Coming soon to Walnut Creek: Farm Creek Brewing Company

Picture what a craft brewery tasting room in upscale Walnut Creek would probably look like. Now picture the tech guy/homebrewer who’s opening it. No offense, but you’re probably wrong on both counts.


Farm Creek Brewing founder Randy Janinda isn’t your average SF computer dude who discovered beer last Tuesday. Twenty years ago, he got married and started a family when he was 17. While most of his peers were still probably still goofing around, the young father joined the Air Force and quickly got involved with hardcore-sounding units like this and this. Kind of puts the stress and responsibility of starting a business as a 30-something into perspective, no? After the military he did various types of computer work, including computer security jobs that paid him to break into banks to expose chinks in the armor. He and his family later moved to California for him to work for a then-small company called Twitter — maybe you’ve heard of it.

Meanwhile, he started homebrewing about 10 years ago, mostly because the process fascinated the problem-solving part of his brain. Neither he nor his wife Heather were beer drinkers then. She still isn’t, but she’s the one who’s always encouraged him to brew a batch even when he didn’t feel like it. When the Janindas moved to California and didn’t know anyone out here yet, that gave Randy more time to get deeper into beermaking. He joined the DOZE homebrew club and raised his beer to medal-winning levels.

In 2013, after years of at-home discussions and visiting more than 50 breweries to take notes and ask questions, the Janindas announced they were starting a brewery of their own.

The long road to Farm Creek

It’s not unusual for a brewery to take years to open, and to have twists and turns along the way, and Farm Creek is no exception.

For one, the part of Walnut Creek zoned for a brewery was in an inconvenient location, plus owners didn’t seem to want a brewery in their buildings. The Janindas found an auto glass business moving out of its building and snatched up the spot, but because the area wasn’t zoned for a brewery they had to get a Conditional Use Permit from the city. Randy describes this as an “illogical and broken” process, and he’s not the first brewer I’ve known who’s had problems with it. He persevered, and after months of waiting and thousands of dollars, Farm Creek got its hearing and its permit was unanimously approved.

Next stop, contractors, architects, and more approvals from the city and county. It was also time for Farm Creek to get some bigger-than-homebrew equipment. They’d planned to build everything themselves, but would up with a combination of new and used equipment. “Our main challenge with the used equipment was the amount of time we spent searching and how fast you have to get to a decision,” said Randy — fast as in “hours.” He contacted a small Canadian brewery, Fernie Brewing Company, within minutes of their equipment ad being posted and flew to Canada the next week to brew with them on the system and ultimately buy it. “Next we learned about the shipping industry, customs, and border brokers,” said Randy. “Hindsight, I’d still go with this purchase as the price was right and the brewery supports us as we are installing and brewing.” They decided on new fermenters and brite tanks.


Canadian kettles on their way to their new home. Photo: Murray Pask

A true family business 

The Janindas are 100% owners of Farm Creek Brewing Company, a literal mom-and-pop business. The outdated stereotype is that brewing wives either tolerate or “support” their husbands going pro, but Randy is quick to say his wife Heather “is seriously the sole reason this thing even exists.” She’s designing the taproom and has the tough job of making it welcoming and cozy even though it’s inside a factory. She’s also been active with branding, beer naming, social media, and QA tasting, and she’ll be bartending when the taproom opens. “People may end up liking my beer, but they always end up loving Heather,” said Randy.

The Janindas have an eye towards creating a business they can pass down to their kids and grandkids, and the young ones are already getting in on the act. Their 18-year-old daughter recently helped clean the brew system and will work in the brewery until she leaves for college later this year. Their 8-year-old son tries to help with every manual labor job and wants to sell everyone in the world a Farm Creek t-shirt. They’re hiring one of their nephews in March. Their 20-year-old son is in the Army so he isn’t around much, but turning 21 the year your family opens a brewery sounds pretty cool.

The Janindas in front of their brewery building

The Janindas in front of their brewery building. Photo: Kim Statzer

The “Farm” part of the brewery name hearkens back to previous generations of Randy and Heather’s families. Randy’s family in Florida raised cattle and pigs and grew pine trees for a paper mill. Heather’s family had a farm in upstate New York that grew Christmas trees, made maple syrup, fixed tractors, and grew corn. The “Creek” part is for their adopted community of Walnut Creek. Randy freely admits there are less expensive, easier cities to do business in, but it was important to them to reinvest in the city where they live and are raising kids.

