Death of a brewpub: Melvin departs San Diego
Melvin’s hop-forward beers seemed perfect for San Diego. Melvin’s public image? Not so perfect.
Melvin, We Hardly Knew Ye
The hop-forward beers of Melvin — the Alpine, Wyo., brewery that opened an East Village brewpub in late 2018 — seemed perfect in hop-happy San Diego.
Melvin’s public image? Not so perfect.
Shortly before opening here, the brewery suffered a self-inflicted black eye when an employee was accused of groping a waitress at a Bellingham, Wash., brewery. This amplified earlier complaints that Melvin’s home pub had a testosterone-soaked culture that discouraged female patronage.
“I really can’t say if that had any effect,” said Max Clough, Melvin’s interim CEO, who closed the San Diego brewpub on Feb. 15. “But honestly I did not have any feedback on that from San Diego.”
Clough, Melvin’s interim CEO, sounded a little down, perhaps because he was calling from Melvin’s main office. Temperatures were 26 degrees and falling, while a storm was pasting a fresh layer of snow over the four feet already blanketing Alpine.
“I think everyone was a little bit more ambitious about the development of that East Village area,” he said. “When we went into that place, there were a number of projects slated for the area. They didn’t come to fruition quick enough to give us the kind of foot traffic that would allow us to survive there.”
Still, general manager Donna Callahan and brewer Bobby Oliver led “a super team,” Clough said, and Melvin’s beers have a great reputation.
Not great enough, though, to overcome a scarcity of passers-by in a neighborhood generously stocked with breweries (Half Door, Mission) and brewpubs (10 Barrel, Amplified, Duck Foot, Little Miss Brewing, Stone).
“It was challenging to carve out your own space in a crowded market,” he said.
Kings of Beer
Perhaps the fastest growing trend in craft beer is the low-cal, low-carb brew. Firestone Walker is heavily promoting its Flyjack (4% alcohol by volume, 96 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrates) but, as much as I respect that powerhouse’s brewing chops, I prefer Thorn Brewing’s Treading Lightly (4.3%, 104 calories, 2.9 grams of carbohydrates).
While neither is a full-bodied IPA, Treading Lightly’s extra alcohol and calories deliver a more rounded, satisfying beer. Amarillo and Citra hops supply fresh grapefruit aromas and enough flavor to make you forget that this is a “light” beer.
Numerous local markets stock six-packs of Treading Lightly and it’s on tap at the brewery’s Barrio Logan and North Park tasting rooms.
This June, San Diego County homebrewers should feel right at home in Nashville. The Tennessee city will host the 42nd annual Homebrew Con, a three-day convention that ends with June 20’s National Homebrew Competition, a contest that usually ends with numerous San Diegans wearing medals. (Last year, locals took six.)
Registration opens March 10 at homebrewcon.org; first round judging begins March 13.
I spoke with Stephen Beaumont before he addressed this week’s VIBE (Very Important Beverage Executives) conference at La Costa, and mined my notes for gems that were included in an earlier story. But I reserved one Beaumont bon mot for this column: the Toronto-based beer writer’s take on the emotional reaction when a local brewery sells to a multi-national corporation.
“People are invested in their favorite brewery,” Beaumont said, “because they’ve spent years saying, ‘We’re the small guy and we are struggling against the multi-national.’”
It rings hollow when the authors of a David vs. Goliath narrative turn around and insist this has become a happy tale of David & Goliath Inc.
An occasional tip sheer for the beer-savvy traveler.
Date: Friday and Saturday
Why: The Pittsburgh Beerfest. Many of the 125 breweries pouring are Eastern and Midwestern stars we Left Coasters rarely see (although Green Flash, Mother Earth and Stone will be there.) Tickets at the door of the David Lawrence Convention Center are $55-$95. Info: pittsburghbeerfest.com.
Side trips: Once a grimy steel town, Pittsburgh now boasts vibrant waterfronts, crack universities, hip art scenes and thriving craft beer industry. Church Brew Works, 3525 Liberty Ave., is one of the country’s best-known beer bars. Near this Catholic church is Hop Farm Brewing with its popular Berliner weisse, Margot. East End and Helltown breweries also have rabid followings, but the retro-chic crowd flocks to Pittsburgh Brewing for its mediocre but locally celebrated Iron City Beer.