What it Means to be a Community Brewery

pure order board

Recently, I had the opportunity to give a short speech at Blue Box 2015 — a conference hosted by First Beverage Group in Boulder, Colorado. It was a great opportunity to mingle with some movers and shakers in the beverage world, but I took it as a chance to talk about what it means to be part of a brewing community, and a collaborator within that community.

I believe video from that conference will be up soon, and I’ll post a link when that happens. But rather than laboring through a video of me nervously addressing strangers, you need look no further than one of our own local breweries to see what it means to be part of a brewing community.

Pure Order Brewing Company on 410 Quarantina Street is the epitome of the neighborhood brewery. They, along with Telegraph Brewing on Salsipuedes Street, are where the locals go for a drink when the crowds of visitors in the Funk Zone get a bit outside of comfort range. And for good reason — both breweries are making incredible beer.

Pure Order was recently among the winners at the Casa Pacifica in Ventura along with Institution Ales from Camarillo and The LAB in Agoura. While those other two are both great breweries, Pure Order was the only one in the winner list with a beer off its standard and regular production line — the Santa Barbara Pale. That beer will also be part of the upcoming Cost Plus World Market Summer Seasonal Variety Pack, which will be available nationwide. That’s a pretty big deal.

And yet, it’s Pure Order’s ability to keep things small and local that sets them apart. Recently, they’ve been helping me out by loaning their time, space and some equipment to help me brew 60 gallons of beer for a friend’s upcoming June wedding (and yes, full disclosure, this help is greatly appreciated and I’m sure impacts my favorable bias toward them. They also carry my book, We Make Beer, so I’m sure that doesn’t hurt either. I’m only human, but I like to believe that my opinions can remain relatively objective). This isn’t just because I write a beer column in the local newspaper or because I run this blog. James Burge and Pure Order are willing to help me out because I’m part of the local brewing community — the same way I’ve seen them help out home brewers who come in looking for advice and perhaps experience.

10 gallons of Strawberry Solstice, a collaboration beer I've brewed with Pure Order Brewing Company for an upcoming wedding.

10 gallons of Strawberry Solstice, a collaboration beer I’ve brewed with Pure Order Brewing Company for an upcoming wedding.

More and more often I hear locals tell me that Pure Order is their favorite brewery in town. I don’t think that’s a knock on any of the other breweries, as just about every brewery from Buellton to Carpinteria is producing high-quality beer right now (and one need look no further than the recent Dia de Los Obscuras to see how the beer community has embraced Telegraph). I think what that represents is how Pure Order has managed to capture Santa Barbara’s essence. Not just in the beer, but in the entire atmosphere provided at the brewery and its beer garden.

Beer isn’t just a business, at least it shouldn’t be. The best breweries aren’t just the ones pumping out the best liquid, they’re also the ones that represent and collaborate within the community (along those lines — there was a recent Instagram post from Kevin Ashford from Fig Mountain’s SB brewery showing a collaboration effort with Island Brewing’s Ryan Morrill, as well as both breweries’ brewing teams). Pure Order, certainly isn’t the only local brewery to embrace the community, but it’s embraced me, and I’m grateful.

edit: a previous version of this post misidentified Ryan Morrill as a brewer for Telegraph — he is the head brewer for Island Brewing in Carpinteria.

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We Make Beer signings at Firestone Walker Barrelworks, Pure Order and GABF

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I’m very happy to announce a bevvy of upcoming book signings and events for We Make Beer (pre-order now and get a sweet discount). So pause here and go get your pens to mark your calendar. I’ll wait.

Sept 20 — Firestone Walker Barrelworks Agrestic and Feral Vinifera Liberation

Agrestic 2014 Front label

Firestone Walker plays an important role in the stories I tell in We Make Beer, and barrelmeister Jeffers Richardson, as Firestone’s first brewer, lends his voice for the book to help tell that story. So it’s only appropriate that we have a table set up there where we can all sit around chat about the new batch of Agrestic.

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Sept. 27 — Pure Order Brewing Company

This event will serve as the official book release party for We Make Beer. You can pre-order a copy now and bring it with you to the party (although I can’t guarantee your copy will arrive in time), or purchase one of the copies for sale at the brewery. The good thing about buying a copy at the brewery is that you’ll get a free pint out of it. Pure Order has been killing it lately, and that free pint is going to be pretty nice.

