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Interview with a brewer: Lost Abbey in San Marcos, CA

The next victim in our Interview with a Brewer series is Tomme, head brewer at Lost Abbey in San Marcos, CA. We actually heard about Tomme and the rest of the motley crew through M BeerPix, who are staunchly loyal to the brewery. Before we get into the meat of the interview, a few words about Lost Abbey (pilfered from their website):

Rooted in the Monastic and artistic Belgian brewing traditions, The Lost Abbey brewery project is the brainchild of Vince and Gina Marsaglia, former head brewer of Pizza Port in Solana Beach Tomme Arthur and Jim Comstock of Comstock and Associates who formed the partnership responsible for the stewardship of these beers.

If you’ve missed previous editions of this series, I encourage you to catch up. Enjoy!

1) What were the steps that led you up to the decision to start Lost Abbey?

Vince and Gina Marsaglia (the owners of Pizza Port) had this idea in their heads for a very long time. It just grew over the years as something that I was constantly thinking about. I grew up Catholic and as such, it all made sense to me. With all of the Belgian Style Beers that I was producing in Solana Beach, it seemed like a natural extension.

2) What is your favorite thing about what you do?

Pretty much all of it. I truly enjoy the challenges of running the business, brewing the beer and fostering creativity throughout the processes so I don’t get bored. My least favorite thing to do is stand around and bottle beer. That part isn’t too much fun. And since the majority of our business right now is bottles, we do a lot of standing and bottling.

3) From what I can gather, Port Brewing does all of the actual brewing. How did you arrive at the decision to utilize Port Brewing instead of building a free-standing brewery? (obviously running Port Brewing played big into the decision, but was it primarily a function of cost and excess capacity)

We actually own both brands and made a conscious decision to brand the brewery as Port Brewing Co (a known entity and offshoot of Pizza Port) and produce The Lost Abbey beers. In many ways, I think more breweries should investigate this style of production. We get to realize two separate styles of brewing in one building and also keep things interesting from a production standpoint as we are making more than three styles of beer. This can also be a major pain in the ass as we have issues with inventories and the like with so many different bottles.

4) What marketing tactic has been the most beneficial to you? If “word-of-mouth,” what’s the SECOND most beneficial?

The most beneficial thing we have done has been sticking to our roots. We cut our teeth at the Pizza Ports by making the most interesting and flavorful beers that we wanted to drink. When we opened a larger production facility, we didn’t go after the volume based 6 pack business that traditionally accompanies a new project. We held fast to our roots of small batch unique beers and our business is thriving on this model. It is word of mouth and it very much comes from producing eclectic and highly sought after small batch beers.

5) How has your work at White Labs influenced the work you do now?

Working at White Labs was more about developing a relationship with Chris and Lisa that continues to be there today. We know that our brewing needs can be met by their lab and they know that our beers afford them a glimpse (locally) of some unique processes.

6) When working with things like oak barrels and Brettanomyces, how does the brewing process change?

The process is very un-Germanic at the core. We do not seek to replicate each nuance to the exacting Mercedes like consistency. We use oak and wild yeasts to give us varying perspectives. Our job as brewers is to p ck out the strengths in each barrel and use them accordingly. The goal for our oak aged beers is to keep the perspective and respective flavors similar but not always look for exacting replication.

7) What considerations led you to purchase used equipment from Stone as opposed to new equipment?

It was the right sized system in San Diego at the right price. We had been talking about doing this for some time and when they announced the sale of the brewery, we were the first ones they had in mind. It has been a great purchase for us since day one.

8 ) How does a batch size translate when scaling up from something like a 5 gallon batch to a 30 BBL batch?

I haven’t brewed a five gallon batch of anything in a very long time. When I was in Solana Beach, I used to scale recipes from 10 gallons to 1 barrel and then work up from there. If you work at home on any sized system but start with percentages, then it can be done. Spicing is the most delicate up sizing part and for that, I ask lots of questions of my friends.

2 thoughts on “Interview with a brewer: Lost Abbey in San Marcos, CA

  1. I had the honor of Tomme Arthur himself pouring my sample of Cuvee de Tomme at the GABF this year…

    Pizza Port is great beer, and good pizza as well. I’ve only had a few of the Lost Abbey beers, but have enjoyed all the ones I’ve tried quite immensely.

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