Pacific Brewing Laboratory is a San Francisco brewery straddling the line between nano and micro. At just over one year old, they have managed to go from virtually unheard of, to being found in the area's best beer bars. You have probably seen their Nautilus or Squid Ink on tap at the likes of Toronado, Churchkey, and/or Public House. In late December, I had the opportunity to visit their headquarters in the Mission and talk to the founders, Bryan Hermannsson and Patrick Horn.
Their office is what you would expect of any San Francisco startup – a shared co-working space in the heart of the city. Bowling alley lanes serve as the floor in their extended garage (according to Patrick, they don’t scratch easily, which makes sense). Also characteristic of a startup is the founders’ passion for their work. A few words with Bryan and Patrick is enough to make it clear that they brew because they love their beers, the industry, and the city that provides a thriving craft beer scene.
As the craft beer scene rapidly grows in the Bay Area, so does Pacific Brewing Lab.
“We have outgrown that moniker now, the nanobrewery. The nano guys are doing four barrels a batch, we're doing 30. We are the bottom rung of the microbrewery differentiation,” said Patrick.
There is no doubt that the industry is booming. But that also means a rise in other breweries, which to some degree, have to be seen as competitors. How is Pac Brew rising to the top?
According to Patrick, “people seem to have a want and need for our product. We were worried that [our beers] would be too different for the consumer, but we knew we would have to do something that would differentiate ourselves. So we've been walking that fine line between esoteric and quality and approachability.”
If you have had the pleasure of trying their beers, you would know exactly what Patrick is talking about. Their “Nautilus” is a hibiscus saison described as having a “complex floral aroma with a slight tartness,” and is a beautiful pink color. You couldn’t be more on the “fine line between esoteric and quality and approachability.” And it’s working. According to the guys, “there’s growth every month.”
So, what’s the next step for this San Francisco darling? Well, while Pac Brew's beers are currently only available on tap, that will be changing in 2013. This year, their second year in existence, should see their beers become available in cans. So, why cans and not bottles?
“We looked at it from a lot of different angles, and a big reason is that beer in a can is more stable. No light. Weight is a factor for us, for shipping,” said Patrick. This makes sense. While most beers are available in bottle format, cans are actually better at preserving the beer’s quality, freshness, and taste.
“We are in San Francisco and it's an active community. We like the idea of people being able to pack in, and pack out our product. To the beach, to the park - no glass involved. No potential for glass breaking if you have a kid or a dog running around. Also, at the end of the day, aluminum is a lot more recyclable,” added Patrick.
Well. That’s about as San Francisco as you can get. Not only did they choose canning because it’s better for the beer, but also to make the product more mobile, more safe, and more green for San Franciscans.
Also, Pacific Brewing Laboratory is planning on using 16-ounce cans instead of 12-ounce ones. For some reason, that bigger, more unique, size seems more akin to craft beer to me. Pac Brew thinks we can expect to see Nautilus and Squid Ink (their India Black Ale) in cans “by the end of Q1.”
We know that the brewery is growing, and the guys have plans for packaging up their goods. What about new beers?
For now, they will continue with Nautilus and Squid Ink, and “use the third skew as a seasonal” according to Patrick. You may have seen their Red Triangle or Imperial IPA on tap recently – those are examples of the rotating third skew. I’m hoping they take me up on my suggestion to create a Greyjoy Pale (only half joking).
Red Triangle (as of two days ago) is available on tap at Churchkey in North Beach. I had the opportunity to try their Imperial IPA at their office, and I recommend giving it a shot when you see it on tap (it's at the Whole Foods Steep Brew in Potrero Hill as of today). It’s made with maple sugar, which gives it a nice winter-y vibe.
In the beginning of this article I mentioned that the SF craft beer scene is thriving (which is putting it lightly). When asked about our hotbed for brews, Bryan said, “There's a huge demand for good beer. For a long time, there just wasn't good beer, and now people are recognizing there is a lot of flavor in beer.”
Patrick expanded, saying, “San Francisco is the cradle of the craft beer movement in America. You see a lot of these pioneers [Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada] coming out of San Francisco and the Bay Area in general… They fought, worked, and sweat for years. We have to work too, but the market is more receptive to the beers that we're making than it was 10 years ago. Those guys made it happen by giving the public options instead of insipid lagers.”
We, the consumers, are truly lucky to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. We get to drink the work of pioneers like Anchor and Sierra while also being able to try what could be a brewery of the future in Pacific Brewing Laboratory. While the craft beer world is laced with “competition” in other breweries, most brewers won’t hesitate to lend a helping hand.
When asked what tips they would give to aspiring nano brewers, Bryan offered, “Don't stop brewing. Consistently brew if you want to be successful. And get a designated brewing space. That changes the way you brew and the quality of your beer.”
Patrick said, quite bluntly, “Don’t do it.”
After yelling that he was joking into my recorder, he said, “the smartest thing [he] ever did was talking to as many different people as [he] could” including the management at He’Brew and Lagunitas. Do that, and be able to differentiate your beer from all the others out there.
“If you come out with an Amber or an IPA, it better be something interesting or you better have a damn good name for it," said Patrick, "Cause otherwise, you go into a bar and say ‘I got an IPA’ and they'll say, ‘Yeah I got 3 of them.’ And they are Lagunitas, Racer 5 and maybe Torpedo. And they all sell really well. Why put something new on tap when I'm not going to make as much money on it? You better have a reason. That's important.”
Looks like Pacific Brewing Laboratory is taking their own advice. Bryan and Patrick work hard to create different beers with great flavor for the San Francisco community. If you’re a craft beer lover, or even if you’re not, think about supporting a San Francisco company by picking up a PBL instead of a PBR next time you’re at the bar.
Patrick’s beer of the moment: Southpaw’s Rye Porter
Bryan’s beer of the moment: 21st Amendment’s Red Dwarf