With the beer rich North Bay and the increasingly beer-centric Berkeley/Oakland area as its neighbors, Richmond is surrounded by craft beer culture. Until recently, however, the city hasn’t had much beer to call its own. Luckily for the thirsty people of Western Contra Costa County, things are rapidly changing. Benoit-Casper Brewing opened in Richmond back in 2014, joining the brewpub Elevation 66 Brewing Company which launched in nearby El Cerrito in 2011. Still, with population growth in the area outpacing the Bay Area as a whole (and with a new ferry terminal on the horizon set to prime the region for even more growth), there’s definitely room for much, much more in the way of local beer. East Brother Beer Co. is the latest new brewery hoping to continue to fill that void.
Located in an industrial area of Richmond, East Brother Beer Co. was launched by longtime friends and Marin residents Chris Coomber and Rob Lightner in November 2016, with their tasting room opening the following month. Rob recently made time to sit down and talk about the brewery, their underlying strategy and philosophy and regional craft beer in general.
As this was our first visit to the tap room, we were struck by the tasteful, stylish yet straightforward and simple décor. A carryover from their strikingly clean can designs. As we’d find out during our tasting, this approach also echoes the beers themselves. The brewery focuses on five “core” beers: a Red Lager, a Bohemian Pilsner, a Red IPA, a Wheat IPA and an Oatmeal Stout. They also have occasional taproom only beers, on our visit they were pouring an English Pale Ale. Each beer they offer is clean, drinkable and pleasantly unembellished. The Red IPA was probably our favorite, but the Pilsner also stood out. We’d even go as far as ranking it right among the best locally brewed Pilsners on the market.
As Rob explained, the balanced, clean nature of East Brother’s beers can be traced to its homebrew origins. Instead of turning out dozens upon dozens of styles, Chris tended to focus on brewing his favorite, fairly traditional, styles repeatedly, dialing each recipe in until he was happy with it. This attention to detail definitely helps East Brother’s offerings stand out in a crowded craft beer landscape, where some breweries tend to put out products that are more interesting than good. In the short term, East Brother plans to continue focusing on their core brands while gradually expanding their taproom only offerings. Ultimately, Rob believes the tap room will offer as many as 15 varieties on tap.
As touched on earlier, this attention to detail seems pervasive in every element of the business. Their cans are among the most striking out there, with bold, mostly two-tone designs. The brewery’s name itself is also very thoughtful. Named for the East Brother Lighthouse in the nearby San Pablo Bay, the name is a nice local reference that fits well with the brewery’s identity as a beer for locals, but it’s also evocative of a certain familial warmth along with Richmond’s geographical position in the East Bay Area.
Just over six months into operation, East Brother Beer’s strategy seems to paying off. Their tasting room is bustling with customers each weekend, and each of their core beers draws loyal devotees. Most of their customers seem to be locals who see East Brother as their neighborhood brewery, which we’d say is a great sign for longevity of a business, since customers who identify with the brand on a personal level are much more reliable than fickle scenesters chasing the latest trend.
East Brother Beer Co. currently distributes cans and kegs to accounts around the East Bay, North Bay and San Francisco. You can see their website www.eastbrotherbeer.com for details. Their taproom at 1001 Canal Blvd is open Wednesday through Sunday, serving full pints and growler fills of fresh beer brewed onsite. They also feature food trucks each day they’re open, with plentiful indoor and outdoor seating available. We look forward to more visits throughout the summer, and also to Richmond’s continued growth as a craft beer destination.