Photo by Andrew Dyer
Eppig co-founders Clayton Leblan and Nate Stephens
Eppig Brewing is the first of three breweries to occupy the CRAFT by Brewery Igniter space in North Park (3052 El Cajon Blvd.), which has finally opened its doors to the public. Two veteran Ballast Point brewers, Nate Stephens and Clayton LeBlanc, have launched their new brewery with an impressive and diverse array of beers after two years in development. Two more breweries, Pariah Brewing and San Diego Brewing Company, will soon open adjacent to Eppig in a consortium that's unique in San Diego's crowded craft market.
Eppig is a new brewery with an old history.
"My business partner is Stephanie Eppig," co-founder Clayton LeBlanc said. "Her family owned breweries in Brooklyn, New York from 1866 through prohibition."
The original Eppig Brewing specialized in German lagers as did most 19th century breweries. The new iteration is not straying far from those roots.
"Right now we've got a Festbier, a Zwickelbier and a Schwarzbier," LeBlanc said. "There's a lot of styles consumers don't know about. Put it in a glass—it's craft beer just like anything else."
Eppig is not all about Old World lagers, however.
"Both Nate and I come from a larger brewery that made a bunch of different styles under the guidance of smart guys that know how to make really good beer," LeBlanc said. "We're going to have a line of hoppy beers and kettle sours as well."
I tried five Eppig beers at its grand opening and came away impressed. Lagers might not get the hype IPAs and stouts enjoy, but the Festbier and Zwickelbier were absolute stand-outs, as was the Glitz and Glam Berlinerweiss.
Eppig is the latest in business operating under the Brewery Igniter concept. The first iteration in Miramar includes Pure Project and Amplified Ale Works. Jacqueline Olivier, project manager for Brewery Igniter, said the North Park concept was a bit different than what they have in Miramar.
"Miramar is located in a business park and CRAFT is its own building right in the middle of North Park," Olivier said. "We wanted to give it its own identity (and) create more of a sense of destination."
The Brewery Igniter concept is simple: Igniter owns the buildings, brewhouse and tasting room equipment and the brewery owner leases the space. Breweries would need to eventually move on to a larger space in order to grow, but with the high cost of entry into the industry Brewery Igniter offers an alternative to raising millions of dollars in start-up funds.
"It gets you open without having to write a check for $2-3 million for all the equipment that goes into construction," LeBlanc said. "The basic floorplan is already decided for you, but it gets you open."
The CRAFT space will be worth watching over the next few months. The next brewery to open there, Pariah Brewing Company, should be open early next year, with San Diego Brewing Company to follow. The parking situation is better than denser parts of North Park and with three options in one space, CRAFT could potentially become the destination that finally gets beer trekkers to cross the Boulevard.