The event runs from Noon-4 p.m., with the book signing beginning at 2 p.m., and should be a rocking good time regardless of whether you buy a book or not (but please do). It will make a nice alternative to those who can’t make it up to Buellton for the Figtoberfest… although in theory one could get away with doing both!

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Oct. 2 and Oct. 4 — Great American Beer Festival Beer Enthusiast Bookstore

For everyone going to GABF this year, you can catch me at the bookstore on Thursday the second from 8:30-9 p.m. and on Saturday the fourth from 6-6:30 p.m.

There are a few other events in the works as well. For instance, I’ll be at the Wisconsin Book Festival on Oct. 17 speaking at the Great Dane Pub, and there are some signings being discussed in Buellton and Solvang. More details on those when they’re available.

Santa Barbara Deserves a Beer Week

Note: This column originally appeared in the April 3 edition of the Santa Barbara News-Press. Stay tuned to this space for more information about Santa Barbara Beer Week in July.

There have been few beers that I’ve looked forward to this year as much as Telegraph Brewing’s Obscura Peche. The peach sour ale has all the potential of being yet another great hit from brewer Paul Rey, and is due to be released soon.

The sad thing is, if we lived in Sacramento, we might have already tasted it.

Telegraph debuted the beer in early March for Sacramento Beer Week — a weeklong celebration of beer in the California capitol.

This is not to accuse Telegraph of abandoning its local market, as the Santa Barbara brewery is working to ensure a smooth release of the sour ale in bottles and on tap in its tasting room for the local community. Rather, this is an example of what Santa Barbara is missing without its own beer week.

The concept is simple — one calendar week dedicated to the promotion and celebration of beer. Breweries, bars and restaurants work together to host tap-takeovers, beer dinners and other sorts of beer-centric events.

I’m proud to say that we will soon have its own beer week, as fellow Santa Barbara beer columnist Zach Rosen (SB Sentinel) and myself are working together to organize the local beer community. The project is still a fledgling, but as it grows its wings Zach and I will fill in the details here in this space as well as others.

But this project, still in the conceptual phase, is not without its detractors.

I was chatting with a well-respected brewer friend of mine, and he told me that Santa Barbara’s beer wasn’t good enough for a beer week. He said that the consumers weren’t ready for one either.

Frankly, I had to disagree with him on both counts.

I look at the crisp and brilliant lagers brewed by Kevin Pratt Santa Barbara Brewing Company, and I see excellence. I see the same high-quality brewing at Hollister Brewing Company, where brewer Eric Rose showcases hops in a masterful way. I look at Telegraph, and I see truly fascinating and unique wild ales rivaled only by those being produced at Firestone Walker Barrelworks in Buellton, where it must be said the production budget is much larger than Telegraph’s.

I see the popularity of the Figueroa Mountain tasting room in the Funk Zone, and I know that crowds of locals and tourists are there for the wide variety and often extremely interesting beer produced by A.J. Stoll and his team of brewers. I look at the laid-back Island Brewing Company in Carpinteria, and I find great joy in pints of Jubilee Ale and Starry Night Stout.

It is still too early to assign any sort of judgment on the newest entry to Santa Barbara, Pure Order Brewing Company, but the early product has been impressive.

Add in local beer bars like Eureka!, American Ale and Brat Haus, as well as restaurants that showcase great beer like Pace Food + Drink, Olio E Limone and the Wine Cask (among many others), and Santa Barbara is rife with great options for beer.

As for the consumer, it’s likely true that wine has long been king in Santa Barbara.

But beer has always been a more plebian drink than wine, and Santa Barbarans are quickly recognizing its appeal. When I see crowds of people lined up outside of Figueroa Mountain’s tasting room, or even more crowding Barrelworks for a release of special beer I can’t help but assume that the Santa Barbara consumer is quickly learning to appreciate the value of beer.

The same is true at places like Santa Barbara Brewing Co., where baseball fans pack the lounge for games and choose locally-produced beer over the cheaper bottles of Bud Light.

