Brewer Profile: 21st Amendment Brewery, Part 2

Part II:  Interview with the Chief Watermelon Officer

In Part I of our interview, Nico Freccia, Co-Founder of 21st Amendment Brewery, told me about 21A's philosophy and how they've pushed the envelope with their beer.  Next, I wanted to explore how they made the leap from small brewpub to major distributor...

You distribute to roughly 15 states—mostly to the coasts with a few states in the middle.  How do you decide where to distribute, and where are you going next?

In San Francisco, we have a brewpub near the ball park.  All the beer sold at the pub is draft, and we can barely make enough to supply the pub.  When we started looking at distributing canned beer, we considered expanding our brewery, but it was cost prohibitive.  So we looked for a partner that we could work with to brew, can, and distribute our beer.  We couldn’t find anything in California that worked for us.  So we looked out of state and found the Cold Spring Brewery outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  It’s a family-owned, regional brewer with a large brew house and a high speed canning line.  They let us come in with our own recipes and ingredients and brew our beer using their equipment.

So we have a brewery in San Francisco that serves our pub and restaurant.   It’s our experimental lab where we brew our beer for the first time, test, and perfect them over the years.  Then we work with our partner brewer, Cold Spring, to brew on a large scale, package, and distribute.   All of the 21A beer you see in Portland (draft and cans) comes from Minnesota.   

Back to your original question, we distribute to the east because it’s cheaper for us to ship there than to the west.  We constantly get calls from distributors around the country asking for our beer.  There’s a huge demand for craft beer, especially in the southeast and we’d love to go there eventually.   We’re small, but growing rapidly and it’s important for us to carefully manage our growth and ensure our beer is the best it can be.   

Is it OK if I mention that you use a partner brewer?  How do you ensure quality when working with another brewer?

Absolutely!  Some craft beer geeks and purists may look down their nose at those who don’t brew in their own building.  But look at Samuel Adamsfor their first 20 years, they brewed in other people’s factories and made some of the best beer in the business.   

We don’t just fax our recipe to Cold Spring and tell them to brew it for us.  Shaun O’Sullivan goes out to Minnesota at least one week a month to oversee brewing and canning.  Shaun is actually out at Cold Spring today brewing Monk’s Blood.  He trained some of Cold Spring’s brewers to make our beer just as we would at our pub in San Francisco.   We’re very proud of this.

I think we’re at the beginning of a trend where more brewers will do some or all of their production in partnership with others.  For example, New Belgium brews for beer for Elysian (from Seattle).   There are a lot of benefits.  Both brewers can produce beers for each other's markets, while dramatically lowering costs and reducing their overall environmental footprint.   Brewery expansions are very expensive, so partnering makes a lot of sense.

So what beers can we expect to see next?

Hop Crisis! will be released this spring as part of our Insurrection Series, which is our limited edition line.  These are beers we release once in while—beer that’s fun and different.  Monk’s Blood was the first Insurrection release.   

We learned that Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer works best as a summer seasonal, so it will only be available from April – September.   Back in Black will take its place as a year-round beer, along with Brew Free! Or Die IPA.

We’re excited to release our first winter seasonal, Fireside Chat.  It’s a lightly spiced English-style Strong ale (7.9% ABV) with a hand selected blend of spices that adds a subtle aroma and flavor.  The spices are very light and accentuate the mild hop bitterness and the richness of the malts.   We’ve been brewing it at our pub for 10 years and it has been a customer favorite.  It also won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival five years ago in the Spiced Ale category.  Fireside Chat should arrive on the shelves of your better beer stores during the week of October 25. 

Monk’s Blood will be on shelves in mid-December for a limited time.  Next year, we expect to have five canned beers in regular rotation, along with two limited releases, plus our draft series.   

In Part III of the interview, Nico reflects on 21st Amendment's first decade in the beer business.  Stay tuned!

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