Today is the 44th birthday of Derek Smith, who is the brewmaster at Moylan’s Brewing in Novato, California. When I first met Derek he was brewing at Black Diamond Brewing, but in 2013, he started brewing at Moylan’s, and he’s been doing great things there ever since. Join me in wishing Derek a very happy birthday.
Today is the 74th birthday of Jack McAuliffe, the father of the modern microbrewery. Jack incorporated his New Albion Brewery in October of 1976, and began producing beer the following year from his tiny brewery in Sonoma, California. His 1-barrel system suggests he may also have been the first nanobrewery, as well. I finally got a chance to meet Jack when he was San Francisco for CBC several years ago, and was privileged to spend some time with him the week after CBC when Jack visited Russian River Brewery and then the next day he graciously showed us the original site of his New Albion Brewery. I’ve since been fortunate to spend time with Jack on several more occasions, and it’s always a treat. Join me in wishing Jack a very happy birthday.
Pabst announced today that they’re re-introducing Lucky Lager in the Bay Area. The iconic local beer has been absent from store shelves for four decades, but I’m pretty sure it was still around when I moved here in 1985. By then, according to Wikipedia, beginning in “July 1985, the Olympia Brewing Company in Tumwater, WA began to produce Lucky Lager in the US. In July 2003, this brewery was also closed. Lucky Lager continued to be sold in its original Northern California range at Lucky Stores supermarkets, which although not affiliated, sold Lucky Lager as an unofficial value store brand, until Lucky Stores supermarkets were bought out by Albertson’s and the name of the supermarkets was changed around 2000.”
But as long as I’ve been here, people have been waxing nostalgic about the brand. Apparently, it saw a lot of Bay Area folks through college and their lean years, as an affordable beer brand. And now, they’re bringing it back, albeit without the iconic label and a reimagined modern take on the packaging. I feel like appealing to the nostalgia for the brand — something Pabst knows a thing or two about — would have been a better idea, although only time will tell. On the plus side, it’s being brewed under contract by the 21st Amendment Brewery in San Leandro. When I spoke to co-owner Shaun O’Sullivan, he told me it was under arrangement with Pabst to brew and can the beer for them. At 4.2% it could be a good session lager, something that could definitely be useful. I’m actually looking forward to tasting it, and part of that has to do with 21st Amendment’s involvement.
Here’s the press release from Pabst:
The Gold Rush and Tech Boom are iconic examples of the good fortune emanating from the Bay Area. San Francisco attracts visionaries and entrepreneurs willing to put in the sweat equity to make their dreams a reality. For most of the last century, Lucky Lager was the Bay Area’s beer of choice after a long day. Now, this Bay Area classic has been reimagined as a premium lager to inspire a new generation working tirelessly to turn dreams into reality.
Founded on the heels of prohibition, Lucky Lager became synonymous with the city of San Francisco and a favorite of the diverse cultures that call it home. In an effort to revive Lucky and restore its local roots, Pabst tapped San Leandro-based 21 st Amendment for help with brewing and canning, and San Francisco-based design agency Hatch to helm the redesign. “San Francisco is a town where anyone with a persevering mindset and dedicated spirit can get ‘lucky’ and strike it big,” said Matt Bruhn, General Manger at Pabst. “We want Lucky Lager to be your reward for a hard day’s work.”
San Francisco-based design agency Hatch created the new Lucky Lager can, a modern interpretation of the iconic original. Six packs present “Lucky” in one of five local languages heard every day on the streets of San Francisco, including English, Chinese, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese. This new design concept is an initial nod to the area’s rich cultural diversity and a subtle reminder that luck is a universal phenomenon. “Lucky represents sketch dreams and napkin schemes; it’s a beer meant to celebrate both the wins and failures that pave the road to success,” said Nicole Flores, Creative Director at Hatch.
“Born in San Francisco, Lucky Lager is infused with the same drive, where “X” marks the spot for determination, imagination and desire that make the Bay Area so alluring. Such qualities are inherent to the beer and to those in the Bay who drink it.”
