Remembering Lee Shephard

Drinking beer in Alaska in January. Photo by Ann Niemczyk.

Drinking beer in Alaska in January, like a boss. Photo by Ann Niemczyk.

Lee Shephard died on June 10 after an unfair struggle with a rare, aggressive neuroendocrine cancer. We in the beer community knew him as an award-winning homebrewer, master BJCP judge, festival organizer, volunteer wrangler, podcast co-host, drinking buddy, teacher, mentor, and friend.

It’s hard to overemphasize how much Lee taught so many people. Drinking a beer with Lee, you paid more attention. His BJCP classes were epic, unpaid labors of love full of hard science, tough love mixed with consistent encouragement, and extensive handwritten comments. Whenever he sat down at a judging table, both his fellow judges and the homebrewer up for critique were going to come out smarter. Unlike many brewers at his level, he was patient with newbies, generous with advice, and nonjudgmental of your learning curve. He was an actual educator in a world of pedants and know-it-alls.

Facebook is doing what Facebook does after someone passes…exploding with tributes that all but canonize the departed. In Lee’s case, it’s hard to argue with the outpouring. He really was all those things: smart yet humble, sarcastic but kind, hardworking and funloving, discerning yet forgiving, and liked by goddamn everyone.

Another rock star claimed by 2016. My condolences if you knew Lee. Bigger condolences if you didn’t.

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CommonWealth Cafe & Pub to change hands

Some people open a bar or restaurant, hire a general manager, and walk away. Others are so much a part of the business it’s hard to picture it without them. Ross and Ahna Adair, who founded CommonWealth in 2010 with Ahna’s brother Pete Jeffryes, were synonymous with the pub for many people. That’s why Facebook freaked out a little when this was posted on the CommonWealth page on Monday night.

Dear Friends,

The time has come to advise you all, we are stepping aside.

The CommonWealth will live on though, offering all the things you’ve come to know and love. We are simply passing on the torch to our friends, Lizzie Alford and Josh Rosenberg. They have both been regulars since we opened in 2010. Lizzie liked us so much she came on staff two years ago and Josh is a longtime member of the local restaurant community.

Several factors have culminated in this carefully considered decision but we are primarily motivated by what we feel is best for our wee family right now.

We are thrilled that Lizzie and Josh want to keep things going and honor all the hard work and love we have put in. They are an energetic young couple and we have the utmost faith in their ability to carry on the tradition.

When we think about getting out of the biz a wave of nostalgia passes over us and the six years we have spent building this pub flashes before our eyes. It will be bittersweet once the time comes, and no doubt emotional. We have made so many wonderful friends here.

We have been fortunate to find new owners who will continue on with the same care and passion and we feel assured that with your support, this pub will thrive for many years to come.

Cheers! Ahna and Ross

Many responses were some variant of “sad news.” I say CommonWealth Micropub closing in December was sad news. This change doesn’t need to be.

I admit I’m not objective, as I used to work for CommonWealth. I’ve only met Josh a few times but I’ve worked extensively with Lizzie. She’s been in the restaurant industry since she was 15 and is that rare breed of hospitality pro who is both a born server and a smart manager. Relax and trust her with this.

I asked her if anything would be changing and her response was quite clear. “Josh and I have no plans to change the Commonwealth,” she wrote. “We want to save it, to save the atmosphere, the traditions, the comfort food, the good beer. That includes maintaining the current staff and culture. Pub quiz, Burns night, bagpipes, FUTBOL. Futbol fans can rest easy, we’re gearing up for Copa America, and the Euros this summer. Just to be extra clear, NO ONE is being let go or fired in this transition of ownership.”

There you have it. Think of this as a family business being passed to a younger generation. Yes, it’s weird to think of visiting CommonWealth without seeing either of the Adairs, but all the other faces behind the bar (and in the kitchen) will remain familiar.

What’s next for Ahna and Ross? First up, some travel with their daughters. “The only thing we know for sure is we plan to travel to Scotland for the summer once Ruby and Charlotte are out of Kindergarten,” wrote Ross. “I haven’t been home in over 6 years, Ahna didn’t come with me on that trip because she was pregnant so it’s been even longer for her, the girls have never been. There’s a lot of folks dying to meet them. CW has anchored us to Oakland but our families are spread across the globe. We need to go see them.”

