Beer is a magnificent drink. Besides being more democratic and approachable, and perhaps most importantly, effective in its power as an intoxicant, beer has also been credited with the birth of civilization itself. The growth and cultivation of cereal grains meant a seismic shift from living nomadically as hunter gatherers towards communal life centered around agriculture. This communal life necessitated a more ordered “culture”, leading to establishment of trades, and to artisanship. So at its root, beer is convivial and creative, it is about bringing people together, about kicking your feet up and enjoying the bounty of the harvest and the talented folk with which you are breaking bread and sharing drink.
Unfortunately, the beer industry does not perhaps reflect these simple ideas as of late. Competition has increased with the growth of U.S. breweries now having exceeded 5,000 in operation. Acquisitions, closures, infusions of private equity, unsavory tactics, coming price wars, and obfuscation by multinational corporations really have left some (insiders and consumers) feeling a little jaded as of late. Craft brewers are lucky in a way, that big Corporate beer, with its virtual monopoly on the industry and its lack of product diversity, left open the door for a revolution of “craft beer”. That was good news for the resurgence of "craft", but the term “craft” is almost useless now, or at least ineffective in many ways due to the acquisitions along with complacency and apathy about the most widely consumed alcoholic drink. Despite this, there is still a flourishing happening in breweries not just in the US, but around the world...and for that we can raise our Willi Bechers full of fresh IPAs.
It remains to be seen what will happen next, and yet we at Gunwhale are just wrapping up only our first year in business, grateful for a good start. We feel lucky, not just to be in this industry, but to come to the table at a time when creativity has never been higher. We were never interested in making the same beer as everyone else anyway, and we have more ideas than we have time to implement them. But we sought this industry out because we still believe in its camaraderie over its competition, in its good deeds over its potential vices, and its possibilities over its limitations.
We have witnessed the bad stuff and experienced its ugly side personally…but this is why we think brewery collaborations are perhaps more important now than ever. There are new business models and a quickly changing market is affecting what styles to brew, how to package them and how to sell them. As a small batch brewery (10 BBL), we are exploring new takes on styles (and focusing at depth on some favorite ones), as opposed to building a portfolio of pre-determined brands that are mean to check blocks with colors and styles. This is a good time in beer history to try that, since there is a heckuva lot of Shiny New Object syndrome among the regular customers. With less typical ingredients and new recipes almost weekly, we still must execute with the goal of world class beer every time. Those who drink craft beer may not realize the degree of difficulty in nailing a recipe with the first iteration of a brew, but nonetheless they have come to expect the highest quality and variety without a detriment to either. I don’t blame them, and we put the pressure on ourselves as well to deliver on this anyway. The customer is more sophisticated than ever, and we also think more sensitive to many things, which may perhaps reflect a larger societal shift in food and beverage, if not also politics, culture and things (usually) unrelated to beer. We think it means we need to show more than ever that the long held “craft” values of passion, philanthropy, and collaboration should still be projected outward from the industry and also appreciated by the consumer. We still maintain that this is an important part of beer’s unique selling proposition. After all, breweries make the best product to bring all types of people together, and there is room to grow demand and educate others, even as some of the early adopters mature and risk fatigue with the independent brewing scene. We happen to think those values make beer more relevant than ever as many other mainstays in society seem to be in question, and it is necessary for beer to be amazing and accessible in order to compete for market share against growing categories like wine and spirits.
So that brings us to the reason for this post…(sorry for the verbose lead up). We are happy to announce a 2 beer collaboration with our friends at Brewery Rex, to be released in 16oz cans on December 16th at Gunwhale. Our Head Brewer Kevin Hammons, a local from Orange, CA, dipped his feet in the industry as one of the folks hired early on at The Bruery. Kevin ran a homebrew shop they had opened in Placentia, CA. He also did some packaging work until he finagled himself in as a brewer under the leadership of Tyler King. Tyler, of course, is now Co-Owner/Head Brewer of Brewery Rex. Brian White, who is Tyler’s partner at Rex, also did a stint at The Bruery as well, so the three of them were helping to build a world class brand in Orange County at a time when no major players had yet to demand notice for making beer here. Tyler and Brian eventually moved on, while Kevin went on to become Brewery Manager, overseeing all production and cellar at The Bruery until moving on himself to new opportunities.
The Gunwhale Founders, Justin Miller, JT Wallace and Bobby Fitzgerald (me), were of course customers there back then, but never had the chance to know them. We have since felt grateful to share information, purchase raw materials, and help to promote the region with many good people in the beer-making business, and are happy to report that this still exists. As folks who dreamt of making beer, but were not working directly in the industry prior to opening our own place, we are humbled by the chance to hang out with some guys who have been around the block, as well as to laugh, talk shop, and bloat ourselves on good beer and a hell of an evening on the water in Newport Harbor. We would like to think you have as much fun drinking the beer as we all did in making it. We hope you enjoy the fruit of this humble partnership when it releases on December 16. Here are some shots from the utmost serious R&D that goes into these things...
-Photos by Morgan Rindengan-
A quick note on the beers themselves :
The first beer is HARDOUT!, a 100% pilsner malt base, and will be fermented in stainless with wild Saccharomyces yeast (Sacch Brux Trois). It is fruited with California kiwi berries and dry-hopped with Motueka and Ekuanot.
The second beer is HEY OLD SPORT, and was fermented in our oak foeder with the same yeast (Trois), and is also a 100% pilsner malt base but fruited with toasted coconut, and heavily dry-hopped with Citra and Amarillo.
These are fun beers at 8.5% ABV, but with a clean malt bill to show off the fruit additions and the big tropical hops and yeast character.