Photos by Howard Lipin
Having served craft beers alongside locally sourced entrees for the past five years, the folks behind East Village 's British-style gastropub, Knotty Barrel, are unveiling a newly constructed brewery to call their own. When the taqueria next door to the Market Street bar recently hasta luego'd to a new location, Knotty Barrel's founder and president, Ken Lovi, pounced on the opportunity to grow his venue's space and offerings.
"All we had to do was open up a wall," says Lovi. "Both buildings are pretty much identical - they were built around the same time; they both have brick columns, a big metal truss and that old-barrel feeling. It worked out perfectly."
The result? A new five-barrel brewhouse (where the Mexican restaurant once was) and a 2,300-square-foot beer garden transformed from a parking lot abutting the building.
"Since we're not the most original with names," says Lovi, "we decided to call the brewery Knotty Brewing."
What is original, Lovi points out, is the beer he's producing.
"There are a ton of phenomenal breweries in San Diego, but the style we've always had at our craft bars has been a lot more European-focused, along with American craft beers," he says. "So we sensed a need to go back to the original recipes and do more of the European and traditional-style beers."
While Lovi has a long history in the local nightlife scene - including a partnership with the hospitality heroes at RMD Group (Side Bar, F6ix, Don Chido, Rustic Root, Salvucci's) and his former role as managing partner and vice president of Moose Restaurant Group - he knew he couldn't pull this off on his own.
"I've been around the craft beer industry such a long time, but I know my limitations," he says. "I knew I definitely needed a great brewer, but after a month and a half of interviews with local brewers, we just couldn't find the right person."
That's when Lovi and his team learned about Donovan Lane, who, at the time, was head brewer for Funky Bow Brewing Company in Maine.
"Donovan and I spoke on the phone, we Skyped, and we went back and forth," Lovi says. "The beers he was producing in Maine were sent out to us, and, once we tried them, we fell in love with his style and offered him the job."
Lane gave his employer notice, packed his car and drove across the country to become Knotty Brewing's brewmaster.
"He is from Maine," Lovi says, "so I don't think it took too much convincing."
In addition to offering 20 craft beers on tap and nearly 80 brands of imported and domestic bottles, Knotty Barrel is serving four of its own brews: Super Fresh Pale Ale, Tom Tom Blonde, Jersey Mike's Wit and Kasie's Stout.
"The four core beers have each already received great responses from our guests," says Lovi. "I would've thought the Belgian wit would have been big right from the get-go, but our pale ale and stout have actually been the most popular. I've been surprised."
Kasie's Stout, in particular, with its rich, complex flavor and undertones of coffee, chocolate and caramel, seems to be roping in many who've sampled it.
"I can't believe so many people have fallen in love with the stout," says Lovi. "Usually a big, heavy, dark beer is the last thing people go to, but it's actually been one of the first. And the thing I love about it is that it's only six percent [alcohol]. So, even though it drinks much bigger, it's not an eight or nine percent stout where you have one and just can't have another."
While Knotty Brewing is already filling pint glasses with its masterful creations, craft beer aficionados will likely notice a glaring omission from the debut selection.
"We don't have an IPA [India pale ale] in our lineup of core beers," Lovi says. "So many San Diego breweries already do a great IPA, so why would I try to make one that's any better than what everybody else is already doing?"
842 Market St., East Village
SIDE DISHKnotty Barrel's Ken Lovi says a mouthful
FAVORITE FOOD: A filet with foie gras. It's just decadent and something you don't eat every day.
FOOD I HATE: My wife would kill me, but probably sea urchin. That's her favorite thing in the world, but the briny ocean flavor is just way too much for me.
FAVORITE SAN DIEGO DISH: Chilaquiles at Ortega's in O.B. To me, it's a quintessential, classic Mexican breakfast.
FAVORITE SAN DIEGO RESTAURANT: Probably Cowboy Star. From the food to the atmosphere to the cocktails, I've never had a bad meal or drink there.