Having been behind the scenes at CW, I saw how hard Ross and Ahna work running a business AND raising twins. I’m happy for them, not sad, and I wish them all the relaxation and passport stamps they deserve. Cheers!

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Road trip: HenHouse Brewing’s Santa Rosa taproom

HenHouse Brewing has officially moved out of Petaluma and opened its new brewery and taproom in South Santa Rosa. I got invited to the soft opening, and needed no further persuasion to hop in the car and check it out. Soon, you can too: the taproom grand opening and release of HenHouse’s new sour is Saturday, March 5.

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As originally reported in The Press Democrat, this is a 75,000 bbl brewhouse, with initial production estimated at 5000 bbls. Likewise, there were 7 beers on tap over the weekend but I counted 21 tap handles. It’s going to be fun to watch HenHouse grow into this space. They’ll be filling some of those taps with fun tasting room-only beers from a 2 bbl pilot system.

They’ve got all the brewery taproom bases covered: full pours, small pours (essential at a place you almost have to drive to), growler fills, comfortable and casual vibe. They’ll be putting in more outdoor seating so you can look forward to drinking a HenHouse saison in the sun, as nature intended.

Some of you are skimming down the page wanting more about that sour beer. Okay. Co-owner Collin McDonnell kindly slipped my table a sample of it and I advise you to get excited about HenHouse’s barrel program. Stony Point Sour is “our house Saison aged in a mix of white wine barrels for about two years with Chardonnay juice, strawberries and boysenberries,” said Collin. “We have at least two more definitive beers lined up in the barrel program: saison with Chardonnay juice blended with a lactic fermentation which tastes like sparkly wine cooler peaches, and a barrel aged saison with kumquats. All three are different blends of the same base batch. Going forward, our funky/sour barrel aging program will take on a shape like this: multiple blends out of one batch. It’s a cool way to pull out different aspects of one beer.” Word.

HenHouse is located at 322 Bellevue Ave, Santa Rosa, 95407. The hours will be Wednesday through Friday 4-9pm, and Saturday/Sunday 11am-9pm. You can bring your own food or get chow from Red Horse Pizza on Friday through Sunday. It’s legal to bring the kids. Go get some good beer made by good people.

(Disclosure: I’ve been bullshitting with Collin on Twitter and running into him at bars for a few years now, and he bought my first beer at the taproom.)

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Bobby G’s has been sold

Just when we’ve gotten used to Perdition being closed, there’s another (more subtle, we hope) change coming to the beer spots of downtown Berkeley. Bobby G’s Pizzeria has been sold.

Owner Robert Gaustad explained on the Bobby G’s Facebook page:

“So, with all the rumors flying around about the sale of Bobby G’s Pizzeria, I’ll try to clarify some things.My partner, Heather Kratt, and I, are indeed selling the restaurant and we are currently in escrow. The close of sale should happen sometime between a month and six weeks. I will be here throughout that time, every day as usual, and then I’ll be around for a time after we close to consult if need be.

“We found a buyer who wants to keep the same name and concept of the restaurant and, in fact, wanted to buy it because we are a popular neighborhood hangout with great beer and pizza. The buyers are two brothers with a background in food, beer, and wine, so that’s a great match for this place. More importantly, they are young and energetic. One plan they have is to extend the hours which people have been asking me to do for years. Probably midnight on weekdays and 1am on weekends.

“The two brothers will start working here in early March so our regular customers and our employees will have ample time to get to know them before the close of the sale. I truly hope all our friends we’ve made over the years, as well as our staff, support these two young men. It’s not easy to step right into a busy restaurant and take it over so they will need as much support as we can give them.

“I, for one, wish them all the success in the world and I hope they carry on the restaurant as Heather and I planned it over nine years ago. We wanted to create a relaxing neighborhood hangout with great food, beer, and wine. And I wanted to make sure we had plenty of sports and music available to our customers. I think we succeeded, and as a result have made many hundreds of good friends over the years.

“My main reason for selling is because I have a number of health problems. I used to be a tough young man and now I’m a semi-broken, semi-old man. Nine years of way too many seven day weeks will take a toll on anybody and it’s certainly done that to me. I am truly going to miss all my friends who have been working here and coming in for years. I’m not planning on leaving town anytime soon so I hope I can meet up with some of you in a relaxed state once I’ve taken some time off to try to heal.

