The best of San Diego’s independent craft brews can now be found in one place with the opening of The Brewers Tap Room in Encinitas Village Square. Owner Chris Duncan curates the rotating tap list, featuring 25 offerings from purely independent and small breweries, beers you typically wouldn’t find anywhere but their own tasting rooms.
The taproom opened up on July 26 and celebrated with a three-day grand opening “extravaganza” on the last weekend in August. Duncan said “New Encinitas” was in need of a spot like this — a small, unique hangout for friends and beer lovers.
“We don’t brew beer, we honor the brewers that do. This will be something special in Encinitas, the local gathering place we’ve been waiting for,” said Duncan, a longtime Encinitas local. “Everyone says they love this location because it’s so easy, it’s right here in the neighborhood.”
Duncan kept the look of the bar simple, aiming to replicate the feel of a brewery tasting room with stained concrete floors, corrugated metal siding and a reclaimed wood bar with orange barstools. The tasting room’s logo is painted on one wall and the front window opens up to provide an indoor-outdoor experience.
Duncan’s background is in the healthcare and pharmaceutical business, where he worked for 23 years before deciding instead to focus on something he was passionate about: really good beer.
“I’ve been a beer nut all my life,” Duncan said. “I even used to do my own homebrewing but the beer in San Diego is way too good. I asked myself, ‘Why am I working so hard to make mediocre beer?’”
Duncan first explored purchasing a craft beer distribution company and through the process he learned all about the challenges that small breweries have with distribution — they don’t make enough to compete with larger breweries and they have to hustle to get their beers into establishments.
“I thought what they really need is a place dedicated to them,” Duncan said. “And in North County San Diego where I live, there was really nothing like that.”
When Village Square began its renovations — Duncan knew it would be the perfect spot for a craft beer bar. In opening, he joined the center’s line-up of Habit Burger Grill, Corner Bakery, Pick up Stix and, coming soon, Luna Grill.
As he prepared for his new venture, Duncan attended San Diego State University’s Craft Beer Connoisseur Camp last year, an offering from SDSU’s Business of Craft Beer program that serves as an intensive prep for industry exams.
He is also Cicerone certified (like a sommelier but for beers) as is all of his staff — they can expertly identify all of the different flavors in a beer and better educate customers on beer styles and history.
As his beers are grouped by styles such as hops, darks or malty, Duncan or the beertender on duty can point customers in the right direction of what they might like to taste from one of San Diego’s finest and smallest.
“It’s a really fun experience,” said Duncan of the ability to try beers from a variety of different places in full or four ounce pours or in a taster flight.
Breweries that have been featured in the taproom include Aztec, Monkey Paw, Council, Lost Abbey and the one-year-old Longship Brewery. One brewery that Duncan is especially excited about is Burgeon Beer Company, a Carlsbad brewery started by a trio of La Costa Canyon High School graduates, a place close to Duncan’s heart as all three of his sons attended school there.
“Their beer is great and it’s neat because they’re local guys,” said Duncan noting that Burgeon’s brand new Study Abroad IPA, a mix of Mosaic, Galaxy and Nelson hops, quickly became the taproom’s number one seller last week.
Duncan usually only orders one keg of each brew he selects so when it’s kicked, a new one will rotate right into its place, “It keeps people coming back because they never know what’s going to be on tap,” Duncan said.
Brewers is not allowed to fill growlers by law but they do have a selection of bottles and cans to go and while the taproom doesn’t serve food, customers are welcome to bring in outside food. Some have taken to grabbing a burger from Habit or a slice from Flippin Pizza and coming in and enjoying it with a beer.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Duncan said of opening the doors on a dream. “My friends come in and say ‘You actually did it.’”
Duncan is in the tasting room every day, serving up brews from behind the bar or visiting with guests. Since opening, it’s been so much fun seeing many friends he and his wife Lorie haven’t seen in years, friends from YMCA Adventure Guides and Little League teams — his son’s second grade teacher even stopped in for a taste.
“It’s become a total local neighborhood gathering place,” Duncan said. “We are so grateful for all the support.”