As San Diego’s craft beer industry continues to thrive, a new program is helping local microbreweries tap into the business without risking it all.
Developer H.G. Fenton Company’s Brewery Igniter Program is helping San Diego brewers realize their dreams of opening their own facilities and tasting rooms in communities that appreciate the craft culture.
The program leases small suites known as “turnkey breweries” that come fully equipped with everything needed to launch a brewing business: from barrel systems and a keg washer, to a bar and beer tasting area.
The program is designed to give small brewers the chance to go into business quickly and invest less capital upfront as they get their brewery up and running.
“Basically, it’s a collection of turnkey breweries for rent,” H.G. Fenton portfolio manager Bill Hooper told NBC 7. “Our target customer is not the hobbyist, but someone who is an experienced brewer, who wants to start a craft brew business.”
Co-founder Mat Robar said when he and his business partners heard about the Brewery Igniter Program, they jumped at the chance to open their own tasting room in San Diego.
“The Brewery Igniter Program really allowed us to quickly move into this space and quickly be up and running, as opposed to the traditional route, which may take a year to order and get your equipment, several months to get your permitting and work through all the contractors yourself and that type of stuff,” Robar told NBC 7.
“It really eliminated a lot of those headaches and roadblocks that may be preventing a lot of other breweries from opening up. It allowed us to get up and running in about six months, give or take,” he explained.
Rock-influenced Amplified Ale Works opened its Miramar tasting room in May. This is the brewery’s second location.
The original Amplified Ale Works is in Pacific Beach but co-founder Alex Pierson said the brewery needed to expand in order to be able to meet the growing demands of customers.
“We’ve had our location in Pacific Beach for four years now and just hadn’t been able to meet the existing demand that we’ve had,” Pierson explained. “To be able to come in here and do some production brewing has been great.”
Within a month of operating in Miramar, Pierson said Amplified has really ramped up production, quadrupling the amount of beer they were able to produce when they only operated from the Pacific Beach site.
This includes more batches of Amplified’s best-selling brew, Electrocution IPA, the classic San Diego Westcoast-style IPA of which the brewery just can’t seem to make enough.
“That was one of the key selling points for the Brewery Igniter Program for me, was the opportunity to grow and meet the existing demand that we already have in Pacific Beach, without overextending ourselves and trying to grow too fast in an industry where everyone is moving at a very rapid pace,” Pierson told NBC 7.
Amplified's Miramar location offers more than 12 house beers on tap. With this facility and more resources, Pierson said he expects even more growth for his company.
With 128 breweries now operating in San Diego, the Brewery Igniter Program is quickly gaining buzz.
Claudia Faulk, CFO Partner at Aztec Brewing Co. and a member of the San Diego Brewers Guild board of directors, said she wishes the program had existed when her brewery was first coming up.
“I think it gives people an opportunity to jump right in and not have to be as stressed about not having equipment. You don’t always know how to set things up; this is already set up and you can see how things work and when you make the next step, you’re not going to make as many mistakes,” said Faulk.
“I know when we started, we didn’t know what we were doing,” she added, saying that opening a microbrewery is much harder than it looks.
“There’s a lot of paperwork and a lot of steps – the build out. You have to figure out how big you want to be and then it’s like, ‘How much money do I have?’ because that determines how big. And then it’s ‘What did you forget?’ because everything costs more than you think it will,” Faulk explained.
Brewery Igniter will hop to North Park next, with plans to open three turnkey breweries in the heart of San Diego’s craft beer scene. Each of those 2,000-square-foot spaces will include a 10-barrel brewhouse, tap room and other equipment to start a beer business.
H.G. Fenton Company is still sifting through potential tenants to fill those suites, which will all be housed in the same building, making it easy for patrons to hop from brewery to brewery.
Hooper said Brewery Igniter is also looking to expand to the North County, also a hotbed for hops.
“H.G. Fenton’s mission is to help businesses succeed so whether it’s the craft brew industry or a tech startup company, we want to be there to help them with that,” added Hooper.
And, for entrepreneurs trying to make it in a competitive market, a little help is certainly worth a toast.
“We’re a small team; we’re all kind of chief cook and bottle washer at this point,” Robar said with a laugh. “I don’t know if we’d even exist without the Brewery Igniter Program.”