“On one hand I’m very excited for this change, and on the other, I’m sad. I’m only 63 (in a couple of months) and I hope I can hang in for at least another 30 years or so. To do that, I need a long break from work, stress, and anxiety. Frankly, I need a Pliny.”

It remains to be seen, of course, what will actually change under the new ownership, but that’s what’s known so far.

A crowd at Bobby G's a few years ago

A crowd at Bobby G’s a few years ago

Remember when the taplist looked like this?

Remember when the taplist looked like this?

Inescapable... ;)

Inescapable… ;)

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West Bay crawl with Beer By Bart

It happens to the best of us: we move just a little bit further from the big city in our region, and we stop going there as often. It had been some time since I’d tried any new drinking spots in SF, and it had also been a while since I’d run into Gail and Steve of BeerByBart.com. So we saved a date for me to meet them on their side of the tunnel and check out some new (to me) spots.

I was out for drinks, not blog research per se, so these are first impressions of places I’ve been to once. For more details, I’ll link to Beer by Bart. I mean, duh.

Stop #1: Fort Point’s brand-spanking-new Ferry Building bar

I didn’t even know this place had opened yet. I’m a fan of Fort Point beers and I’d actually long wondered why the Ferry Building didn’t have a notable beer option amid all its other tasty offerings. This is a small spot on the outside of the building that will delight tourists (you can borrow a growler with a deposit!) and also pleased me. It’s a convenient, central location to have a beer while planning the rest of your day. They even had a beer I hadn’t tried yet, the rye-packed Treble Hook.

Dig that wall of cans!

Dig that wall of cans!

Details: Fort Point Beer Company

Stop #2: Local Brewing’s long-awaited bricks and mortar

Back in 2011, I met these cool women, Regan and Sarah. They were trying to open a brewery, and in the meantime were participating in homebrew/nanobrew-type events and pro-am’ing with Thirsty Bear. I seem to remember they had a nice porter.

Last year, they pulled it off. Local Brewing Company is open in SOMA not far from the ballpark and 21st Amendment. They had 16 of their own beers pouring on my visit, with half pours and sample sizes available, thank goodness. I really appreciated the variety of styles available because I’m the type of dork who exclaims “OH MY GOD THEY HAVE A BROWN ALE NOBODY MAKES A BROWN ALE ANYMORE” loudly in public. The black lager was even better. Yep. I like this place. Worth the wait.

Regan may co-own the place but she's not too good to bartend a busy Saturday!

Regan may co-own the place but she’s not too good to bartend a busy Saturday!

Details: Local Brewing Company 

Stop #3: Black Hammer and Pacific Brewing Laboratory’s artsy taproom

I remember Pac Brew Labs from back when they were called Clara Street Brewing and gave away their beer in a garage. (I promise this entire post won’t be dedicated to making myself feel old.) I don’t remember the whole story of how and why they teamed up with the Black Hammer folks, but Burning Man was involved. Isn’t it always, in San Francisco? 😉 I thought I might not be cool enough for the room, but it was a very comfortable spot. Special attention was paid to the sound system and decor, but they didn’t slouch on the beer, either. I tasted a Black Hammer berlinerweisse and a couple of dark beers from Pacific Brewing Laboratory (was Squid Ink always this good?) Thumbs up. And the sign on the door instructs you “just pull on the hammer and everything will be okay,” which is awfully deep after a few beers.

Pretty lights, interesting beers

Pretty lights, good beer

Details: Black Hammer/Pacific Brewing Laboratory

Stop 4: Hogwash, the latest upscale beer and sausage place

We were attacking the snack bowls at Black Hammer with enough vigor that I suggested our next stop have a square meal at it. Gail and Steve recommended Hogwash even though they’re vegetarians. So I figured this place ought to be good, and it was 30 taps good!

Hogwash is exactly the type of place you want to know is there when you’ve got an old friend staying in the city center for business, or family visiting who want to do San Francisco-y things downtown. It’s right near Union Square. Remember when the only decent beer option downtown was Gordon Biersch? Now you’ve got what I can only describe as Hog’s Apothecary West (with more housemade sausage and without the big mains). Good beer, good hog, and even a couple of veggie options. The beet appetizer was fantastic, btw. Go ahead and avoid the 54-ounce goblets of beer and the (perhaps facetious) suggestion of keg stands with a tableside keg of Cuvee des Trolls.

