Escondido Brewery Expands its Offerings
It's no secret that with over 130 brewhouses, San Diego County is one of the hottest craft beer hubs in the nation. The local craft beer industry -- which started booming in 1989 when Karl Strauss was established -- continues to be a powerhouse in the region, with an economic impact of about $1.1 billion in output and $802 million in revenue in 2017, up from $638,000,000 during 2016, according to a recent report. The 2018 Economic Impact of Craft Breweries in San Diego County Report also points out that breweries along North County's 78 Corridor alone account for over 3,000 jobs. Along with employing residents, the beer industry also gives back to nonprofits, creating a positive impact on both the local economy and individual lives. In addition to Jacked Up Brewery, Escondido is home to brewing giant Stone Brewing, as well as newcomer Escondido Brewing Company. Plan 9 Alehouse in Downtown Escondido also brews small batches of craft beer.
Meanwhile, Jacked Up Brewery, a veteran-owned brewery in Escondido founded by Mike and Carly Poulson just over two years ago, is popular among many locals who love the unique brews and inviting atmosphere. Popularity has allowed Jacked Up to undergo an expansion that is currently in progress.
Hoppy Beginnings: Like with many great things, the Poulson couple stumbled into the beer industry serendipitously. Mike has been brewing beer since 1994, the year before they got married, when they lived in Poulsbo, Wash. The outdoorsy duo would go mountain biking on the weekends with their dog, and after a fun 12-mile excursion, the couple would have lunch accompanied by some beers. However, Carly couldn't enjoy the beer because she'd always get a headache after consuming it. Suspecting the headaches were due to preservatives in the store-bought beer, Mike decided he'd take matters into his own hands and learn to brew his own beer preservative-free. Mike's homemade beer allowed Carly to enjoy the beverage headache-free, so he began regularly brewing batches to fuel their weekend mountain biking trips. Over time, the couple began sharing their brews with friends who quickly formed somewhat of a fanbase for the craft beer. The Poulsons soon realized they were onto something special and decided to finally share their brews with the community at large.
In 2012, Mike, a US Navy veteran, started taking steps toward building the brewery by devising a business plan and doing some research. The couple chose to set up shop in Escondido. At that time, the only other brewery in town was Stone Brewing, so they saw an opportunity for a small taproom to make some waves in a growing city. When Mike and Carly first found the potential location, they knew it would be a good fit. The space met all the their criteria and was located on a main road - Grand Avenue. "We did not want to be in an industrial area. We wanted to be where people wanted to walk to us," Carly said.
The Poulsons emphasized this important detail after having spent time in Europe in the 80s and noticing that virtually all pubs were a short walk away from the residences there. "There are brew pubs in every neighborhood there," Carly said, describing the pubs as places that people would go to get information about other people in the community. The Poulsons loved the communal depth of the pubs in Europe and were excited to bring that same vibe to Escondido.
Monikered Up: Curious about the brewery's name? It stems from the early days of making homemade brew for their friends. Each batch of beer needed to sit for three weeks in order for the fermentation process to take place, but the Poulsons' friends would often impatiently ask them if the beer was ready to drink. The beer usually was not ready to be served, but that did not stop them from ending the fermentation process before the three-week mark and enjoying the premature beers with their friends. After getting a taste, friends and neighbors would say, "It's jacked up, it's so good!"
Craft Commitment: Jacked Up's CFO and chief investor, Dexter Gaston, has been working with Carly and Mike since August 2018. While he was never directly involved in the beer industry beforehand, Gaston has a background in fermentation, both in the wine industry (having served as chairman, CEO, and president of Stonegate Winery in Napa Valley for a number of years) and with fermenting organisms in the biotech industry.
About eight months ago, Gaston began exploring the local microbrewery scene hoping to get involved in the growing industry. While searching the Escondido area for potential opportunities, he ran across Jacked Up. Upon visiting the brewery for the first time last summer, Gaston tasted the brewery's Scottish Ale and loved it. He was reminded of his late best friend with whom he was a co-investor in a previous venture, and who had Scottish roots. This personal connection with Jacked Up, as well as Gaston's excitement about a brewery that makes more than basic IPAs, piqued his interest.
