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Thorn Street Brewery: Bringing Brewing to the Neighborhood

by Blake Bunch, published
Eric (left) and Dennis (right) O'Connor (no relation).

Brewing beer typically starts out in a small kitchen with a close friend or family member, and is ultimately a trial and error process. All equipment has to be sterile, for any slight impurities can ruin a whole batch. Though startup breweries have been flourishing throughout San Diego, The South and North Park areas seem to have been lacking  a true "neighborhood" brewery. Located in North Park, Thorn Street Brewery held a "soft opening" on Friday, November 30 to close out the month. One of the only businesses of its kind in the area, Thorn Street is constantly running through recipes for their now-evolving beer list.

The soft opening was preliminary to their main event, which will occur in conjunction with the Fund the Arts at SoNo Holiday Fest and Chilipalooza this Sunday.

Founder and CEO Dennis O'Connor has been involved in brewing for the past three years, owning and operating the Home Brews and Gardens brewing supply shop in the same location. A San Diego native, O'Connor actually grew up in North Park, attending McKinley Elementary. The goal of this startup brewery for him is to provide a neighborhood hangout - a place to watch the game, as well as meet and talk with one's fellow residents.

"Having grown up here, selling brewing supplies, and just looking around the area, I noticed the need for a brewery that was open to the public," says O'Connor. "In speaking with residents, the response has been overwhelmingly positive - no public protests or anything like that."

This was obvious at their soft opening on Friday night. Within twenty minutes into speaking with O'Connor, groups of young beer aficianados and families alike start to file in the tasting room. Renovated in a sleek, basic style, the tasting room of the brewery is designed with recycled wood, which composes the floor, walls, tables, and bar. A stained glass window near the front facade adds to the tasting room's rustic feel. Another main attraction, perhaps one of O'Connor's favorite, is the back area of the building, which has been completely renovated from a former garage space.

"We really want to utilize the back area for the community," elaborates O'Connor. "The back area has a window for food trucks, several community keg-barrel tables, as well as a full bar, retractable roof, and all of the casks and brewing equipment. Also, we are looking to have chefs alternate with the food trucks - for instance, someone will be preparing brats this sunday for the festival."

This was a fitting statement for the opening, as  the Delicioso food truck was whipping up gourmet tacos for those in the tasting room (in the rain). Thorn Street was enticed by the idea of rotating food trucks outside after O'Connor witnessed a similar model in Austin, Texas, where food trucks have grown at a rapid rate.

O'Connor continues that as a result of the slackening of ABC licensing regulations, small breweries like his started popping up all over the place. Once these regulations were tightened, on tasting room spaces particularly, it became more expensive for them to remain operational. For this reason, until Thorn Street is fully licensed in March, they are selling eight-taster flights ($5) and growlers ($10) of their eight beer selection. Growlers can be refilled for another $10 fee, which is always a huge draw for a local brewery.

Along with head brewer Eric O'Connor and operations manager Dan Carrico, Thorn Street has finished their first run of pale ales, a kolsch, and stouts, and are nearly completed with their IPA and American strong (like an Arrogant Bastard). Though most of the staff work full time jobs as well, they are dedicated to providing the community with quality small batch brews.

In remaining close to his community, Dennis O'Connor wants to begin hosting a movie night, or similar weekly events in the back area of the brewery. Here he hopes to provide a forum for friends, families, and neighbors to get together after a long day. The SoNo Festival should result in Thorn Street being a busy corner of the North Park area, with residents out to support their community and a good cause.

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