This is the new San Francisco normal

This is the new San Francisco normal

Details: Hogwash

Stop #5: Bartlett Hall to see what Wynn is doing

Bartlett Hall is the type of big fancy whatever that I would normally avoid, especially on a night it’s full of TVs and people yelling. Thing is, they’re upping their beer game, and hired one of the area’s most promising young brewers to do it. Wynn Whisenhunt’s homebrew was better than plenty of commercial beer when he was barely legal to drink any of it, so I’m excited to see him driving the beer at Bartlett Hall, or anywhere. There were five house beers on the menu: a hoppy session beer, the obligatory brewpub blonde, an IPA, a barleywine (they were out, sob sob) and a chocolate/coffee/vanilla/milk porter. Whoa! All were well done but the IPA disappeared most quickly from both couples’ samplers. I’m starting to see a future where all the big fancy whatevers have quality housemade beer. A girl can dream…

Whoooooo! Go sports!

Whoooooo! Go sports!

Details: Bartlett Hall

Stop #6: Dirty Water, the beer place in the Twitter building?

Four people who’ve never even called an Uber walk into a bar in the Twitter building…and half of them tweet about it…the new San Francisco contains multitudes. In this case, it contains a multitude of beer. Yep, this gets expensive, but whoever chose the taplist is not fucking around. And, as much as you want to make fun of a nice restaurant in the Twitter building (or make fun of yourself for drinking at the bar there), the staff was wonderful and we had a good time. Everyone there seemed to be having a good time even if most of them, I’d guess, hadn’t already been to five bars that day. Thank goodness for half-pints.

Since I was already doing a fish-out-of-water routine, I didn’t even punch Steve when he uttered the immortal words, “Let’s take a selfie.” Moral of the story: going outside your comfort zone can be fun, especially if the area outside your comfort zone has dozens of taps.

Actually pretty great group selfie stolen, appropriately enough, from Beer By Bart's Twitter feed

Actually pretty great group selfie stolen, appropriately enough, from Beer By Bart’s Twitter feed

Details: Dirty Water

Stop #7 are you kidding me, OK one more, so let’s go to a bar in a movie theater I guess

There were a few more options for the rest of the night, and the one I leaned most strongly towards was “go home and sleep for 12 hours.” In the end I chose to nightcap at the bar in the new Alamo Drafthouse. If we’ve got a ton of beer options in sausage halls, good beer brewed on premises in touristy restaurants, 52 beers on tap downstairs from a ton of techies’ offices, and a quality brewery setting up its taproom in the Ferry Building, it would seem that the theme for SF right now is BEER EVERYWHERE. So why not a movie theater?

It’s not the first moviehouse in the area to offer good beer, but it is the latest. Yeah, they can definitely stop putting glasses in the fridge, but that cold glass of Faction Pale tasted real nice to my fatigued palate anyway. When I lived in Germany, my favorite movie theater offered only Becks, and that was GERMANY. It’s a brave new world.

Is this some stock market reference or what?

Is this some stock market reference or what?

Details: Alamo Drafthouse

On most days, I’d rather drink in a dive or a neighborhood pub than a slick downtown spot or a movie theater or even the Ferry Building — but how fabulous is it that good beer lists are everywhere now? Or, as I tipsy Tweeted from BART shortly before a stranger threw up on my shoes:

The future of SF beer: not every place is my people, but all people will have great beer.

Fingers crossed.

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OMG, Fieldwork crowlers!

You can now get a freshly-filled 32-ounce can of Fieldwork beer to go. It’s the brewery upgrade that launched 1000 Instagrams.

*sniff* It's so beautiful...

*sniff* It’s so beautiful…

As you probably know if you’re reading a beer blog, a growler is a 64- or 32-ounce jug of beer to go, usually glass but sometimes something space-aged like stainless steel. They’re great for having a a few more beers at home (ie away from your car keys) after a brewery visit, or for bringing a bit of the brewery home to someone who couldn’t come with you to the source. Brewers worry about growlers due to oxygen, carbonation, and sanitation concerns.

Enter the crowler, a growler in a can. The consumer benefits of crowlers are the same as the benefits of cans over glass: lighter, more portable for you active types, opaque (light is bad for beer), and less breakable. I can neither confirm or deny that we dropped our crowler the minute we got it into our house and it merely bounced. Drawbacks are also the same, notably that aluminum mining is horrible so please recycle your cans and crowlers every time.

