Beyond the Buildings: Dennis O’Connor and his Acre of Awesome
Acre of Awesome might be one of the most sustainably driven venues to host Pecha Kucha Night in San Diego. Ever. When the pandemic hit, Dennis O’Connor, co-founder of Thorn Brewing, had already planned to “re-craft” overstocked beer into a new line of spirits. He anticipated an average of 2-4 trucks a month to dabble and experiment. Instead, he was facing down 4-6 trucks a week of unused, about-to-expire beer. And so, the revolutionary ReBru Spirits was born.
“I unrolled my camping mat and I was sleeping at the distillery,” says the North Park native and CEO of San Diego Taxman. “The pandemic absolutely accelerated our plan.”
The Barrio Logan compound became an R&D lab for sustainability and indoor-outdoor food and beverage concepts. The team worked 24-7 to conjure craft gin, vodka, and limited-edition whiskey from unsold craft beer. To date, the distillery has processed over 400,000 gallons of repurposed beer—or 3.2 million pints—destined for landfills. Their efforts have lessened the burden on municipal wastewater treatment facilities and mitigated the impact on local ecosystems. And they’ve wooed judges along the way: their refined small-batch vodka and gin has won eleven awards in four competitions.
Meanwhile, as local restaurants were racing to create more outdoor dining space, O’Connor was repurposing more than beer alone. He was buying furniture and equipment at a clip from local restaurant auctions.
“We never could have planned for this layout,” says O’Connor of the historic Fraser’s Boiler Service building that houses the ventures. “The design almost created itself.”
Acre of Awesome combines several different establishments in one: there’s Thorn’s 30-barrel brewhouse and tasting room, featuring signature and seasonal brews like Coconut Porter, Guava IPA, and Hard Ginger Beer. Add to the list Kové Hard Yerba Mate: a new twist on a classic South American beverage, it is available on tap and in to-go four packs.
Here on National Avenue, sustainability is no mere buzz word. It’s the main ingredient. On any given night, the outdoor pizza restaurant churns out wood-fired pies utilizing spent grains in the crust. And the barbeque establishment—serving pulled pork, brisket, smoked turkey, and ribs—provides the charcoal and charred oak to filter and flavor the spirits.
“It was a pure passion project,” says O’Connor. “It wouldn’t have become such a dynamic space so quickly if it wasn’t for COVID allowing us to work on the business instead of in it.”
Interview & write up by Gillian Flynn, connect with her at https://gillianvflynn.com/