The Bay Area’s craft beer community continues its recent growth spurt with the launch of Calicraft this May. Several weeks ago Bay Area on Tap had a chance to sit down with founder and head brewer Blaine Landberg at his Walnut Creek home to talk about the new brewery and sample his beer before it hits the market.
A native of Willows, CA, Blaine grew up in a family of home brewers. Even though he was too young to actually try any of the beer his family produced he remembers fondly watching family members come up with whimsically named beers like the kangaroo themed ‘Roo Brew. He decided at the age of fourteen that he’d one day start his own brewery. He later started home brewing himself including time brewing in his dorm at UC Berkeley while studying Business Communication in a Consumer Society. As he watched the craft beer movement bloom, he observed it took four things to be a successful brewer:
1) A good product
4) An understanding of the retail market
While Blaine worked on the first part in the course of his home brew experiments, he found an opportunity to work on the rest when he entered the job market. In 1999, Blaine joined Honest Tea. Although there are differences in distribution of tea and alcoholic beverages, he accumulated valuable knowledge of how to get a distributor to move product from the warehouse to the retail marketplace and also got to be part of that fledging business growing from a small start up to a successful company. As his business and brewing expertise grew over the years, he finally decided he was ready to make the move from hobbyist to professional brewer.
The first beer we had an opportunity to try was The Cali-Cölsh, a take on the Kölsh style native to Germany. In what we were to find was a pattern for Cali-Craft’s beers, this is a mash up of the traditional with just the right amount of local flair. The beer features a Kölsh yeast strain from Cologne Germany, California select malt and a blend of German Noble and American Crystal hops. The Crystal hops are fairly similar to the spicy Noble varieties to which they owe their parentage but add just enough additional intensity to justify the “Cali” part of the beers name. Even with these tweaks, the beer really delivers all that one would expect from the style. A good Kölsh is hard to come by, most of the more enjoyable versions we can remember were either home brews or were shipped in from other areas. We’re very excited to have a fresh local version around for summer.
Probably the boldest and definitely the most hop forward of Calicraft’s initial releases is Oaktown Brown. For this big brown ale the brewer uses California grown Cascade hops and adds French, Hungarian, and American oak cubes during fermentation. We had an opportunity to sample tea brewed with oak from each region separately. The kaleidoscope of smoke and vanilla notes had us wondering momentarily whether we were at a beer tasting or a Scotch tasting. Tasting the elements of the beer separately really enhanced our appreciation of its complexity and helped us to get an idea of why each type of oak was included. This one is a good bet to get the attention of hop heads and whisky drinkers alike.
The final beer we tried is also the one that Blaine says he feels may be the future of his company. Blurring the lines between beer, mead, and wine; Buzzerkeley is a strong blonde ale split-fermented with both Belgian ale yeast and Champagne yeast and includes a whopping five lbs of star thistle honey per keg. Before trying the beer we had a chance to sample the honey, which is from the brewers own bee-keeping operation in Northern California. The honey ferments very clean and adds relatively subtle honey flavors that fit in almost seamlessly to the overall flavor profile of the beer. Blaine noted just that a few decades ago the beer drinker and the wine drinker were generally separate demographics. These days the lines are much less distinct, it’s very common for the craft beer drinker to enjoy a good glass of wine and vice-versa. He sees this beer as a potential option for these crossover drinkers. He may be right; we’ve since had the chance to bring a sample of Buzzerkeley to a party and it was a big hit with people with a very wide range of palates, including wine drinkers.
Blaine started partner brewing his beers at Hermitage Brewing in San Jose the beginning of April. Kegs and bottles of Calicraft should start showing up around the San Francisco Bay Area in May. Longer term, he hopes to move production to the Shadelands area of Walnut Creek, complete with a tasting room where he can try test batches, one offs, variants, and also do some beer and cheese pairings. Blaine adds that these future plans are things he hopes to do “if” his new brewery is successful. From what we’ve tasted so far we have no doubt it will be.