Oceanside / Vista / San Diego, California

Co-founder Tom Vogel’s brewery is expanding its distribution, innovating, and exporting a new sudsy image of California manufacturing.

Photos courtesy Belching Beaver Brewery

Belching Beaver Brewery has been as industrious as its namesake. In 2020, the company produced 44,000 barrels of beer, and Vogel is projecting 52,000 barrels for 2021. “We’re up 23 percent, first quarter,” he says.

In May 2021, Colorado will become the 14th state on the brewery’s distribution map, which currently spans from Alaska to Texas.

But the company’s beer doesn’t just head to points north and east from San Diego County — it heads west, to overseas, as well. Belching Beaver has a presence in Asia, including Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan.

“One of our biggest customers is China,” says Vogel. “Until the epidemic hit, [sales volume to China was] almost to the point of what San Diego was for us. They were literally doing 12 trucks a month.”

The company originally occupied a 3,700-square-foot space. Regarding its present-day production facility, Vogel says, “We’re going to be close to 75,000 square feet by year’s end.” He adds, “We started with a 15-barrel brewhouse with five 15-barrel fermenters, and now the fermenters we’re buying are 240 barrels.”

Pretty impressive for a brewery that’s less than 10 years old and whose flagship beer is its Peanut Butter Milk Stout. “It is the beer that started it for us,” says Vogel.

That beer ultimately allowed Belching Beaver to build up its distribution business, which it eventually sold off to buy more equipment and expand its locations. And when the company studies sales data gathered from its four tasting rooms, it most often packages the top sellers and puts its marketing dollars behind them. “Rather than making beer that our brewers like, we make beer that people like,” says Vogel.”Our tagline for that is ‘Our Customer is Our Boss.’ . . . I always tell my brewers here, ‘You guys can make whatever you want — after you keep the lights on.'”

In addition to variations on its peanut butter milk stout, the company has also become known for hoppy ales. Its core selections now include a West Coast IPA, a hazy IPA, a mango IPA, and another IPA, Phantom Bride, which Vogel calls a “true collaboration” between the brewery and the rock band, Deftones, which had input into the recipe and flavor profile.

Additionally, Belching Beaver’s head brewer, Thomas Peters, has won the Alpha King Challenge twice (2014 and 2017), and he brought home the brewery’s first-ever medal from the Great American Beer Festival in 2020 for a fresh hop beer. “We bought him his own canning line and he is going to be coming out with tons of IPA one-offs,” says Vogel.

And now that winter’s over and temperatures begin to climb, Vogel expects production of the company’s hard seltzers to ramp up once again.

Pretty industrious, all in all. Which leads us to the 800-pound gorilla (or is it a beaver?) in the room, so to speak: the company’s name, which some might find ridiculous, rude, or even offensive. Vogel says that when the brewery was in its planning stages, a marketing-wiz friend declared, “Hey, you’ve gotta name it Belching Beaver!” Vogel and his co-founder, brewery architect David Mobley, took the advice.

“It was something people remembered,” says Vogel. And it’s turned out to be a brand that folks will see on a restaurant or bar menu and order simply because of its name, he adds.

“I think when you have a name that somebody will remember — and if you come out with quality beer — that does a really good job for you,” concludes Vogel.

Favorite beers: In terms of beers from other breweries, Vogel — who describes himself as “an IPA guy” — gives a shout-out to Mother Earth Brewing Company’s Boo Koo; “I’ve always liked that IPA that they have,” he says. He adds, “And then the one that everybody loves is Nelson from Alpine [Beer Company].”

Challenges: “Growing,” says Vogel. “Having space to bring in new equipment. Modernizing.”

Opportunities: Vogel points to a plan to start a sister company to develop new products, including a non-alcoholic beer. “We’re always trying to do more things,” he says. “We just don’t want to put too much under Belching Beaver anymore, because Belching Beaver’s doing quite well and we don’t want to muddle the brand.” The news turns out to be a CompanyWeek exclusive: “You’re actually the first to hear this.”

Needs: “Always capital!” laughs Vogel, who spent years running a mortgage business before co-founding the brewery. “It’s always money!”