The Beer World (from an East Bay View)

This past weekend Denny and I were invited to roam around the Bay Area by one of our podcast sponsors, Craftmeister. Craftmeister was in town to demonstrate their cleaning line to customers and employees at the Bay Area More Beer retail locations and brought us along to autograph copies of B3’s latest catalog offering – Experimental Homebrewing! Anyway – Denny and I met up with Jonathan Ettlie in Oakland and proceeded to run around town. You see, we have this new thing – the podcast – and you know what’s hard? Making sure you have enough good and interesting content. After all, why listen if all you’ve got is two blowhards boringly bloviating even if the blather is about beer. (Stop me before I alliterate again!) So, the good news is we turned our madcap time in the Bay Area into a full field recording session for the podcast. Assuming the audio we captured worked out – we’ve got some great content coming up from Jay Goodwin of the Rare Barrel and the Sour Hour, Shaun “Sully” O’Sullivan of 21st Amendment, a listener tasting gone awry at MoreBeer, Nick Impellitteri of the Yeast Bay and the always voluble Rodger Davis of Faction Brewing

Day One

Rare Barrel

Our first stop was one of the most exciting breweries in America – The Rare Barrel in Berkeley. The basic story of the Barrel – Jay Goodwin worked on barrel aged projects for the Bruery before striking out on his own to produce nothing but sour ales We got to sit down with him and a tasty tasty glass of Map of the Sun. Even though we were there while the brewery was closed, the whole massive operation was rocking with brewery workers hard at the process of creating new sours. We had a fascinating talk about his philosophy and process of brewing – grabbed tips and tricks and hopefully if the audio survived – we’ll feature Jay in episode 3 on December 9th.

21st Amendment

A Wall of Bitter American Cans greets you – Eventually Sully wants to open a performance space up here in the front – until then – monkey’s on cans! So we left the airport and went north to get to Jay and then promptly turned around and went south of the airport to get to the place I’m calling “Rancho El Sully” aka Shaun O’Sullivan’s adult wonderland – the 21st Amendment Brewery in San Leandro. First order of business was grabbing a Toaster Pastry – the beer named for the former tenant of the massive facility – a manufacturer of breakfast cereals and toaster warmed pastries.

Zambo and Sully on the Sully Tour Our first greeting was with an old friend – David Zamborski aka Zambo. Zambo brewed years ago for BJ’s down in LA before floating around and eventually landing as the chief brewer at the original 21A brewery in San Francisco. He was out at the garguatuan brewery working on 21A’s first barrel project so that was unexpectedly awesome to thumb my nose in greeting at one of my favorite people. Barrels of deliciousness – these are the construction beer barrels. Filled while the brewery was still in progress and moved around constantly as construction continued around them. Sully was pleasantly surprised with how they’re tasting. Sully then showed up and took us around the brewery like a proud father, completely baffled how a little 12 barrel brewpub in San Francisco could eventually grow up into a monster brewery like this. As he took us around, the refrain kept repeating of “look at all these cool toys and how strange is this?” This is one of the most beautiful brew decks ever with computer controls and beautiful hop tanks. Hell, even the boilers look like the first super computers I worked on – only with chimney stacks. The underside of a very small mash tun These are the backside of the very fancy boilers that power the brewery. Room in here for at least one more should they need it Much like the smaller PicoBrew Zymatic systems – you add your hops to the boil kettle via these tanks down on the ground floor A fully automated brewery requires the use of computers to control the whole flow and that’s what we’ve got here. Cool touches existed everywhere including the brewery’s logos to demonstrate that the whole thing is custom When your fermenters are super tall, you need a better solution that cart barrels of hops to the tank top and dumping them in. In this case, you fill the small tank with hops and blow them into the fermenters with CO2. The tank name – that’s the guy who suggested the trick to Sully! The tank farm – cause every brewery needs a whole pile of giant fermenters! We sat down in the brewer’s office, hidden by the tasting room and had a lovely chat with Shaun. Expect to hear his take on the brewing world and how you go from a little brewpub messing around with cans to an old lager brewery in the Midwest to a terrifying industrial complex of your own. I swear I’m not planning anything nefarious! A little Toaster Pastry!

Yeast Bay at the Trappist

One last stop of the evening took us back to Oakland and one of my favorite bars, The Trappist. There we met with Nick Impellitteri, owner, proprietor, chief rancher of the Yeast Bay. Sitting over a couple of beers, Denny and I chatted with Nick about why he started the Yeast Bay and what drives his particular take on a yeast company. We also got into the mix a bit on his favorite bacterias and strains and why he works with White Labs. We’re looking forward to playing with more of Nick’s products and getting to know his strains better!

Day Two

MoreBeer Los Altos

On Friday we started our world tour with a morning run to the heart of the Silicon Valley and the MoreBeer in Los Altos. On the way we waved hello to FaceBook and a bunch of other names we all recognize. The Los Altos store is super tiny, but fun to explore all the nooks and crannies. As we talked up the Craftmeister cleaners and signed books, I kept finding new things to try at home. (Mostly around the wine/cider side of the house). More reports on those later. A definite highlight of the visit was a mobile version of Troubleshooter’s Corner (a thing I do for the Maltose Falcons). A reader and listener, Alex, showed up with a bottle of his Kombucha beer, but things turned mildly explosive as we raced trhough the store, recorder in hand. I really hope the audio for this turns out because the image of me running and narrating is really awesome. Beer Tasting on the Fly

MoreBeer San Leandro

I grabbed exactly zero photos as we returned to the land of Sully, but what was really interesting to see was how MoreBeer is integrating purchased properties like this store, which was BrewMaster and moving the wholesale/retail operations under one new roof away from the traditional home of Concord. Also, you know what’s really nice? Showing up at a place after the Briess folks have been there is always a treat because they usually leave Malted Milk Balls. These things are so fantastic it’s unfair. Seriously, you want these balls in your face hole.

