Darrel Brown, owner of Savagewood Brewing Company, stands behind the counter. (photos by John Gregory)
Savagewood Brewing: neighborhood brewery
Off the beaten path, deep inside what some have described as an industrial park, looms a man in a dark beard who concocts beverages in huge metal vats. He and his assistants wear clothing marked with a rather sinister emblem of a fierce looking face, and his libations seem to have cast a spell over those who have sampled them.
This mysterious wizard is named Darrel Brown and he is the owner of Savagewood Brewing Company. His wizardry involves brewing beer and his exotic ingredients include hops, barley and other natural components.
Brown purchased the business this fall from O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Co. which used to operate out of the same location at 9879 Hibert St., Suite F.
While the name Savagewood seems most intense, Brown could not be more affable. He and his family live in Scripps Ranch not far from the brewery, and his children attend local schools. “Brewing beer for me … I just want to make something that people like to drink … and say, ‘Wow, that’s good.’”
So far, it appears he is succeeding. Brown said all his beers have gotten a very good reception.
“My blonde is still a top seller, but the first three IPAs I brewed here and served, I can’t keep it on the shelves. So, they’re doing really well,” he said. “The vanilla cream ale, people love it.”
Brown emphasized his desire to make Savagewood Brewing Co. a local, neighborhood brewery. He wants to make it a family friendly environment, following the trend of many modern breweries with tasting rooms.
“We have kids. We want families to be comfortable,” he said.
Brown explained that he brought in low seating tables to accommodate children, added craft soda on tap and provides crayons.
But what about that scary looking logo he chose?
Well, even the origin of the logo has ties to his family. Brown explained that he has family members who are First Nations natives in Canada.
“They are wood carvers and artists, and they do the totem poles and the masks and stuff like that,” he said. “I’m Asian on my Mom’s side. So, I wanted to take those two cultures and mix them together. I figured: Savagewood; you want to think like wood and fierce and savage. What better way than to find a mask design carved out of wood?”
Brown said he drew a rough sketch, then worked with an artist to perfect the logo.
Okay, but what about the name Savagewood? Anyone who searches for Savagewood Brewing Company on Facebook is sure to come upon the name Lance Savagewood. Send the brewing company a message through Facebook and Lance Savagewood will respond. Who is this guy? The explanation is another interesting story involving Brown’s family.
“I started to put together the plan to open up a brewery last year. I’m going down the road, getting all the paperwork together and business plans, but I couldn’t come up with a name. I mean, I was stuck on the name of the brewery,” he said. “I find this picture of my dad one day when I was cleaning out the garage.”
Brown said that photo was taken around 1982, about the time when his father was a rookie officer working for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
“I was giving him a hard time about it because he had on typical 1980s shorts, a really tight T-shirt, a trucker hat, a big giant cop mustache. Classic 1982 cool guy cop,” Brown said. “I was giving him a hard time and he goes, ‘Oh, I was under cover at the time. My name was Lance Savagewood.’ … He was totally kidding, but that’s my dad’s humor. It just hit me like a lightning bolt. Savagewood Brewing, that’s a perfect brewery name.”
Now, Savagewood Brewing Company is here and Brown is putting some of his plans into action. Producing an assortment of craft beers on a regular basis for his customers is a top priority.
“My flagship beer is the blonde ale. I did that (for) non-craft drinkers or people who might have preconceived notions about this beer or that beer. … It’s a good entry beer, and then I can step them through other styles,” Brown explained. “So, I can go from blonde to the ESB, a good malty beer. Or I can go to a stout or I can go to a cream ale or a light IPA. I can take them all over the place, but I kind of want to be that gateway into craft brewing.”
Brown said he likes to keep the inventory fresh, moving types of beer in and out, and he always has something on special each night.
He has scheduled several brews for the next few months. First is a Saison, a French-Belgian beer. Brown wants to put out a golden stout while the weather is still cool. He hopes to have another IPA on tap, and he will have a Hefeweizen soon. Brown is also working on a collaboration with Newtopia Cyder and Serpentine Cider.
Right now, Savagewood has orange vanilla soda on tap. Earlier, they had pineapple ginger soda, and cherry ginger beer will be next.
Brown also plans to begin serving cold-brew coffee soon. If two people want to meet, and one wants coffee but the other wants beer, they will be able get both at Savagewood Brewery.
The brewery sells kegs to establishments such as nearby Bruski Burgers & Brew and Board & Brew in Scripps Ranch. Best Pizza & Brew in Mira Mesa has Savagewood beer on tap, as do a couple of locations in south San Diego.
“I’ve got taps all the way up into Palmdale, where I used to live,” Brown said.
Savagewood Brewing Company has had food trucks park outside to serve customers, and the company is looking to schedule more on busier days. But Brown said customers are welcome to bring in their own food and eat it on-sight as they enjoy a drink.
“Bring in whatever you want,” he said.
Brown explained that on days when he knows fans are at Savagewood watching football games, he buys pizza and brings it in for his customers. Typically, there is pizza for football games and always a pint special, he said, adding, “It’s the least I can do.”
So far, Savagewood attracts locals and a lot of people who work in the area and drop in afterward.
“Because we really want to be Scripps Ranch’s neighborhood brewery, if you work or live in 92131, you get a 10 percent discount at all times,” Brown said.
Brown started brewing as a hobby about five years ago. He moved to San Diego because of a job at the time, unrelated to the craft brew industry.
“I was making beer at home a couple of years prior, then I moved to the beer mecca of California, upped my game a little bit and brewed some more beers,” He said.
He soon won a few competitions and awards for some of his brews. Some establishments told him they wanted his beer on tap, so he contracted with Groundswell Brewing Company in Santee to brew some of his beers using their facility in what is known in the industry as gypsy brewing.
Brown had a dream of creating a larger brewery with bottling facilities and tasting room that would be very family friendly, and he began drawing up plans for a location in Rancho Bernardo. He heard about the O’Sullivan Bros. facility being for sale earlier in the year. He continued with his original plans until he was contacted about the Scripps Ranch brewery location in September.
“When this came up, I thought this was a good first step,” he said. “I’m still going to build a bigger location and I’m still going to do the canning and follow the plan from step 1. This is like step 1.2.”
In fact, Brown said he hopes to begin work on another, larger location in Rancho Bernardo in the spring of 2018.
Meanwhile, Brown remodeled the front room near the entrance of his brewery on Hibert Street, and made room for full seating in the back so customers can sit in the heart of the brewing room near the equipment. He has moveable rails outside the back where customers can sit in the open.
Brown credits his wife, Cymbre, with keeping him on track and keeping him moving forward. He said she understands the business side of things and has experience from running a business before.
“She’s the driving force behind me taking my hobby and making it into a job,” Brown said, referring to the saying that behind every great man is a better woman. “She is that,” he said.