South Bay beer geeks are notoriously short on brewery options. The region has been a brewery desert since the underwhelming Eastlake Brew House closed in 2012. Despite being San Diego County's second-largest city, Chula Vista has been completely ignored by local craft beer heavyweights. Watching tasting rooms and brewpubs crowd into trendy neighborhoods and northern suburbs, South Bay residents could only scratch their heads.
They are ignored no longer. Open now one month, Novo Brazil (901 Lane Ave.) offers an expanding array of beers with bigger and better things on the horizon.The first challenge in visiting Novo Brazil is finding the door. The entrance to the brewery is a garage next to Trek bicycle shop. The neighbors, apparently accustomed to lost beer pilgrims, directed me there. The brewery is immaculate—14 polished, stainless-steel fermenters soar to the rafters while the familiar smells of yeast and bleach greet the nostrils. The tasting room has room for moderate crowds but does not serve food. The night I went there was a food truck; a bartender said it's part of a rotation of trucks that arrive with varying degrees of reliability.
There were 12 beers on-tap, including four Belgians, the standout of these being a barrel-fermented Quad. The tasty Cookie Muncher imperial brown delivered 11.5 ABVs and 90.3 IBUs. La Playa Lager, brewed with Citra hops, was bright, crisp and delicious. My favorite was their Russian Imperial Stout, dubbed "Grand Crude," which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any local big-bodied brew.
The glaring omission from their line-up was an IPA. Although there was a session IPA on-tap, I was looking for something bigger. Their first IPA, named Otay, was not up to snuff and was pulled. Another hoppier IPA is due out soon, and a red IPA is to follow. Special releases and barrel-aged offerings are also in the works. Novo Brazil begins distributing to bars and restaurants in early July, and the bottling line begins production in late summer.
With more than 100 breweries, it's hard to say where Novo Brazil fits into the craft scene in San Diego. They're not exactly home-grown and aren't following the local trend of over-hopped, hyper-aggressive beers. But with their quality brews, state-of-the-art facility, deep pockets and no competition for miles, they are poised to establish something very different, and maybe very good, in Chula Vista.