Locals are pouring into new Solana Beach brewery
By Claire Harlin
The new Culture Brewing Co. in Solana Beach is only a couple weeks into its soft opening and doesn’t even have a working phone or sign up yet, but it’s already proven to be a hoppin’ place.
Tucked between two retail shops near the northwest corner of Cedros Avenue and Lomas Santa Fe Drive, the droves of people socializing inside indicate it has made itself right at home since it opened its doors for the first time on Feb. 20. And it’s no wonder that locals have already made themselves at home there. Culture Brewing is not only the passion project of three local beer enthusiasts, but it’s the product of some 20 investors who live in the neighborhood as well — mainly local dads who know co-founders John Niedernhofer and Dennis Williams, both of Solana Beach, through their mutual involvement in the YMCA daddy-daughter club, Indian Princesses.
The brewery’s first day in business was dedicated exclusively to bringing together those local investors, and it’s been steadily growing in popularity since. Co-founder Steve Ragan said there will be a more formal opening once management gets the go-ahead from the city that it can make available five parking spots that are currently being configured.
A local resident of 20 years, 33-year old brewmaster Ragan is more than stoked about adding to Solana Beach’s “beer culture” — hence, the name of the brewery — and he said it’s that culture that has primarily resonated with him when it comes to his craft.
“It’s about this overall love of beers, between people who are brewers and also the beer geeks and beer nerds,” he said. “I’ve been to so many breweries and met so many brewers, and they are all so helpful and nice.”
Ragan has recently received a certification in brewery science from the University of California, Davis, but he really began honing his skills at home about six years after his former co-worker’s brother let him sit in on a home brewing session.
He was hooked after that.
“I was gone all day long and my wife was like, ‘Where are you?’” said Ragan. “The whole day passed and we didn’t even finish.”
Sure enough, Ragan’s wife bought him his first at-home brewing starter kit that year for Christmas, and he never looked back after that. In fact, Ragan left his career as an architect at a Rancho Santa Fe-based firm several years ago to follow his passion.
“Architecture tanked in a bad economy, and I was working twice as hard to make less money, saying ‘yes’ to everything,” he said.
Ragan’s weekday job wasn’t working out, and he realized that much of the positive feedback in his life was coming from his friends on the weekends, when he’d have them over to try his brews.
“Everyone was saying ‘You should start a brewery,’” he said. “It started resonating in my head and I was thinking, ‘Maybe I should do it.”
Ragan had already started looking into equipment and developing a plan when he met — and became best brew buddies with — Williams, who works in the asset management industry. The two used to enjoy each other’s home brews together and talk about how great it would be to have a place to drink and share their beers other than at each others’ homes.
“Seeing how other breweries were growing was inspirational, and we talked about it a lot,” Ragan said. “It started out as a light conversation, just ideas, and having worked in architecture, I knew about zoning and planning.”
Williams eventually brought Niedernhofer into the mix and soon enough those brainstorm sessions over beer evolved into a concerted effort to find a location on Cedros to start brewing — an endeavor that took about six months. And Williams and Niedernhofer were set on Solana Beach as a location.
“They’re from here; it’s in their backyard,” said Ragan. “We were only looking at Cedros.”
The brewery embodies a clean, industrial style to complement the steel kegs and brew equipment that are found throughout. A garage door on the front lifts to let in the sun and welcome passers-by, and the heated outdoor “backyard” only adds to the causal, at-home feel.
“We just wanted it to be approachable,” said Ragan. “We set out to make a utilitarian, functioning brewery, and it seems like everything else fell into place perfectly after that.”
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