New Year, New Digs
NEW YEAR, NEW DIGS
First Look at Almanac’s Alameda Barrel House, Brewery, and Taproom
Text and Photos by Ken Weaver
Almanac Beer Co.’s new brewing enclave in Alameda is officially open for business. And the company’s establishment of a brick-and-mortar home means lots of changes for Almanac in the Bay Area and beyond. Referred to internally as “Almanac 2.0,” the new Alameda spot is a fundamental shift away from the contract and partner-brewing arrangements that had served to produce Almanac beer for the preceding seven years. “It’s a lot of changes,” Almanac co-founder Jesse Friedman emphasized, providing a behind-the-scenes tour of the new facility.
“It’s such a completely new sort of expression of who we are as a brewery.”
Their new Alameda location occupies a 30,000-sf hangar that had originally been built by the U.S. Navy following Pearl Harbor, amidst the ramp-up to World War II. Visitors may notice the old-growth redwood trussing overhead, among other visual cues to the building’s earlier life. All of Almanac’s beer production is moving in-house, and the new taproom showcases thirty Almanac tap handles, as well as various bottled and canned releases. The taproom sits up to 120, while a wraparound beer garden offers additional space plus a slight view of the city.
“I probably proclaimed, when we started Almanac, that we’ll never make IPAs,” Friedman reflected. “Now I’m going to take you to try a beer called Double-Dry-Hop Galaxy Pants.”
I’ve kept up with Almanac since they were founded back in 2010. In The Northern California Craft Beer Guide [ed. — which Weaver wrote] my must-try pick back then for Almanac (the guide came out in 2012...) was the Autumn 2011 Farmhouse Pale, made with San Joaquin Valley plums. I’ve always known and thought of Almanac, first and foremost, for their expressive fruit character. So, yeah. It does feel a little weird to be sipping an Almanac beer called Double-Dry-Hop Galaxy Pants.
But, it also feels a lot more approachable. There is a world of difference between that feel of one of Almanac’s old corked-and-caged 750mL bottles and, for instance, their latest drop of a canned hazy IPA in four-packs. It’s like the differences between buying an Almanac bottle on the shelf versus being able to drink Almanac beer at the source: they’re different experiences. And that’s part of the point. The core realities of contract and partner brewing, while allowing a fledgling brewery to avoid massive overhead equipment and facility costs (a huge early plus, for sure), can limit one’s abilities to do special releases, or capitalize on one’s strengths down the road. “There are things you just can’t do, especially on the specialty side, with that. This is going to give us a significantly deeper level of control and ability to make really world-class beers, as well as serve them directly to people at the place they’re brewed.”
Pretty much all of Almanac’s operations aside from their San Francisco taproom will end up coming together under this roof. “The irony is, this lets me be way more hands-on with the beer than I was in the past,” noted Friedman. “I get way more unfiltered access to the brew team. Everyone that touches the beer works directly for me and [co-founder Damian Fagan] now, as opposed to working for an outside company.” The new facility, if the ‘Barrel House’ part didn’t make clear, makes a huge commitment to refining Almanac’s sour-beer methods, with dedicated stainless steel and room for 4,000 oak barrels, as well as massive oak foeders.
“This brewery’s built to make sour beer.”
“We have a really strong base of what we think of as the Almanac house style, which is food-friendly, balanced acidity with Brett funk, with strong fruit profiles,” noted Friedman. “And we just want to keep growing that, and making better and better beer.” The foeders (like oak barrels, but way bigger) generally resist temperature shifts better than small barrels and afford more fermentation controls. Almanac’s foeder capacity will be enough for about 1,000 kegs.
For good measure: There’s also Admiral Maltings right next door. Like, literally right there.
Almanac sources its ingredients from California wherever possible, and having a brand-new malting facility nearby certainly helps. Admiral Maltings focuses on floor-malted, small-batch malt made from California-grown barley. Almanac’s very first brew in the new facility — New Taproom Smell IPA (packed with Citra, Mosaic and Motueka hops) — used Admiral Maltings products for 95 percent of its grain bill. In addition to saving on shipping costs, the convenience is compelling. “We can literally walk next door and say, ‘Hey neighbor, can we borrow a cup of sugar? And by cup of sugar, I mean this pallet.’ And we just drive the forklift over.”
Near-term, Bay-Area consumers can look forward to significantly more local availability, as well as more specialty drafts and one-off projects from Almanac, heading to both taprooms as well as local distribution. Fresh Almanac IPAs will be an emphasis. Foeders will soon be filled. And, while Friedman emphasized their facility was still just coming online and by no means fully operational, that Almanac-2.0 landscape is already inevitably here. Friedman, Fagan, and the rest of the growing Almanac team have positioned themselves, with a major infrastructure investment, to significantly enhance their central strengths, while also allowing them to accommodate what beer consumers happen to be looking for right now. Friedman likened the framework, give or take, to artistic indulgences tempered by audience feedback.
“It’s a dialogue,” Friedman put it. “And so it keeps evolving.” ABV
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Almanac’s Alameda Barrel House, Brewery, and Taproom
651B W Tower Ave, Alameda