When I arrived at Ale Industries’ new Oakland brewery space last week, owners Morgan Cox and Stephen Lopas were red-faced and squatting in the brewing area. Though we hadn’t set a specific time for my visit, I arrived at a momentous moment: they were making the final steam pipe connection for Ale Industries’ new biofuel boiler. The guys whooped a little at the completion of the task, then Morgan started to offer me a handshake before realizing his hands were covered in grease.
2014 may go down as the year Ale Industries changed (almost) everything, but the DIY ethic running through the brewery is the same. These are the folks who moved a commercial brewery from Concord to Oakland, one piece at a time, in a pick-up truck. The place that employed me last year bottling beer homebrew-style, with a counterpressure filler and a butterfly capper. The brewery whose new Concord taproom was mostly built by staff and friends. I suspect Morgan and Steve will always be willing to grab a toolbox and get in there, but they’ve also got bigger plans.
The Fruitvale Fermentation Factory is underway
Ale Industries had a good few years in the former EJ Phair space in Concord, in the same complex as MoreBeer. For various reasons, however, it was time to go. After a few locations near Jack London Square didn’t pan out, a space in Fruitvale did. They’re now in an old 6000-ish square foot factory at 3096 East 10th St.
The building has been around since at least the early 1900s, and has had past lives making things like tin brackets and license plates. It’s surrounded by the lofts, studios, and other factories of the Jingletown community. “Jingletown” sounds like a name made up by real estate agents afraid to say “Fruitvale,” but it’s been the name for this district within the Fruitvale neighborhood since most of the residents were Portuguese cannery workers. It’s going to be a fun place for an art-loving brewery to be. For one, some of the neighboring artists build big, bulky sculptures that are hard to display in a traditional setting, but they can be simply forklifted into a brewery.
The brewery is being divided into four quadrants. Obviously, there will be a brewing area and a fermenting area. One quadrant will hold barrels, lots of barrels — good news for fans of Ale Industries’ sour projects. The last fourth of the brewery will be a bar (we’ll get to that in a minute).
And let’s not forget the new bottling line! As I said on Facebook when it was unveiled, “When I’m an old beer geek I look forward to the ‘I bottled for Ale Industries back when it was all by hand’ story. I may add that the walk to Detroit Ave was uphill both ways and snowy.” Three cheers for technology.
All I want for Christmas is a bioenergy flamethrower
Ale Industries has long employed biofuel to run the trucks that deliver its beer, not to mention Morgan’s house and his wife’s vehicle. One of the things they’re most psyched about in the new space is their biofuel boiler. While it’s impossible to know what every brewery on earth is doing, Ale Industries just might be the only brewery brewing this way.
Call it “biofuel,” “bioenergy,” or “biodiesel” — it usually starts with used vegetable oil that can be scored from restaurants. Basically, the boiler combusts vegetable oil to create steam to boil the wort. “It’s basically a huge flamethrower,” said Morgan. A carbon-neutral, clean-burning flamethrower. I’d say “economical,” but while biofuel is cheaper than traditional fuel, the boiler itself was expensive.
Rye’d Piper and burritos are in your future
The Fruitvale brewery is still a work in progress, but later this year it’ll be a place for growler fills, pints, music gigs, and art showings. They’re also tossing around the idea of having speakers come in to talk beer (with accompanying beer tastings, naturally).
The nearby Aloha Club claims the longest bar in Oakland, so Morgan said the Jingletown Jazz Room (the aforementioned fourth quadrant of the brewery) plans to have the second-longest bar in Oakland, in the second production brewery in post-Prohibition Oakland, at the second-coolest place to drink a beer in Oakland. The first post-Pro brewery in Oakland was Linden Street — what’s the first-coolest place to drink a beer in town? Morgan smiled and shrugged. “Up to you.” Fair enough.
Ale Industries will later pick up its old Concord practice of inviting food trucks to the brewery — both Fruitvale-based trucks and the newer guard trucks like Fists of Flour they’ve grown to love. In the meantime, there’s an excellent truck, El Novillo, parked a stone’s throw away in the parking lot of a sit-down restaurant. Ask for green onions along with your salsa and jalapenos.
The Fruitvale BART station is ridiculously close, but if you must drive, BART can probably still help you out with its parking lot, which is free after 3pm and on weekends and cheap other times. I can’t tell you how comfortable to be in this or any other neighborhood, but I will say if you are accustomed to urban areas such as SF or other parts of Oakland, you probably won’t find this part of Fruitvale intimidating (unless you’re scared of tacos).
Meanwhile, back in Concord…
Ale Industries moving its brewery to Oakland was bittersweet: Morgan is raising his family there, Steve spends a lot of time there, and it’s an exciting place to be right now. But they didn’t want to leave their Concord taproom regulars in the lurch. Enter The Pig & The Pickle Ale Industries Marketplace. The crew wanted it open in time for SF Beer Week, but having seen the space in December and January I was a little skeptical — plus, how many times have we heard “by SF Beer Week” as an (unmet) goal before? Surprise! They did it.
The goal is to make this a Concord showcase for what Ale Industries is doing in Oakland, plus offering locally-produced and sometimes house-made pickles, charcuterie, bread, and other goodies. Think one-stop shopping for a picnic with a growler and easily transportable chow. As of this writing, it’s all guest taps and bottles while the Oakland brewery gets up and running, but Ale Industries beer will be back on tap as soon as possible. In the future look for 8 taps, always a Two Rivers guest tap for your cider-loving friends, other guest taps if space allows, and bottles.
The Thursday open mic nights at the Detroit Ave brewery are now a thing of the past, but The Pig & The Pickle has picked up where the brewery artists’ markets left off with local art on the walls and a Meet the Artists night in mid-March. Manager, bartender, and all-around ass-kicker Maureen Gibe feels strongly about supporting local creative types — and seems to know every human being in Contra Costa County — so I expect cool things from this space.
The Pig & The Pickle is at 1960 Concord Ave, next door to the Old Hang Out and an easy stroll from EJ Phair and the future home of The Hop Grenade. There’s a little parking in the back but it’s also walking distance from Concord BART. For now, it’s open Monday – Thursday 4-10, Friday 3-10, Saturday 12-10, and Sunday 12-8. Hours will be extended to weekday lunch later on (and, disclosure, I’ll probably start pulling a shift there at that point).
I’ve seen the future, baby, it is thirsty
Even though the new brewery isn’t even fully functional yet, Ale Industries is looking ahead to its next one. “I see this as a five to seven year answer,” said Morgan. He envisions moving the stainless steel part of the operation into a bigger space later and keeping Fruitvale as a barrel-aging facility. The beer is doing well in Oregon and Southern California, and getting more beer to those markets and others is a goal (as is keeping Bay Area accounts happy, of course.) In the meantime, they have interesting projects in the pipeline like brewing a house beer for Burma Superstar.
We’ll have to wait and see what the next decade of Ale Industries holds. For now, Concord and Fruitvale are getting that much more beery and fun.