Within sight of the marvel of contemporary architecture that is the main branch of San Diego’s public library, not far from PetCo Park and just a block or two from several ritzy high rise condo projects currently under construction, sits the old red brick Wonder Bread factory, originally built in 1924 and now home to Mission Brewery.
The whole area, which should be part of the pride of San Diego, instead resembles nothing short of a refugee camp. In a way, it is one: sidewalks are crammed with the tents, blankets, bikes and the few other worldly possessions of society’s least-cared-for members, the homeless. It is devastating to park in front of a group of people who have nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep while on your way to enjoy a luxury like craft beer.
The homelessness problem in downtown is rampant. San Diego can certainly do better. This isn’t a question of “cleaning up” downtown, as if just moving people to where we can’t see them would solve the problem. It is a question of a compassionate society creating structures and institutions that help to ensure that those who are the worst off among of us can live with dignity and get the help needed to have a real shot at again becoming self-supporting members of society. To those who can’t achieve that goal (whether because of mental illness, physical disability, lack of education or whatever the case may be), we owe a duty of care to provide a humane living. Probably, that can’t be in area like downtown, where property prices are far too high. But until we create meaningful structures to help, we have to live with the collective shame of not doing what we should be doing. After all, if luck tilted just a little differently, any of us could find ourselves on the streets.
Mission Brewery has no special blame in any of this, of course. They just happen to be located near where most of San Diego’s (limited) services for the homeless are found, and hence where those who suffer homelessness congregate.
But I wonder: Could San Diego’s craft beer community help? What could we do to contribute to a solution to this horrible situation in the heart of the city we love?
While I was at the Stone Company Store on Kettner recently, I sat and chatted with a guy in his thirties for a little while. He turned out to be homeless, probably slightly mentally ill, certainly prone to conspiracy-theory thinking. He may have had problems with the justice system, and he apparently has a daughter he can’t see regularly. His stories didn’t always make sense (I’m used to that in bars) and he didn’t always give a lot of detail. He lived in a car and to get himself back on his feet he had a business cleaning the windows of downtown businesses. He said he had a route of 60 places. I admired his determination and fortitude in trying to get out of his bad circumstances, but what I really felt from him was the desire to simply connect, to do something ordinary like drinking a beer as an ordinary member of society. I asked him if he ever slept in the shelters instead of his car, thinking that perhaps they had resources to help him in other ways, too. He told me that he was on the list but that it took two months or more to get a spot. (I have no idea if that is true or not, but from the huge number of people who do sleep on the streets around San Diego, clearly there are not enough services.)
Mission Brewery was founded in 2007 and took its name from a historical brewery that went out of business during Prohibition. Today’s Mission Brewery is–confusingly–NOT located in the Mission Brewery Plaza you can see from the 5 near the airport, which is named for the original-but-defunct Mission Brewery. (More confusingly, a different brewery, the excellent Acoustic Ales, IS located at the Mission Brewery Plaza. See my review of Acoustic Ales. [Update 12/11/2018: Acoustic moved out with plans to open in Carlsbad that haven’t come to fruition yet; Latchkey Brewing now operates there.)
The interior of the Wonder Bread building is large, airy, and romantic in the way that old industrial buildings can be when re-purposed. The large black bar has a lot of seating and there are tables aplenty. They invite groups, dogs and children–they even give out coloring kits for kids. (They offer tours, too, which I have seen frequently on Groupon.)
On the day of my visit, they were pouring 21 beers. I had a flight of four and then a half-pint of another. Service was adequate, but I was put off by their policy (explained to a tourist who came in after me) that they do not recommend what to put in a flight. When they have so many things on the board, a little guidance would be helpful. Apparently they want the customer to shoulder the blame when the customer doesn’t like a flight. Fortunately for me, I chose pretty well.
Amber Ale (Altbier, 5% ABV). The board didn’t say anything about this being an altbier, though that’s what Untappd says. That makes a bit more sense that an ordinary amber, actually, since it was more thin that I would have expected. I thought it was sweet with nice maltiness. It pours clear amber with a tan head. There’s nothing objectionable about it, but nothing exciting either. 3/5
Schwarzbier (dark lager, 5% ABV). This one is very dark brown with ruby undertones and a pinkish head. It tastes less toasted than many Schwarzbiers I’ve had. It is a bit thin but drinkable. I would prefer it with more robust flavor. 3/5
Plunder IPA (7% ABV). Pouring a cloudy straw/amber color with a persistent beige head, this has strong citrusy hops on the nose. It lives up to its 88 IBU rating. There’s a small but long-lingering bitter/astringent aftertaste that would prevent me from having more than a couple. 3.25/5
Rye-ghteous IPA (7% ABV). This one wins the “best name” prize. It tasted stronger than 7% to me, and the rye flavor was not pronounced–too bad, since rye is one of my favorite additions to beer. I found minimal hop aromas, a slight bitterness and a hint of dank on the finish. 3.25/5
Dark Seas (Russian Imperial Stout, 9.8% ABV). This one is black with a reddish-tan head. The taste is smooth and balanced, with a velvety mouthfeel. Despite the high ABV, it doesn’t taste “hot.” Caramel and roasted malts dominate, with a raisin/brandy finish. 4.25/5
It is an ironic twist, I think, that this old building is now brewing flavorful craft beer made with high quality grains, when it was originally constructed to make the almost-tasteless bread-equivalent of Bud Light. It gives hope of renovation and redemption to us all.
http://missionbrewery.com/ 1441 L Street, San Diego, CA
Links to Related Writing
Michael McConnell for the San Diego Business Journal on how East Village’s homelessness problem needs a real solution; via Medium.