Brewer Mike Nelson and longtime girlfriend, Natallie Phillips started the Smoking Cannon Brewery.  The San Diego natives both grew up on the coast but moved to Ramona about 20 years ago.

“We moved up here to get away from the city, and we just love it,” says Phillips. “The country is awesome.”

While Nelson originally picked up homebrewing in the late ‘90s, he started making beer consistently about ten years ago. During that time he’s entered a number local homebrew contests and done pretty well. “I can honestly say,” Nelson adds, “I’ve only not won awards three times, out of a hundred-plus beers.”

For Smoking Cannon, Nelson built his own three-barrel system, and both he and Phillips contend they would like to see the brewery remain a relatively small, mom-and-pop shop, with the focus on making good beer. “Once it gets big it’s not special,” says Phillips. “This is about the passion, not the money”

Family contributions include advice from Nelson’s nephew, a brewer at Green Flash, and his brother, who owns a woodworking business and helped the couple build furniture and add wood trim to the tasting room. The 1800-square-foot space was made to resemble a 19th-century saloon and is decorated with Civil War photos. That time in history also inspired the name of the brewery.