By David Washburn
Image courtesy of HoplightSocial.com
For years, as Ocean Beach Brewery was slowly coming to fruition on Newport Avenue, Jim Millea would sit across the street at Newport Pizza & Ale House and dream about one day working as the head brewer at the neighborhood’s newest brewpub.
Millea had been an accomplished homebrewer for more than a decade and earned a Professional Certificate in Brewing from UC San Diego Extension in spring 2015 as part of the program’s inaugural cohort. For good measure, he would regularly bring over bottles of his homebrew for the owners of OB Brewery to sample.
His dedication to perfecting his recipes and studying the craft of brewing finally paid off when his dream came true in late 2015 and he was hired on as head brewer. Two years later, something happened that he hadn’t even dreamed of – one of his beers, a German-style wheat ale (or Dunkelweizen), won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival, the largest and most prestigious brewing competition in the nation. In 2018, not only did he earn a gold medal for his B. Right On Pale Ale in the American-style Pale Ale category, Ocean Beach Brewery took home the prestigious Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year.
Millea’s path to the festival’s podium, has been, in many respects, a classic San Diego story. He came out West in 2000 after earning a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Massachusetts. He spent the better part of the next decade working as a consultant in the construction industry and immersing himself in the local surf and beer culture.
Not long after arriving in town he happened upon Ballast Point’s Home Brew Mart on Linda Vista Road. He’d tried home brewing before when he was living in Massachusetts, but only ended up making one batch.
This time he took the hobby more seriously. He started brewing regularly and making friends in the region’s burgeoning microbrew industry. By the mid-2000s, he was taking vacations from his engineering job to go to beer competitions with his friends in the business.
“I always thought it would be cool to do this for a living, but I was making pretty solid money in my engineering job,” Millea said. “I thought if I became a brewer I would be making minimum wage and be homeless.”
But by 2010 he was burnt out on his job and decided to take a year off to surf, snowboard and recharge his batteries. He also ended up doing a lot of home brewing. And, as it turned out, he never went back full time to his corporate job and changed his focus to become a professional brewer.
Then, in 2013, he heard that UC San Diego Extension was developing a brewing curriculum and became a member of the program’s inaugural class.
“The [UC San Diego Extension Brewing] program was huge. I wouldn’t be where I’m at without it,” he said. “It gave me the chance to learn from the rock stars of San Diego brewing.”
Among the instructors were Yuseff Cherney, co-founder and the original head brewer of Ballast Point; Lee Chase, who was Stone Brewing’s first Brewmaster; and Chris White, founder and CEO of White Labs, one of the largest propagators of brewer’s yeast in the world.
Just as important to Millea’s career as the instructors were his fellow students, many of whom who were already in the industry. “I would say that is one of the best things about the program,” he said. “It got me my first paid brewing job.”
One of his classmates was Ed O’Sullivan, who owns and operates O’Sullivan Brothers Brewing in Scripps Ranch. O’Sullivan hired Millea on September 18, 2014. “A day I will never forget,” Millea said. “The first day I got paid to brew beer.”
A year later he was living his dream at OB Brewery. With the brewery in its second year of operation, Millea said his goal is not to produce “crazy flavors” or high-alcohol beer, but rather to make “a good range of nice clean beers.”
But the Dunkelweizen is special to Millea. He first drank the style of beer when he was on a high-school exchange trip to Germany. He was just 17 (legal drinking age is 16 in Germany) and the only beer he’d tasted were the cans of Budweiser he’d snuck from his dad’s refrigerator. The Dunkelweizen was a far different experience – he drank it during the entire trip and “never forgot how great I thought it was.” The beer was high on his list when he started at the brewery.
“I told myself I really want to make that beer and I want it to taste like I remember from my time in Germany,” he said.” I really want to make it a good one.”
With his beer recognized for two years in a row as some of the best in the country, one can easily say, goal achieved.
(Updated: November 2018)