The Bay Area’s become renowned for its craft breweries, but back in 1989, when Brendan Moylan and his late partner Craig Tasley opened Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur, they were certainly ahead of the curve. So was Arne Johnson, who started drinking his parents’ homebrew in his teens and was making his own steam beer before he even hit 20 with help from his father and microbiologist mom. He grabbed the Marin brewmaster’s reins in 1995. We spoke by phone on May 24, and Johnson shared several insights that hint at why he’s found hop-fueled success.
Was it a given that you’d work with beer for a living, or did you consider other careers?
Once I discovered the craft brew industry taking off, I kind of knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’d been introduced to beer at a young age by my parents, through homebrew. I had been working in restaurants and made my move. My timing was right. I got into the industry and have been going strong for about 17 years.
Is there anybody who mentored you along the way?
My parents were very strong influences, pretty serious homebrewers. My mom was a microbiologist for the University of California, so she helped. When I started here at Marin Brewing, Grant Johnston was my mentor. He taught me the industry, anything beyond homebrewing. He was the original brewer here and here for six years before I took over. He’s worked at many other breweries and we still keep in contact.
Do you have a first beer memory, good or bad?
The ones that stick out were tasting homebrews. Obviously, when you’re 14 or 15 years old, tasting beers, you’re not quite supposed to be doing this. Tasting some of the first homebrews, they were really different and interesting to me. My dad used to make pretty strong beers, early style homebrews, strong, amberish beers with lots of character and those stick out to me as the first beers that got me excited about brewing.
It was awhile after that I decided to get into the industry, and I remembered tasting Anderson Valley Boont Amber and Poleeko Gold, and that’s when I decided if they could make beers that good, I wanted to be in the industry.
What was the first beer you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?
When I moved out of the house, at 19 or 20, I got all my own homebrewing equipment together and the first beer that I repeated was my take on a steam beer. It wasn’t meant to be just like Anchor Steam and I used a couple yeasts, an ale yeast at first and a kolsch yeast to finish it up to give it that same quality of a steam beer, a little more attenuated. I worked that on awhile, did about a half dozen batches trying to perfect that beer.
What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at Marin?