By Dr. Ink
It was only a matter of time before University Heights received a brewery. Since January, the neighborhood became the latest San Diego locale to encompass the burgeoning trend, thanks to the arrival of Kairoa Brewing Company.
Kairoa’s freshly designed two-level structure gives Uptown beer aficionados a rare bonus beyond the usual cool factor breweries bring with them. It offers a rooftop patio — a perk that too often goes missing in sunny and temperate San Diego.
The establishment is the brainchild of three native New Zealanders: married couple Rob and Andrea Peach, and Shanan Spearing, who owns the adjoining Red House Pizza.
Situated on a prime corner of Park Boulevard and Madison Avenue, the trio transformed this circa-1924 structure into a graceful warm-industrial space by keeping the original wood ceiling beams and most of the framework. They added the rooftop, plus bars on each floor, a kitchen, a production area featuring six tanks, and lots of seating options to plant your caboose.
As for the name — “Kairoa” combines lettering from the couple’s New Zealand hometowns of Kaikoura and Akaroa.
Their son, Joe Peach, is the head brewer. He crafts about a dozen beers of most varieties. But he steers away from the “darks” because “they don’t sell well,” he said.
During happy hour, the house beers are $5 per pint. My drinking companion, who loves all beers except hoppy IPAs, started with a smooth, light Belgian blonde named Cheeky Buggah. With faint hints of spice, he drank it with gusto as we both agreed it’s the kind of brew you’ll want to soak up while lolling on the rooftop patio during balmy summer days.
He switched to the only brown ale in Peach’s current repertoire, a caramel-colored semi-malty creation named Bright Lights. It offered medium body and traces of toffee, though lighter in flavor than typical brown ales.
Throughout our visit, I stuck to Back Paddock, a New Zealand pilsner accented reasonably with hops sourced from Kiwi country. Compared to classic German pilsners, this offered more character and a perkier finish.
A small handful of noshes are also only $5 during happy hour. As of late, the “Impossible roll” using the namesake plant-based meat isn’t available due to a supply shortage. Our waitress assured it will soon be replaced with another vegan option.
We chose a couple of shrimp “butties” (a New Zealand term for sliders or sandwich, we assumed) and a sausage roll enrobed in puff pastry.
The shrimp were tucked within a small, shiny brioche roll with spicy aioli, although I could have done without their heavy batter. The sausage, made in-house, was unctuous. But the excellent seeded mustard (also made onsite) cut through most of the fattiness.
Kairoa’s greeting system struck us as confusing. A sign at a podium just inside the entrance read “Wait to be seated.” But as we observed, nobody was there to welcome incoming customers. Most of them, including us, had to traipse over to the bar and interrupt staffers chatting on their cell phones or in conversation with each other.
If you choose to sit on the inviting rooftop patio, a sign instructs you to order food and drinks through the bartender. We didn’t last long there because a large number of tables were reserved for a private party, and there was some dude in the bunch wearing excessive, cheap cologne.
For now, as the brewery continues catching on, I direct my applause in regards to happy hour to the sleekly designed space and the well-crafted beer.