San Diego’s Renaissance brewmaster
Strikingly intelligent, yet humble about his talents, Peter Zien is undoubtedly one, if not the smartest and most resourceful craftsmen in the San Diego beer industry. Not just an expert, award-winning brewmaster, Zien also is the owner and producer of CheeseSmith, his latest mouthwatering entrepreneurial endeavor, and spends his spare time baking bread, curing olives, painting and writing. He is truly a 21st century Renaissance man.
In 1995, armed with a law degree, Zien declared, “I am not going to be a lawyer!” and began homebrewing with a passion. AleSmith was also founded in 1995 as a grassroots classic brewery, although Zien would be its second owner.
Back then, the climate for craft beer was challenging and the company grew slowly, but finally in 2008 the tide changed, and AleSmith now stands as one of San Diego’s most famous and popular craft breweries.
The state-of-the-art new facility is already brewing, and will open its groundbreaking “observation room” in August.
“I want to do more for the customers, and the next generation of brewers and beer drinkers,” Zien said.
The new slant on the traditional tasting room will allow customers to watch, learn and experience history. (Fans, stay tuned for more info and opening surprises in upcoming press).
CheeseSmith, his exclusively raw milk cheese line, also will be officially born after already garnering awards at the San Diego County Fair, including best of class and best of show. With drive, spirit, and unquenchable passion like Zien’s, the world and most certainly San Diego are positively a better place. Cheers!
Q: How old were you when you took your first drink?
CS: 14. I tried my dad’s Tanqueray martini, and I didn’t care for it. But ... (laughing) I learned eventually.
Q: When did you brew your first beer?
CS: 1995, an IPA. I bought the kit for myself on my 33rd birthday from Tom Nickel. I brewed 107 beers before I went professional, and have kept records of every beer I have ever brewed. (Author’s note: I saw these incredible ledgers)
Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
CS: Making cheese. If I wasn’t doing that, baking, If I wasn’t doing that, curing olives. I’m going to be artist, I’m going to be a craftsman.
Q: If you could have one superpower?
CS: To see the future. I think I could do more good and help more people. We dream of having a nonprofit. Oh, and flying. (grins)
Q: What is your idea of happiness?
CS: My mind at peace. The stillness of recognizing your existence. The gift of feeling alive.
Q: What makes you laugh?
CS: Classic comedy. A Marx brothers movie. Humor is a great thing.
Q: Greatest honor?
CS: Two major things: Winning the National Homebrew Club of the Year with Quaff, and winning Small Brewery of the Year at GABF (Great American Beer Festival) in 2008.
Q: If it’s not a beer, what are you reaching for?
CS: Tequila. Vicky and I have a collection of 45 bottles, and are currently building a tequila bar.
Q: One wish?
CS: The world solves some of its biggest problems. On a personal level ... ending the drought.
Q: Favorite vacation spot?
CS: Hilo, Hawaii
Q: Desert island music?
CS: Led Zeppelin.
Q: What is your personal mantra?
CS: I live in a peaceful place. I forgive those who need forgiving, I wish them happiness, and I wish that for me.
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
CS: Simply as an artist.
Q: If you could invite three people living or dead to dinner, who would they be?
CS: Jesus Christ, Jimi Hendrix and my dad.
Q: Your last meal on earth?
CS: El Pastor pork burrito and an Alesmith Anvil ESB.
With 15 years in the restaurant and beverage industry and more than 700 reviews under her belt, Laurie Delk is a one-stop guide to all things craft beer, wine and spirits. You can follow Delk on Twitter @100beers30days or Instagram @sandiegobeer. Send ideas for featured drinks to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.