The San Clemente Planning Commission signaled a willingness to consider more microbreweries in the city Tuesday in response to a businessman sending out feelers about starting a North Beach microbrewery.
The microbreweries would be categorized as bars under the city’s existing zoning, but some commissioners suggested they have their own specification for permits in the upcoming new general plan.
Commissioner Barton Crandell pointed out that wine tasting rooms have their own designation under San Clemente zoning rules and face fewer conditions for permits than a bar that serves hard alcohol.
Businessman Tom Cordato has proposed setting up a microbrewery with tasting room at 1640 N. El Camino Real -- the site of the defunct California Cigar Lounge and Sea Breeze Cafe. Although he hasn't solidified the lease yet, Cordato and his business partners envision bringing San Diego's vibrant craft brewing scene north to San Clemente.
"In the traditional sense of a bar, it's not quite the same," Cordato told the commission about his planned tasting room. "The craft brewery clientele are more social as opposed to 'let's go out and drink a lot and get inebriated.'"
They call Orange County the "next frontier" for craft beer.
The vision for the nascent brewery would be to brew classic, strong, hoppy, West Coast-style India Pale Ales with an experimental streak, Cordato and his partners said.
In addition to selling other brewers' bottled beers, the proposed microbrewery would sell its own beer on tap and in-house, with the option to take some home in a resealable pitcher called a growler.
The caveat suggested by Associate Planner Amber Gregg, however, would be that current zoning prohibits bottling equipment onsite and limits production to 5,000 barrels per year.
By contrast, Pizza Port -- the only similar business in town -- produces about 1,000 to 1,500 barrels per year, said Cordato and his partners.
A few other craft breweries in town -- such as Oggi's and Left Coast -- are focused on high production and are considered light manufacturing. Those facilities are located in areas zoned for that, not mixed-use areas like North Beach, Gregg said.
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Indeed, serving up craft beer seems to be the trend in San Clemente restaurants of late. In recent years The Cellar on Del Mar, though mostly a wine and cheese place, has built a respectable selection of craft beers. The San Clemente Wine Company down the street has packed its beer fridge full of classy ales, and popular gourmet burger restaurant Riders Club in North Beach has made a rotating selection of microbrews and imports a cornerstone of its menu.
Nomads, a beer and wine bar refurbished and opened in December a few blocks from Del Mar, serves dozens of diverse microbrews along with its food menu and live music lineup.
And, in 2012, San Clemente celebrated its annual craft beer festival, which was heavily attended and sponsored by the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce.
As Crandell said Tuesday when suggesting a specific microbrewery zoning designation in future code revisions, "There'll only be more of these."
Commissioner Jim Ruehlin agreed.
"I'll be lining up my growlers," he said.
Cordato's next step is solidifying his lease with the commercial real estate company that owns the building he wants, and then filling out an application for a conditional use permit. The planning commission and City Council would ultimately have to approve it.
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