A compassion for fellow Marines turned a hobby of crafting beer into a dream-come-true business for Northern Pine Brewing co-founders Aaron Ortega, Anne Ortega and Robert “Bobby” Parsons.
Northern Pine Brewing, 326 N. Horne St., offers a variety of craft beers, including ambers, cream ales, IPAs, pale ales, porters and stouts. The brewing collaborative began in 2009.
“Bobby (Parsons) was one of the first friends I met when Anne (Ortega) and I moved here from Oregon,” Northern Pine Brewing co-founder Aaron Ortega said. “I learned how to brew from Bobby. He has been brewing for about 14 years now. When Bobby was on deployment, he read a book about the chemistry of brewing. He read this book over and over, then came back home and started brewing.”
They began small.
“Anne and I started brewing on a stove top in our condo. Eventually, we bought a house and started upgrading our equipment,” said Aaron. “Then we started brewing together with Bobby. We were doing 10-gallon batches each. I would bring our equipment over to his place or he would bring his equipment to mine, doing two batches at a time. We added a third batch. So all at one time we would have three different beers boiling up and that was pretty cool.”
They brewed their beer for friends and word spread, so they began brewing for special events, weddings and fundraisers. A tragedy at Camp Pendleton spurred the team to take its brewing to the next level.
During a pre-deployment night training exercise in 2012, two helicopters collided, killing all on both aircraft.
“Whether you are in or you’re out, that’s your family. Always!” said Aaron. “We wanted to do something big to show our support for that. We came up with the idea of brewing a specialty beer for the Marines. A morale boost, something they could say cheers with to the fallen Marines.”
The original plan was to brew 25 gallons and then they decided to double it. “We went to the commanding officer and told him what we wanted to do. Let him know that the community was behind them and the job they had to do despite the tragedy,” Aaron explained. “He was all for it, but we discovered that this squadron was larger than the average squadron, so our plan was not going to be enough. Fifty gallons was just not enough beer.”
With their home brew equipment, it would have been difficult to brew one beer six different times.
“There would have been issues with consistency and things like that. We started shopping around to see how we were going to handle the logistics of making this beer happen,” said Aaron.
They ended up in Vista.
“We went to Mother Earth Brew Co., where they have home brew supplies. Little did we know that we were talking with the owner, Dan Love,” said Aaron. “He instantly got caught up in the spirit of the thing and was right there with us. He suggested we do it all in one shot using the Mother Earth Brew Co. system. We ended up doing 350 gallons of Homage, and with that, we were able to give a 22-ounce bottle to every Marine of age, and ultimately all of the family members we wanted to as well.
“Mother Earth also donated 50 percent of the proceeds from Homage sold in the taproom. We ended up doing a bottle release party. Hundreds of people showed up, which allowed us to buy memorial gifts for the families.”
That was the moment the trio knew they wanted to do more with their brewing skills.
“It was bittersweet for all three of us, but we knew this is what we needed to do with our lives,” said Aaron. “Ever since then we have been planning to open this place. Our own house. A place we can do fundraisers. Charitable type things so we can give back to our community. We
Their “own house” is spacious with the rustic decor designed and installed by friends and family. The bar is Douglas fir with a “stacked wood” wall behind the bar made from lumber brought down from Idaho by Anne’s parents.
The first sign you see when you enter the door reads “North meets South,” a reference to the Southern-style barbecue served at the That Boy Good BBQ Counter, which shares the building space with Northern Pine Brewing.
“It couldn’t be a better pairing. Barbecue and beer,” said Aaron. And the beer on tap is constantly evolving.
“We have over 30 home brew base recipes we’ve developed over the years with several variations. Our porter has a bourbon oak chip version, a vanilla version. Our thing is variety. We didn’t want to open with flagship beers we assumed everybody would like. We like to brew a lot of different types and our menu reflects that. We opened with five beers and have been building the tap list ever since.”
Golden Horizons is one of their top sellers. “It’s a dank IPA, but it’s really palatable for people who don’t really like IPAs because we use Citra and Amarillo hops. Because of that, it’s really citrusy. Even though it’s bitter and has a lot of hops character in it, it has such a great citrus taste that people who may not like IPAs enjoy this even over our pale ales.”
Another top seller is Turning Point, a cream ale and a tribute to Genesee Cream Ale.
“Bobby grew up in Rochester, NY, and that’s the beer you grow up on in that area. It’s his tribute named after a park on the Genesee River,” Aaron explained. “It’s a clean, crisp beer. That’s the beer we go to if someone comes in and wants something like Budweiser, Miller or Coors and they aren’t necessarily into craft beer. We recommend trying Turning Point, and that’s part of the name too: that it will turn you with your first craft beer experience.”
Northern Pine Brewing is open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. To learn more about Northern Pine Brewing and see the brewery’s current tap list, visit www.northernpinebrewing.com.