What to expect

Farm Creek Brewing Company will open in March if all goes well. It will be a production brewery with a 15-bbl brew system and several 30 bbl fermenters, and the taproom will be open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. As befits the name, the taproom atmosphere will put a touch of the farm in a town better known for high-end shopping — “not hipster, mason jar, faux rustic,” said Randy, “but genuine care and craftsmanship and pride and simplicity rustic.”

The beer will be largely European styles with American twists: beers you can enjoy several of with food, not experimental craziness or mega hop bombs. They’ve been working on seven beers: a standard American lager brewed with ale yeast so it’s ready faster, an American pale ale (I’ve tried that one, it’s nice!), a Scottish 80, a sub-4% amber with rye and a bit of smoked malt, a foreign extra stout with barrel aging potential, a wheat beer with rye, and a double IPA. Randy has already adapted his brewery plans enough times, however, to know any of those could change.

Farm Creek will be at 1415 Pine Street in Walnut Creek, not far from BART, downtown, and other local beer options like Øl Beercafe and Sunol Ridge. Follow its progress on Twitter or Facebook.

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Beer class of ’14: The Good Hop

A new beer bar? Cool. A new beer bar being opened by a veteran local brewer? Okay, now I’m really paying attention.


The Good Hop opened in June, on Telegraph in Oakland. It’s close to the ever-hip Uptown drinking district, but just far enough north of it (across the street from my favorite Korean supermarket!) to stand apart. It quickly became a regular spot for beer lovers in Oakland and beyond. On one of my recent trips there, I joked that it must be Industry Day, based on all the beer reps sitting at the bar after their daily runs. One of them told me every day is an industry day at The Good Hop. That’s usually a good sign.

Kickstarter backers (like me) got their name painted on the floor. Fun…

The 16 taps tend to lean American/west coast but there’s plenty of variety. Tap takeovers and release parties happen regularly, with breweries like Ninkasi, Golden Road, and Line 51. The bottle selection, aka the #wallofbeer, also covers a multitude of styles, breweries, and price points. There are snacks, but the focus is on beer…if you’re looking for a meal, you’re welcome to bring your own.

Did someone say “wall of beer?” Yes.

The detail that gets me the most excited — partially because I know how annoying and expensive it is to pull off — is that every beer in the place, keg or bottle, is stored cold at all times. It’s the sort of decision you’ve got to be a beer professional to make, which brings me to the staff. Owner Melissa Myers brewed in Colorado before moving to the Bay Area to brew at Magnolia, Ross Valley (which became Iron Springs), and Drake’s. Local word of mouth for Melissa and her beers is overwhelmingly positive. Other familiar Bay Area beer faces here include general manager Jeremy Wanamaker and bartender Monte Cano, beer rock stars in their own rights. The Good Hop family is so close that shortly after opening they all got tattoos of the bar’s logo. Gotta love it.

Melissa recently returned to her brewing roots after a six-year hiatus and served her own beer at her own bar for the first time. Thanks to her friend Steve at Independent Brewing (more on them in a future post), she was able brew a batch on a commercial system and serve it at The Good Hop. The Mighty Hopscotch was a Scotch ale with no peated malt (Melissa doesn’t like the stuff) based on a beer she used to brew at Magnolia. Since I just moved to the Bay Area in 2009, this was my first Melissa Myers beer, and now I’m ready for more.

Melissa will also be running beer education classes, with the first one focusing on beginning beer drinkers. If you’ve got someone in your world who needs to understand your hobby a little better before SF Beer Week takes over your life, this might be a good gift.

So…education, proper handling of the beer, good selection, knowledgeable staff, nice owner, convenient public transit access…yeah, I like this place. I’ll see you there.

The Good Hop is located at 2421 Telegraph Ave in Oakland. It’s an easy walk from 19th Street BART and is also near many bus lines. Hours are 3-10pm, closed Tuesdays. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

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Beer Class of ’14: Perdition Smokehouse

The rumblings started in February. Chuck Stilphen — co-owner of Trappist, ØL, Trappist Provisions and Mikkeller SF — was opening a place in downtown Berkeley, this time with Mikkeller executive chef Michael O’Brian. I heard a lot of reactions like, “Cool, a Trappist in Berkeley!”

