Alvarado Steet Brewery: How One Little Brewpub is Growing Up

(l to r) Brewers Andrew Rose, Wade Caswell and J.C. Hill at Alvarado Street Brewery in 2015

(l to r) Brewers Andrew Rose, Wade Caswell and J.C. Hill at Alvarado Street Brewery in 2015

J.C. Hill is one busy guy. In the last 2½ years, he’s opened Alvarado Street Brewery and Grill in downtown Monterey, California, added 1) a beer garden out back, 2) a production brewery 15 miles away and, 3) a child to his family. And then there are those Great American Beer Festival medals.

In August, 2015, I wrote a post about ASB and called it, “Eyes on the Future at Alvarado Street.” At the time, the 10-barrel brewpub was off to a strong start and J.C. talked about his plans for a beer garden and a production facility in nearby Salinas. Fourteen months later, the Monterey brewpub and beer garden with a Crowler machine fill up pretty much every evening and the 20-barrel production brewery is filling up with equipment, aging barrels and thirsty Alvarado fans.

Shortly before the April opening of the Salinas brewery, Merideth Canham-Nelson interviewed J.C. for an article in the Monterey Herald and quoted him saying, “Salinas is an untapped market.” There have been reasons for that.

Entrance to ASB's Salinas brewery

Entrance to ASB’s Salinas brewery

The city of 155,000 sits in the heart of the Salinas Valley, one of the most fertile areas of the United States. Many of the residents or their parents in this predominantly Latino city are immigrants who came to work in the fields or in related industries. The biggest event of the year is the 106-year-old California Rodeo Salinas (pronounced ro-DAY-o), the largest rodeo in California and one of the top 20 in the country. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, while median household income in California was $61,400, in Salinas it was $50,587. The city faces challenges with gangs, crime and high dropout rates in the schools.

Meanwhile, nationally, the largest demographic of craft beer consumers is millennial college graduates with higher incomes. While the racial make-up of craft consumers is slowly diversifying, according to a Nielsen survey quoted in the San Diego Union Tribune in June, only 8.4% of craft consumers are Hispanic.

Until ASB opened, Salinas had just two other brewpubs, Monterey Coast Brewing and a BJ’s. ASB’s focus is the production brewery, with the taproom only open Tuesday-Friday, 3:00-8:00 p.m. Advertising has been minimal—the Salinas facility only recently got a link on the newly revamped ASB website.

Last Friday, my brewer husband Hugo and I made the drive over to Salinas, pulling into the brewery’s small parking area around 4:30 p.m. Inside, with nary an empty seat, we worked our way toward the bar, moving through a laid-back crowd that was diverse in age and race.

ASB Salinas' bar last Friday afternoon

ASB Salinas’ bar early last Friday afternoon

Beers in hand, we headed toward the roped-off brewing area where, as luck would have it, we found J.C. Hill and some of his seven—soon to be eight—brewers and promptly congratulated them on that GABF silver medal they had won only a week earlier. Having just returned from Denver, where their Mai Tai Pale Ale was one of 90 entries in the Australian-Style or International-Style Pale Ale category, the group was still pumped about Mai Tai’s back-to-back wins. (Last year, it took the first-place gold.)

The crew was tired but in good spirits after wrapping up a collaboration brew that day with the respected Sante Adarius Rustic Ales from Santa Cruz. Brewer John Gallante pointed toward a section of oak barrels filled with aging beers and indicated a large, cloth-covered barrel with a brew in open fermentation.

Open-fermentation barrel to right

Open-fermentation barrel in the center

This tricky type of fermentation, which relies on ambient yeast and bacteria, and the barrel aging are two of many things J.C. and his brewers have delved into with considerable success. The cleverly-named offerings on the ASB menu change frequently and include J.C.’s take on classic West Coast IPAs (Minesweeper) and hazy Northeast IPAs (Haze of Our Lives), kettle-soured brews (Tell Me When to Gose) and seasonals (currently Danktoberfest).

“Any plans to expand taproom hours?” I asked as more thirsty patrons streamed through the open door.

“Eventually,” J.C. said with a grin. “I’ve just been too busy with other things.”

No doubt about that. Or that all that busy-ness is making a lot of folks in Monterey County very happy.

Note: This Saturday, October 22, noon-4:00 p.m., you can find Alvarado Street Brewery pouring their beers along with 20 other breweries at the inaugural Oldtown Salinas Beertober Fest. Click here for more information.


Brewers John Galante, J.C. Hill and moi last Friday at ASB Salinas

Brewers John Galante, J.C. Hill and moi last Friday at ASB Salinas

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