Almanac Beer Co.: A Fresh and Fruitful Take on the Craft | CUESA

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April 05, 2019

Almanac Beer Co.: A Fresh and Fruitful Take on the Craft

Unique flavors, high-quality ingredients, and small-scale production all characterize the “craft” in craft beer, and according to a recent consumer survey, craft beer drinkers prefer beer that isn’t mass-produced. But as popularity for the category has grown, so has dilution of the term, as more and more craft breweries have been purchased by “Big Beer.”

Amidst the buzz, Almanac Beer Co. has stayed true to its craft brew roots. “Almanac was founded on the belief that beer does not have to be a commodity product,” says cofounder Damian Fagan. “We put beer into our bodies the same way we do with the food we eat, and so for us it was important to bring that same attention to where the ingredients in beer come from.”

Damian and his business partner Jesse Friedman based Almanac upon the motto “Beer is agriculture,” with the goal of sourcing ingredients directly from local farmers. “The one question we were asking ourselves was ‘People are paying so much attention to where their food is coming from, but why isn’t anyone asking the same questions about the ingredients in their beer?’” says Damian.

A Farmer’s Almanac for Beer Lovers

Almanac began as a collaboration between Damian and Jesse, two home brewers who shared a love of beer and farmers markets. They began experimenting with using locally grown fruits from CUESA’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in their brews, and discovered an untapped market beyond traditional brewing.

They hand-bottled and labeled their first batches of beer at Drake’s Brewing Company in San Leandro. “We made around 300 cases of beer and literally drove around the Bay Area hand-selling a case of beer at a time,” Damian recalls. With each unique brew serving as a record of the season, the brewery took its name from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the 200-year-old reference guide for farmers covering weather forecasts, planting seasons, and recipes.

When Almanac Beer Co. formally launched in 2011, they knew they had struck upon something fresh and exciting. “People love the farm-to-barrel ethos, and it really resonated with our customers and beer fans here in Northern California,” says Damian. 

Fresh and Local Ingredients, Barrel Aged

Fast forward to today, and Almanac now has their own 30,000-square-foot brewing facility in an old Naval hangar in Alameda, with distribution to grocers, taprooms, and restaurants throughout California and beyond. The company is 50 employees strong and growing (Jesse has stepped away from his role as head brewmaster to pursue other projects, but continues to advise on the board).

In an industry dominated by commodity crops with complex global supply chains, Almanac sources California-grown organic, malted barley from Admiral Maltings, which shares the same hangar in Alameda. Admiral was founded by two veterans of the craft brew scene, Ron Silberstein of ThirstyBear Brewing and Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewing Co., with the goal of making locally grown, handcrafted malt available to Bay Area beer makers. Almanac also sources some of their hops locally from Hops-Meister Farm in Clear Lake.

Almanac releases over a dozen fruited sour beers on an annual basis, partnering with local farms, a number of which are at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. “We go to a number of different small family farms such as Blossom Bluff Orchards and Sierra Cascade Blueberry Farm to source the fruit for many of our beers, such as the Plum Fairy and Fruit Cobbler,” says Damian.

Because the majority of Almanac’s craft beers are barrel-aged, they buy locally grown organic fruit in bulk at least a year before the actual release of their beers. “Many of our beers age anywhere from six to twelve months,” says Damian. “So a lot of these ingredients are currently aging in barrels as we speak.”

He is excited about a couple of beers that are currently aging, including one featuring Buddha Hand’s citron and grapefruit from Murray Family Farms, Garcia Organic Farms, and Mud Creek Ranch. “We also have blueberries that have been aging for a few months now from Sierra Cascade Blueberry Farm, and stone fruit from Blossom Bluff Orchards,” says Damian.

From Farmers Market to Barrel and Back

In 2015, craft brews sales became legal in California farmers markets, followed by a law that went into effect in 2016 allowing beer sampling in farmer markets. Almanac has been on the forefront of this movement for the last two years, selling their barrel-aged brews in bottles and cans at CUESA’s Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays, while offering small tasting pours.

For Almanac, maintaining a market presence provides a direct connection to the farmers and the public. “Being a part of the farmers market is our way of supporting and working with farmers in our community that provide us these incredible resources,” says Damian. “We want to see the dollars that we spend go directly back to the farmers, and to me that’s a sense of community that I strive for.”

Damian takes pride in bringing beer back to its agricultural roots, and he especially enjoys working with farmers to help showcase the fruits of their labor. “There’s a really wonderful symbiosis where you come full circle from buying produce from farmers and making beer out of it,” says Damian. “This practice is something we truly emphasize, and it permeates the culture at Almanac as a whole.”

National Beer Day is this Sunday, April 7. Visit Almanac Beer Co. at Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Photos of beer, Damian Fagan, and brewery courtesy of Almanac Beer Co.

About CUESA

CUESA (Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture) is dedicated to cultivating a sustainable food system through the operation of farmers markets and educational programs. Learn More »