Not quite. Perdition Smokehouse, which opened its doors in June, has a different flavor than Chuck’s other bars. You can bring the kids, the beer list leans American, and it’s more bright and airy than dark and cozy. What it has in common with its more European half-siblings is a beer list that will make you lose your mind.  You can see the most recent taplist here. Many beers are available in either 10 ounce or 16 ounce pours, with prices on my most recent visit ranging from $3.50-10 for 10 ounces or $5.50-$7.50 for 16 ounces. There are also “growler hours,” where growlers are used as pitchers for on-site consumption. (Only breweries can sell growlers to go in California).


Hey! It’s beer.

While I can claim some regional expertise on pizza, subs, and Mexican food, I don’t pretend to know anything about barbecue. I enjoy eating here, but I’ve learned that people from other parts of the country have very strong opinions on barbecue, so talk amongst yourselves. For what it’s worth, a friend once asked about the origins and an employee produced a handwritten list of sources ending with the declaration “no factory farms.” The entire menu, minus rotating lunch specials, is here.


Soon to be fuel for smoky goodness

While there are only four seats at the bar, there is ample seating indoors and out. Vegetarians (and anyone who doesn’t like their beer to smell like BBQ) can almost entirely escape the delicious meaty smells by going outside. There are even sometimes a few taps open back there, and servers check in on you.


There have been many failed restaurants and bars at this address, but none of them used the space out back (or had 43 beers on tap).

Perdition has been a great addition to a neighborhood that was already drowning in beer options I like. It’s quite close to Downtown Berkeley BART and a lot of buses, but good luck finding parking nearby. You’ll probably want to walk off all that beer and meat later anyway.

Perdition is at 2050 University Boulevard in Berkeley, near the intersection with Shattuck. It’s open noon-midnight during the week and noon-1am on Friday and Saturday. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook


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Beer class of ’14: Hoi Polloi

South Berkeley has long had some fun drinking options: Irish pub and music venue the Starry Plough and neighborhood karaoke bar Nick’s Lounge spring to mind. And the beer at those places, because we live in Northern California, is better than it needs to be. There was nothing you’d call a beer bar until this year, though. And that’s where Hoi Polloi comes in, bringing new beers to the not-yet-completely-gentrified (thank goodness) area around Ashby BART.


Hoi Polloi Brewpub & Beat Lounge (not a name that made me want to visit, but bear with me) is tiny. Thus, I’ve only stopped in at off times like weekday afternoons. I imagine it gets packed. On the bright side, you will have ample opportunity to meet the neighbors. I gather Hoi Polloi turned on a TV for the World Series, but generally the entertainment is mellow, classic hip-hop that seems hand-picked. Occasionally a DJ comes in to spin vinyl. It’s a cool spot, but relaxed enough that an unhip person such as myself doesn’t feel out of place.

On my visits, there have always been two house beers available on a rotating basis. They tend towards the lower-alcohol side of the spectrum. English, American, German, and Belgian styles all get their turn on the board. My favorite so far has been the English brown ale, but I can’t begin to keep up. It all comes out of the back of the bar on a 3 bbl system that owner Viet Vu put together with a little help from a friend who can weld. He’s often behind the bar and always happy to talk beer with nerds and neophytes alike.

This won't be what you'll get, but it gives you a rough idea

Old photo for a rough idea of the guest tap philosophy

The ten guest taps ensure Hoi Polloi’s spot as the most serious beer option in the neighborhood, and round out the list if you’re not feeling the house-brewed styles of the moment. The list is local/California focused and there’s a cider tap, some wines, and non-alcoholic options to keep everyone happy. Prices are fair to low for the area.

There’s no kitchen, which means no meals (obviously) and no one under 21. The staff (ie, owner/brewer Viet or his brother) will be happy to make you some popcorn, and you can bring in food from outside. Getting something next door at Easy Creole, which has no alcohol license, is an obvious choice.

