Over the past two decades, the American craft beer industry has seen explosive growth followed by some recent slowing, but there are still more breweries today than at any time in the nation’s history. After shattering the pre-Prohibition record of 4,131 in late 2015, the number of breweries in the operational, planning or permitted phase surged ahead to more than 7,100 in 2016.
When Skip Virgilio and Ted Newcomb first opened AleSmith in 1995, the craft beer scene was much different with fewer than 900 breweries dotting the American landscape. By the time Peter Zien took over the operation in 2002, the small Miramar operation was putting out 240 barrels annually, an amount that would fill one of the current fermentation tanks in the company’s gleaming headquarters, which opened in 2015. With the new building already undergoing another round of expansion as a backdrop, the company celebrated its 22nd anniversary on Saturday.
A vintage bottle sale kicked off the event, with attendees vying for an opportunity to purchase archived brews such as 2011 Decadence maple-smoked barleywine and several barrel-aged variants of the company’s popular Speedway Stout. First to go was the ever-popular bourbon barrel-aged Vietnamese Speedway Stout, despite a $40 price tag. To further sweeten the deal, 22 lucky purchasers got bottles with a special marking on the bottom that scored them a golden ticket for a VIP brewery tour led by Zien and a bunch of other perks.
Once inside, drinkers had a bevy of choices from the company’s portfolio of offerings, including dueling casks of Vietnamese Speedway Stout aged in bourbon or rye barrels. Other standouts from the tap list were Lavender Lil’ Devil, Logical Choice triple-IPA and several Speedway variants. For the high rollers in the group, there were ticketed “speakeasy” tastings in the hidden Anvil & Stave tasting room featuring heavy hitters such as Velvet Speedway and Pappy Van Speedwinkle.
One slight hiccup in the festivities was the planned presale for Double Barrel Speedway Stout, which is being aged in bourbon and port barrels. It can be a tricky business to get barrel-aged beers right, and this batch just wasn’t ready yet, so the company decided to push the release back, which is commendable in the age of rushing products out to market in an effort to meet deadlines. It will certainly be worth the wait when it’s fully matured.
While AleSmith certainly waited a while to realize its current potential, there’s still more growth on the horizon. The current expansion project will incorporate a mezzanine into the tasting room area and Zien’s CheeseSmith side project, which is slated to open in October.