From There to Here
Fifteen Years of Brewing
We're not the only ones celebrating our 15th anniversary this year. There are a number of well-known breweries that also began back in 1988. We thought we'd give them an opportunity to tell their side of the story. What was it like in those heady days when craft brewing was still a relatively new phenomenon? How has the beer industry changed in 15 years? What challenges had to be overcome and what new ones are yet to be faced? How can I stop asking all these questions? Let's find out what the brewers have to say.
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Anderson Valley Brewing
After two years of planning, we opened our brewery and pub on Boxing Day 1987. In our first full year we sold just over 600 barrels, most of that across the bar at our pub. Back then, we didn't need salespeople or distributors -- people would come to Boonville to pick up the beers! Sam, the owner of Stuffed Sandwich down in San Gabriel, use to drive up here to get our beer. Once he managed to get 54 cases of beer stuffed into his Cadillac.
One of my fondest memories from that time is David Keene, owner of the Toronado, who would drive to Boonville and bring soda kegs for us to wash, sanitize and fill for him while he waited. He would attempt to carry so many cans in his little Honda that he couldn't get over the hump in our driveway. We would unload a few, get him over the hump, and then reload. Dave would wave good-bye, and would we watch him head on down the road, his back end weaving under the heavy load.
In our second year, I would make deliveries to San Francisco. When I arrived with beer at the Toronado, the customers would give a standing ovation as I rolled the kegs through the crowd of people and dogs.
In 1989, we hired a part-time salesperson. She would make a few phone calls to get orders and then twice a month she would make deliveries. When we went with our first distributor, Cal Beverage in San Francisco (which had 12 salespeople and 12 drivers), our sales dropped by almost 50 percent! Their salespeople preferred selling their other new product, Keystone.
In 1995, we went to the Franconia region of Bavaria to dismantle two small closed breweries. We were just barely ahead of the scrap dealer. We brought back two copper brewhouses, one of which is now our primary brewing system.
In 1997, we made the move to the new facility, which is about a mile from the pub. We continued to expand our capacity as sales required. Also in 1997 we held the first Boonville Beer Festival (to celebrate the opening of our new brewery). It was such a good time that we decided to continue the tradition. Now the festival has become a very popular event. Brewers come to Boonville from all over the West Coast. This year the seventh annual festival will be held on April 19.
Maybe it is true that a bit of the newness has worn off the industry, but we are just as excited about making great beer today as we were back when the Celebrator started.
Dr. Kenneth Allen, President
Anderson Valley Brewing, Inc.
Deschutes Brewing Company
Tom, congratulations on 15 great years! Being in our 15th year as well, I think back occasionally on all the vivid times we've seen. Segments of our history and that of our industry play back for me in complete Technicolor. The good times and the bad times, the struggles and the celebrations, of course the beer, but most of all it is the people I remember and reflect on most fondly.
I think of Greg Schirf of Wasatch Brewing Company and Polygamy Porter fame, whom I met while I was still in Salt Lake City, before moving to Oregon and entering this business. It was Ed Brown of the Rubicon Brewing Company, an old friend, who I essentially interned with in Sacramento to learn about brewpubs. It was Frank Appleton who taught me so much about brewing and designed and installed the first brewing equipment at Deschutes. Also, it was his good friend John Mitchell of Spinnakers who defined so much of brewpub culture on this side of the Atlantic. And there were many, many others. These people may not make all the headlines in this industry, but all had a tremendous impact on the business and the beer we enjoy today.
There was also John Harris, our first brewer and our first employee, whose passion for beer thrives at Full Sail. It was John who first introduced me to Jim Kennedy with Admiralty Beverage, who took on our beer and encouraged us to promote Black Butte Porter as our flagship. The industry lost Jim this past year.
And it was Bret and Julie Nickels who I met while they were starting a fledgling publication called the California Celebrator, focused on California and West Coast microbreweries and their beers. No one gave them much of a chance either.
It was Judy Ashworth who was way ahead of her time with Lyons Brewery Depot Pub. It had burned down and her customers had raised the money for her to rebuild, showing the power of the community of beer. Her passion led to our beer being poured (I'm told) at her pub before we officially began distribution in California.
It was Don Younger of the Horse Brass Pub in Portland who was also pursuing his passion and his vision against the odds and helping teach Portland -- now one of the most educated beer markets in the country -- about the beauty and variety of beer and its culture.
The are so many others who meant so much to me, to Deschutes Brewery and to the craft-brewing industry, including the people who now reside and work at Deschutes Brewery. They are the finest ever, and I am proud to work alongside them every day.
Tom, my memories are of a generous and giving community of brewers who virtually never refused to answer a question from a competitor or offer help, and who always provided encouragement and friendship. Many say it's about the beer (and there has been some great beer!). As much as this might be considered heresy, it's not. It's really about the people. And Tom, you are one of them!
Cheers to the next 15!
Gary Fish, President
Deschutes Brewery, Inc.
