Richmond Welcomes East Brother Beer Co. To The Craft Beer Family

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.

Words: Chris
Photos: Sarah and Chris

Pacific Coast Brewing Company 25th Annual Holiday Beer Dinner


Last weekend Bay Area on Tap had the opportunity to attend the annual Holiday beer dinner at Pacific Coast Brewing Company at 906 Washington Street, talk to the proprietors about the event at the long tenured brewpub and hear about some of the new developments in the brew house from the new head brewer.

Held each December, the event is now in its 25th year. It’s interesting how much the city, and this neighborhood specifically, has developed during that time. My first time visiting was a little short of a decade ago and the change is dramatic even in that time. Not only was Pacific Coast the only beer centric location in the neighborhood, it was really one of the only restaurants of any note in what was a nearly dead part of town. Now, not only has the local beer scene blossomed with places like the Belgian beer themed Trappist and the beer-friendly Rosamunde Sausage grill both virtually next door and other standouts just short walk away, the area has also recently become home to several interesting restaurants in recent years. All of which has helped turn PCB into part of a suddenly attractive Old Oakland eating and drinking circuit.

 

A constant amidst that metamorphosis has been this event at the comfy Old Oakland brew pub. In its current incarnation, the event is an eight course, fourteen-beer dinner. With hearty fare that included broiled salmon, mussels, lamb stew and prime rib matched to a beer list with an average ABV over 10%, it was enough to make certain all parties walked away in a festive mood. The menu included some special beers from Pacific Coast like their 2013 Holiday Double IPA and 25th Anniversary Dirty Scarecrow along with standouts from other brewers like Sante Adairius Anaïs Saison and Drake’s Brewing Jolly Rodgers Imperial Black IPA.

Among the highlights of the afternoon was the opportunity we had to spend some time with Pacific Coast’s new brewmaster Paul Wichelmann. The Minnesota native had been a Pacific Coast employee for a time in the late 90’s and returned to take over the head brewer position in July after stints brewing at both Pyramid and Trumer in Berkeley. One of the first, and probably the most significant, changes Paul made upon taking the reins was to switch the brewery from an extract system to full grain, which was completed back in August . Although the regular offerings in Pacific Coast’s lineup have always had their loyal fans, the use of the extract system hadn’t always gone over so well with some beer geeks, who sometimes would choose to stick with the pub’s always interesting selection of guest taps. We recommend all give a second look at their house beers now as early results from the new system have been very good. With that big change out of the way, Paul got to work injecting some new styles into rotation including a recent collaboration with Line 51 Brewing on a massively hoppy Black IPA dubbed Coast Liner and a new IPA called Red Herring, which plays with the concept of an IPA in both malt and in the choice in hops in a way we believe will go over very well. The brewery is also set to get into barrel aging their beers and currently have some Maker’s Mark barrels on deck for future projects. If this weren’t enough to keep him busy, Paul has also recently started his own beer brand called Lucky Devil Brewing, which will focus on Belgian styles including a Belgian Pale Ale, a Saison, a Dubbel and a Tripel. Watch for it to hit Oakland area beer bars in the very near future. With Oakland’s oldest existing beer institution making big moves and interesting new players constantly joining in, it continues to be an exciting time to be a beer enthusiast in the East Bay.

Sierra Nevada Launches the Torpedo Room in Berkeley

The highly anticipated Berkeley taproom from iconic craft brewer Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, of Chico, CA, has now officially opened to the public. Dubbed the Torpedo Room, the 16 tap glistening steel, glass and wood facility is located at 2031 4th St. Bay Area on Tap had an opportunity to check them out on the first day of their soft opening and we were very impressed with what we found.