A unique, unfiltered lager that pours with a pale straw color and a clean white head, Lucky Lager introduces itself with the aroma of sweet corn, toasted bread and light notes of citrus fruits from delicate hops. At 4.2% ABV, Lucky welcomes you with notes of light malt, floral earthy hops, and slight honey, with a creamy and satisfying carbonation. It finishes crisp with a pleasant linger, proving that being Lucky is refreshing.
Lucky Lager is exclusively available throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. For more information on distribution and our story, please visit luckylagersf.com.
Today is iconoclastic brewer Brian Hunt’s 62nd birthday. Brian owns and operates Moonlight Brewing in Sonoma County, California, as almost a one-man show. If you’ve never had his “Death and Taxes,” “Twist of Fate Bitter,” “Bombay by Boat,” or his fresh hop ale, alternately called “Homegrown” or “Greenbud Ale,” then you’re really missing out on some of the most unique and wonderful beers around. Plus, Brian is one of the nicest curmudgeons you’ll ever meet, and one of my favorite people anywhere. Join me in wishing Brian a very happy birthday.
Brian in his hopyard, with Russian River’s old assistant brewer Travis (who opened his own place, Societe Brewing), and Vinnie Cilurzo.
Today is the 53rd birthday of Michael Demers, brewmaster of Discretion Brewing in Soquel, which is near Santa Cruz. Michael’s been brewing most of his adult life, and originally started at some Colorado brewpubs before working at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in Fort Collins. More recently, he moved closer to home to brew at Boulder Creek Brewing, and in 2012 made it back to his home town of Soquel to help open Discretion. He’s making some great beers at Discretion, and winning awards for his efforts. Join me in wishing Michael a very happy birthday.
Today is Christian Kazakoff’s 48th birthday. Until recently, Christian was the head brewer at Iron Springs Pub & Brewery in Fairfax, California, and before that brewed at Triple Rock. He’s now in the process of opening his own brewery in Moraga, Canyon Club Brewery. I first got to know Christian when we shared a room for a week in London several years ago to attend the Old Ale Festival at the White Horse on Parson’s Green. Besides being a terrific person, he is also a stellar brewer. Join me in wishing Christian a very happy birthday.
Today was the 22nd annual IPA Festival and the 2nd annual Hazy IPA Festival at the Bistro. The weather cooperated and it ended up being a sunny day in Hayward, making it was perfect beer-drinking weather once we emerged from judging in the basement. This year the judging was split into two groups, regular clear IPAs
- 1st Place: Central Coast Lucky Day IPA
- 2nd Place: Revision IPA
- 3rd Place: Urban Roots Like Riding a Bike IPA
- 1st Place: Lead Dog Saturdays are for Brews IPA
- 2nd Place: Fieldwork Dancing in the Dank IPA
- 3rd Place: Cellarmaker Cantaloupe Island IPA
Peoples Choice Awards
- People’s Choice Award — Traditional IPA: Altamont Mau Waui
- People’s Choice Award — Hazy IPA: Urban Roots Lapse of Judgement
Congratulations to all the winners.
Lagunitas Brewing Co. was one of the first breweries that I got to know well, shortly after becoming the beer buyer for the chain store Beverages & more in 1996. Ron Lindenbusch, who’s still at the company, was one of their earliest employees and he called on me at BevMo, inviting me to come for a visit to the brewery, I think in Forest Knolls. This was before their present location in Petaluma, but after they stopped making beer in founder Tony Magee’s kitchen, so brewery number 2, I suppose. Somewhere, I have photos from that visit. That’s where I first met Tony, and he’s been one of my favorite people ever since. I like that he says what he’s thinking, unvarnished, even though that’s ruffled some feathers more than a few times. But he’s also one of the most fascinating people to spend any time
A few years ago, in 2012 I believe, Beer Connoisseur magazine asked me to write a profile of Tony for their Innovator’s Series. So I met him for lunch at a bar that he chose near the brewery and we ended up talking on a myriad of subjects for nearly three hours. Between that, other research and what I knew about Magee and his brewery already, I wrote a 3,500-word profile which I was quite happy with. During our conversation, he told me the story of how Lagunitas IPA came to be, and how he deliberately set about to make it his brewery’s flagship beer, and more importantly, to essentially “own the category” after a fashion. A few sentences of that made it into the final article, but because the focus was on his entire career, it was brief. Luckily, I have our whole conversation on tape, so I went back to listen to it again, or at least the relevant parts where he was explaining his rationale for making his now-iconic flagship IPA.
