Ask Alfred Lee who brews all 110 beers at his Auburn pub, and he’ll tell you about the oompa loompas – little orange men with green hair boiling malt and hops, dragging kegs around and getting tangled in hoses.
It almost sounds plausible, considering Lee’s incredible true-life story, which includes emigrating from Cuba, becoming a multimillionaire and now – potentially – setting a world-record as a microbrewer.
Stop by his Power Club Brewery in downtown Auburn and he’ll introduce you to TapZilla, his patent-pending dispenser with 110 taps. And those taps pour 110 beers, all brewed by Lee. He’s confident it’s never been done before.
“It’s not that complicated,” he says. “It’s just cool that I’m the first guy to do it.”
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Guinness World Records is in the process of verifying his application for “Most handcrafted microbrewed beers brewed on premises by a single master brewer and served on tap.” Guinness confirmed that no one has attempted to set this record before.
There is, however, a record for “Most varieties of beer commercially available,” which is 2,004 at Delirium Cafe in Belgium. At Delirium, taps line multiple bars on three levels, with a hefty number of brews available bottle-only. At Power Club, Lee has all 110 beers rigged to TapZilla, a many-headed monster that he’s still learning to tame.
When asked if he has a West Coast IPA, Lee hesitates. “I probably do,” he says, scanning the matrix of beer names behind the bar. “Where did it go?”
Clean-shaven and sporting a suit, Lee, 53, counters the typical bearded, plaid shirt-wearing image of the California microbrewer. Maybe that’s because he’s relatively new to the brewing world, an engineer by trade who has also found success in business.
Lee said his parents fled China in 1948, led lives as successful entrepreneurs in Cuba and had Lee in 1960. Eleven years later, they immigrated to the U.S. and California eventually became home.
Lee graduated from the UCLA School of Engineering in 1983. Five years later, he came to the foothills while working as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense at the now-shuttered McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. He fell in love with Auburn, with its hills and trees that starkly contrasted with urban Los Angeles.
Work for electronics companies and the government would later take him to different parts of the world, but it was a side business that allowed him return to Northern California and purchase a 16-bedroom Queen Anne-style mansion in downtown Auburn in 2004. Years before, Lee had patented modular Italian charm bracelets, which he said made him millions.
Now, Lee and his wife Peggy run the century-old mansion, called the Power’s Mansion Inn, as a bed-and-breakfast. Lee also purchased an adjacent 40,000-square-foot office complex and the surrounding parking lots, unveiled a 3,000-square-foot event center with a wedding gazebo, and opened the pub, a certified brewery since 2010.
It’s an awful lot to manage, and he knows it.
He manically recites his mountain of duties as a wedding planner, which notably includes catering – he somehow also found the time to go to Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Academy – and officiating as a Christian minister.
“And since I’m Cuban and I know how to dance, I mix the music,” he adds.
Jim Bril, president of Auburn’s Downtown Business Association and owner of the Money Cat restaurant, calls Lee’s entrepreneurial spirit admirable if extreme. “His mind is running all the time and he always has something in the fire,” he says.
Many of Lee’s guests remember him fondly. The TripAdvisor page for the Power’s Mansion Inn references Lee’s animated character and his interesting stories.
“He was very happy-go-lucky, very talkative,” remembers Eléna Martina, a writer in San Jose who stayed at the inn for a June weekend. “He’s energetic, active. He clearly wants to do a lot and do a lot for his community.”
And the community has taken notice. On a late summer evening, the pub was packed with friends, laughing and drinking in celebration of his wine release – because, of course, Lee also makes wine.
Diane Hunt, a retired nurse and Auburn resident, says Lee has the type of back story that people talk about.
“I’ve been to the pub once,” she says. “And the reason why I went is because I heard the owner was such a great guy.”
Lee said he only needs four hours of sleep a night, which is perhaps how he continues to take on new projects such as brewing. His collection of 300 recipes comes from fellow brewers, books and the Internet. He first took up homebrewing as a hobby 30 years ago while studying engineering at UCLA, which explains his methodical approach to beer.
“There are metrics and consistent behavior,” he says. “You have to be precise. Then there are variables: your hops change, the temperatures change, you have different seasons, different ingredients.”
Though IPAs are his favorite, Lee had to branch out to fill up TapZilla. He excitedly boasts about how experimental and out-of-the-box his brews are, though most beer nerds will be more amazed by the sheer number than the creativity.
There’s a saison, a Scottish brown, a Kolsch, a barley wine, a sour. Fruit beers are well-represented. There’s coconut-mango, apricot, creamsicle, key lime, pumpkin and apple, for example. Want a stout? Try dark cherry, chocolate milk, licorice or java coffee. Pints go for $5 to $7.
For Lee, it’s about the American Dream, abundance and choice. He describes his beer innovation the exact same way he explains his Italian charm bracelets, as “mediums for custom personalization.”
“You want to custom-create beer,” he says. “You want to be unique.”
To other brewers, offering 110 beers at once is a curiosity met with some skepticism.
“The only problem with having so many beers on tap is you get a lot of old beer,” says Troy Paski, owner of Hoppy Brewing in Sacramento, which has been around for roughly 20 years.
And the vast majority of craft brewers take a lot of time to produce just a few beers, says Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association.
“It’s a hard, difficult, detailed effort, an art form,” McCormick says. “Our mantra has always been ‘quality, not quantity’ in the craft beer industry.”
Paski and McCormick admitted that it’s entirely possible Lee found a way to brew fantastic beer at such a fast rate – they haven’t been to the Power Club Brewery yet, after all.
On a recent visit, the nut brown ale, West Coast IPA and caramel brown ale were all pleasant, but not particularly robust or flavorful.
Lee is keeping his brewing process under wraps until Guinness makes its verdict, which could arrive in the next few months. Then on-site brewery tours might be on offer. And his mind races with more expansion potential. Growlers will happen soon, as will bottling, starting with a double IPA, hefesweizen and chocolate stout.
He wants to roll out a microbrewing academy, too. Develop a way to standardize his brewing methodology. Mix theory with lab time. Take the best students as interns.
“Because anyone can brew,” Lee says.
The Power Club Brewery is open from 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays at 195 Harrison Ave., Auburn. (530) 305-5052.