is truly dedicated to the craft.
We spent some time sampling and talking about Latitude 33’s beers with Ingram. When asked about what made the beers so good he spoke eloquently about the team behind the beer and their collective passion for producing them. Ingram is clearly a man who loves what he does. His enthusiasm for his company, product, and team is inspirational.
When we visited the brewery it was closed. Nonetheless, the entire Latitude 33 team came in, some members on their own time, to meet with us and talk about their brewery. It was a good excuse for a celebration, and after our work was done, that’s exactly what took place.
Driven by a shared passion, the team at Latitude 33 knows they are an integral part of the brewing community; not just along the Hops Highway, but throughout the entire county. However, they are also part of the Vista community itself, as evidenced by the way they give back through their “Craft With A Cause” program which raises funds for charity organizations and local causes. Labrador Rescuers of San Diego and BreastCancer.org are examples of the groups the brewery have supported.
When asked about core values, Ingram told us, “We are product focused. We believe that if we build a good team and culture, people will come.” And they do come. When open, the brewery is constantly crowded with fans of their beers.
“The success factor of the brewery and its beers is the team. They all have input and I trust any one of them to speak for the brewery.”
– Mike Ingram, Owner Latitude 33 Brewing
Latitude 33 beers include a crisp Belgian Witbier called True Grit; a refreshing Crimson Pale Treasured Ale; the 8.5% ABV Breakfast Stout; a hoppy Thirty Three IPA; the Barlow Black IPA; and a flavorful Vanilla Porter.
Two other core beers are Honey Hips Strong Blonde (8.3% ABV) and Blood Orange IPA (7.2% ABV) which we sampled while conversing with Ingram. Both ales had very distinctive flavors and character; both were refreshingly delicious.
“Honey Hips is our most famous beer and 60% of sales,” Ingram explains, and after our sample, we know why. It has the color of honey, clear, with a soft white head. The aroma is floral and honey, reminding us of mead. The flavor is appetizing, slightly sweet with a bit of fruit and a nice spice bitterness. Its mouthfeel is smooth and creamy, with pleasant carbonation, and it has a nice clean finish. Overall, this is a beautifully made blonde ale, though strong. Be careful of the high ABV, as it is hidden in the beer’s complexity.
We also had the pleasure of speaking to the brewers at Latitude 33 during our visit, and they told us more about making Honey Hips and Blood Orange IPA.
“Honey Hips is made with local honey from Mikolich Family Honey Company in Temecula,” Adam Vickers beamed proudly. He is Latitude 33’s assistant brewer & quality control guy. A musician by trade, and self-taught homebrewer, Vickers is currently a student in UCSD’s Professional Certificate in Brewing Program.
“The honey we use is organic blossom honey,” he continues. “We add sweet orange peel and rose hips in the whirlpool. It’s our least hopped beer.”
They also use Hellertau hops from the Hellertau region of Bavaria when making beer. This is another example of the attention to details for quality at the brewery. Hellertau grain is the best in the world, and expensive.
Vickers tells us he and the head brewer, Casey Petty, are like “yin and yang.” The two are one when making beer, though monthly tasting sessions include the entire team as a collaborative, team building process. Each member has a chance to elaborate on their personal preferences as they develop new recipes.
“Our Blood Orange IPA is dry hopped with citra, then infused with a high quality blood orange extract to get the right flavor,” Casey confided. When pressed for more details about making the IPA, he tells us they do not condition the water, they use the best grains and hops they can get their hands on, and they use yeast from White Labs.
The aroma of Blood Orange IPA is like walking through an orange grove. It has a white head that dissipates slowly, turning into lace on the glass. It tastes juicy and citrusy, a little like tropical fruit, and the sweetness and bitterness are well balanced. As their website states, and we concur, this beer “redefines the category of the San Diego-style IPA.”
What a privilege and delight it was for us to share brewery-fresh beers with the team at Latitude 33. Sampling their beers and learning the story behind them was like breaking bread between us and Latitude 33’s team.
Latitude 33 Brewery is a real gem of a place. They pour excellent beers in exciting surroundings. Ingram and team are knowledgeable and friendly and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with them. We encourage you to head there and try a pint for yourself.