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JUNE/JULY 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

E. J. Phair : Micro Opens Pub In Concord
By Mike Pitsker with Lisa Pitsker

Lisa and Mike Pitsker (seated) with owner J. J. Phair. Photo courtesy of J. J. Phair Brewery

J. J. Phair opened the warehouse microbrewery bearing his grandfather’s name in 2000 in the East Bay town of Concord, Calif. He and Assistant Brewer Morgan Cox sold kegs and cases, self-distributing throughout the Bay Area, and built a following that has grown steadily over the past five years to include semi-permanent handles in most of the area multi-tap bars and restaurants, several permanent house brands and a lot of brand recognition in the better liquor and grocery stores. After a certain point, growth is tough for a micro. It must either find wider distribution in a climate of shrinking distributors, greater density in an area of shrinking outlets, or do what J. J. did: open its own pub.

The E. J. Phair Brewing Company pub had been open for less than a month, but if the crowds we witnessed on a windy and wet Wednesday evening were any indication, the future is bright. The pub carries an open feeling; lots of interior space on a corner lot with windows opening on a view of downtown Concord’s Todos Santos Park.

Inside the new pub, bartenders Dan Fernandez and Kate Scurria took good care of us. They immediately set up samples of the house beers, which we sipped as we perused the menu. Every pub favorite is available, from burgers to beer-battered onion “hoops,” from steamed clams to shepherd’s pie. Throw in a few interesting variations like hummus and vegetables and mahi-mahi with the tri-tip sandwich and New York steak dinner, and chef Marty Downs has prepared a menu fit for a fine dining establishment like E. J. Phair. Downs comes from a background that includes a stint at Pleasant Hill’s Left Bank, and he brought his recipes along. Lisa loved the onion soup.

J. J.’s beers are delightful. We tasted six, and all were fine specimens of their styles. Lisa and I particularly enjoyed the Schwarzbier, a black lager that took me right back to Germany with its smooth mouthfeel and clean finish. As J. J. says, “Don’t be afraid of the dark.”

If the crowds we witnessed on a windy and wet Wednesday evening were any indication, the future is bright.

The most popular E. J. Phair styles, including the award-winning IPA, were not available on the day of our visit; J. J. had purchased a new brewing system to increase his output, and the old one had been dismantled and shipped, leaving a gap between batches. All styles were up and running soon after, so we have yet another reason to return. Assistant Brewer Cox said the first brew on the new system was the Alehouse IPA, a California-style IPA of about 6% abv, boasting big hops. “There were about six or seven hop additions during brewing,” Cox said. The beer will be available throughout the summer and perhaps beyond. “It’s a refreshing, hoppy brew. I think the customers will like it.”

The pub’s patronage grows steadily. “We expected a lunch crowd,” said Cox, “but we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the dinner crowd and the growth in weekend traffic.”

I asked J. J. about reviving the fabled Concord Blues and Brews Festival, until recently held annually in the park. He said he was in talks with the City of Concord to work something out. I hope it happens; Todos Santos is the perfect venue for a small music and brews fest.

Kate poured a full pint of the Schwarzbier for me and a pint of the Hefeweizen for Lisa while we ate. J. J. circulated among the patrons, shaking hands and slapping backs, sitting for a moment to catch up with some of his new-found regulars, and checking on the kitchen situation now and then. He stayed busy in the relaxed manner I attribute to many of the better brewers I know. Maybe that’s why so many of them make such good pub owners when they make the jump. Maybe it’s just in the attitude. Maybe it’s all about attitude.

Attitude and good beer.

E. J. Phair Brewing Co.
2151 Salvio St.
Concord, CA 94520
925-691-4253

Mike Pitsker is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and a longtime beer-industry professional.

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