And if the consumer truly doesn’t appreciate beer yet in Santa Barbara, then what better way to introduce them to everything the area has to offer than with a full week dedicated to the brew.

The brewing and beer community in Santa Barbara is young and relatively immature compared to places like San Diego, San Francisco and Portland. We are only now starting to realize the kinds of treasures we have in the local fermentors around the county.

But what we do recognize is that beer is good — and Santa Barbara beer is constantly getting better and more innovative.

I think it’s time to celebrate what we have.

Iron Horse

Note: This profile originally appeared in issue 67 of BeerAdvocate Magazine

 

What do you know about the beer business? How familiar are you with things like three-tier distribution systems; local, state, and federal excise taxes; and the Tax and Trade Bureau’s regulations regarding beer labels?

If these terms and concepts come up in your barstool bull sessions, then you probably already know a hell of a lot more about the industry than Greg Parker, his father Gary, and Ross Chalstrom did when they took over Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg, Washington.

All Greg Parker knew was that he liked beer.

 

Fragile Foundations

The Parkers, who are co-owners of Iron Horse with Chalstrom recently becoming an equity partner although he has been a part of the team since the start, did not take the traditional route toward brewery ownership. Even for similarly inexperienced industry newcomers, the process of opening a brewery or a brewpub is lengthy and informative. Neophytes develop relationships with distributors, equipment manufacturers, and the government as they maneuver through the intricacies of getting started. Many more seek out other brewers as consultants or tour other breweries in the area to get a sense of what is required.

Instead of going through those formative steps, Greg Parker went straight into business by purchasing an already operational location. He was working at a deli counter in Montana and mulling a return to college when he came across a notice for a brewery for sale.

“At the time I was making beer in my garage in Montana, and saw that the brewery came for sale,” Parker said. “I was able to talk my dad into helping my buy a brewery, even though neither for us had any commercial brewing experience.”

The brewery was a small operation called Iron Horse that was owned and founded by Jim Quilter in the summer of 2004.

“He liked the beer, but he didn’t wasn’t big into selling beer,” Parker said of Quilter. “He kind of hung out and waited for people to show up and not enough showed up for him.”

The Parkers came in and took over management of Iron Horse in March of 2007. By July of the same year, they were the outright owners. Greg was going to lead the day-to-day operations charge, but they brought in Chalstron, a college friend of Greg’s, to manage sales – despite the fact that he had as much experience in sales as he did in the beer industry, which was none.

“It was kind of random. We had been friends for a long time and after him getting married and moving to Montana we didn’t talk that much,” Chalstron said. “I helped him move (back to Washington) when I was trying to get into a graduate program because I was trying to be a professor. I helped him move and he told me what he was doing. At that point I liked craft beer and stuff, but for the most part I was a neophyte… About the time I met up with Greg and all that stuff at least I was aware of it. I look back and think of how little I knew.

“I think for me it was a little different just because I focus mostly on sales. I brewed a little bit, but if I was brewing our beer we’d never sell any beer. The learning curve for me was more that I had never really sold anything. I tried to understand what is it about craft beer that makes it unique, and what’s a good way to go about it. The learning curve was more watching other people who had done a good job and how they did it.”

 

Unique Experience

According to Parker, the move to Washington and the financial hardships that followed nearly split him from his wife, Natalia, who was eight months pregnant with their second child at the time.

“Apparently she’s got as bad of judgment as I do,” Parker said with a laugh. “I think probably she’s a selfless person and realized I had a job I didn’t like and I had identified a career path that was of interest to me. Even though it wasn’t good timing or necessarily a guaranteed path to success, she wanted me to pursue it.”

The couple stuck it out, and so did the business. When Parker took over in 2007, Iron Horse produced about 500 bbl per year. Now, it makes more than that in a month. Although he acknowledged things would have been easier had he entered the business with more experience in the industry, he credits his and Chalstrom’s inexperience and fresh perspective as crucial to the growth and success.

“We stumbled through the logistical side of it, the distributor relationships and behind-the scenes stuff,” Parker said. “We fumbled more than we scored. But I think the things we did right was we were able to bring fresh sets of perspectives to the business. Rather than coming from inside and wanting to do things the established way, we didn’t know what it was, so we just did it our way.

