Old Harbor Brewery, a once popular brewery and restaurant in Old San Juan, is making a comeback in the hands of Destilería National Inc., which has made a $3 million investment to revive the artisanal brand after a three-year absence.
In an exclusive interview with this media outlet, Investing Partner William Cruz said his company had been involved with Old Harbor Brewery’s former owners, Dito Inc., which ran into trouble — and “serious economic problems” — since 2015.
“A friend called me to see if I would make an investment in the company, which we did. But the company had losses every day, it wasn’t paying sales and use tax, it had no money for Christmas bonuses. There was no way to save it. In August 2015, the brewery sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy and in November 2015, it closed,” said Cruz, who is a radiologist by profession.
Since then, Cruz had been immersed in the bankruptcy process and working with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court trustee to acquire the asset that includes the lease for a 24,000 square-foot warehouse in Carolina owned by the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co. — where the original Old Harbor Brewery microbrewery was located.
Although the company tried, Cruz said it was impossible to also keep the Old San Juan property where the restaurant and bar was located for nearly a decade. It was sold during the Chapter 7 proceeding, which the court approved for Old Harbor Brewery in July 2016.
“We bought the machinery and equipment and wanted to buy the property in Old San Juan, to open in both places, but that structure was sold to investors who were asking way too much for it,” said Cruz.
The investment also included the Old Harbor Brewery brand name and beer formulas, which will be crafted by the same brewmaster who worked in Old San Juan, Justo Ramos, Cruz said.
Since April of this year, the company has been quietly brewing its portfolio of brands and types — including Old Harbor varieties; Santo Viejo (pilsner); Coquí (lager); Cofresí (stout); and Taína (seasonal flavors) — selling it to bar owners who come to the warehouse from as far as Vieques to buy it by the keg.
“We have done 0.0 percent promotion for our beer and it has been selling consistently,” Cruz noted.
“About 40 bars islandwide are selling the draft beer already,” he said, adding that in response to that demand, Old Harbor Brewery is in talks with several bar owners who have approached them with the idea of adopting the beer brand’s signboards for their storefronts.
The plant is equipped with about 30 storage tanks and two kitchens — one of which is exclusively for product testing — and starting in October, Old Harbor Brewery will begin botting its beers, with a capacity to produce 15,000 cases of 24, 12-oz. bottles a month.
On-site food truck park
Plans call for completing the warehouse upgrades, opening a bar in the facility, and establishing a food truck on the three-acre property. The trucks will have all of the utilities in place to remain on the premises permanently, from where they will offer a variety of menu options, he said.
“We’re opening a bar to not only sell our beers, but other liquors as well,” he said. “By October, we should have between five and six food trucks operating, on our way to having about a dozen installed on our property by December.”
All told, the operation will generate about 15 direct and 100 indirect jobs, said
The Old Harbor Brewery will also offer tours and educational sessions on how to make beer, as well as tastings. The bar area will offer enough seating for about 150 customers, while another 1,000 could easily sit outside, where tables will be set up throughout the property.
The Old Harbor Brewery is a local brand that has won international recognition and awards from prestigious organizations, including the World Beer Cup. Once operational, it will be Puerto Rico’s largest microbrewery, followed by Ocean Lab in Isla Verde, Cruz confirmed.