Life advice from the Hoi Polloi restroom

Life advice from the Hoi Polloi restroom

Hoi Polloi is at 1763 Alcatraz, a prime location for those times you’ve needed a beer after dealing with Berkeley Bowl.  It would also be very easy to tie in with a trip to The Rare Barrel, which is less than two miles away. Follow them on Facebook and don’t drop the beat.

Screenshot 2014-11-17 at 1.45.38 PM

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A second CommonWealth is (still) coming to Emeryville

CommonWealth Cafe & Public House has become such an Oakland fixture it’s hard to believe it’s only been open since 2010. News came down earlier this year that it was expanding…by going smaller. CommonWealth’s owners Ross and Ahna Adair are opening a second location, CommonWealth Micropub, in Emeryville in the teeny-tiny former home of Cafe Biere.

The sun shines on Ross Adair and his new family business...perhaps a little too brightly ;)

The sun shines on Ross Adair and his new family business…perhaps a little too brightly ;)

I thought “micropub” referred purely to the size of the place, but it’s also a British concept we don’t really have here. A micropub is usually a community-oriented one-room pub with a focus on beer and conversation — no bands, no sports, no pub quiz. Wikipedia explains, “The basic premise is KIS, KIS – Keep ISmall, Keep ISimple.” Interestingly, they do not all have a physical bar. (In the UK, micropubs serve mainly cask beer, but that wouldn’t make sense here.)

Sounds great, so where is it already? Well, if you know anything about opening bars, you know the finish line is going to move a few times and render your initial timeline useless. The Emeryville CommonWealth ran into that in spades — it was supposed to be open months ago. I pestered co-owner Ross for updates until he took me on a tour of the space at 3986 Adeline.

Screenshot 2014-11-03 at 11.57.30 AM

Let’s just say there was some “deferred maintenance” on this spot, dating from Cafe Biere’s time and probably various decades before. From plumbing emergencies to ADA-compliant bathrooms to a million little things that needed to come up to code, the place turned into a fixer-upper. It further slowed things down that Emeryville is a small city, with some relevant municipal employees working only part-time.

But it’s happening, one project at a time, and it’s getting done right. In addition to structural repairs you’ll never see, the space will also have amenities like railed-off outdoor seating and a bike corral.

CommonWealth Micropub will be recognizable as part of the CommonWealth family but will also differ from the original in several key ways. It will have a similar look and feel — Ross joked that they had so much wallpaper left over they had to open a second pub. Employees you know from Telegraph will be on staff on Adeline. The goal is to make it feel homey from the start, not shiny and new. Like CommonWealth Cafe & Public House, it will be a neighborhood spot that happens to have Scottish ownership and influences, not a “British pub” per se.

The differences? There will be no bar (remember that’s fairly standard in UK micropubs), table service, and a different menu. You’ll find high and low tables, with benches and barstools, plus the aforementioned outdoor seating and some ledges for standing drinkers to lean on. Constraints on the kitchen at the Oakland CommonWealth have prevented them from doing some things such as deep-frying that are now on the table for Emeryville. And, like pretty much every pub in the UK, this pub’s menu will include Indian food. It will not have a cafe aspect and will open later — nothing’s set in stone yet but they’re talking about daily from 4-11pm, adding weekend brunch later.

Ross thinks they’ll have room for 11 taps — “same as a soccer team” — which seems more than generous for a space that only seats 25. He’s considering a mix of beer, cider, maybe a nitro tap, maybe one wine on tap, maybe a hand pump if they can find room for it. There might not be bottles as storage space is tight. There will likely be fewer classic British beers available in Emeryville than in Oakland, since there are so many new breweries opening locally that CommonWealth wants to support.

In a final nod to keeping it local, two of CommonWealth’s cooks are renting the apartment upstairs. Talk about the best commute ever!

So please be patient a couple of months longer, and then maybe again while you wait for a table, because I think this is going to be pretty cool. For updates on both locations, follow CommonWealth on Facebook or Instagram.

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Beer class of ’14: The Hop Grenade

It’s been quite a year for new beer spots opening up in the East Bay and beyond, and it’s time for me to start catching up! First, let’s visit The Hop Grenade.

Downtown Concord suddenly has the makings of an awesome bar crawl. We’ve talked about The Pig & The Pickle, E.J. Phair has a new brewer worth checking out, and the long-awaited Hop Grenade opened this summer.