While the article itself began, “We were somewhere around Petaluma on the edge of Sonoma when the beer began to take hold,” the interview was far less dramatic. We took a seat at a table, ordered a pair of Lagunitas IPA pints, and looked over the menus. We chatting amiably, catching up, and then I started asking questions. And this is a little background from that.
Tony Magee’s first successful homebrew effort was a pale ale, brewed with Chico yeast, which he heard was originally acquired from Ballantine, one of the few breweries still making an ale before the microbrewery revolution. He rented some space down the street from his kitchen brewery, and Lagunitas Brewery was born.
Ron Lindenbusch, who in the early 1990s worked for distributors, stopped by the brewery and was immediately hooked, becoming something like employee number four or five, but apart from Tony and his wife Carissa Brader, is the oldest Lagunitas employee, followed closely behind by Robin McClain, who today is the controller.
At around an hour and forty minutes into lunch, our conversation turned to Lagunitas IPA. Not long after moving to the second brewery, they outgrew the space again in
When we moved to Petaluma, I realized we were going to have to start growing pretty quickly, because costs went up. So I figured we had to bottle. From the moment we released the pale ale, the market was starting to move with our product, I saw this path forward with the IPA. I realized then — this is 1995 — that IPA was the future of the craft category. It was the highest mark on the tree. So we would just aim for that.
Nevada made Sierra ale. I didn’t want to compete with a pale Nevada, it would have seemed like bad behavior anyway, and I was selling [Dogtown Pale Ale] because I knew that there were some customers that would be willing to trade over some number, low-hanging fruit. But it wasn’t to try to prey on their business. Even so, I couldn’t have gotten a tap handle if I wanted it. Sierra
But then something happened. There was a restaurant in Sausalito (in Marin County) called Margaritaville (which is no longer in business). And for some reason, they got into an argument with one of their distributors, who at that time was Mesa Distributing. And as a result, they pulled Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from the place, even though as far as I know it wasn’t Sierra Nevada’s doing, and replaced it with Lagunitas Dogtown Ale.
Immediately, Margaritaville started going through five kegs of Dogtown Pale Ale a week, which was unheard of for it at the time. Tony thought, “this is not because of my beer,” and went there to investigate. So he sat at a table and just observed people ordering from the bar, and what he found was that people were not coming in and ordering a Sierra Nevada, or even a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. What they were ordering was a pale ale. And it didn’t really matter if it was Dogtown Pale Ale or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I should qualify that. I’m sure it mattered to
And that was a revelation to Magee, who figured he couldn’t really compete with that, and concluded he had to figure out another way. Here was his thought process.
So I realized that was a bad way to go. That was a path without a heart, to try to prey on somebody else’s business. So I thought, you always want to be selling up, so I thought, what’s a premium pale ale? Well, an IPA. I looked around. There was
BridgePort, but they were hardly down here [in the Bay Area]. There was Anderson Valley making their 100-IBU IPA [Hop Ottin’]. So I just realized there was an opportunity to move through that space — an open field run — and gain a foothold in the market. That otherswould have to sell around us,when they came to the market. And it worked out that way. The packaging I did with the IPA as bold as I did because I realized in that pale ale moment that SierraNevada brewed pale ale as a brand, while we could only brew it as a style. And so when I did IPA, I wanted to try to brand IPA in whatever way I could, given our limited resources. So that is why the packing looks like it does. [On the label], Lagunitas is actually smaller than IPA. And so it worked out, at least around here. In some circles, there’s a number of IPAs that are in people’s minds. And we’re one of them. If a guy likes drinking in a little sphere of IPA, we’re probably somewhere hovering in an orbit around that idea.
