In another shining example of food blogger makes good, Beer & Nosh mastermind Jesse Friedman is the founder of two San Francisco based beverage companies. The longtime homebrewer recently launched SodaCraft and co-founded Almanac Beer Co. with Damian Fagan. Both companies are driven by fermentation, local produce and the seasons. I met him on July 5 at the Ferry Building farmers market, where he was selling ginger ale and Stone Fruit Sucker Punch at the Hapa Ramen booth. The self-described F.I.B. (look it up) stepped away for a few minutes and shared more insights about his background and approach.
What sparked your interest in fermentation?
I’ve been doing it for years now. I’m been brewing at home for about six years, and I’ve been making the sodas for just about as long too. I would always make the ginger ale for friends’ weddings. Usually for the rehearsal dinner, I’d make a keg of homebrew and a keg of ginger ale, and I started to notice that the ginger ale would actually run out faster than the homebrew, and that’s what made me think there may be something to this seasonal soda thing.
What was your very first homebrew, and how did it turn out?
My first homebrew was an Irish red that I made with my roommate. We scorched the grains during the boil and then didn’t properly distribute the sugars during bottling, so half the bottles were flat, and half the bottles were explosive. It went so well that I thought we should make a career out of this eventually. But the first homebrew, you’re just amazed that it’s a beer at all. It’s a miracle that it turns into beer, so even with flaws, it’s always exciting, that first batch.
When did Almanac start to come into focus for you?
Almanac started about two and a half years ago now. I met my friend Damian through my homebrew club, and he’s the other half of Almanac Beer Company. We collaborate on all the beers, and he also does all of our packaging and label design as well. So we do everything that we can in house together. That was the start of it, and we started working towards it two and a half years ago, and our first beers are just coming to market now.
So you said it’s a Belgian strong ale?
It’s our Summer 2010 release. All of our beers are seasonal beers that are collaborations with local farms and produce. So our first release is our Golden Belgian Style Strong Ale using Citra hops, which is a really bright, citrusy, aromatic hop. And then we added 260 pounds of blackberries and aged the whole thing in red wine barrels for 11 months. We then blended more fresh beer, because we love that fresh hop character, to balance it out, and blended it altogether. So you get nice, fruity blackberry aromas, that citrus grapefruit aroma and then a nice oaky finish on it. So it’s bright, it’s spritely and it packs a punch, but it’s really, really food friendly.
You said you’re a gypsy brewery. Where are you brewing and how do you decide where to brew?
A lot of it depends on who’s interested in working with us. The idea is really to find one brewery that we eventually call home and have a long term relationship with. This first batch we made with Artisan Brewers, which is part of Drake’s in San Leandro. We’re actually moving on because Drake’s is expanding so fast, so rapidly, that they don’t have any more space for contract business. So we’re moving on, and we should have a contract signed in just a few days.
How much inspiration do you take from Mikkeller or breweries like that?
I’m a huge fan of other breweries, and what’s so great about the craft beer industry is that it’s so friendly and supportive. In the craft beer world, it’s not like you’ll only buy this one brand. More craft beer buyers is better for everyone, so everyone’s been extremely supportive. We’ve taken inspiration from them but we’re really trying to reach outside of traditional beer inspiration. We’re really trying to take inspiration from the local food community and farms from Northern California.
What’s your first beer memory?