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Band of (Beer) Gypsies
Jordan Mackay | Photo: Hawk Krall | October 18, 2012
Some of the most exciting new beers are being produced by brewers with no permanent home.
The gypsies have arrived—gypsy brewers, that is, or brewers without a brewery to call their own. Instead, to make their delicious concoctions, they rent space in existing breweries. The proliferation of new brands these days is largely due to this rent-a-brewery system.
“I liken it to a pop-up restaurant,” says Jesse Friedman of Almanac Beer Co., which in a short time has sold wildly and garnered heaps of press and praise. Going the gypsy route “allowed us to launch with a much smaller capital investment.” Almanac—which made its name with stylish, wine bottle–size releases of handcrafted, limited production, seasonal brews—recently released two new year-round beers in the conventional 12-ounce-bottle format: a crisp extra-pale ale and a richer honey saison. Similarly, Dying Vines, which operates out of Linden Street Brewery in Oakland, is turning heads with its beautifully mellow English-style beers. Run by a foursome connected to Berkeley’s famous Oak Barrel home-brew shop, Dying Vines chooses not to bottle, delivering its beer fresh to taps throughout the Bay Area and beyond.
The path to gypsy brewing often emerges out of another phenomenon: nanobrewing—an expanded home-brew operation in which the brewers, usually unlicensed to sell, share their beer with friends and accept donations. That’s how Pacific Brewing Laboratory got started last year, and it has since migrated from a nanobrewery garage in SoMa to Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company in Belmont. The result of a partnership between a former bioengineer and a Washington lobbyist, Pac Brew Lab has made waves in the San Francisco beer scene with its impressive Squid Ink dark IPA and Nautilus hibiscus saison.
When will the gypsies find permanent homes? Maybe never. “This model works really well for us,” says Friedman. “We like the freedom it gives us.”