Screenshot 2014-10-27 at 12.02.00 PM

That logo will look familiar to fans of The Brewing Network and its beer podcasts. In addition to being a rather kick-butt bar, The Hop Grenade is also the site of The Brewing Network’s new studio. The place is the brainchild of Brewing Network guys Justin Crossley and Scott Moskowitz, plus Scott’s mom Kim and dad Marty. Giants fans in particular might also recognize general manager Kevin Callahan from his stint at the Public House.

The first thing you’ll notice is that this is a pretty nice-lookin’ bar, complete with ample outdoor seating and table service.

Stolen from The Hop Grenade's Facebook page

Stolen from The Hop Grenade’s Facebook page

The TVs over the bar display the beer menu — and social media mentions and Untappd checkins, if you’re looking for 15 seconds of fame. The Hop Grenade is one of the first spots in the East Bay to use DigitalPour, a real-time beer menu that shows not only what’s on tap but relatively how much beer is left in each of the 21 kegs. You can check it out on your phone before you even walk into the bar. Don’t get so distracted by the nifty technology you overlook the bottles (available to go or for on-site drinking).

Screenshot 2014-10-27 at 11.38.53 AM

The Hop Grenade’s license is such that there is no wine, but minors are allowed. Families seem to congregate mostly in the outdoor area.

The Hop Grenade has some bar bites such as flatbreads and pretzels, but for a full meal you can head next door to EJ’s, wander down the street to check out The Pig & The Pickle’s new chef, or bring in food from outside (I recommend Taqueria Los Gallos around the corner).

Speaking of food, The Hop Grenade is running occasional Beer & Cheese School nights hosted by their server Paul Klevan, who knows his beer and cheese partially due to a long history with Whole Foods. Details are on the events page.

The Hop Grenade and all the other downtown Concord beer spots mentioned in this post are walking distance from BART. If you must drive, may I suggest the nearby movie theater for a few hours of sobering up? Because there are going to be a LOT of beers you want to try.

The Hop Grenade is at 2151 Salvio Street in Concord. It’s open Sunday-Wednesday 11:30am-11pm and Thursday-Saturday 11:30am-midnight. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

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Road Trip: Berryessa Brewing

For a beer blogger, I’ve been kind of a shut-in for the past few weeks um months er two years. When I do get out into beers bars I don’t work at, one of the breweries I’ve been consistently enjoying is Berryessa Brewing. (website) (Facebook) Though I like tasting beer at the source, I’d never been to Berryessa’s brewery in Winters until this weekend, even though the taproom has been open since…*google*…2012. I suck.

Berryessa Brewing’s taproom is pretty much your dream beergarden, partially because Yolo county rent isn’t exactly what we’re used to in the Bay and the place is huge. Also because Berryessa’s beer lineup doesn’t have a loser in the bunch, only some styles you may like more than others. They even make two of my personal least favorite beer styles, California common and Baltic porter, surprisingly enjoyable. Their wet-hop beer, Freshie, may be the bestest, least chloryphyllin’ harvest brew this side of Yakima. Their double IPA, Double Tap, avoids all the usual DIPA pitfalls such as being a boozy, sticky mess and their session IPA, Mini Separation Anxiety, is so much more than the bitter water so many west coast breweries are bandwagoning up on lately. And bless any Americans that can provide me with a fresh English mild or legit Belgian Pale Ale, let alone both.

Basically, I have a jaded California beer palate. If you do too, a trip to Winters may be what you need to wake it up again.

Cheers, bitches. Photo by Eric Pietras.

Cheers, bitches. Photo by Eric Pietras.

One of the best parts of Berryessa’s tasting room is also one of the worst: imperial (20 ounce) pints of any beer style for $5. Toto, I don’t think we’re in San Francisco anymore. Fortunately, Berryessa makes several fantastic low-alcohol beers. Unfortunately, unless you’re intrepid enough to park your car downtown then walk or bike two miles back to it (I am!) or can find an Uber driver to come to a town of population 7000, someone in your group is going to have to drive a car after this trip to rural beer heaven. They do offer a sampler flight, so that’s great, but my one request to the powers that be would be a serving size somewhere in between a thimble and a bucket. In the meantime, remember three imperial pints is the same as five 12-ounce bottles. There’s a food truck to help keep you from death and $10 growler refills so you can take home the higher-intensity stuff (she says, thirstily eyeing the growler of Double Tap in the fridge).

