Sometime last year I heard about a new startup brewery called Heretic Brewing. There’s a lot of new breweries opening up all over the country but this one stood out to me because I read that it was going to open production in Pittsburg, California. My family lives in a neighboring city, just a short ten minute drive away, and there are only two or three beer options in the area even though hundreds of thousands of people live there. The more I looked into it, the more Heretic became a must-see during my once-a-year visit over the holiday season.
The brewery was founded by Jamil Zainasheff who has a radio show on The Brewing Network, has written a couple books on brewing and fermentation, and has won the Ninkasi Award from the Brewer’s Association. The fact is, Jamil is a bit of a hero, living the dream, making the jump from a 5 gallon brewing system to a 40 barrel brew pot and four 30 barrel fermenters. Currrently he’s sharing space with the brewery EJ Phair at their new location in Pittsburg. By May, Heretic will have been in business for a year and will have brewed approximately 2000 barrels. The brewery definitely functions as a production brewery, with no tap room of their own to speak of, and Jamil says that they’re already doing really well. At some point soon they’ll need to choose a distributor, but at the moment they’re being selective with who they distribute to, pacing things out to avoid getting stuck waiting for beer to finish fermenting. Once the brewery hits 2000 barrels it should be easier for them to work out their own production space and a deal with a distributor.
|Heretic’s makeshift walk-in cooler|
Before I headed to the brewery I had a pint of each of their beers and I was really really pleased with them. Evil Twin is a solid IPA, definitely hop focused with refreshing citrus hop aroma, piney hop flavors, and a crisp and balanced bitterness. Evil Cousin is a West Coast Imperial IPA that honestly will sneak up on you at 8%, it’s not cloying like so many 2IPA’s I drink and the hops are aggressive, dank and somewhat spicy. What I really appreciate about these two beers is that neither of them felt standard or typical in any way, both were hop focused and most importantly the common desire to find ‘balance’ with caramel malts didn’t produce this sickly sweet beer. These were good hop-assertive beers and they remind me that there is not yet any Colorado brewery that is really heavily hop focused. The final beer I tried is a very tasty porter called Shallow Grave, rich in chocolate with slightly astringent coffee notes, a damn good beer.
At the brewery I got to meet the head brewer Chris Kennedy, who used to work at a Colorado Rock Bottom, Yak and Yeti, and Golden City Brewery. So he’s quite familiar with the beer scene in Colorado and spoke highly of it (seemed especially fond of Dry Dock…geez I wonder why?) The recipe’s are Jamil’s and Chris handles the hop schedule on the hoppy beers. Downstairs they had about 25 oak barrels split between Chardonnay and Cabernet barrels from Grgich Hills Estate winery in Helena. Two beers were aging in these barrels, the first is Miscreant, a Rodenbach Flanders influenced Porter with three strains of brett, pedio, lacto and Sherry flor. The second is called Worry, a Belgian blonde in chardonnay barrels, no wild yeast and the yeast is from Russian River. There will be a dark version called Torment (see a theme here?).
|A view of the brewery from the street|
I’m pretty sure we’ll hear more about Heretic Brewing, even all the way out here in Colorado. They’ve made quite a name for themselves in these quick beginning months and from what I could tell in my visits to EJ Phair, Beer Revolution in Oakland, and other bars and beer shops, people are already respecting the brand and are excited to see it grow. I’m not sure if Heretic will stay in the East Bay or not, and I suppose as a production brewery that’s slightly less important than if it were a brew pub, but I will say it certainly adds some life, color, and flavor to an area that is full of chain stores, strip malls, and very bland franchise restaurants. I like to think the word ‘heretic’ is very fitting for a brewery that is making such tasty beers out in that part of town. If you’re ever visiting the Bay Area, look for and ask for a Heretic beer at the local bars. Also, check out their website because hopefully they’ll have their own taproom soon enough. Thank you Jamil and Chris for taking time to show me around.