Like many breweries along the Hops Highway, Offbeat Brewing started in a kettle in the kitchen. The 12-quart kettle that started it all is still in use at Offbeat’s brew house, a few more dents and scratches, but still shiny and useful. This cherished tool is a reminder of their humble beginning.
It was while brewing a small batch of beer in this kettle, that Tom Garcia had an epiphany: he was going to be a brewer. Fortunately, he had a plan to become one, and his wife Sarah’s expertise in business was waiting in the wings for when he went pro.
“I knew I wanted to be a brewer right from the start,” Tom recounted for us during a recent visit to the brewery. “I loved the art and science of brewing.”
Tom formally entered the brewing industry in 2003 when he started working for Stone Brewing in their tasting room. Before long he was working on Stone’s bottling line, and later did their kegging. He also did a stint as one of their tour guides.
After months of hard work at these entry level positions, Tom worked his way up and into the brew house at Stone. There, legendary master brewer Lee Chase taught him how to brew on the commercial system and about the importance of quality assurance. Eventually, Tom became Stone’s night shift brewer, and being the innovator that he is, introduced the first quality control lab to the brewery, which he ran for two years.
Continuing to work his way up the company ladder, Tom became a cellar supervisor for Stone, where he met Brandon Uhl. Like Tom, Brandon had worked his way through the ranks of Stone: first, on the bottling line, then kegging, followed by cellaring, and finally, in the lab as a technician.
Unlike Tom however, Brandon moved on to Green Flash Brewing after putting in his time at Stone. “I was never a homebrewer,” Brandon told us. “My first all grain brewing was done on the all-manual system at Green Flash’s original brewery.” When Green Flash moved to San Diego and Lattitude 33 Brewing took over the brewery, Brandon stayed behind and brewed for Lattitude 33.
In 2012, eight new breweries opened along the Hops Highway, including Offbeat. It was late September of that year when Tom and Sarah Garica officially opened Offbeat’s doors in an Escondido business park, becoming the city’s second brewery after Stone.
Offbeat was truly boot strapped together, which was part of the business plan. Tom collected an assortment of equipment for the brewery, including recycled stainless steel dairy tanks, a 10-barrel boil kettle, a fermenter, and cellar tanks. Then he built a method of brewing to fit the equipment, and started brewing real ales.
Tom started brewing beer, then kegging, selling, and delivering it, while Sarah kept the books, filed the forms, and worked on outfitting the tasting room. All the while, the pair was tending to their new baby! Every day they worked hard to build the brewery into what it is today: a fusion of visual arts paired with the art of beer.
“It was like punk rock to me, so I told myself, I’m just going to start making music. And that’s how the big adventure began.”
– Tom Garcia, Owner/Brewmaster Offbeat Brewing
Family, friends, artists, and locals started to hang out to help Tom and Sarah. Drinking brewery-fresh beer, the team shaped the brewery and it quickly became an integral part of the community. “Our first keg went to support our local Rotary,” Tom told us proudly.
Since that first keg, Offbeat’s beers naturally moved from their English-style roots to being true San Diego-style ales. With an abundance of hops from the Pacific Northwest, malts from Belgium, and ale yeast from California, flavors and aromas shine like the San Diego sun in their beers. People quickly grew fond of them and their thirsts helped Offbeat to grow.
When asked about making Offbeat’s beers in general, Tom told us, “You’re getting beers that two people labored over, cried over, and sometimes brewed with blood and sweat. I call it, ‘soul brewing,’ because we are spiritually connected to the beers.”
Since opening in 2012, Offbeat has been carefully growing production a little each year. Last year, the brewery produced 200 barrels (6,200 gallons) of beer. This year, Tom’s goal is to brew over twice as much. With the all-star line-up of beers and lots of hard work from its team, Tom says Offbeat is ready for the next expansion phase and more success.
“Distribution is huge for us,” Tom explained. “Every time we sell a keg it goes right back into the company and community, which is how we are different than a lot of breweries.”
Another reason for Offbeat’s success is they are constantly working to create new beers for their fans while maintaining their core beers. For example, some of the most exciting beers to come out of the brewery are El Gaucho De Ha Ha (5.3% ABV/30 IBUs), a coffee pale ale dry hopped with Chinook, and M.C. Ester (9.3% ABV/100 IBUs), a Belgian-style Double IPA.
On the other end of the spectrum, Offbeat continues to develop their core beers like Bear Arms (6.5% ABV/47 IBUs), a tasty brown ale. The brewery’s main goal is to put Escondido in a glass. Here are our tasting notes for three beers we sampled during our visit:
El Gaucho De Ha Ha – We found an excellent, fresh hop aroma in this pale ale brewed with a coffee addition. Made with 2-row and Special B malts, Galena and Chinook hops, this beer has an amazing aroma and flavor profile. Fresh ground coffee beans from Manzanita Roasting Company in Escondido added to the whirlpool at the end of the boil produces a very clean, dry finish to the beer, with mellow bitterness from the coffee beans rather than the hops.
M.C. Ester – This Belgian-style DIPA was wonderful. It has the color of copper, hazy, with a nice white head. With medium, champagne-like carbonation, the mouthfeel is pleasant and creamy. Fruity aromas and flavors are apparent at first sip, but as it warms, more emerge, like dark fruit, spice, herbs, and bubblegum.
Bear Arms Brown Ale – With an attractive color of root beer and a tan head, this tasty brown ale is brewed with Belgian malts. Spiked with Galena and Fuggle hops, aromas and flavors reminded us of plums and raisins, with a rich, mellow roastiness. It has a smooth mouthfeel with medium carbonation, and a clean finish that leaves the palate wanting more.
As Offbeat grows over time, it is clear the brewery’s greatest assets are the people in the brewery who strive to produce delicious, innovative craft beers every day. Cheering them on are the equally passionate fans that, like the original 12-quart kettle, have supported this micro brewery from the very beginning.
“My New Year’s resolution for 2016 is to give more people the opportunity to drink our beers,” Tom told us as we ended our visit. After getting to know Tom Garcia and the Offbeat Brewing staff, we look forward to seeing expansion plans, larger distribution and continued success.