Fifteen years ago: I had just completed the knockout of our first batch at Gordon Biersch Palo Alto. I had been pitching quantities of my yeast, which I had flown in from Germany in kegs equipped with special fittings. I removed the fitting from the top and was greeted with the yeast equivalent of old faithful: 50 liters of yeast, representing our livelihood, were raining down on me. I was ready to cry. Luckily, Mark Carpenter at Anchor Brewing saved the day. My partner, Dean Biersch, drove up to San Francisco and picked up some yeast, which enabled us to finish the brew.
Now: We have two yeast propagators that produce so much yeast that we rarely have to repitch.
Fifteen years ago: Bill Owens brought Michael Jackson over to our soon-to-open Palo Alto brewery restaurant. The only beer remotely close to being ready to sample was our dunkles (brewed with the yeast Anchor had lent us), and it was still was weeks away from being ready. As a matter of fact, it was the only beer on tap when we opened the doors. I was panic-stricken when Michael, the most famous beer writer in the world, insisted that I let him taste the beer. I was fortunate to receive praise from Michael on the quality of the beer and went home that day with a smile.
Now: No other beer writer has done as much for the craft-beer industry. Michael once acted as a moderator on a panel at the World Beer and Beverage Forum being held in Munich, where I was one of five American panelists. Michael introduced me with the line that you actually need to go outside of Bavaria to get an authentic märzen and that our beer was the reason for it. Both Michael and I were able to escape without a lynching.
Fifteen years ago: There was a great beer festival put on by KQED at the concourse in San Francisco -- a phenomenal event in which every brewery in Northern California (as well as foreign brewers) participated. Dean and I had just opened our Palo Alto location a few days before we attended for the first time. We arrived at the festival and discovered that the Sankey connector, tubing and regulator needed to be plumbed -- and I had no tools or fittings to complete the work. Bob Stoddard, who at the time was brewing for the Tied House, came to the rescue with his box of clamps and fittings and let me borrow everything to have us up and running for the tasting.
Now: The KQED beer festival is gone. Bob is the proud owner of his two brewery restaurants. Dean and I are in our 40s, pumping out 60,000-plus barrels a year.
Gordon Biersch Brewery
San Jose, Calif.
North Coast Brewing Company
This whole thing started back in 1986 with a perfectly innocent three-way conversation among Mark Ruedrich, Joe Rosenthal and Tom Allen.
"Did you see that they're opening one of these new brewpub deals in Berkeley?"
"I bet one of those things would do well here in Mendocino."
"Did you know that Mark knows how to make good beer?"
"No. Really? Let's do it."
As it turned out, Mark knew how to make really good beer, which was fortunate, given the anemic marketing thought that went into the initial decision. It's why we're still here. And what a long, strange trip it's been, in the words of the poet.
The real estate search took longer than we had anticipated. We finally found a great turn-of-the-century place that had been occupied by the local community college. Before that, it had housed the Fort Bragg Presbyterian Church and had begun life as the local mortuary. (The irony of this near-perfect symmetry did not escape us.) In a step of perfect timing, we began presentations for funding a week after the stock market crash of 1987!
Conversion of the mortuary/church/college into a great new brewpub actually went pretty smoothly, with Joe and Mark shouldering most of the construction responsibilities. The kettle and mash tun were made by a local boat builder, and the fermenters and holding tanks were converted Grundies from England.
The doors of the North Coast Brewing Co. Taproom & Grill finally opened in August of 1988. We started with three beers: Red Seal Ale, Scrimshaw Pilsner and Old No. 38 Stout. Actually, when we opened, we were serving Anchor Steam and Guinness while our initial batches were still in the fermenters. And, of course, Bret Nickels from the fledgling Celebrator showed up with Michael Jackson to try our new stuff, which caused an awkward moment. (He has since then tried our beers to his satisfaction, so our initial gaffe seems to have been forgiven.)
Customers kept telling us that they liked our beers and that we should bottle them. Initial distribution was to local stores and restaurants out of the back of Mark's '57 Chevy pickup. It was a real stunner to learn that Angell Distributing, the local Miller house, was willing to pick up our brands, which we were more than happy to have happen. This relationship remains intact, and Angell now sells a surprising amount of our beer in the thinly populated environs of the North Coast.
As we look back over the last 15 years, it seems like we've come a long way. We're now distributed in 35 states and two foreign countries and can produce 2,400 cases a day. We've won 15 Great American Beer Festival medals, five World Beer Cups, a drawerful of World Beer Championship awards, and we have even been named as "One of the 10 Best Breweries in the World." It seems like it's taken longer than we anticipated. It also seems like there is some tremendous potential ahead of us -- and just maybe it won't take as long as we anticipate.
Tom Allen, Partner
North Coast Brewing Co.
Fort Bragg, Calif.
The past 15 years have truly been remarkable for the brewing industry. It has been a veritable roller coaster (or maybe a trampoline). But through it all the Celebrator has been there to celebrate the high points and soften the low points.
I have gone from an out-of-work geologist to a brewpub entrepreneur to running for mayor of Denver. (I know, I'm clearly heading for a low point.) I truly appreciate your support, through good times and bad, and recognize all that you have done for the industry. Most of us would not be anywhere near where we are today without the Celebrator and the other brewspapers that you helped to inspire.
Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!
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