By Brandon Hernández / Photo by Jeff "Turbo" Corrigan
Here in suds central, a county that's home to more than 60 brewhouses - where India pale ales and imperial stouts flow like water at hundreds of local bars, taprooms and restaurants - it's easy to forget that not everyone is familiar with the concept of "craft beer."
Truth be told, the majority of the world's imbibers are unfamiliar with the wide spectrum of flavorful ales and lagers the craft brewing industry has to offer, much less the plethora of award-winning, top quality beers produced right here in America's Finest.
A lot of this has to do with exposure. Despite craft beer's rapid growth over the past several years, muscling out shelf space and stepping out from the looming shadow cast by big-name beer companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors has proven immensely difficult for craft companies. But one new local brewing outfit, Saint Archer Brewery, has a game plan for gaining exposure, using some big names of its own - an army of high-profile action sports stars hailing from the surf, skate and snowboarding arenas, all of whom are not only supporters of the rookie operation, but also investors sold on its virtues.
Saint Archer is the brainchild of Josh Landan, a critically acclaimed action sports documentarian (ARC, Flow, Against the Grain).
"I was in San Diego starting a new skate film with [pro skateboarder] Mikey Taylor, Landan says. "We hit it off from minute one and, over a couple of beers our first night in, I told him I wanted to do a beer brand."
Taylor was intrigued, and the next day the two called another top pro skateboarder, Paul Rodriguez, Jr., to see if he would be interested in participating. P-Rod jumped on board, and Saint Archer was born.
"We identified with craft beer right away," Landan says. "What really appealed to us was that craft beer is very similar to skating and surfing. The people involved in it are very passionate about every aspect of these two cultures. Essentially, it's the same industry: outcasts that are trying to create their own voice and their own path regardless of what the big brands are doing or saying you can or can't do."
Landan put together a list of the athletes he thought would be interested and had the legitimate affinity for good beer necessary to not only get Saint Archer up-and-running, but also help roll out the barrels and take things to the next level. (See sidebar for list.)
All of them, and more, signed on, giving Landan the start-up funds he needed to install a 30-barrel brewhouse in a 16,200 square-foot building in the Miramar area. That beer-making base of operations will be overseen by a duo of blue-chip free-agent brewers Landan managed to lure from other prestigious posts - brewmaster Ray Astamendi and lead brewer Kim Lutz.
"Lee Chase, the owner of Blind Lady Ale House, Tiger! Tiger! Tavern and Automatic Brewing Company, turned me on to Ray," says Landan. "He didn't mention anyone else. He just said, 'Get Ray!' I had no back-up plan." And he didn't need one.
Enthused by the prospect of the new business, Astamendi came over from San Clemente's Left Coast Brewing Company (who many locals know as the brewers of the beer at Oggi's Pizza and Brewing), making a triumphant return to San Diego, where he last worked as a member of the Mission Brewery team. He also brewed for a stint in Hawaii at Maui Brewing Company. While there, he worked under Lutz, the innovative brewer who now serves as his right-hand in the brewhouse.
A graduate of Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo who worked as an enologist for Paso Robles' J. Lohr Winery before heading for Hawaii, Lutz is no stranger to California. She's spent significant time in San Diego over the past year, collaborating with local brewers and laying down roots.
"She can do the work of one-and-a-half people," says Astamendi, who recalls how well they worked together at their previous post and is excited to rekindle their sudsy symbiosis on the mainland.
With all of their experience coming in temperate climates, where clear skies and sunshine are constants, Astamendi and Lutz are adept at crafting refreshing, low-alcohol beers that go down easy while packing a great deal of flavor. This falls in line with the session beers - less alcoholic ales and lagers that can be enjoyed in greater quantities over long periods of time, or "sessions" - Landan and his investors are looking for.
Saint Archer's starting line-up of core beers will include an IPA, a pale ale and a blonde ale that's an interpretation of a traditional German Kölsch. All of the beers clock in between 4.8 and 7 percent alcohol-by-volume.
"We'll do some gnarly, in-your-face stuff, too, but we want it to be proportionate to how we drink beers," says Astamendi. This is a boon for craft beer fans craving variety and innovation, two more pluses Saint Archer's brewing tandem are proven and capable of furnishing.
Saint Archer has signed on with local business, Stone Distributing, to get its beers on shelves and in venues throughout Southern California. But their plan is to go far beyond local waters. Landan and company aim to take on the entire West Coast in the near future, and that's just the beginning - and where all those action sports heroes come in.
"We all came together with passion and commitment to express our collective true love for handcrafted beer," says Landan. "When you believe in something like all of us do, you are going to support it and put your life into it. Saint Archer will have a presence at any event any of our owners are present at anywhere in the world. Someone is always on camera wearing a shirt, hat or some sort of apparel, and Saint Archer beer will be available at events where it's appropriate to serve alcohol."
That's some serious exposure potential, perhaps the highest any craft brewery, here or anywhere, has had up to this point. This presents a tremendous opportunity, not only for Saint Archer, but for the craft brewing industry as a whole. Members of this artisan industry have long ridden the rising tide created by the collective efforts of their colleagues. In making waves throughout the beer world, this band of all-star athletes and brewers stand a good chance of opening eyes across the globe about the glories of beer that's a cut above, a masterful medium created right in our own backyard.
Saint Archer Brewery
9550 Distribution Way, Miramar
Saint Archer owners
In addition to skateboarders Mikey Taylor and Paul Rodriguez, Saint Archer Brewing's athlete/investors include: skaters Sean Malto, Omar Salazar, Mike Mo Capaldi, Shane O'Neill, Bryan Herman, Brian Hansen and Chris Miller; surfers Taylor Knox, Dusty Payne, Josh Kerr, Jeff Johnson and Dane Zaun; snowboarders Todd Richards and JP Solberg; plus numerous photographers, filmmakers and musicians.