I was there on a sunny and stupidly hot Saturday (Winters: more than 100 days of the year with highs of 90F or more!) and the place was fairly packed. An at times long but always orderly line moved efficiently — the one time I timed it, I got to the front in 6 minutes. My hatred of waiting in line for beer is well-documented but even I can’t get mad about that. The bartenders seemed to know what they were doing and I wish there’d been time to chat. And hey, the ghost of Bob Ross was behind the bar.

Hoppy little trees!

Hoppy little trees!

It was an appropriate atmosphere for the happy-looking kids running around — bonus multitasking points to the bearded dad in the Sriracha shirt dancing to the band with his two tots while drinking beer — but without giving off that unfortunate I’m-drinking-at-a-nursery-school vibe that family-friendly spaces sometimes inspire. You can bring your dog, too.

Even this mediocre photo can partially convey why this taproom makes for a very nice afternoon

Even this mediocre photo can partially convey why this taproom makes for a blissful afternoon. Plus my husband is cute.

Bonus: Berryessa Gap Winery is such a literal stone’s throw from the brewery that I accidentally wandered into it checking my voicemail. If you’ve got that person in your life who prefers wine to beer, split the day in half and everyone’s happy. (No time for wine on this visit, but I’ve sampled some of their bottles in the past and was well pleased.)

If you like good beer and occasionally leaving your house, a drive to Berryessa Brewing is an awfully nice way to spend some of your weekend. And, sorry service industry folks, it must be a weekend: taproom hours are Friday 3-8pm and Saturday/Sunday noon-6pm. I got there from Richmond in barely an hour, but you’re in for a longer haul if you live in, say, San Leandro or Livermore. You should still go. Bring sunscreen and a hat. Enjoy.

Dusk settles on the tipsy, happy people of Winters, CA

Dusk settles on the tipsy, happy people of Winters, CA

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“Beer Curmudgeons” kicks podcast ass

Twitter can be a gargantuan waste of time, but there are a few beer people who make it less of a giant sucking sound. Two locals raising the bar are Collin McDonnell, a brewery owner asking all the right questions about the state of the beer union, and Sayre Piotrkowski, a publican who has been known to tweet the sort of industry criticism I only have the chutzpah to type and delete. I didn’t know the world needed them to do a podcast, but it did.

The pilot episode of The Beer Curmudgeons podcast is under an hour long and definitely worth a listen if you have an interest in beer beyond drinking it (and if all you want to do is drink it, that’s cool too, you’re keeping many of us in a job). Episode #1 tackled the question of IPA from a historical and — dare I say — philosophical angle.

Sayre and Collin game out of the gate strong by interviewing two beer veterans, Drake’s head brewer John Gillooly and Cicerone program head Ray Daniels. I won’t spoil it for you, but John gives an overview of the last two decades’ evolution of hops in the commercial brewing, and Ray looks at it from a more bar/consumer standpoint. It’s informative, informal, and entertaining.

Despite the “curmudgeon” title and the critical eye, these guys are not shock jocks or haters. They’re musing on the present and future of beer because they care enough to have given it a lot of thought. On the flip side, I didn’t find it at all pretentious, but then I’ve got a “Philosophy & Ramblings” section on this blog myself.

I don’t often have the listening skills for podcasts (or books on tape or –unfortunately for me in college — academic lectures). But I’ll be eagerly tuning into this one if they keep it up. I recommend you do the same.

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Dear beer community: Slow your roll?

This has been on my mind for a while now (those of you who think I’m a big ol’ ball of uncensored opinion have no idea what I hold back!) I keep thinking “now’s not a good time for this” but I could find a reason not to publish it every day forever and that’s no way to live. So, here is my latest jumbo think piece. I’d say “like it or not” but I don’t particularly “like” it myself. It’s not all rainbows and kittens and free samples here in the beer blogging world…


We’re a country founded by Puritans, and in some ways it still shows.