The tap list on our visit consisted of several rather obscure, small batch, specialty beers (at least one of which we had never even seen before) and a smattering of familiar favorites. In the interest of encouraging visitors to explore the variety of styles they produce, the Torpedo Room sells their beer in flights of four small samples roughly equal to one pint of beer total. Among the more exciting elements about this new location is that they will offer growler fills, adding another high quality beer-to-go option in an area that hasn’t seemed to have quite enough to cover demand. For me at least, this is one of the foremost reasons this is such a welcome addition to the East Bay beer circuit.

The Torpedo Room will also host beer tasting classes, beer launches and other fun events. The initial hours are listed as 11 am to 7 pm Tuesday through Thursday and 11 am to 8 pm Friday and Saturday. Hours may expand as they move forward so keep an eye on their website for details.
http://www.sierranevada.com/brewery/california/torpedoroom

Line 51 Rolls Into Oakland

 

Bay Area on Tap had a chance to sit down with the man behind Line 51 Brewing, PT Lovern, at his Oakland home last week to chat about the upcoming launch, responsible drinking, and to geek out about all things East Bay.


PT with his homebrew conical. Welded locally using kegs purchased from his favorite brewery.

As East Bay natives and AC Transit veterans, the “Line 51” bus route (which runs from Rockridge BART, through downtown and uptown, and on to Fruitvale BART) is a familiar one to us at Bay Area on Tap. We had to be curious though, why Lovern chose it to represent his beers. He explained that not only is it the line he and his drinking/brewing buddies (known as the Booze Brothers) often used to get to and from the better beer bars here in Oakland safely, he also chose this name because he felt it was important to advocate using public transit when imbibing, especially since some of his beers are on the stronger side. In addition, the name helps add some specificity to the place where he lives, crafts his recipes, and where his beer will be available at launch. PT plans to start by distributing his beers at establishments on and around the 51 bus line and grow his business from there. In the course of this strategy, he’s chosen not to limit himself to bars already established as beer geek destinations. After all, adding a few good craft beers on tap is all it takes to turn a decent local bar into something truly awesome. Line 51 seems primed to do just that.

The first beer to launch will be a hoppy red ale dubbed Red Death IPA, it’s name a subtle reference to a work by Oakland’s most well known novelist. Lovern related that he had been experimenting with red malts for years and found that an assertive hop profile could really help anchor the malt character for a bold, yet pleasantly balanced, ale. At 7 percent ABV and a healthy 70 IBU’s this one moves firmly into the IPA category, a style PT says he found to be in high demand when he started asking bar goers in the area what types of beer they’d like to see more of. Early in 2013, Line 51 plans to release a second offering called One Inch Punch. Most will recognize this as a shout out to the technique made famous by Bruce Lee, who opened one of his first martial arts studios a stones throw from PT’s home. We had a chance to try this one as well, and were impressed with how well the hop complexity shined through on a 6 percent 51 IBU beer. We were also lucky enough to sample some of the exciting offerings Line 51 has slated for release slightly further down the line. We’ve been asked not to leak any spoilers quite yet, but expect some highly enjoyable beers built on adventurous recipes with a lot more clever Oakland cultural references.

Watch out for the Line 51 tap handle at Oakland area bars, hand molded by brewer PT Lovern himself.

PT’s local pride is evident not only in the names of his beers but is obvious after only speaking with him a few minutes about the city where he lives. Although for now his beers will be released through a partnership with San Jose’s Hermitage, long term he’d love to open up a production brewery of his own right here in Oakland if his beers are as well received as he hopes they are. The thirsty people of Oakland won’t have to wait long to get their first look at Red Death IPA. There are two release parties this week, Tuesday the 13th at Cato’s Ale House 3891 Piedmont Ave at 5pm, Wednesday the 14th at Ben & Nicks Bar and Grill 5612 College Ave at 7pm, and a third at Kerry House 4086 Piedmont Avenue on the 24th. Get on a bus, get on BART, and get in line. We’ll see you there.