I’m probably more excited about this than I need to be. I already own a 32-ounce growler and I’m not exactly the type to bike my beer to the top of Mt. Tam. But it’s so fun to watch them get filled!

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As a former bartender at a place that often filled up with camera-toting beer tourists, I am so, so sorry that I filmed this guy while he was just trying to do his job. More proof that the crowler has magical properties. 

If you haven’t been there lately, also know that Fieldwork has expanded its food menu.

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So get yourself to Fieldwork soon for a good beer, a pie, and 32 ounces to go.

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The Cooler is coming to San Leandro

Who ever thought “San Leandro is a beer town now” would be old news? Though I diligently wrote nothing last year about 21st Amendment or Cleophus Quealy opening San Leandro breweries (oops), I’ll start this year right by telling you about the town’s next notable beer destination.

The Cooler will be a downtown taphouse owned by exactly the type of guys you want owning such a place: Arne Johnson of Marin Brewing (one of the few people in this region for whom the title “brewmaster” does not seem overblown), Eric Keyes (who has been both a chef and a front-of-house manager), and Jeff Botz (maybe best known in our circles for his tenure at a BJs Brewhouse location that actually sounded great). Don’t panic: Arne will be an owner, not a manager, and will not be leaving his position brewing for Marin.

Photo by Betsey Hensley

Jeff, Arne, and Eric. Photo by Betsey Hensley

The bar will occupy a spot that has been vacant for several years and used to be a lighting store. It’s too soon for pictures, but they’re using the same architect that worked on Faction, Rare Barrel, Cellarmaker, Harmonic, and Santa Clara Valley Brewing, so I’m guessing it will look fantastic.

The Cooler’s tap model is unique. Rather than trying to have as many beers on tap as possible a la every other beer bar in America, on most days they’ll use 25 or so of the 40 taps available. This might be confusing to the average drinker who thinks more is always better, but has several benefits that will immediately make sense to bar industry folks. First, when a tap takeover rolls around, they can easily go up to all 40 without taking any beers offline. (Partial kegs are the bane of any tap takeover at most bars). Also, if a bar opens for business with 40 kegs hooked up but only 25 of them pouring, kicking a keg is no problem even on the busiest night, as you can choose the best option from among the 15 back-up kegs without stopping to move a keg or clean a beer line. “In the end we will do whatever guests want,” volunteered Jeff, “but that’s the plan going in.”

Drinkers are definitely going to like one part of The Cooler’s strategy, which is to pour beer from self-distributed breweries in Southern California that are not as often seen up here. They’re not the first or only serious beer bar owners to make road trips for kegs, but all three are from the San Diego area and still have family there, so they’ll be able to do make these field trips a regularly-scheduled part of the business. They’ll be buying their own kegs and putting the bar’s name on them, and will drop the kegs off clean at the beginning of each trip then pick them up full after visiting their families. This way, the breweries don’t have to worry about sending their own kegs to an out-of-the-way market.

In addition to the taps, they’ll have a bottle fridge (singles, not six-packs), craft soda, cider, and a couple of wines poured out of a temperature controlled cooler. All beer will be cold-stored. Schwing!

But don’t take my word for it that this bar will be rad — ask Nathan Smith, who is both literally and figuratively a rock star homebrewer, and master cicerone beer pro Nicole Erny. They spoke at The Cooler’s conditional use permit hearing as neighbors who, like Drake’s Brewing, settled down in San Leandro years before this recent wave of beeriness arrived. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to have a high quality multi-tap in the downtown area of San Leandro,” said Nicole. “This will really round out the already awesome draw of our three breweries and Harry’s Hofbrau.”

“I look forward to spending some money at The Cooler,” agreed Nathan. “Things are looking up in the deep east bay flatlands. Stop by soon before the urban lumberjack dudes show up.” Ha. (But he’s right.)

The Cooler is going to be at 1517 East 14th Street, nice and close to the BART station, with ample street parking. They’ll have bar snacks but are not licensed as a restaurant, so it will be 21+. As with every bar project in the history of time, there have been delays, but they hope to open in April. I will be eager to BART there and check it out even though I live all the way the hell up in Richmond. See you there.

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Disclosure: I’ve been running into Jeff Botz at beer festivals since what seems like the minute I moved to the Bay Area, and Arne Johnson and I might have had approximately 600 beers together in Belgium last year.

