By Linda Bausch and Derek Everhart
Bay Area locals, if you’re looking for a unique brewery and taproom experience––close to home––we found some great places for you to try in Richmond. Family and pet friendly, they are waiting for you to get there!
Benoit-Casper Brewing, at 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, was the first brewery established in Richmond. In 2014, proprietors Marc Benoit and Chad Casper brought their beer brewing endeavor to the unassuming urban neighborhood. The gentlemen shared an obsession for home brewing and met through an online network of like-minded people. Their brew styles were similar and they became friends, as did their families.
After winning many awards, they realized they had more to offer than making great beer and drinking it with friends. They decided to look for a location to grow their hobby into something more for others to enjoy. They struck out to make their mark.
The brewery began as a one-barrel system, in a closet, tucked away in an industrial warehouse near Chad’s day job. While the production was still small and limited Chad and Marc oversaw the entire brewing and fermentation process themselves, and worked their day jobs. With growing families at home and full-time careers, they soon realized they needed help to keep the beer flowing. Tim Clair was hired as Head Brewer to oversee production on a day-to-day basis.
We arrived to find people of all ages, kids played corn hole and delicious tidbits were being served from the window of the food truck parked on-site. Dogs lazed in the sun. The warehouse door was up, and the taproom was open for business. We were warmly greeted by the staff. Rob set up our tasting and shared his wicked sense of humor behind the bar. Joe, aka ‘the resident translator’ (he speaks five languages) started our tour, Chad Casper and his wife Robin joined in. Rob and Joe were entertaining and knowledgeable of the brewery history and beers on tap.
In the early days their beer was served only in local restaurants and bars. As time passed, they grew their distribution organically with a dedicated sales team. Benoit-Casper Brewing has expanded production and flourished to nearly one thousand barrels a year. The warehouse is now filled with a brew kettle, fermentation tanks and a variety of aging barrels, and taproom.
Quality is of their utmost concern. Great care is taken every step of the way, from sourcing the freshest malt barley, hops, and other flavorings, to the hand-bottling of each batch. To date, close to fifty flavors have been created. Their taps are switched out frequently and you may find new beers on tap each week. We tasted ‘Winter Wit’, a lighter brew made with forty percent wheat malt, coriander, and a handful of orange peels. ‘Equinox’ was a dry, bitter, West Coast style IPA. Their gold-medal winning, flagship Belgian style beer, Saison de Casper, aged in French oak barrels, will be there for you to taste.
In the spring of 2018, Marc and Chad will host the 2nd Annual BC Home Brew Competition, welcoming locals to brew their batch on-site, ferment, and bottle at home, returning in five weeks to have the brews judged by a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) panel. Due to timing of this publication, check the website for future opportunities.
The taproom is casual, comfortable and welcoming with picnic tables, games and family fun, open to the community Friday, Saturday and Sunday, hours vary. (bcbrewing.com, 408.695.3449)
Rob Lightner and Chris Coomber are creators of East Brother Beer Company, at 1001 Canal Boulevard, in Richmond (follow the signs along the road to get there). The name was chosen in honor of the historic light station constructed on East Brother Island in 1873.
Chris had many years of experience home brewing when he asked Rob if he wanted to open a brewery together. Without hesitation Rob agreed, and the next day they started planning. In Richmond they found the perfect spot, a rural setting with a twelve-thousand square foot warehouse. They took one look and knew this was the place, remodeled it, and opened in December of 2016. Within two years the staff has grown to eight employees and is a family affair. From their wives to their children, both families put in their time. Chris, the Master Brewer, is in charge of operations and equipment, while Rob handles all other business details, which makes for a well rounded partnership.
East Brother Beer is distributed throughout the Bay Area and up North as well. In 2017, production was approximately seven hundred barrels of beer. In 2018 production is expected to double, which created the need to lay another concrete pad and increase the number of fermenters. Their beer is canned, rather than bottled, for multiple reasons. One, in particular, is canned beer cannot be skunked. Skunked is slang for beer that has gone sour from light that affects the quality and taste of the beer. A can’s shelf life is much longer than a bottle. It’s also more economical and environmentally friendly, cans are recycled twice the rate of bottles.
