Mike Hess is something of a pioneer. He’s the proprietor of Hess Brewing (hessbrewing.com, 7955 Silverton Ave., Suite 1201, in Mira Mesa), one of San Diego’s first licensed “nanobreweries.” Unlike many brewers that start with small operations with hopes of quickly upscaling, Hess, already an established professional in financial circles, has different goals.
“I would like to see if nanobrewing works as a longer-term business idea,” he said. “In other words, can you actually have an operating brewery and keep it in that niche, as opposed to having it consume all your time.”
So, technically, he’s just a part-time pioneer, but that’s still pretty pioneering. How many nanobreweries have you started in your spare time?
There’s no standardized definition for the “nano” scale of brewing, but its hallmarks include brewing part-time, producing batches smaller than three barrels (roughly 93 gallons) and a willingness to employ MacGuyver-type solutions. The resources needed to contend with Hess’ unusual-size batches (51 gallons) are not well-established, making rudimentary needs like cooling wort (a pre-beer soup) a challenge. “What I found searching homebrew boards or probrewer.com was nobody had ideas on how because nobody is working on our scale,” he said.
Hess Brewing’s flyweight size brings other challenges, like managing taste consistency without blending tanks or automation, but it has the advantage of being nimble. If you’ve got six weeks lead time and the cash, they can produce a keg of beer to order using their recipes and beyond. For those too craven to brew their own asparagus beer, Hess is here to serve, not judge.* Hess Brewing is not presently bottling its wares.
If you’d like to enjoy their its beer on your turf, you’ll either need to purchase one of their growlers or furtively transfer the tasters into a thermos you’ve sewn into the lining of your jacket. Look for the Hess logo to start appearing on taps soon, as well.
* Freedom from judgment not guaranteed
Editor's note: The original version of this story said that Hess Brewing was the first of San Diego's nanobreweries. In fact, Hess was licensed on Jan. 28, 2010. But Blind Lady Ale House was licensed on Jan. 20, 2010.