After gluttonous family gatherings and nights spent outrage-watching Making a Murderer on Netflix, San Diego collectively shook its holiday malaise and begrudgingly went back to business as usual, if not a couple pounds heavier and a few dollars lighter. The craft beer industry barely blinked. A day after the ball dropped on 2016, locals found themselves with yet another first-rate brewery option with the opening of Bitter Brothers Brewing (4170 Morena Blvd).
One of the "Bitter Brothers" the brewery is named for, co-owner Bill Warnke served in the Marines and ran his own security and alarm company locally for 35 years. He also worked as a chef and at Lightning Brewery, where he was also an investor.
"I'm (like) that proverbial pinball in a machine," he said. "I think I'll try that, I think I'll be a chef, I think I'll buy a brewery. Being a chef you like to create things, so beer is just another way of creating something for people to enjoy."
Warnke said the most worrisome part of opening the brewery was getting the beer out on schedule.
"We had brand new equipment. We weren't sure what it was going to do," he said. "But with the experience we have on the brewing side we went for it. We had six beers ready in 30 days."
That experience comes in the form of brewers John Hunter (Karl Strauss, White Labs, 32 North), Bruce McSurdy (Lightning), and the other "Bitter Brother," Kurt Warnke.
Bill Warnke explained the origin of its unique moniker, and that it is not a reflection on the flavor profile of their beer.
"It comes from how we grew up, with our glass half empty," he says. "We found craft beer, and now our glass is half full."
Bitter Brothers bypassed the learning curve usually associated with newly opened breweries. All its first-run beers are tasty and true-to-style. Standouts include a 4.75 percent ABV session IPA, "Little Brother," and "Golden Child," a crisp and flavorful Hefeweizen. Its coffee porter, "Black Sheep," is brewed with coffee from its Bay Ho neighbors, Arcidiacono Coffee, and is available on CO2 and nitro. The Amarillo-hopped "Prodigal Son" is everything to expect from a San Diego IPA, bright and citrusy. Warnke said more IPAs are on the way, including a Northwest IPA that will feature a piney, resinous flavor.
Staying true to a throwback ethos of craft is important to Warnke, and he explained to me where he envisions Bitter Brothers' place in beer-soaked San Diego.
"We're not trying to be the next Ballast Point," he said. "We want be a good, local, regional brewery. We're not going to get lost in distribution across state lines. Once you go over 15,000 (barrels), now you're a large brewery, and you kind of lose that specialty, hand-crafted feel."
Weinke credits Societe Brewing Company's founders Doug Smith and Travis Constantiner as his early advisors, and said he sat down with them before any planning for Bitter Brothers took place. He also said he doesn't see them as the competition.
"They were very receptive to my ideas," he said. "It's not us against each other; it's us against Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors."
If their opening salvo is any indication of what is to come, and the self-described "little brother" brewery can approach the quality for which its big brother Societe is known, Bitter Brothers will be in for a sweet year.