On a beer Mission to San Diego’s East Village

As unassuming as it is, the former Wonder Bread Building in San Diego’s East Village, a home run across the parking lot from Petco Park, home of the Padres, provides little exterior clue about the epic happenings within.  Unbeknownst to the casual passers-by, the shabby-yet-appealing façade that epitomises the historic character of southern California holds a spectacular secret.  Inside is a century-old temple of industry.  Its exposed brick walls, overhead wooden bow-truss construction and expansive skylights ooze a cool, urban-chic vibe that make it a local social and cultural hotspot, not to mention the home of the Mission Brewery and tasting room.

And to think it was destined for demolition only a few years ago, as thoughtless developers earmarked the area as the potential site for the new San Diego Chargers’ stadium.  Thankfully, sense prevailed, and voters overwhelmingly rejected the culturally destructive proposal, allowing the story of the historic Wonder Bread Building to continue into the future, ensuring the Mission Brewery remains a central theme.

Like many historic breweries with deep community roots, not only in San Diego, but in many cities across the country, the branches of Mission Brewery’s family tree are inexorably entwined with other breweries, are decisively pruned on occasion, and begin to bud into new enterprises that develop and blossom.

Mission Brewery had existed for less than 10-years when its operations were curtailed by Prohibition, and within a year it had ceased to exist.  The Mission Brewery brand remained dormant for another 85-years, until a homebrewer in University City, a community in north-western San Diego, close to UCSD, re-established the Mission Brewery name as a small brewery attached to a restaurant.  After a brief tenure in Chula Vista, Mission Brewery outgrew its capacity and relocated to its present home in the East Village.

Coincidently, the name is taken from a 1769 Franciscan mission, the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, which was founded in the Spanish territory of New Spain, part of which eventually become present-day San Diego.

Celebrating its twelfth birthday in 2019, Mission Brewery is one of the city’s most well-loved and respected beer-hostelries, captivating both regulars and tourists with its light and airy open expanse of space that is unmistakably a working-brewery.

In-between the remnants of yesteryear’s role as a fully-functioning industrial bakery and the stacks of sacked ingredients — ingredients that have rarely changed in the past 100-years — is the large, inviting brewhouse, staffed by a handful of brewers who are kept busy throughout the day producing its core range of Ambers, Lagers, Hefeweizens, IPAs, Kolsch-style ales and Russian Imperial Stouts, in addition to the large range of small-batch beers.

Behind the brewhouse are the warehouse and packaging areas, both of which can be visited on prearranged tours, or when the brewery is not operating.  Immersing visitors into the production process is central to Mission Brewery, evident by nothing but a small counter that separates drinkers from the brewhouse and promotes an interest in the inner-workings of a brewery.  It’s a mission worth applauding.

Watching over the brewery, the tasting room itself occupies the majority of the building’s west side.  Large areas require a large bar, and Mission Brewery’s bar stretches almost the entire length of the building, from the front entrance and outside Food Trucks to the large, well-stocked beer-coolers and retail area at the rear.  Almost as long as the bar is the enormous shuffleboard table.  The 18th-century Spanish mission theme can be determined from the historic chandeliers and the large mural that overlooks the bar and depicts galleons moored in the bay.

The latest addition to Mission Brewery is the ‘Cellar and Loft’ a 2-level reclaimed event space with excellent views over San Diego Central Library and Petco Park at the rear of the tasting room, separated by a huge sliding door — everything is built on a grand scale at Mission Brewery.

Mission Brewery’s entire operation is run from the former Wonder Bread Building, from production, to packaging, from retail to distribution, from tasting room bar to consumer.  It the perfect place to visit and witness (and taste) a successful brewery at work.  And afterwards, you can even select your favourite limited-edition or taproom-exclusive beer to take home in a ‘Mission Cannon’ — a canned-growler — directly sealed at the bar to keep the beer fresh.