Eyes on the Future at Alvarado Street

Alvarado Street Brewery

Alvarado Street Brewery in downtown Monterey, California

Behind almost any of the largest successful craft breweries, national or regional, there’s usually a well-known owner and/or brewer. Think Jim Koch at Boston Beer, Kim Jordan at New Belgium, Greg Koch (owner) and Mitch Steele (brewmaster) at Stone Brewing, Steve Hindy (owner) and Garrett Oliver (brewmaster) at Brooklyn Brewery or Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo at Russian River.

Much of their success is due to brewing consistently great beer and marketing it well. These days, though, a lot of folks are doing that. Just as with people, what sets Boston Beer, New Belgium, Stone, Brooklyn Brewery and Russian River apart is their long track records. Every individual mentioned above has over two decades in the commercial craft game.

Meanwhile, in 2014, one and half craft breweries opened every day in the U.S. Today’s new owners and brewers are just as passionate and hungry as the pioneers were, and given the array of brewing courses available now, they generally start the game with a lot more formal training.

(l to r) Assistant brewers Andrew Rose and Wade Caswell with J.C. Hill

(l to r) Assistant brewers Andrew Rose and Wade Caswell with J.C. Hill

Look behind the scenes at many young breweries and you’ll find some impressive, motivated people with their eyes on the future. J.C. Hill, owner and head brewer at Alvarado Street Brewery is one of them. After earning a B.A. in Hospitality Management at Cornell, J.C. and a friend opened a restaurant in San Diego, one of the oldest and most vibrant communities of home and craft brewing.

Before long, J.C. was seriously into homebrewing and considering a brewery. He got an Associate Degree from the Siebel Institute and became a Certified Cicerone. (See the July 28 post for more on the Cicerone program.) But the competition was stiff in San Diego. (As of August, 14, 2015, West Coaster, a website that keeps tabs on the San Diego beer industry, listed 113 licensed brew houses, 14 tasting rooms and 41 breweries in the planning stages.) Meanwhile, J.C.’s parents and sister had moved to Carmel Valley on the Monterey Peninsula where there were all of two breweries.

The main reasons for the dearth were the Peninsula’s water shortage and strict controls on water usage. Undeterred, J.C. leaned on the expertise of his father, John Hill, an architect with thirty years of experience building hotels and resorts. The father/son team found the perfect location: the old Regency movie theater on Alvarado, historic Monterey’s main street. Other than a community of resident pigeons, the building had sat empty for years. It was a quick walk from Fisherman’s Wharf and next door to a Walgreen’s with aisles full of tourist souvenirs. Best of all, it came with a hefty load of water credits.

The previous owner was in the process of dividing the building into three commercial units when the Hills came calling. Fast forward to May, 2014, when the Hills opened a beautiful brewery and restaurant that quickly began to attract locals and tourists.

Now jump fifteen months to last Thursday when J.C. and I chatted about those early days over a couple of his beers at a back table in Alvarado Street. “We’re really fortunate, but even so, it was tough for a while,” J.C. recalled, shaking his head, “until we turned a corner. We’ve improved in everything—from yeast management to analytical capabilities.”

I asked about water consumption. Many breweries use six to eight gallons of water to produce one gallon of beer. “We’re at about three to one,” J.C. answered. “A lot of that’s due to really good equipment. We recapture about 420 gallons of water of each (10-barrel or 310-gallon) batch we brew.”

The future looks bright for Alvarado Street. In the seven months of business in 2014, and with a 10-barrel brewhouse, they produced 400 barrels of beer. They anticipate 1000 barrels for 2015 and will soon build out the back parking lot with a beer garden and a to-go station. They just signed a five-year lease on the property. (Those precious water credits aren’t transferable between locations.) And there are plans for a 20-barrel production brewery in nearby Sprecklels.

Alvarado Street Chef Jeremiah Tydeman and J.C. Hill

Alvarado Street Chef Jeremiah Tydeman and J.C. Hill

J.C. has kept himself busy making friends in the community. One is Kevin Clark, brewmaster at nearby Peter B’s Brewpub. The two men have collaborated on three brews to date. In July, they and Montrio Bistro featured a beer pairing dinner where diners walked from one venue to another for the different courses.

The evening after the interview with J.C., my husband Hugo and I were back at Alvarado Street for their very first solo Brewmaster’s Dinner. For the occasion, they partnered with Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro on a collaboration pilsner dubbed “Little Mandarina,” which used the relatively new (2012) mandarina bavaria hop variety.

Little Mandarina kicked off the dinner and the next four courses alternated between the two breweries’ beers—Alvarado’s Bixby Belgian Wit, Drake’s Aroma Coma IPA, Drake’s Black Robusto Porter and Alvarado Street’s Cherry Cuvee Barleywine.

Alvarado Street Chef Jeremiah Tydeman shined, meeting the pairing and quality challenges superbly. The courses included fresh oysters, paté, crawfish, beef tenderloin and, finally, my favorite pairing, a phenomenal chocolate cake topped with amarine cherries to go with that cherry barleywine.

Drake's brewmaster, John Gillooly and Leslie

Drake’s brewmaster, John Gillooly and Leslie

My lucky bonus was a seat beside Drake’s brewmaster, John Gillooly, who had come down for the dinner. On the other side, I had my brewer husband, and across from us were acquaintance Bill Vandevort and his wife Debbie, who have been homebrewing regularly since 1985. Periodically J.C. would stop by and chat. Needless to say, the conversation was as outstanding as the beer and the food.

When Steve Hindy opened Brooklyn Brewery in 1988, there were no online Siebel classes, no Cicerone program, no beer pairing dinners. Craft beer was a tiny fringe niche. Today, it’s everywhere, commanding 11% of the U.S. beer market. Consumers are much more sophisticated. Equipment is greatly improved. What hasn’t changed is the need for passionate owners and brewers who work hard to consistently produce high quality beer. Watching where J.C. Hill and his generation take craft beer is going to be far more entertaining than any movie ever shown at the old Recency.

Comments

  1. Jackie Fobes says:

    Leslie,
    Very good article. Nice to hear about local people. Another local one you might enjoy talking with his Mark Fitch from Otter Ale. He is the Accountant at Poppy Hills Golf so best to reach him there if you are interested. Nice man and approachable.
    Best to you.
    Jackie

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Thanks, Jackie, for reading the Alvarado post and for the suggestion. It may be a while before I act on it, but I’ll put Mark and Otter Ale on my list. I’ve enjoyed a beer with Marine friends there on several occasions–a nice neighborhood bar.

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