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Chance of a Lifetime

Another one of San Diego's star brewers finally gets his own place.
Photo by Bruce Glassman

By Bruce Glassman

There are only a handful of what I would call “star” brewers in San Diego who still don’t have their own breweries. These are the guys that have brought medals home from all the big competitions, have made their brands famous, and have been major engines of growth for their respective companies. They are also the brewers who get to go home at night while other people stay late worrying about things like cash flow, debt, and payroll.

When Marty Mendiola was the head brewer for Rock Bottom in La Jolla, he was one of those guys who got to leave the business worries to other people. But now, that’s all changed. Marty just opened Second Chance Beer Co., which—finally—is a brewery he can call his very own.

“I used to just be able to take care of the beer,” Marty says of his days in La Jolla. “I didn’t have to worry about the bar or worry about the finances. I could schmooze, I could talk to people, and at five or six o’clock I could say, ‘Alright. The beer’s all set. See ya.’” It’s not that Marty’s complaining now that he has the weight of his own enterprise on his shoulders. Second Chance was a dream that was a long time in the making, and Marty is thrilled to finally have his taps flowing. “It’s definitely been in the works for years,” Marty says. “I had to get organized, which I couldn’t have done without help from my wife Virginia, who’s a great organizer. After a while she said, ‘We can either not talk about opening a brewery anymore, or we can do it.’ So we did it.”

Of course, the San Diego brewery scene has changed dramatically since Marty first began making his plans. For one thing, there are about 40-50 more breweries in the county than there were a few years ago. Despite the added competition, Marty is still convinced that he can stake out his own territory by brewing in his own particular way. “For me, number one is always making clean beers,” he says. “I go for more of a balanced smoothness.” His tenure at Rock Bottom also gave him a wealth of experience with what patrons like to drink. For years, he essentially got to run his own beer-drinking focus group—evaluating sales by beer style and seeing firsthand what worked and what didn’t.

The fact that Rock Bottom only served its own beer at their restaurants also forced Marty to become proficient in a wide variety of styles. He always had to have something to suit almost every taste, including light lagers, reds, porters, and IPAs. Second Chance opened its doors with three delicious, but very different, beers on tap: Luminous Blonde (gently malty, crisp, and light-bodied); Seize the IPA (aromas of orange, honey, and pine with a pleasing bitter finish); and Tabula Rasa Porter (roasty chocolate and coffee flavors with a slightly sweet finish). Next out of the tanks will be a red IPA, followed by either an Irish red or a brown. Marty also plans to do “something big” for Christmas, like an Imperial Stout or a strong Scotch Ale, and he would like to get some beers into rum, whiskey, and gin barrels sometime soon.

Unlike many new young brewers that set up shop in the county, Marty has enjoyed the somewhat unique advantage of opening a brewery in a town that already knows him and supports him. He not only has the confidence that comes with years of brewing, it doesn’t hurt that he also has a solid network of brewer friends and peers who are ready to help him in whatever ways they can.

Marty had a certain leg up with his new business, but opening his new venture was by no means pressure-free. After all, he had a big reputation to protect, and the expectations for his beer to taste great (and for his business to succeed) were higher than they are for most other people.  “I definitely felt the pressure,” he admits. “I was sitting here a couple of months ago thinking, ‘What if I brew a beer and it sucks?’ Then I thought about how I had done so many recipes at Rock Bottom—dozens and dozens of recipes—and I knew they were solid.” Since his Rock Bottom days, Marty has tweaked his recipes, scaled them up, and changed the hop profiles on some. As he puts it, he didn’t want to “just keep brewing the same old thing” anyway.

So now that Second Chance is open and brewing (and has been very well received), have all the pre-opening jitters evaporated? Not exactly. According to Marty, he and his team decided to “go big” right from the start, which means there’s a lot of pressure to get production ramped up quickly. “We didn’t want to do the ‘great little 10-barrel brewhouse’ thing,” he says. “We wanted to be big enough to get into that mid-size range—that 10,000-15,000 barrel range— right from the get-go.” Starting on a larger scale means that getting distribution in place is the next big priority, along with getting the canning line going, coordinating with the food trucks, and making sure the tap room is successful.

Marty does have some help. In addition to his wife, Virginia Morrison, (who is a co-founder), a third co-founder—Curtis Hawes—deals mostly with the business demands, and works on all the permitting and distribution issues. On the brewing side, Marty also has his previous assistant from Rock Bottom, Craig Gregovics, to share the load. “I couldn’t have done it without him,” Marty says.

Up to this point in his life, Marty has only been a brewer, not a business owner. Needless to say, getting his own business on its feet has been something of an adventure—fraught with great satisfaction as well as disappointment and frustration. But Marty is an optimistic sort, and he’s eager to finally run a business the way he wants to run it. “I’ve heard stories from so many people—not just in the brewing industry, but people who have owned their own business for many years. They get kind of negative about it—they still say that things are always so tough. But, I believe you have to make it what you want. You have to either relinquish some control, or pay a little more, or give up some more of the profits—whatever you have to do in order to have the life you want.” Chances are it’s that very philosophy that will enable Marty to finally have both the business and the life he really wants. We wish him Bonne Chance.

Second Chance Beer Co.

Suite #222

15378 Avenue of Science, San Diego

Chance of a Lifetime

Photo by Bruce Glassman

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