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Inside the Expanding East Bay Craft Beer Scene

| January 20, 2014
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The Trappist in Oakland: one of the many spots that are part of a renaissance in craft beer appreciation . (Colin Burke McClure/Berkeleyside)

The Trappist in Oakland: one of the many spots that are part of a renaissance in craft beer appreciation . (Colin Burke McClure/Berkeleyside)

By Thomas Riley, Berkeleyside

Craft beer aficionados in the East Bay have had much to celebrate over the past few years with a veritable explosion of new spots specializing in small-production handcrafted beers from across the country and around the world — many of which serve tasty bites as well.

There’s The Trappist, Beer Revolution, Hog’s Apothecary, Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Room, Moxy Beer Garden, The Mead Kitchen, and more (check out Berkeleyside Nosh’s drinking map for a sense of what’s out there).

And evidence suggests the craft beer phenomenon is still on the upswing, with more beer destinations slated to open this year, including Westbrae Biergarten in Berkeley and, in Oakland, Fruitvale Fermentation Factory from Ale Industries, The Good Hop Bottle Shop on Telegraph, and a new Drakes Brewery destination in the Hive development at the corner of Broadway and 23rd Street.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence that beer is where it’s at is in Alameda, where Du Vin Fine Wines, an established player in the local wine scene for the past 12 years, has just morphed into Craft Beer & Wine.

Hog’s Apothecary (Berkeleyside)

Hog’s Apothecary (Berkeleyside)

Dan Marshall, Du Vin’s founder, has seen customer interest in his growing beer inventory intensify in the past three years. To capitalize on this rising tide of love for the suds, he has partnered up with Alameda native Russ Rasmussen to convert his wine shop into the area’s only boutique retailer of small-production beer and wine, with an emphasis in both lines on Europe, as well as a nod to quality local producers of both beverages.

“Craft Beer & Wine is a concept that Russ and I came up with some time ago. Coincidentally, we came up with very similar ideas independently of each other,” Marshall explained. “We’ve been meeting off and on for the past five or six years, discussing our mutual belief that the word ‘craft’ suggests beers and wines made with passion and care.”

Rasmussen, owner of the new establishment, spent many years in the insurance business before deciding to address head-on his ever-growing enthusiasm for quality beer, an interest born in his late teens during a trip to Europe.

“This is the perfect confluence of events,” Rasmussen said. “I wanted to get into the beer business and Dan wanted to expand the shop’s beer and wine offerings.”

Rasmussen currently oversees 100 labels from around the world, with plans to carefully bring that number to 250, with an emphasis on local products as well as European ales and lagers. “I’m having fun introducing people to smoked lagers from Germany and sour ales from Belgium,” he said. Plans include a custom label of brews aged in a mix of wooden barrels from various sources, including wineries and distilleries.

As a wine retailer, Marshall has long focused on Europe, with an emphasis on Italy, Spain, and Greece; in fact, his lineup of Greek wines is one of the largest in the United States. With the expansion, he plans to deepen selections in all categories, eventually carrying 375 wines. Domestic selections will constitute approximately 20 percent of his offerings, with a concentration on local high-quality, small-production labels.

Rasmussen and Marshall are confident that Craft Beer & Wine fits neatly into the East Bay beverage landscape.

“I think craft beer is slowly making inroads into wine shops in America,” Marshall said, “And in the East Bay I don’t think anybody does what we are doing, which is to have a very high-quality craft beer and wine store on a small scale.” He explained that many beer stores might have a small selection of wine, and some wine shops are getting into the game with a little bit of beer, but nobody has committed to both beer and wine at the same time. A big advantage for this new template, he added, is that “the beer consumer tends to shop at all the beer stores in the East Bay. It is a very friendly community and I think we will stand out.”

Beer Revolution in Oakland (Berkeleyside)

Beer Revolution in Oakland (Berkeleyside)

Aaron Porter, co-owner of Oakland’s The Trappist, agrees with Marshall’s assessment of the East Bay beer community. “We tend to help each other out,” he explained. “We all recognize that we are a smaller city and we’re in this together. Whereas in San Francisco it’s people from all over the place who don’t really know each other. Everyone wants to be the hottest, best, latest new thing. The East Bay, however, seems more community-oriented. We know that helping each other out ultimately builds a better, stronger community.”

The Trappist opened on Eighth Street in Oakland in 2006, and a year ago expanded with The Trappist Provisions, a retail bottle shop with limited tap service on College Avenue on the Berkeley-Oakland border.

Further evidence of beer dynamism is the remarkable success of Beer Revolution, which opened near Jack London Square in 2010. Since then, according to owner and sole proprietor Rebecca Boyles, profits have risen 150 percent. She continues to carry more than 800 individual labels at any one time, as well as dozens of draft products that rotate on a regular basis. She, too, is optimistic about craft beer in the East Bay.

“People appreciate craft,” Boyles said. “It matters to them that the things they are eating or drinking are the result of passion and attention to detail. Also, Oakland has become a hub for the modern craft beer scene. And, happily, we have a diversity of outlets, which all play a particular role. What we do here at Beer Revolution is not what Aaron and Chuck are doing at The Trappist, or what is going on at Hog’s Apothecary, and so on.”

Is there room for new players in this already busy game? Porter believes that while more and more outlets have diffused the crowd, a saturation point has yet to be reached. “We’re very aware of all the expansion in the industry right now and especially in terms of local growth,” he said. “It will take some time to see if the population exists for all this business. Right now, there’s still room here to grow.”

Boyles is confident that Craft Beer & Wine is getting in at the right moment. “Not only will they be a welcome addition to the East Bay craft beer scene, this new shop will be a great asset to Alameda and the growth that’s taking place there,” she said, mentioning also the recent opening of a new brewery, Faction Brewing, at Alameda Point. “The diversity of beer today is incredible. There’s something for everybody, from the enthusiast to the beginner. What they do will help what the rest of us are already about.”

Many East Bay craft beer makers will be participating in SF Beer Week, which takes place Feb. 7-16 across multiple venues. Visit SF Beer Week’s website for full details.

KQED News Associate Berkeleyside is an independently owned news website based in Berkeley, Calif. Click here if you would you like to receive the latest Berkeley news in your inbox once a day for free with Berkeleyside’s Daily Briefing email.

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