 

Schubros Brewing Launches

The outer East Bay area continues to be one of the fastest growing craft brew regions around with this weekend’s official launch of San Ramon’s Schubros Brewery. Bay Area on Tap recently sat down with President Ian Schuster and Brewmaster Mike Johannsen at ØL Beercafe inWalnut Creek to talk about beer, brewing, and starting a responsible business.

Exposed to a variety of beers while living abroad both with the Navy and during his studies overseas, Ian Schuster had long dreamt of opening a brewery. He reflected fondly on drinking English ales in London and aged Barleywine while in Tokyo. Beer’s food pairing properties in particular got Ian’s attention, something that plays a major role in the beers Schubros will be producing. Ian continued his homebrew hobby over the years while working in marketing. After hearing about his passion for beer and brewing, a mutual business contact introduced Ian to Mike Johannsen, a veteran of the food and beverage industry including time at the world renowned Firestone Walker Brewery in Paso Robles, CA. Mike took a more domestic route to better beer than Ian did, supplementing his homebrewing habit with early craft beers like Pete’s Wicked Ale, Red Hook ESB, and Henry Weinhardt’s. The “core four” beers Mike will be brewing at Schubros seem to be influenced by both men’s tastes, with a nod to the traditional and just a little modern California craft beer adventurousness.

The first beer to be released will be Mike’s take on an American Pale Wheat Ale called Nicos American Wheat. When we suggested this might be a good beer to convert drinkers of sub par big brewery produced wheat ales, Mike was quick to point out this beer was very different, combining the crisp refreshing nature of the style with a touch more complexity and body. Most notably, he mentioned the unusual and exciting choice of including rye as part of the grain bill to add a subtle spicy character to the beer. The second beer to be released will be their 680 IPA. Keeping in mind the food pairing focus of this brewery, this 6.2% ABV 50 IBU ale is designed to have plenty of hop character but be balanced enough to pair with a variety of foods without completely overpowering them. The final two beers that will make up the core four beers are still being decided but one of the candidates is a sweet stout called Diablo Dark. We had a chance to sample this beer during our interview. Brewed with English ale yeast, the stout has wonderful caramel notes with hints of chocolate and a mellow roasty finish. Mike tells us this beer was designed to pair with a specific dish a friend had developed: a quinoa and bacon cupcake with stout frosting. Despite being brewed for such a specific purpose, Mike and Ian found the beer to be very versatile, pairing well with a variety of foods and pretty damned good by itself. One thing both Ian and Mike seemed very excited about is their upcoming Passport Series, which will explore the more avant garde, internationally inspired, beers. Berliner Weiss, Barleywine, and Imperial Stouts were mentioned as possible styles they may venture into. 

Schubros is governed by what was described as their three core values: Community, Responsibility, and Quality. The community aspect is reflected in the fact that 1% of 680 IPA sales will be donated to schools and parks, 1% of Nicos Wheat sales to environmental causes, and 1% each of the other two yet to be determined core 4 styles to rotating charitable causes. Responsibility was the main reason they’ll be canning their regular offerings. Much thought went into the decision, including a study done at St Mary’s College to look into the benefits of cans vs. bottles. The study found cans to be the better choice for the environment but identified a lingering perception problem; that despite the many world class breweries that now can their products, canned beer was seen by some as an inferior product to bottled beer. Despite this and the high investment costs associated with canning, they decided cans were the right thing to do. Responsibility also affects decisions made at their San Ramon location including the use of LED lights and other eco-friendly building materials.

 

The brewery will be keg only at first, with their Nicos Wheat launching at the Danville Fine Arts Faire June 16th and 17th and the 680 IPA hitting the market in July. They’ll start with distribution mainly in theSanRamonValley before expanding into parts of the 925 area code. Later this year canning will begin and growler fills should be offered at their San Ramon location.

More about Schubros at: http://www.schubrosbrewery.com/

ØL Beercafe a beer bar and bottle shop located in downtown Walnut Creek. They offer 18 taps and hundreds of bottles of finely crafted beer. http://beer-shop.org/