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Drake’s Dealership ups the ante for Bay beergardens

No disrespect to the other great outdoor drinking spots in Oakland and the rest of the Bay Area — and there are many. But Drake’s Dealership may be the new standard for what we think of when we say “beergarden.”

I was invited to a media/friends preview, so my experience was colored by knowing a lot of people there and not having to pay. It’s notable, though, that a bunch of jaded beer insiders were still impressed. I heard a lot of “this really is beautiful” and “I can see why this took them so long” and “I didn’t know it would be this BIG.” When the sun set I think the collected group might have made Instagram explode.

Just another crappy day in the Bay Area

Just another crappy day in the Bay Area

The space, the parts and service department of an old Dodge dealership (hence the name) seats hundreds but will probably still be crowded a lot of the time. In contrast to the vibe at Drake’s brewery, which they proudly call “more gritty than pretty,” this is a spot for the hip Oakland of now. Which means some people may find it too cool for regular consumption, but even those people have occasional out-of-town guests to impress, right? And if your friends love beer, you can be sure you will be invited to gatherings here. A lot.

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Don’t call it a brewpub (no beer is brewed onsite) but this is very much a beer destination and not just another pretty face. The early days featured all Drake’s beers, but in the future the 32 taps will include guest breweries. The following Drake’s beers are intended to be on tap year-round, forming a crowd-pleasing base for an otherwise rotating taplist: Oaklander Weisse, Hella Helles, Hefe, Blonde, Amber, Red Eye, 1500 pale, IPA, 7×70 IPA, Denogginizer double IPA, Nitro Stout, Black Robusto porter, and Drakonic imperial stout. Beers are a reasonable $6 for 20 oz or 12 ounce glasses, depending on style and strength, and 4 ounce pours are available for $2. And yes, they fill growlers (starting next week), as well as selling six-packs and bombers of bottled beers.

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Like the beer list, the food menu covers many bases…burgers, salads, fries, snacks, and some really tasty wood-oven pizza. Mains are mostly in that moderate $10-14 price range the Bay Area does so well, though the duck leg confit sounds worth every bit of its $18.

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Drake’s Dealership is at 2325 Broadway in Oakland, a short walk from 19th Street BART, at the back left of the massive new Hive complex. What do you mean you haven’t been there yet? Get going! Bring the kids, bring the dogs (outside only), hell, bring your gluten-free friend for wine on tap. You can follow the Dealership on Facebook.

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Beer, equality, and a lot of rainbows

Yesterday was a good day for Americans who are not homophobes. I’m only 40, but that’s old enough to look at companies officially celebrating gay rights and think “times have changed” (for the better, of course). Yeah, you could get all cynical about brands “using” a historic civil rights moment…but the people *I* know who do beer social media were just as happy yesterday as anyone else.

Here are some highlights, gathered from Facebook.

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Hog’s Apothecary updated its cover photo…

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Rosemunde adjusted its logo…

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Linden Street Brewery shared this image from Oaklandish

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And a bonus picture of Fieldwork’s Alex and Marcela in their pride month t-shirts. Some proceeds from the shirts and Fieldwork’s ginger IPA Oakland Pride released earlier this month went to OurSpace, the East Bay community center for LGBTQ youth.

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Happy Pride, Bay Area!

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Keep an eye on Fieldwork Brewing

I’m late on this one — not just because the beers have been pouring since February, but because I like putting my next-big-brewery predictions in writing early. Here it is: get excited about Fieldwork Brewing in Berkeley.

handy-dandy beer book with all the technical details in it. Almost as tasty as the beers!

handy-dandy beer book with all the technical details in it. Almost as tasty as the beers!

It’s possible you’re already psyched on at least one of their beers that have been rotating through the Bay Area for the last few months. I work at three bars, and I’ve watched Fieldwork beers like Canopy pale ale, Chocolate Milk Brown, and Farmhouse Wheat go pretty fast. And then there are those great IPAs…

Before Fieldwork, founder Barry Braden co-owned a restaurant in San Diego with a good beer list and frequent events. You may know head brewer Alex Tweet, formerly of Ballast Point and Modern Times, as the guy who put grapefruit in your Sculpin. His professional brewing career started when Ballast Point invited him over to brew a commercial-sized batch of his homebrew Indra Kunindra, a stout with cumin, curry, cayenne, coconut, and kaffir lime leaf that tasted way better than I just made it sound.