And it does appear that having a label that emphasized “IPA” over anything else did help people associate IPA with Lagunitas. It definitely became a huge brand here in the Bay Area and fueled their growth into numerous other states. And that was true for quite some time, at least until IPAs became ubiquitous in the mid-2000s or so. Opening other markets undoubtedly kept sales robust nationally, but eventually the market became fairly saturated with hoppy beers. And that may have helped Lagunitas for a time, as Magee explains.
I didn’t realize everybody would be pressing so hard on the IPA category. This felt like a secret thing, but I realized when I made a pale ale, people might drink my pale ale, but what they would be doing all the time in their minds was comparing it to the one they knew and loved so in a way it was an uneven contest where I was helping to promote
SierraNevada because the comparison would not always be favorable. Alright, so I like SierraNevada. They make such a beautiful beer that so consistent, so elegant. So I realized that if other brewers made a pale ale they’d promote SierraNevada. So my hope was that if we could be successfulestablishing our terroir around the IPA that as other brewers inevitably made IPAs it would help us out. I think it’s true, I think it’s working.
The idea wasn’t to find a way to capitalize on other people’s efforts, but I was trying to find a way to live with what I could see coming, and I saw everybody making IPAs down the road. And so when they did I wanted to be sure that at least it carried us up. So we’ve been very diligent over the years about making sure that IPA maintains about 60% of
volumeof the beer we make. So all these other things we do are our pilot lights and they push the brand up and keep it exciting and interesting, and who knows, it could be that Little Sumpin’ or DayTime will overtake the IPA at some point. So we’ll continue to make the IPA in the way that Miller kept making Miller at the same time they were selling a lot of Miller Lite. Branding is as much a chess game as it is anything else. You have to try to think three or four moves out, because somebody else probably is, as well.
I think the larger takeaway is that this is a case where a brewery had a definite plan to create a flagship beer for themselves, and which they executed quite successfully for a number of years. While there were, and are, countless other IPAs being brewed, Lagunitas did manage to become one of the most popular IPAs in their home market, as well as several others. And frankly, I hadn’t had one in some time before this February, when I managed to enjoy several throughout #FlashipFebruary. And I have to say, it’s still one damn fine beer.
Today would have been Bill Brand’s 81st birthday, if not for the tragic events of February 8, 2009. Bill, of course, was hit by a Muni Train that evening and passed away twelve days later, on February 20. He was a bastion of support for the local beer community for decades, and one of it’s most visible media faces. He did a staggering amount of good to help brewers throughout the Bay Area, and wrote about the beer he loved so much with an unmatched passion and zeal. His Bottoms Up blog was read by millions, the newest form of his What’s On Tap newsletter that stretched back into the early 1990s. It was my great honor to take over his column and try to continue his legacy of support for craft brewers in the Bay Area and beyond. Drink a toast to the memory and legacy of William “Bill” Brand today. Happy birthday Bill, you are most certainly missed.
Today is the 51st birthday of Jason Chavez, who was the brewmaster at Seabright Brewery in Santa Cruz for a number of years. Chavez started homebrewing while still in high school on his family’s kitchen stove. He’s a graduate of the American Brewers Guild, and had been brewing at Seabright since 1999. I believe I first met Jason many years ago at the Rock Bottom in Denver during a GABF week, but I still run into him occasionally at events. Seabright celebrated their 25th anniversary two years ago, when I spent the day at the brewery to do a story on their silver anniversary. But last year, he made a big change, moving closer to home to take over the Kelsey Creek Brewing Co. in Kelseyville. I still haven’t made up to see the brewery since he took over the reigns, but hopefully one day soon. Join me in wishing Jason a very happy birthday.
Here’s a great shot by Dan Coyro, from an article in Santa Cruz Sentinnel.
Jason, in the center, surrounded by Seabright folks at the 10th annual Stumptown Russian River Revival and BBQ Cook-Off.
Jason, again in the center, at GABF (Note: last two photos purloined from Seabright’s website).