Some friends and I had a great time Saturday at Berryessa Brewing first anniversary bash. I caught up with Lori Niccolini, the co-owner and wife of brewmaster Chris Miller, to chat about the event and what the future might hold for this highly regarded new brewery.
Given Berryessa’s vaunted stature among regional craft breweries, it may be hard to believe they’ve only been producing beer for 12 months. That’s a credit to the quality and variety of beers Miller has produced and to laid-back family vibe at the brewery’s taproom, situated in the countryside just outside the charming town of Winters.
This was my third visit and it gets better each time. This event, of course, was a special occasion, so there were special arrangements for parking in a yard adjacent the brewery. One thing I didn’t notice right away but that began to sink in over the course of several hours — no security guards. In fact, there was no one telling anyone where to go and what to do. And guess what? Everyone behaved. The eclectic crowd was all about enjoying great beer, socializing and listening to good music.
Niccolini told me the brewery sold over 750 commemorative beer glasses and that well over 1,000 people attended throughout the course of the day.
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When I mentioned that lack of security (as a compliment), she replied, “That makes me so happy,” noting that the brewery’s largely daytime hours create a more relaxed and family-oriented atmosphere. To be sure, the scene here does not include a bunch of people getting drunk and acting rowdy.
After such a big first year, it may surprise you that Berryessa Brewing is not in a huge hurry to expand. Doing so would mean hiring more people, ramping up production and, if it’s not done with great care, perhaps losing touch with the common touch that makes craft beer so appealing.
“We’re just kind of going with the flow right now,” Niccolini told me. “We’re pretty much at maximum production (1,500 barrels per year).”
The brewery had already added two new tanks to keep up with demand, she added, but the next steps — bottling, canning, expanding into new markets — are not going to be rushed. Eventually, fans will want to find the beer at retail markets, but for now, they’ll have to be satisfied with visiting the taproom or, as I have on many occasions, come across it at local bars and restaurants.
Congratulations on such a successful first year. This is one of the breweries craft beer fans will be watching closely in the months and years to come.