By Karen Billing
A “super-soft” opening at Solana Beach’s new San Diego Beerworks recently turned into an all-out flood of customers thirsting for a craft beer spot in the North Coast area.
“We were jam-packed the entire weekend,” said owner John Holko, who was behind the bar working the taps so steadily that one sought-after brew, Alpine’s Hoppy Birthday, ran out on the very first day.
Through word of mouth and social media, beer aficionados seemed to be clamoring for his bar to open. He got encouraging emails during the long march to opening day with people from all over the county saying they were looking forward to the new place. One day, a couple of guys drove up from Mission Valley just to peek in the windows.
“There’s been a lot of excitement with people who are beer fans, and we owe them a debt of gratitude,” Holko said. “We just have to do right by them and give them a great quality product.”
Holko, who opened the bar with his wife, Jennifer, aims to “celebrate the craft,” keep the pints beautiful and showcase San Diego’s local breweries the best he can.
While he would never call his customers “beer geeks,” he happily uses the term to describe himself.
Holko has been in the beer business for 10 years, predominantly on the supplier side. Most recently he worked for Crown Imports, commuting to San Francisco to work for the company that supplies and imports Corona, Pacifico, Modelo, Negra Modelo and Victoria beers.
Before that, he spent five years working for Heineken USA, managing the sales territories of Orange County, Inland Empire and Las Vegas.
“There’s been a huge boom in the last five years with craft beer in San Diego, and San Diego is recognized as the craft beer city in the country, that’s a known,” Holko said. “Last time I checked, there were over 85 breweries. What better way to come back to San Diego and stay in the business and also celebrate everything San Diego craft?”
He said while there are a lot of places to taste downtown, unless you visit the actual breweries, North Coast was lacking a place to sit down and have a “really good beer experience.”
Holko has thought of every detail at Beerworks — from the glassware used to the temperature, pressure and presentation of the beer — a one- to two-finger foam head that allows the nose to pick up the effervescence and bouquet of the beer.
In Solana Beach’s Beachwalk Retail Center, Beerworks completely overhauled the space that was formerly Cupcake Love bakery. (No matter how much work they have done, Holko said they still see little bits of pink paint on occasion.)
Holko went for a “vintage industrial” look, exposing the beams, tearing up the flooring and leaving the concrete, and putting in brick walls. He put in a unique cold- rolled-steel bar top and built the bar from reclaimed wood from a 100-year-old Sacramento barn.
“I loved the story behind it,” Holko said.
Between leather couches and chairs sits an antique cart from an old factory in South Carolina that has found a new life as a coffee (beer?) table.
Behind the bar, Beerworks has 20 taps, and Holko’s goal is to change the lineup every two weeks, offering brews nobody else is pouring.
Beers on the board include Alesmith Speedway Stout, Societe Belgian Ale, Culture Saison out of Solana Beach, the very popular Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Stout, the “hard core” Port Brewing’s Older Viscosity (“It’s almost like wine”), the “super fresh” Stone Ruin 10 Double IPA, Port Brewing’s “amazing amber” Shark Attack and Barrel Harbor Fenris IPA, which uses a mosaic hop.
Four barside taps are reserved for special events, used for tap takeovers, meaning a brewery can come in and pour beers as if it were in its own tasting room. The first takeover will be Green Flash, from July 9-14, a whole week of the brewery rotating its brews. A Green Flash cask tapping will be held on Friday, July 11. “It’s the purest representation of the beer,” Holko said. “For beer aficionados, that’s a great day, it’s like somebody’s birthday.”
His expansive beer cases have room for 315 different beers. Customers can opt for a can or bottle to go, or purchase it to drink right at the bar.
Holko is hoping to broaden people’s horizons and get them to try different breweries — the cases carry San Diego craft beers as well as craft beers from around the country, such as Ommegang out of New York and Shipyard out of Maine.
“It’s all about education and expanding people’s awareness,” he said.
Folks looking for a beer education will find one behind the bar — Holko and his knowledgeable, friendly employees absolutely love talking beer.
Beerworks also carries some wine and champagne, and the hope is to offer some small plates such as cheeses and charcuterie. As much as possible, Holko wants to work with his neighboring businesses. He will pair stouts with chocolates from Jer’s Chocolates a few doors down, and people who want a more substantial meal with their beer can have food delivered from neighboring Crush or California Pizza Kitchen.
Visit San Diego Beerworks at 437 Highway 101, suite 107 in Solana Beach. Visit sandiegbeerworks.com or call 858-353-7174.