Once, just out of curiosity and a behavioral double-check, I took an alcohol use survey online. It asked me my age and gender. I answered the questions honestly and it came back with an alarmist “YOU DRINK MORE THAN MOST WOMEN YOUR AGE!” message. Well, okay…is it saying much to say you drink more than most 30-something women? Aren’t most of them too busy being moms to go to the pub? Many of my female friends are pregnant or breastfeeding right now, and I’m not.

I tried another quiz, this time from a different English-speaking country (I believe it was England, but it could have been Australia). It did not ask my age or gender. I answered honestly. It shrugged and said I was a social drinker and as long as my health was okay to not sweat it.

Where am I going with this? I think an effect of our culture is that the Americans who’ve claimed some sort of alcohol as a hobby — be it beer, wine, whiskey, other — get unjustly criticized and scrutinized by people outside their hobby world. I know I’ve endured stupidity like “you make your own beer? are you an alcoholic?” and worse. People who share a hobby often find each other, but beer people have even more incentive to band together: we understand that our enthusiasm is not the same as a disease, and it’s also not what you saw in that Beer Fest movie. The beer community is pretty much a judgment-free zone where consumption is concerned. You can have a beer with lunch without raising eyebrows (never mind that a beer with lunch is standard in many countries). You can post a photo of fancy beer on the Internet without anyone thinking it’s weird. You can have a breakfast beer on a special occasion like a yearly beer fest without getting handed a pamphlet.

Problem is, there’s a difference between “I understand that having two beers a day doesn’t make you Arthur” and “having 6 beers a day seems normal to me.” There’s a difference between “it’s Boonville, who wants a breakfast stout?” and drinking starting at 9am on a random Tuesday. There’s a difference between beer being an interest and beer being your only interest.

How can we as a community share a passion for something that CAN be harmless…but also not encourage people who are hurting themselves? I have no answers, but we can start by talking about it instead of sweeping it under the rug.

Let’s start with weight, because that’s not a loaded topic at all…

Alcohol has calories
Obviously, beer has calories. But as with most things weight-related, people overreact in one direction or another.

  • People drink light beer, or no beer, to save calories. Blech.
  • Well-meaning people exclusively blame beer for any non-skinny person’s lack of skinniness. (“You could lose so much weight if you gave up beer!” is something I’ve heard more than once. Hey, who says I even want to lose weight?) Thing is, many people who are into beer are epicureans in general and are also into food — beer has calories, sure, but so does BBQ and tacos and cheese and….
  • Of course, not all beer people have equal enthusiasm for beer and food. Whether they’re trying to save calories or have something else going on, this forms the basis of another overreaction for some. I’m tired of hearing people justify skipping meals because “beer has food value but food has no beer value” or “eating is cheating.” It’s not funny and it’s not healthy.

In the end, you can lose weight (if you want to! and not everyone does!) by drinking fewer beers or drinking smaller portions of them. You can also lose weight by exercising and eating healthier. Your weight is really none of anyone else’s business. But if you have an existing health issue that is exacerbated by your weight, and you’re still not cutting down on beer, that’s something to think about. It’s true that overweight people can be healthy. It’s also true that some medical conditions are going to go a lot easier on you if you lose a few.

The game-ification of beer drinking is not good for every personality
Untappd is fun. I use it. But I don’t agree with giving out rewards for drinking a sheer quantity of beer. If you’ve got a competitive streak, getting badges is going to encourage you to drink too much. It’s an unpopular opinion and I’m not going to dwell on it, and I’d be the last person to blame a silly phone app for anyone’s unhealthy decisions, but if you’re drinking more beers just to get an online cookie then uninstall that shit.

“I need to slow down” isn’t the same as “I need AA” (except when it is)
I think some beer enthusiasts are afraid to admit they’ve been drinking too much because it seems like such a slippery slope. We’ve tied in “drinking too much” with “problem drinking” with “alcoholic” with “needs to never drink again.” I believe it’s a spectrum, not a binary.

I think of it this way: sometimes I go through periods where I eat too much, because it’s fun and it’s easy to do and it makes me feel good when I’m stressed. Then I gain a few pounds and I realize I should back up and eat right again. That doesn’t make me a compulsive eater. That doesn’t mean I need a support group. It means I’m an adult taking responsibility for my behavior. (That said, compulsive eating is a real condition, and should not be ignored or minimized if you have it.)

