I drove to Berkeley last week to attend a pre-opening event at the Torpedo Room, the new taproom/pub owned and operated by Sierra Nevada. It opened officially Tuesday.
I did so because I thinks it’s always instructive to see how a world-class company does things.
The Torpedo Room is at the corner of Fourth and Addison streets in West Berkeley and is easily accessible from Interstate 80. When I arrived, the place was packed (Sierra Nevada had invited neighborhood business owners to drop by for a tasting), but the vibe was nice and relaxed.
While I was tasting my flight of four beers, including a terrifically complex barrel-aged Torpedo Extra IPA (aged in rye whiskey barrels with Citra hops tossed into the equation), I noticed some random guy doing last-minute repair work on the super high-tech growler filling machine. Was this technician from a local shop answering a call? Some jack-of-all-trades who just happened to be there?
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Turns out it was Ken Grossman, the legendary founder of Sierra Nevada, who had been greeting guests and working the room.
As many of you already know, one of the cool things about craft beer is that the people who run the breweries and brew the beer are still very accessible. And that includes one of the big dogs of the industry. No entourage. No body guards. No attitude.
I chatted with Grossman for a few minutes about the Torpedo Room, Sierra Nevada’s new brewery in Asheville, N.C., and the changing palate of the American craft beer consumer.
On opening a taproom in Berkeley: “This part of the Bay Area was where we first started distributing beer almost 30 years ago. We wanted to reconnect and show some of the beers from Chico that don’t make it down here. We want to be part of the community and part of the scene down here.”
Little tweaks to that growler filling contraption: “I’m a mechanical guy. I built the original brewery by hand. I ordered that machine from Europe so I felt a little responsible to help them get it going.”
Surprise! They make more than a pale ale: “A lot of these beers have been available for quite a few years, but only in Chico. We do quite a few special beers that really don’t get widely distributed. We’ve expanded the barrel program. We built a whole new facility with almost 1,500 barrels.”
The evolution continues: “Craft beer has really exploded in a lot of different directions. When we started, our pale ale was considered an extreme hoppy beer. Today, it is sort of in the middle compared to 100 IBU beers like Hoptimum. The consumer is driving a lot of it and brewers are responding with a lot of variety and innovation.”
Look for more barrels and aging: “Aging beer in wood has been around for many, many years. But brewers today are putting a bit of a twist on it and reusing barrels that have had spirits in them and impart a lot of flavor. We’re doing wine barrel aging. We’re doing whiskey from Scotland. We’re doing bourbon. We’re doing tequila barrels. We’re doing a lot of different things.”
Test batches and tweaking in Asheville: “I was there today. We brewed four batches of beer today and we’re starting to work on flavor matching our pale ale with our Chico-brewed pale ale. When we get it right, we’ll start packaging the beer.”
A new Device
Closer to home, Device Brewing, founded by another Ken – Ken Anthony – is opening at 3 p.m. today. And like Sierra Nevada in Chico, it’s starting with modest goals. Ken and wife Melissa will be running the operation themselves. I’ve had their beer at The Shack and was impressed.
Device (8166 14th Ave., Sacramento) has four styles currently – a pale ale, a double IPA, triple IPA and a Russian imperial stout. If that sounds like some hefty alcohol by volumes, Ken Anthony is responding and hopes to have a new beer at about 5 percent ABV soon.
While Device has been brewing since September, the taproom has been a work in progress. Anthony wants the brewery, just off Power Inn Road near Highway 50, to be a neighborhood meeting spot. It’s in an industrial park but it’s not as unfinished as some, and there will be heat and air conditioning. Passione Pizza and its wood-burning oven will be at Friday’s opening.
If Device sounds familiar, you may have heard about its Kickstarter campaign. The Anthonys hoped to raise $25,000 to launch the business. Didn’t happen. They raised about $9,500, meaning Device didn’t get a dime (those are the rules). They went ahead with their plans anyway.
Best of luck to Device and its new taproom. We’ll be checking in periodically and hope to visit soon.