Rey Knight, Founder and Head Brewer, Finest Made Ales
When Rey Knight opened Butcher's Brewing in 2013, the small suburb of Santee was known for a number of things—not all of them good—but beer was not one of them. Not much had changed by the time Butcher's rebranded as Finest Made Ales in August 2016. People might know that Twisted Manzanita closed this year or about BNS Brewing & Distilling's impressive run of gold and silver medals at the Great American Beer Fest, but many still do not think of Santee as a destination for great beer.
This needs to change.
The makeover to Finest Made Ales was not just corporate rebranding, Knight said, but a significant upgrade and investment in the brewing process and quality of the beer.
"[Back] then it was a three-and-a-half barrel brew house," he said. "It was glorified home brewing. In November of last year we bought the new brew house and went to seven barrels."
Not only has Finest Made increased the volume of beer produced, but its process has also improved.
"Everything we purchased was to make the product better," Knight said. "We don't have a brite tank; we do our carbonating inside the vessel. We inject our yeast in-line and have a closed-loop system to add the hops for dry hopping. It all happens in one vessel so there's no risk of contamination."
This process, said Knight, creates a "super clean, aromatic product," and I cannot argue with him. The IPA was bright and crisp without being too bitter and the Hefeweizen, a favorite of mine from his Butcher's days, was better than I remembered.
"People ask if we're brewing the same recipes—yes and no," said Knight. "It's the same base but we're able to tweak things now that we were never able to do before. We've got a HEPA filter cleanroom lab for us to do our in-house testing, something a lot of small breweries don't have. It's the most expensive room in here."
Knight, who was a chef for 15 years, adds that in culinary school he would save money and go to expensive restaurants for wine pairings.
"Now you're seeing that with beer," he said. "Sorry, wine people, but beer is way more food-friendly."
It has always been his goal to brew beers with food in mind.
"When Butcher's was created we wanted to do pairings, but would constantly get pulled into just pairing with meat," Knight said about his early challenges. "We had people come here every week trying to buy steaks."
With Finest Made, Knight hopes to further blend beer and cuisine. Its logo features three stars as homage to the Michelin three-star rating system for restaurants. Knight conceded that it was difficult to get people "over the hill" on state Route 52.
"We do face the challenge of being off the beaten path," he said. "You've got to want to come here. We're very lucky we have the support of the community out here."
The beer community should not sleep on East County much longer. Groundswell Brewing will be moving into the old Twisted Manzanita brewery soon and should be open next year. That, coupled with the quality beer being brewed by Finest Made, BNS and El Cajon's Burning Beard should be more than enough to get people thinking "east" for great beer.