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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Executive profile: Peter Zien

AleSmith Brewing Co. owner Peter Zien bought the brewery in 2002 and has spent the last 12 years growing an internationally recognized brand dedicated to hand-forged ales and craftsmanship. Zien began as a homebrewer.

“The blend of art and science found within brewing is like nothing I had previously experienced, and I was hooked quickly,” Zien said. “AleSmith and I continue to have very close ties to the homebrewing community in San Diego.”

Zien doesn’t see the industry’s success spoiling the local scene. “I believe that there is plenty of room for new breweries and that we are perhaps as little as one-tenth fulfillment of our beer drinking market just here in San Diego County. It’s a bit analogous to opening a new restaurant in New York or San Francisco. Sure there are plenty of great ones already, but those willing to bring their ‘A’ game coupled with the right attitude and business plan, there’s always the chance of success.”

AleSmith was the first brewer to set up shop in Miramar in 1995. It recently announced a planned 2015 opening for a 105,600-square-foot facility, set to include a new state-of-the-art manufacturing system along with a retail store and tasting room. AleSmith is moving to a space that it will renovate at 9990 Empire St., after signing an 11-year, $9.7 million lease. It expects to boost annual production from its current 15,000 barrels to 25,000 next year.


Essential business philosophy: Always stay open to new ideas, new procedures, new ways of doing things. Once you believe that you know everything, you will fail.

Best way to keep a competitive edge: High level of quality, positive employee relationships, integrity and superb customer service.

Guiding principles: Stay hungry and realize that you are only as good as your last beer.

Yardsticks of success: Customer satisfaction, No. 1 rating worldwide on 2013; competitive success, Small Brewery of the Year, Great American Beer Festival 2008; and financial success, going black in 2008.

Goals yet to be achieved: Moving into our state-of-the art brewery and to become a world-recognized cheesemaker.


Best business decision: To not enter into the profession of law and pursue my own business ventures; sorry lawyers, it just wasn’t for me.

Worst business decision: Taking too long to expand the brewery a dozen years back and get us out of the red sooner.

Toughest business decision: Discontinuing our highest-grossing beer at the time and stop contract brewing, thus cutting our income by 50 percent in my first year of operation at AleSmith. This later turned out to be one of my best business decisions.

Mentor: James Zien, former vice president of McDonald’s Corp. and my father. My father’s words echo in my head every day. He stressed the importance of honesty and integrity in all that you do. “Have integrity and people will come to you. You won’t have to seek out business opportunities,” is one of his most memorable quotes.

Word that describes you: Artist.


What you like best about your job: Creating liquid art with people that I care for.

What you like least about your job: More desk than boil kettle these days, but I’m adjusting.

Pet peeves: Pre-chilled or frozen beer glassware.

Most important lesson learned: Not having the difficult conversation makes things worse for all involved.

Person most interested in meeting: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin guitarist. I would love to have a pint with him while discussing art, music and perhaps a quick lesson on my Fender Strat.

Three greatest passions: Brewing, cheesemaking and baking.

First choice for a new career:



Most influential book: “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli.

Favorite status symbol: Tiffany


Favorite restaurant: URGE American Gastropub.

Favorite place for business meetings: Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens – Liberty Station.

In brewing and making cheeses, do you rely completely on your taste and expertise or do you need input from others? Is there a way to cultivate and refine your tastes? I spend a great deal of time reading everything that I can get my hands on regarding both brewing and cheesemaking. I do feel that I have refined my senses to produce excellent examples of both beer and cheese, but these are vast areas of knowledge and there’s always something new to learn in both arenas. I refine my tastes by frequently drinking and judging beer, as well as seeking out new and highly rated examples of both beer and cheese.

Favorite vacation spot: Bali.

Favorite way to spend time: Lost in the precious moments of creation.


Name: Peter Zien

Company: AleSmith Brewing Co.

Title: President

No. of employees: 27

Year founded: 1995

Education: Law degree, University of San Diego, 1988

Birthplace: St. Paul, Minn.

Age: 51

Current residence: La Jolla

Family: Vicky Zien, wife; Lois Zien, mother; Sarah Zien, sister


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