“I think that really made the difference because we took beers to market that didn’t have styles, didn’t meet expectations and were kind of their own thing. It allowed us to create a signature. We recognized that as our greatest strength in that we didn’t know what we were doing. You have to learn something unless you want to keep suffering, but we try to ignore as much as we can about the industry and continue to put our take on it rather than the industry take.”

The same went for Chalstrom, who was trying to introduce himself to the community while learning the ins and outs of salesmanship.

“It’s changed now, there’s more of a kind of a developed idea of how you sell beer and how you market it,” Chalstrom said. “I remember when we started, not many breweries had sales reps. I think by getting out there, a lot more people understood that we were young and we were unpolished and a little different. That gave us some uniqueness a little in the beginning.”

 

Rules? What Rules?

If you want to taste a refined Czech Pilsner, or a superb English Porter, then Iron Horse Brewery is not for you.

“We don’t try to hit styles necessarily,” head brewer Tyson Read said. “We try to do things that are a little different that don’t quite get a category.”

That unique approach includes is perhaps best typified by Iron Horse’s top-selling beer: a tribute to the brewery’s founder, Quilter’s Irish Death. Not quite a porter, not quite a stout, the beer defies classification.

“It’s kind of an anomaly beer,” Read said. “It doesn’t really fit anywhere. It’s got some of everything in it. Low hoppiness, dark in color. A lot of people like it, especially people who are new to craft beer. Even though it’s dark they generally like it probably because it’s fairly sweet, and low in hoppiness and alcohol – so it’s fairly drinkable for everybody.”

That isn’t to say that Iron Horse doesn’t make recognizable beers – they brew their versions of IPA, Cream Stout, Pale Ale, and so on. And Read, who unlike his employers was trained in brewing at UC Davis and was no stranger to the industry when he became the head brewer at Iron Horse in 2010, executes these beers well. Still, with Parker at the helm, Read is able to experiment and stretch the limits of what styles should look like.

That’s just the way they do things at Iron Horse. Don’t blame them though, they don’t know any better.

 

Sean Lewis is a freelance journalist, a home brewer, and is currently working on his first book for St. Martin’s Press.

Bridge Brew Works

Note: This profile originally appeared in Issue 56 of Beer Advocate Magazine

 

Collaboration is not a trend amongst craft brewers, it is much more integral than that. There is no #collaboration hashtag floating around the twittersphere that a handful of breweries saw and thought it might be fun to try working with another brewery to come up with something neat.

Just as the labels creativity and craftsmanship have become synonymous with the better breweries around the country, so too has collaboration. At breweries like Bridge Brew Works in Fayetteville, West Virginia, collaboration between co-owners and brewers Ken Linch and Nathan Herrold is the norm.

 

Community Collaborators

While Linch and Herrold worked together to develop Bridge Brew Works’ portfolio (see sidebar), the brewing duo wouldn’t be real collaborators unless they brought in different brewers to come up with something unique. There is just one problem—there aren’t too many breweries near Fayetteville. Of course, that’s exactly why BBW was founded in the first place.

“If you look at the state and where breweries are located, there’s nothing around us in West Virginia,” Linch said. “We figured we’ve got good tourism here and people from out of state, a lot of them, have their own local brew pubs and breweries. When you’re traveling you like to try out the local beers, at least I do, and we felt that this area… had a pretty good opening for a small brewery.”

One of BBW’s first customers was a local restaurant, Pies and Pints, that specialized in gourmet pizza and craft beer. The restaurant’s owners were stoked to see a new brewery launching close by, and put them on tap quickly. When those same owners mentioned an interest in brewing their own beer, Linch and Herrold were happy to welcome owner Dave Bailey and employee Ryan Heastings in to collaborate on a brew.

The result was a hoppy pale ale, a certain departure from Linch and Herrold’s more balanced and malt-forward approach, and BBW’s first seasonal. Part of the project is to have fun and to brew interesting beer, but from a business standpoint Linch sees the collaboration as an opportunity to work with BBW’s customers at an intimate level.