When you get there, be sure to check out their ‘Red Lager’; it’s delicious and crisp, the way a lager should be, with a hint of amber color and biscuit on the finish. It’s one of the boldest beers you will ever taste. If you are looking for an IPA, on the other hand, try the ‘Gold IPA’; it’s hoppy with bright flavors and a dry finish. The deeply colored ‘Oatmeal Stout’ is rich, with roasty flavors and finishes smoothly.
The large open space is great for family gatherings and private events, with a capacity of up to one hundred and fifty people. Whether you are planning a corporate meeting, a holiday party, or a birthday celebration, East Brother Beer Company welcomes you.
Be sure to bring your appetite. On the day we visited, a local food truck, Curbside Kitchen, served delicious Mediterranean food. (eastbrotherbeer.com, 510.230.4081)
Our third location, Armistice Brewing Company, at 845 Marina Bay Parkway, Suite 1, in Richmond is the newest of the three, opened in August of 2017. Sister and brother brewers, Alex and Gregory Zobel, battled as kids growing up. Alex grew up in Concord, and Gregory in Napa. As young adults they lived separately in Los Angeles. Gregory pursued a career in the film and television industry, while Alex earned her doctorate in literary arts. On her birthday, Gregory gave her a ‘peace offering’, a Home Brew kit. The two began brewing together, and put their differences aside.
Unfortunate circumstances in their family brought them home to Napa to help. While there, they honed their brew skills. Winning top honors in some prestigious competitions became the impetus to open a community taproom of their own. Their mother helped create a business plan and the rest is history. An homage to their family is found in their Richmond taproom. They used the wood from their family’s big red barn to line the walls of the taproom.
Considered a nano-brewery, about five hundred barrels of beer are produced annually. Armistice beer is only available on-site, at this time. Freshness, and one hundred percent quality control is the goal at Armistice. Small batches are brewed and consumed soon after, making way for the next batch to be enjoyed. They plan to start canning their beer on-site very soon.
Diverse styles of beer are enjoyed by guests in the festive atmosphere. The siblings have a cutting-edge style that allows for experimentation with local, sustainable ingredients. Their beers are delicious and creatively named. When you arrive, one of the beers you might see is the Boysenberry πPA––the duo’s rendition of an IPA, fermented with eighty-six pounds of pureed boysenberries, mosaic hops, and twenty-six, hand-picked, madagascar vanilla beans. Maybe you’ll find the Berthday Beer, a full bodied English-style golden ale that highlights Feldblume (a malt that resembles hay and clover) with an lingering sweetness on the finish. Armistice beers are unfiltered and bold, full bodied and flavorful. Their menu changes often, and does not repeat, as with each new batch another flavor profile is created.
Like games and events? Look no further, the brother-sister duo entertain plenty. ‘May the fourth be with you’ as you enjoy this Star Wars event followed with a ‘Cantina’ evening. Every Monday night, at seven o’clock, they host a trivia contest, in the Framily Room upstairs which is chock-full of fun. Portions of the venue can be bought out to host your own party as well, the beer garden has seating for up to sixty-five. Community minded, Alex and Gregory host ‘Ales and Allies’ each month, an opportunity for local nonprofits to partner and fund-a-need. Open seven days a week the brewery is in full production. (armisticebrewing.com, 510.230.4966)
Armistice Brewing Company, Benoit-Casper Brewing and East Brother Beer Company share a common goal to bring more life and community to their neighborhoods. Each establishment is happy to welcome Admiral Malts to Alameda, providing the freshest of domestic malts to all three breweries. Richmond is a flourishing community, enriched with strong bonds and caring entrepreneurs.
A big thank you goes out to our friend, Joe Peatmen, Owner of Downtown Joe’s Brewery and Restaurant at 902 Main Street, in Napa. Joe gave us a personal tour and shared first–hand knowledge of the brewing and fermentation process with us before we conducted our interviews. (downtownjoes.com)