My relationship with alcohol — another substance that’s enjoyable but not physically addictive — is remarkably similar. Sometimes I realize I’ve been drinking too much, because it’s fun and it’s easy to do and it makes me feel good when I’m stressed. Then I gain a few pounds (or have an ugly hangover) and realize I should back up and drink right again. That doesn’t make me an alcoholic. That doesn’t mean I need a support group. It means I’m an adult taking responsibility for my behavior.

That said, alcoholism is a real condition, and should not be ignored or minimized (or joked about or celebrated) if you have it. And that’s where the beer community trips over its dick.

If you can’t eat like a healthy person or you can’t drink like a healthy person, maybe it’s time to do something about it. Maybe it’s Overeaters Anonymous or maybe it’s just a nutritionist. Maybe it’s AA or maybe it’s just…a nutritionist (or Moderation Management). I suspect most of you know, deep down, whether you’re killing yourself or not.

And if you’d never hassle an obese person for eating a healthy, reasonable portion of food in front of you — and I hope you wouldn’t — let’s also be careful teasing drinkers for cutting back. Let your friend get the half-pint, the water, the session beer, the root beer, in peace without joking or name-calling or exhortations to drink more. You don’t know what’s going on, and either way, 7th grade-level peer pressure is best left in 7th grade.

“Everything gives you cancer” vs “Stop drinking or die”
Eggs are good, eggs are bad, eggs are fine. Carbs are bad, carbs are fine, now gluten is bad. Coffee’s bad, green tea’s good, caffeine’s bad, coffee’s good but only if you’re a man…fuck it, I give up.

Joe Jackson was basically right: everything gives you cancer, if you count “everything” as “living on this toxic planet.” So yes, drinking beer increases my risk of breast cancer. So does living on earth. So did, I suspect, growing up in a town where a disproportionate number of my classmates’ parents seemed to get tumors when I was in school. I’m not going to give up a delicious beverage because it might piss off the wrong cell someday. Driving a car is hazardous to your health, and I do that, too. You gotta live.

But if you have an already-existing health condition that drinking is going to make a whole hell of a lot worse?


There’s no good way to segue out of that so I just will
This concludes the first and, I hope, only installment of Tough Love With East Bay Beer. Please do believe that it comes from a place of love, not of shit-stirring or paternalism. Take care of yourselves, friends. Peace out.

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Save the date: FraggleFest 2014

Someday, I will write an epic post about Fraggle and file it under “Beer history.” For now I file it under “it’s complicated” and “too soon.” But I would like to tell you about an event that he bloody well should have been at.

First, some background for those who don’t know. Fraggle — the one-named Oakland institution known to most in the beer community for co-founding Beer Revolution and being seen at pretty much every beer event ever — had a massive stroke at the end of June. It was like a neutron bomb hit Facebook: a fund was set up for his medical bills, fundraisers were planned, frequent updates were posted. We thought he’d be facing a long, tough, expensive rehab. Instead, on July 3 we found out that he had too little brain function to possibly survive. He was pronounced dead on Saturday, July 5.


At Beer Revolution’s 1-year anniversary party, February 2011. Photo: Brian Stechschulte (

Ale Industries was in the middle of a fundraiser at its Fruitvale brewery when the news broke, and the assembled group toasted him with Underberg shots (a Fraggle favorite). Commonwealth Cafe in Oakland went on with its fundraiser already planned for the next day — an emotional, raucous roof-raiser of an Irish-by-way-of-the-East-Bay wake.

There’s one more planned fundraiser that will march on as a memorial, FraggleFest 2014 at Linden Street Brewery on Sunday, August 24. It’s an apt venue, as it’s somewhere Fraggle worked and helped out both before and after his time at Beer Revolution, and he and Linden Street’s Adam were close. Some details are being shrouded in secrecy for the element of surprise, but it’s looking like a helluva beer fest and punk show, worth attending even if you never heard of Fraggle before just now. All the details are here.

This will be a large event and volunteers are needed. Email Marlene at if you are interested in helping out. Give your email address, phone number, and whether you have beer pouring experience.

One last thing: Fraggle was an organ donor. Some of his donations reportedly saved several lives last week and others went to medical research. If this inspires you, and it should, register here.

To be continued, someday.

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Posted in Events, RIP | Tagged , , | 3 Comments