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San Diego’s Best Brewery That You Never Heard Of: New English Brewing Co.

They've been around since 2007, they've won dozens of medals, and they make some of San Diego's best beer. So, why has nobody heard of New English?
Photo by Paul Body

By Bruce Glassman

In the beer geek universe, most people feel that small production, limited quantities, and relative obscurity all add a special caché to a brewery. If a beer is really great, not highly marketed, and only made in small batches…well, then, the fewer people who know about it, the better! Right? By these standards, New English Brewing Co. is one of the coolest breweries in San Diego.

Truth is, by any standard, New English is a top-notch brewery that produces some of the county’s tastiest brews. Zumbar, their chocolate coffee imperial stout, is smooth and rich and packed with roasty, bittersweet flavors.  It recently scored 98 points on RateBeer and 91 on BeerAdvocate, which labels it “outstanding.” Zumbar also won Best of Show at the L.A. International Beer Competition this year.

New English is not only about stouts (even though their Pacific Storm Stout on nitro is another of my all-time favorites). Their forays into west-coast-style hoppy beers, such as Humbly Legit IPA and Pure and Simple IPA, have both become instant smashes with fans. Pure and Simple, which won a gold medal last year at the L.A. International Beer Competition, has been a particular winner for New English. Created in what Founder Simon Lacey calls an “international style,” this IPA delivers tons of great Mosaic and Citra hoppiness in a 6.5% package, which makes it very drinkable. Humbly Legit, which is actually a rye IPA, has also carved out a somewhat unique place for itself in the pantheon of San Diego IPAs. Its slightly spicy character, imparted by Cascade and Centennial hops, creates a flavor reminiscent of bitter Seville orange rind (think great marmalade), with a bitter but very balanced finish. Other notable medal winners include the Brewer’s Special Brown, Explorer ESB, and Dragoon American Red.

With all this great beer being made, why has New English remained in relative obscurity? Simon attributes it to a number of factors, most of which lead back to the fact that, from its inception, his business plan called for slow growth and 100% self-generated funding. “We’ve basically just been plugging away,” Simon says. “Our whole model has just been organic growth. We don’t do a lot of advertising—we don’t have the money for it—and we don’t do billboards or a lot of print advertising. We do a little bit of social media, but pretty much the rest of it is word of mouth. So it’s been a slow, steady burn.”

That slow burn may soon turn into a full-on blaze. Now that they have a 15-barrel brewhouse, a bunch of tanks with more on the way, and have completed an expansion into adjoining space (they just added 3,800 square feet to their production facility) the brewery is poised to turbo-charge its production capabilities. “Now that we’ve got a bit more horsepower behind us we’ll be able to accelerate growth,” Simon explains. “Our main problem in the past has always been that we were limited by production capacity. There’s always something that’s been a limiting factor for us. Back when I was only brewing on the 3.5 barrel system, I didn’t want to promise and sell beer that we couldn’t make. So we were brewing, and brewing, and brewing…hundreds of batches, and in the end, it wasn’t all that much beer. Then we got the bigger brewery, but we didn’t have as many tanks as we needed. We got the tanks, but then we needed more space for the tanks, which we now have. So we’re finally getting caught up. It’s all part of a progression. It’s all part of a plan, but it takes a long time.”

Simon admits that sometimes he regrets not having grown more quickly, but he always comes back to the satisfaction he feels in knowing he’s achieved everything on his own terms and at his own pace. Looking forward, his next major focus will be expanding and opening new markets in Los Angeles and Orange County, with an eye toward eventually breaking into Northern California. Meanwhile, the New English team of five full-timers will ramp up production from their current 1,600 barrels per year to an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 barrels in the coming three or four years. Of course, growth within San Diego will also be a focus, even though New English beers are already fairly well distributed at local chains, including Von’s, Albertson’s/Haggan, Sprouts, Whole Foods, and Costco (they’re still working on Ralph’s).

Given the fact that New English has thus far been “flying under the radar” somewhat, I asked Simon what the one thing was that he wants people to know about his company. Without missing a beat, he replied:  “Where we are!”

Even though the brewery is only minutes away from the Sorrento Valley/Mira Mesa exits of the #5 and the #805 (and only 5-10 minutes from Green Flash and Karl Strauss), the actual building can be a challenge to spot during your approach. But don’t worry. Upon your arrival and first sips in the tasting room, you’ll realize that the little bit of extra navigation was well worth it. And, if you’re one of those beer geeks who loves seeking out the lesser-known spots, New English will definitely make you feel like you’ve discovered your own little hidden gem.

New English Tasting Room:

11545 Sorrento Valley Road, Suite #305, San Diego

San Diego’s Best Brewery That You Never Heard Of: New English Brewing Co.

Photo by Paul Body

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