Freewheeling with a Beer Geek

Freewheel Brewing Co.If you’re not a beer drinker, but you find yourself hanging out with a beer geek—either as a friend or romantic partner—be prepared to spend time in beer places.

My friends, J and J (abbreviated to protect the identity of the non-beer drinkers), and I get along for a lot of reasons. One is our day trips which culminate with a visit to an area brewpub of my choice. That was how, a week and a half ago, the Js and I ended up 90 miles from home at Freewheel Brewing Company in Redwood City, California.

The British-style pub shares a patio with a Mexican taquería in a strip mall near Highway 101. Opened in late 2012, they specialize in session brews (=lower alcohol by volume) and English-style cask-conditioned ales (which carbonate by yeast fermenting sugars in the cask as opposed to force-carbonation by injecting CO2 into the beer.)

Devin Roberts

Devin Roberts

Compared to their U.S. counterparts, British beers tend to be less carbonated, less hopped, a little lower in ABV and served at cellar temperature, 50 degrees Fahrenheit. As expected, Freewheel had a Stout, a Scottish Ale, an English IPA, an Ordinary Bitter and—this one took me a few seconds—an FSB (Freewheel Special Bitter), their take on an ESB.

About the time I paid the guy working the register a very reasonable $9.00 for a six-sampler flight, a second employee emerged from the small brewery behind the bar and went to work filling the order. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation with Devin started, but before long, he had fetched head brewer Alisha Blue. Minutes later, I was back in the brewery snapping photos of Alisha in front of Freewheel’s 6-barrel UK system (roughly 8.5 U.S. barrels or 263 U.S. gallons.)

Alisha Blue

Alisha Blue

By the time we finished the impromptu photo shoot, a list of interview questions was forming in my head. Could I email them? “Sure,” she replied, “or we could talk now. I’ve got some time.” And that was how I abandoned the Js, who by then, had claimed a table on the patio.

I soon learned that Alisha was 32, from Idaho, a graduate of the respected Siebel Institute of Technology and had spent a year brewing in England. Ask almost any craft brewer how they got their start and they’ll answer, “Homebrewing.” Alisha’s story had a different twist. She and her husband moved to Germany for his work. There, she homebrewed more out of necessity, due to a lack of diverse beer styles. She was looking for a new career, and started thinking about professional brewing. “I decided that brewing was like cooking, which I enjoyed, but with better hours. I wanted something hands-on, and brewing is a stable industry because everybody enjoys a good beer.”

So she signed up for a Siebel online course. A year later, she went to Chicago for the seven weeks of onsite class in the advanced course. Then, it was back to Germany for thirteen weeks where Siebel graduates finish their training. After that came the year in England, where she worked at Rooster’s Brewing Co. Then, two years ago, Alisha and her husband landed in the Bay Area. Life at Freewheel has been good, so good that, when we spoke, Alisha was wrapping up her first week as head brewer.

About the beers…

Those on the sampler ranged from 3.5 to 5.6 in ABV, similar to a Bud Light and a regular Bud—and very different from Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA with a whopping 18% ABV. “We’re basically a family pub,” Alisha said. “You can bring your kids or you can come with friends for an afternoon.”

I asked about the hops in Ironbridge Gold. “Centennial,” she replied.

“That’s a very American hop.”

Freewheel bar

Freewheel’s bar

“All our malt is imported from English, most of the hops are American.” Freewheel hops their brews a tad more than most traditional British breweries, a nod to the hoppy U.S. West Coast style.

The last beer on the flight was the stout, a style the Brits are famous for. A half hour had gone by since the beer was served, but it still had a healthy head, for which I complimented Alisha. “It’s the sparklers we use. They build head, change the aesthetic and create a mouthfeel almost like the beer’s on nitrogen.” This British pub was so darn authentic.

British beer bloggers Boak & Bailey explained sparklers in a 2008 post as “a little plastic device that sits on the end of the pump and has lots of little holes, to create tiny little gas bubbles as your pint is dispensed.  You end up with a creamy head that takes ages to settle.”

I mentioned that my husband was a real fan of English-style beers, and Alisha pointed out that Freewheel had recently begun bottling.

When I finally headed out the door with a couple of bottles, I found the Js settled in for the long haul. J One was sipping a Coke with her feet up on patio chair. J Two nursed a glass of white wine and a look that said she’d been ready to go for a while. But, if they were irritated, they weren’t expressing it in words. Obviously, they’ve learned that if you hang out with a beer geek, you inevitably end spending time in beer places.

Freewheel Brewing Company is located at 3736 Florence Street, Redwood City, California.

Freewheel's walk-in Freewheel keg

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