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

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.