It has always been my belief that to fully understand a beer, you have to visit the place that it was created. We had recently done a podcast on a fantastic variety pack offered by 21st Amendment, so it seemed like a perfect time to arrange a tour of their impressive new Brewery in San Leandro, CA. This facility opened in June of 2015 and has allowed 21st Amendment to grow their operations considerably. The Podcast team loaded into the official History of Hops vehicle and hit the road. We were met by Tap Room Manager Dave Jackson, who served us our first beer of the day and then gave us the grand tour.
Coming Up to the Plate
21st Amendment began life as a brewpub in San Francisco in 2000 under owners Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan. It was a difficult start in a somewhat run-down neighborhood, and they found themselves selling sandwiches out of the space to make ends meet while they put together the operation. But then the new San Francisco Giants ballpark opened down the street, and they were able to thrive as the entire neighborhood experienced a renaissance. The Brewpub was a hit, but distribution was a problem. They were committed to canning from the start, and had a 3-man manual system that allowed them to generate a 6-pack every minute. They needed more to grow, and so they turned to a state of the art canning facility in Cold Spring, Minnesota.
Cold Spring had a history of brewing beer, but their reputation had taken a hit during the 1990’s and they shuttered the brewery operations in order to transition into energy drinks. That changed when 21st Amendment contracted with them in 2008, and they re-branded themselves as 3rd Street Brewery. With the newfound success, they’ve continued to upgrade their facilities to make the highest quality beer, including a new water filtration system. It also gave 21st Amendment a chance to distribute on both coasts. This relationship allowed for more growth, but they still couldn’t keep up with the demand, so they turned to an old Kellogg’s cereal plant across the bay from their original Brewpub.
Advancing to Second
The San Leandro Brewery allowed 21st Amendment to increase production from that one six-pack every minute in the original brewpub to filling 9-10 pallets an hour of canned beer. They paid homage to the old Kellogg’s plant by creating Toaster Pastry, a delicious dark ale that was created uniquely for the new facility. On our tour, Dave started us out by taking us back to see the large grain silos where they store malt and compared them to the massive ones that Kellogg’s relied on. Then he gave us a handful of roasted malt to chew on. It tasted like grape nuts! Like many craft breweries, they send their spent grain off to a farmer to use for feeding animals. Happy cows come from being fed by breweries.
The new facility allows them to brew 5-8 batches of beer a day. Rather than relying on traditional filtering, they’ve installed a powerful centrifuge system and put it in Brite (conditioning) tanks in order to control the CO2 levels. They have a chemist on staff that carefully tests the carbonation levels to make sure they are not too high, which is extremely important in making sure the flavor of the beer shines through. Then they can it, either in kegs or individual serving cans.
There are a number of factors at play when it comes to the commitment to canning. When you see pallets of cans stacked up, it is clearly a more efficient means for storing and transporting beer. The cans are also resistant to any light, which is what causes beer to go skunky. 21st Amendment uses a water-based polymer on their cans to prevent any type of metal taste carrying over (pour that beer into a glass, to eliminate it completely!) It is also easier to recycle aluminum, and the brewery has always preferred to package their cans in cardboard rather than using plastic rings that kill seagulls. 21st Amendment takes part in a number of charities as well, most recently raising funds for the devastating warehouse fire in Oakland.
We had a great time and appreciated Dave Jackson’s patience answering all of our questions. He was a wealth of knowledge on brewing and 21st Amendment history. If you stop into the San Leandro location, make sure to tell him that History of Hops sent you, and give him a bit of a ribbing for being a Dodger’s fan. They were currently working on opening a restaurant at the Brewery, and it looks like it will be an impressive operation when they open it in 2017. I’ll be happy to do a follow up tour when that happens!