St. George’s

While we were really tempted to go hit El Sully again, we had another date to make for our podcast tour. Jonathan bravely tackled the Friday night traffic to take us from San Leandro to Alameda island. If you’re not familiar with the Bay Area – Alameda is one of many islands in the Bay that’s been used over the years by the US Military. I think every big island in the Bay has been a military base at same point – Alameda, Alcatraz, Angel, Treasure, Yerba Buena, etc. Anyway – as the military reconfigures its domestic base profile, facilities are left fallow and ripe for adaptive reuse. Given the expense of real estate in the bay, it really shouldn’t be surprising that the former military bases are ripe for re-use. Out on Alameda, a series of massive helicopter hangers are all in use by the beverage industry – Hangar One Vodka, my favorite American gin maker – St George’s and naturally what we’re really here to see – The Billion Dollar View – From Faction’s parking lot looking over to the city. When we first arrived, I knew that St. George’s was next door to the brewery, so I figured we’d have to stop in and say “hi”. Sure enough, I ran over and found out that the tasting room closes well before we’d be done with Rodger, so I cajoled Denny and Jonathan into joining me for a tasting. I’m super good at that. (My superpower – convince people to do the things they want to do but keep telling themselves they shouldn’t!) Between Jonathan and I we ordered pretty much all of the St. George lineup available that day. The All Purpose Vodka was what it said on the tin – all purpose, clean, neutral. Jonathan really liked the Green Chile with it’s punchy peppery nose while I appreciated the bright blast of the Citrus Vodka. Then of course there’s the gin – the thing they’re really known for. I still view an ice cold Terroir Martini with it’s strong sage and piney notes as the perfect post work week antidote, but hey any of them work well! But the real surprise and mic drop came with the fruit and other liqueurs. They had a pretty rad Absinthe and Chicory Coffee liqueur, but the stars were a Pear Brandy in the Eau de Vie fashion that was also used to create a Spiced Pear Liqueur that’s pure awesomeness.

Faction Brewing – A Man, A Bear and A Beer

After our brief journey into the land of spirits, we walked across the parking lot to find and say hello to the crew at Faction. Basically that’s Rodger’s operation in a converted marine helo hanger with all the requisite doors that he closes with his favorite toy – the forklift. (When we first arrived, Rodger was running around cleaning up the brewery for the weekend. He was busy driving around, picking up stacks of kegs and barrels. He even swung the forklift around to say hello to us. He also insists that the forklift is not one of his favorite things. I would disagree, but he might get mad at me) Brewery Mural Above the Racks of Barrels I love old pieces of hardware – that’s a seriously crunchy auto door return. My new favorite beer name – Hipster Conformant Beer Equipment Gets Recycled From Brewery to Brewery In the interview,Rodger revealed that he had possible the longest grain augur that runs from the back of ther brewery warehouse all the way to the brew house towards the front. (Follow the white pipe.) Why? A small endangered species lives on the far side of the runway necessitating height restrictions that forced the silo to the back of the hangar. Rodger has an unironic love of Hamm’s. Sascha (the real bear’s name). The bear keeps a watch from the commander’s office over the brewery floor Such a thing with brewers Rodger is known for being a voluble subject with plenty of attitude and opinions on beers and brewing. He played great host with an unending supply of beer samples including his long series of 2 Hop Pales with a main bittering hop (Delta while we were there) and a different finishing hop. As we sat up in the commander offices were talked for a long time and covered endless subjects, so let’s just say that Denny has his work cut out for him! After a long time of sampling and talking we finally retired for one last day of adventuring.

Day Three

MoreBeer Concord

Jonathan, Denny and Drew at the MoreBeer Concord Mothership Our final day started at the mothership of MoreBeer. Formerly the home to MoreBeer’s warehouse activities, the showroom has plenty of room to grow and is in the process of being re-worked. While Jonathan proffered samples and talked to everyone about the cleaners and their experiences. Denny and I spent our time talking with customers, signing books and answering questions. We hung out and generally had a grand time. Jonathan gave away a ton of cleaner and we signed a whole bunch of books and meeting podcast listeners. (It’s really great to know that people are listening!) Denny making friends After MoreBeer, we took a slight side trip…

Hop Grenade

After all was said and done, we were in Concord with time to kill before our flights the next morning. So naturally we went to the Hop Grenade, home of the Brewing Network. While there, and enjoying beers with various folks – Denny and I invaded the Brewing Network’s proper studio. Denny got to play audio engineer and looked around all the equipment and commenting on the qualities of the various mikes and compressors. One of these days maybe we’ll have real gear like those boys! Requisite studio invasion photo Denny’s a Natural We did make one last stop – Cellarmaker, but by that point I was done with cameras and audio. Beer was good though!

Day Four – Goodbyes!

So long San Francisco! Until next time – keep your pints frosty for me!