I sent Barry some questions and it turned out to be one of those email exchanges you can publish almost as-is. (West Berkeley brewery people seem to be good like that.) Thanks Barry for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this!

Q. How big is the brewhouse currently? Seems like you’ve got room to expand? 

A. 25 bbl system with 260 bbls of fermentation capacity. We can expand our fermentation capacity to over 700 bbls if people like what we are doing.

obligatory shiny-new-tanks photo

obligatory shiny-new-tanks photo

Q. What brought you north to the Bay Area in general and Berkeley in particular? 

A. I grew up in the East Bay and wanted to move back to the area since my family are all here. We looked at buildings all over the East Bay, but kept coming back to this building in Berkeley. The city is ground zero for all things “local” and we were just very excited to locate the brewery in Berkeley. Our building is in an up and coming part of West Berkeley and it was affordable at the time for what we wanted to do. The city has gone above and beyond to welcome us, and we have had tremendous support at all levels of city government.

Q. Are you eventually going to settle into a flagship or some year-round brews, or will things always rotate?

A. The plan is for a little bit of both. I think variety is what people can expect from us for a while. The rotation at the moment is simply driven by what’s going on in the hop market. Our big hop contracts begin in 2015 (for 2016 delivery), so we are working with what we were able to contract for 2014. We are unable to make the same hoppy beer all the time, however, we can rotate hoppy beers through the rest of the year and bring back favorites. For example, batch two of Burning Daylight IPA will be released next week and batch two of Chisel IPA is being brewed next month. We expect Farmhouse Wheat and Morning Time Breakfast Stout to be year-round beers and we may get there with Chocolate Milk Brown based on the response to this brew. 

Q. Can you tell me more about your plans for wild/funky/sour beers? 

A. We are brewing some “tart” beers this month and are ramping up the sour program. It will be an ancillary part of the brewery and beer lineup, and we are very excited about it. Alex is passionate about these styles and I can wait to taste the results.

Q. You recently expanded the hours at the taproom. Any other changes in the works?

A. It’s a great question. People seem to be enjoying the beers and the brewery is growing quickly. It’s everything we can do to keep up with the pace at the moment. We are going to keep our nose to the grindstone and concentrate on getting more beer out to people here in our own backyard and see where the winds take us.

[Finally, I made a dumb joke about “rock star brewers” and asked if he could tell us more about the Fieldwork team other than Alex, who’s already gotten a lot of media attention. Little did I know…]

A. We have been fortunate to attract some amazing individuals to the company. Mark Maigaard is leading sales in the East Bay for us. He literally was a “rock star”– seriously, look him up :-). Josh Olenberg-Meltzer spent the past couple of years as a brewer at New Helvetia in Sacramento before moving down here to join us. He has proven to be an excellent complement to Alex. We knew our Taproom Manager, Finn Parker, from San Diego and we were ecstatic when he told us he and his spouse were looking to move up here. He has been glue for us these past few months since opening. Brian Fulk — well, you know Brian Fulk [yep, old friend from my homebrew club] — serious, but funny guy. Knows beer and brews beer. A really great representative and leader in the Taproom. Our Taproom team of Brian, Marcella and the two Matts are first class individuals who are passionate about beer and it shows in their interactions with our guests. It really is an amazing team for such a young company.

Doesn’t that make you want to go to the taproom if you haven’t already? I thought so.

The Fieldwork taproom boldly (for America) has no TVs, which is right up my alley. Instead it offers board games and occasional live music. You can stand up at the bar or sit down at a table inside or outside. Food options are currently large soft pretzels and meat pies. Beers are available in full pours, half pours, and sample size, and they fill growlers — bring a clean, logo-obscured 64- or 32-ounce growler or buy one there. The brewery is kid- and dog-friendly, and maybe if you’re lucky you can meet Barry’s dog Hannah while you’re there.  

Fieldwork Brewing is located at 1160 6th Street in Berkeley, at the corner of 6th and Harrison. Hours are 4-9pm Monday and Tuesday, noon-9pm Wednesday and Thursday, noon-10pm Friday and Saturday, and noon-8pm Sunday. It’s not the greatest trip for BARTers but it’s convenient by AC Transit #72 and seems popular with cyclists. Follow Fieldwork on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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