“There is a certain amount of wanting to do business with the locals as much as we can. We do enlist the restaurants that buy our beer,” Linch said. “We do try to go around and do a little video or take a picture of us at their establishment and help them with their sales. We try to be active on Facebook and try to pump them up as much as we can. I think they appreciate that – it’s a hands-on approach that they certainly don’t get from the macro brewers and distributors. I think that’s a value added that we can offer.”

Linch and Herrold recently collaborated with West Virginia BJCP beer judge and home brewer Rich Ireland on a Kolsh. Brewed with German malts and noble hops, Ireland developed the recipe during one of his many trips to Bavaria.

 

Two-Headed Beast

Linch and Herrold’s daily operation is an exercise in collaboration. The duo officially started pumping out beer in January of 2010, the two have been discovering their own niche within the company since.

“It’s a joint effort,” Linch said. “We work, maybe that’s surprising to people that we work really closely together on both aspects. My background is in engineering and Nate (Herrold)’s background is in business management. His father ran a business, and so far it’s been a pretty good match. I’ve had plenty to learn from him on brewing on the big-boy scale, and there’s a lot—anything that requires math skills and some other computer skills or whatever that I can pick up the slack there.”

Although both are longtime home brewers, Herrold, the younger of the two at 37 to Linch’s 50, brings the professional brewing experience to the group. He got his start at a brew pub in Morgantown, West Virginia called West Virginia Brewing Company, which has since switched owners and names. But Herrold also brings in the bold personality that served him well as a white-water river guide on the nearby New River Gorge (the brewery takes its name from the iconic New River Gorge Bridge).

“I’ve met a lot of the owners of local business around here, but I think it also helps when we have the opportunity to go to shows and kind of market your product,” Herrold said about the personality quirks that go along with somebody who spends his summers guiding tourists through rapids and on fishing trips. “I think it kind of helps in the personality aspect in order to sell your product. When you’ve got to cold-call somebody on the phone or you go to a potential account, I think that has given me, with having experience in that realm, it’s given me a lot of confidence to do that.”

Linch and Herrold have found a way to effectively blend their unique skill sets and personalities to the point where brew days have become a quiet affair that hardly requires any back-and-forth between the brewers as they perform their roles in a monastic manner of quiet collaboration—and this harmony is on full display in the beer.

 

Brewed to Style

So many new brewers boast that their beers do not fit comfortably into style guidelines. This attribute of craft brewers seems to represent a sentiment that since the brewer is already bucking conventional beer (what Light American Adjunct Lagers became in this country), he or she may as well buck all convention and brew truly unique and expressive beer.

That approach does not sit well with Linch.

“There’s 300 or so recognized styles of beer around the world,” Linch said. “In this area and I think its similar around the country – there’s some small breweries or brew pubs that are putting out beers that they don’t necessarily classify into a style. I loosely consider that beer to be hippie beer.

“To me, that’s a slap in the face to brewers and recognized styles. That’s not to say we won’t put something out that is in between styles, but we feel there’s enough known styles out there that we don’t need to hide behind anything. If you use the best ingredients and make an honest product then you can stand behind that.”

For that reason, BBW’s two flagship beers, available only on draft, focus on using traditional ingredients to brew traditional beers. Linch describes the Long Point Lager as a Dortmunder. It is brewed with German malt and Noble hops in the late additions. Bridge Brew Ale is an ESB brewed with Scottish malt and English hops for flavor and aroma.

“We definitely try to make strides in those directions,” Linch said. “Like I said, they’re recognized styles and we feel that especially just starting out that we kind of need to prove that we can brew a beer to style. Maybe later on if we want to do something more creative people will follow along a little better than if you start off brewing with, I don’t know, raisins and crazy stuff.”

Linch and Herrold do step out from the style guidelines a bit with their latest beer, which was still pending label approval at the time of this writing, dubbed Trubbel. At 11% ABV and fermented with a Beligian yeast strain, it comes off like a Quad, except it is pale. Linch calls it a Strong Blonde, and it is one of a handful of higher-gravity beers brewed by BBW that finds its way into 750-ml bottles.

With quality beer focused on traditional values, Linch and Herrold are banking on the fact that trends will pass, but great beers live on.

 

Sean Lewis is a freelance writer and home brewer. He is currently working on his first book.