Gaston began chatting with Carly and Mike upon his first visit to Jacked Up. "I ran into Carly Poulson. She was so charming, and Mike is such a phenomenal brewmaster, that we got to chatting and I thought about making an investment," Gaston said. After hearing the founders' ambitions for the future of the brewery, he contemplated making an investment for about a month until finally deciding to do so in August 2018. He's been closely involved with the brewery since.
Expanded offerings: Jacked Up's expansion is currently underway, including the addition of a soundstage for entertainment, shifting the bar around the corner, adding in a larger freezer, and increasing the capacity of all the tanks. "Things are moving at a rapid rate to have a grand opening pretty soon for a 4,000 square-foot taproom," Gaston said. With the brewery's growing popularity, Jacked Up is increasing their capacity for both seating and brewing. "We're more than doubling the brewing capacity and we're certainly doubling the seating capacity," Gaston said. The expansion is expected to be complete by early March, and the team plans to have a grand opening ceremony with live music from local bands.
With so many breweries to choose from, it can be difficult to stand out, but Jacked Up has unique offerings coming soon. "Unlike a lot of other breweries, we're going to have live entertainment all the time. We're going to have bands already lined up to play, comedy nights, and open mic nights," Gaston said, sharing that brewmaster Mike Poulson plays the guitar. The dog-and-kid-friendly taproom also has food trucks come by from time to time. The team wants to go above and beyond the usual offerings of a brewery.
In addition to being a brewmaster, Mike also is a contractor and has been heavily involved in the expansion process at Jacked Up. "In the morning, he's coming in and brewing beer, getting subcontractors in, putting in heaters and tanks and stages...he's doing the whole thing," Gaston says. "He's an incredibly gifted guy."
The brewery's expansion will also include extended business hours, which will lead to some new hires. "By being open earlier, by about 20 hours a week, we will need a couple more beertenders to help us out," Gaston said.
The Business of Beer: When comparing Jacked Up to the wine industry, Gaston admits that "getting in the beer industry is not that difficult," pointing out that wine requires time, expertise, and a significant amount of money before you can start making money. "The beer business has a much lower cost of entry. You can be in business and set something up almost as quickly as you can get approval from the ABC for a license. It's not that difficult to get into the beer business, but I think it's difficult to stay in the beer business, and one of the keys to success is the quality of the product," Gaston said.
Ironically, Gaston is not a beer drinker, but he has what he calls a phenomenal palette from his many years of working with and tasting wine. Referring to Jacked Up, Gaston says, "these beers are a breed apart from everyone else that I've tasted. They are exceptional and we have an exceptional brewmaster here. Whether it's stouts, porters, IPAs, or ales, the quality of everything he makes is exceptional and I think that's what brings in the clientele."
Looking Ahead: Gaston shares that he hopes the company can expand to other regions within San Diego County in the future. "I think taking that concept and moving a taproom into several new areas as we have the cash flow to do so is more of a plan than getting into distribution and the retail sales market with canned beer because the margins in canned beer are atrociously thin. And we want to be more social. We're social people," Gaston said. "Talk to Carly; she's incredibly social. One of the reasons we're successful is she never forgets anyone's name, and she has the gift of talking to people, making them feel important, and making them feel like they are being thanked for coming and sharing an experience, and having a couple of beers," he said.
Gaston explains that the Poulsons' complementary personalities generate an incredible social atmosphere at the brewery that he describes as "magnetic." The goal, Gaston explains, is to "take that experience into a number of areas in the Southern California region." In the next couple years, "based on the success this year of the existing taproom, including the ability to optimize and be extremely good at social media, getting the word out, and getting financing, I could see us having at least two other taprooms by the end of 2021, using the existing one as a model," Gaston said. Carly shares that same vision, noting that the brewery's ABC license allows for five tasting rooms.
Be sure to experience the many offerings Jacked Up will be serving up soon and get to know the friendly faces behind the brewery while you're at it.