Many say that interest in home brewing has never been greater, with the quality of that home brew never better. Amid this soaring popularity, we're seeing the beginning of a wave of home brewers in the Bay Area going pro.
In honor of SF Beer Week, which kicks off Friday, we're taking a look at some of the newcomers who have made the leap to professional brewing in the past year. From Capitola to Novato, Walnut Creek to South San Francisco, they are changing careers or launching second ones while continuing to work full time until the day when beer making may finally pay all the bills.
Several have science or engineering backgrounds. Some launched quietly following months, or sometimes years, of planning and plotting, raising capital and navigating the licensing process. Others, including Pine Street Brewery and Armstrong Brewing Co. this year, and Moksha in 2012, chose to make a splash and their formal debut during SF Beer Week, the pioneering beer celebration that has grown from 70 events to roughly 375 throughout the Bay Area over the past five years.
There is no doubt that it's an exciting time to be a beer drinker, but these six start-ups show it may be an even better time to become the brewer.
Nick Armstrong stealthily opened Armstrong Brewing Co. in a South San Francisco industrial park in November with Pat Hinterberger and Ben Colombo. There was little marketing involved beyond a website, Facebook page and mailing list full of his buddies from Genentech, where Armstrong still works full time.
Using a two-barrel system, the tiny Armstrong Brewery focuses on English and Belgian-style beers, including a malty English Northern brown, a fruity dubbel and a barrel-aged stout. Aside from the beers, it's worth paying attention to Armstrong's financing model. The brewery offers a CSA-style club where members commit to buying six bottles of new barrel releases every three to four months at a cost of $60-$75. So far, he's got 30 members. Armstrong has also partnered with North Carolina State University to try to crack the code for low-gluten beer using a gluten extraction process. If viable, Armstrong may be able to create low-gluten versions of his entire beer lineup.
Where to find Armstrong Brewery's beer: The Armstrong Brewery in South San Francisco and the Ale Arsenal in San Carlos.
The brewer's personal favorite: Oatmeal porter, a dark English ale with a silky mouthfeel and caramel and toffee notes.
SF Beer Week events with Armstrong Brewing: Grand opening launch party with food and live music on February 16 at the tasting room.
Alan Atha hit the scene at SF Beer Week two years ago as part of a showcase of nanobreweries that had aspirations of one day going pro. Atha finally became legal last fall, transitioning from cycling coach and personal trainer to head brewer of his own operation, which is the only way the 62-year old says he could have gotten into commercial brewing. "At my age, nobody would hire me," he says with a laugh.
With partner Cathy Portje, Atha opened a petite production facility and tasting room in Novato in October. He uses an all-electric three-barrel system and six strains of yeast to produce a repertoire of about 15 different beers, nine of which are usually on rotation in the tasting room. About 60 percent of Atha's beers are Belgian-style ales, with the remainder representing West Coast styles, such as IPAs. "If you're a hop head," Atha says, "come see me."
The brewer's personal favorite: Rumpelstiltskin Double IPA, a fruity blend with a huge hop profile. "I brew that one for me," Atha says.
SF Beer Week events with Beltane Brewery: Double IPA Festival at The Bistro in Hayward on Feb. 9; Anchor and Hope Shrimp Boil at Anchor and Hope in San Francisco on Feb. 13; Valentine's Day release party of three new beers at Beltane Brewing on February 14th: Mon Coeur Chocolate Ale; Mon Coeur Sauvage, a chocolate ale with raspberries; En Suite Sauvage, a saison with raspberries.
Growing up outside Chico in a family of home brewers, Blaine Landberg knew he wanted to be a brewer since he was 14. He made his first batch of beer in his UC Berkeley dorm in the late 1990s, throwing honey in the mix and calling himself the Buzzerkeley Brewing Company.
He wanted to start a brewery out of college but instead took a job with Honest Tea to learn the beverage industry from the ground up. He used that knowledge to launch Calicraft in May. His core lineup includes three beers: the Cali Colsh, a light, easy-drinking, stripped-down blend of European and California-grown malts; Oaktown Brown, a hoppy, malty brown ale; and Buzzerkeley, a sparkling ale made with Champagne yeast. All beers are made on a contract basis at facilities across the Bay Area, but Landberg is still hunting for his own brick-and-mortar location in Walnut Creek.
Where to find Calicraft's beer: Whole Foods, many independent grocery stores throughout the Bay Area, such as Andronico's and Lunardi's.
The brewer's personal favorite: Depends on the time of day.
Mukul Jain and Anand Chandrasekaran used to bemoan the lack of quality among many Indian beers. When Jain learned his uncle in India was a home brewer with an interesting family recipe, he saw a chance to bring to market a unique amber lager that would pair well with South Asian food.
Jain and Chandrasekaran launched Moksha Beer during the 2012 Beer Week. The pair worked to maintain the flavor profile of Jain's uncle's beer using local ingredients. The smooth, malt-forward amber lager is Moksha's lone offering at the moment, but Jain's uncle in India is reportedly at work on several other recipes. Stay tuned.
Where to find Moksha beer: Indian restaurants throughout the Bay Area, including Amber India, Gaylord India in San Francisco and Mint Leaf in Berkeley.
This home brewing adventure began in a cramped apartment on Pine Street in San Francisco about four years ago. After sharing countless concoctions with friends and family, Jay Holliday and David Alexander became licensed in December. Like Calicraft and Moksha, the partners don’t have their own facility so their beers are produced at other breweries in the Bay Area.
Pine Street Brewery officially launched on Monday. Their strategy involves offering just one beer at a time, with the first being the Atom Splitter, a 5 percent pale ale. Other beers up their sleeves include “Black Bay,” a stout, and “Menagerie,” a farmhouse style ale.
Tim Clifford became obsessed with making beer while working for a home brew supply company in Santa Cruz. After scrapping the original plan to open a brewery and winery under one roof, he opened the Sante Adairius Rustic Ales' tasting room last May with his wife Adair Paterno, a local attorney and his beer drinking partner for some 20 years.
Sante Adairius makes everything from ubiquitous IPA to robust porters, English-style cask ales and German-style Goses. Clifford brews from a Belgian-inspired tradition, which he describes as whimsical and open-ended, with a willingness to have fun with ingredients. "I'm a home brewer, with no professional brewing experience," he says. "And as a home brewer, you don't have to sell your beer so you can be very experimental."
Where to find Sante Adairius' beer: Don't expect to see many Sante Adairius beers outside the Capitola tasting room in the immediate future, or at least the first half of 2013.
The brewer's personal favorite: Hard to choose, but one would be the West Ashley, a saison aged in Pinot Noir barrels with apricots.
SF Beer Week events with Sante Adairius: Beer pairing dinner at St. Vincent Tavern in San Francisco with Craftsman Brewing Co. on Feb. 10; Sour Sunday at Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse in Berkeley on Feb. 10; Meet the Brewer at Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse in Berkeley on Feb. 12; Dinner pairing at Good Karma Vegan Cafe on Feb. 15.