The Story Behind Cervecería de MateVeza

Jim Woods & Matt Coelho / Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Imagine it’s a sunny summer day and you’ve been relaxing with friends all afternoon in Dolores Park. The crowds are starting to blot out the sun and you need a beer and snack to satisfy the munchies. You could head over to Bi-Rite, but the thought of rubbing elbows with grocery store shoppers is unappealing. Jim Woods and Matt Coelho think they have the perfect answer for you at the corner of 18th and Church Street. They’re opening the Cervecería de MateVeza on April 7, a nanobrewery, bar and bottle shop that sits on the edge of the park.

Woods is the founder of MateVeza, which for years has already developed a solid reputation for making craft beer infused with yerba mate, a naturally caffeinated herb from South America. He currently contract brews at Mendocino Brewing to produce a Black Lager, IPA and recently created a category defying beer in collaboration with Mill Valley Beerworks called Morpho, which incorporates hibiscus, bay leaves, and of course, yerba mate. With the advent Cervecería de MateVeza, he’ll finally have a place to call his own where he can meet customers, develop test batches on a 20 gallon system, sell bottles and serve empanadas.

Matt Coelho is a long time friend of Woods and a bartending veteran who’s plied the trade at venerable institutions like City Beer Store and Church Key. Woods thought his experience made him the perfect partner and together they started developing the vision for Cervecería de MateVeza back in 2011. After searching the city for available space the current “prime” location popped up and they jumped at it.

After several months of careful planning and construction they developed a cozy spot to serve MateVeza beer alongside a large selection of other brands on tap and in bottles. The space is small, but it’s filled with character and personal touches that support MateVeza’s image. They’ve incorporated reclaimed lumber, vintage windows from Urban Ore to make a curio cabinet, shipped a chandelier from SoCal via Craigslist rideshare, and Woods backed the bar with his grandmother’s old mirror, which was replaced in her home by a flat screen TV.

Earlier this week I sat down with Woods and Coelho to talk about how the Cervecería concept evolved, how it will serve as a laboratory, their interest in serving empanadas, and how MateVeza was born.

 

Why did you decide to open a home for MateVeza and how do you see it functioning?

Woods: I really wanted to have a physical location for MateVeza. I’ve been brewing for a long time at Mendocino Brewing and they’re a great production partner, but thought it would be great if I had a place I could call my own. I thought Matt was the perfect person to partner up with on it. I talked to him about what I had in mind and then we started looking for spaces. We weren’t really crazy about anything we saw and then this place became available and I remember sending him an email with the title “Holy Shit.” So we just jumped on it. We see it as a place where we can brew small batch beer, experiment and do interesting things, pair it with empanadas and then we can take those recipes and scale them up at Mendocino. We also thought that this area was a little underserved in terms of having good craft beer and I think we met a need here.

Coelho: We looked at some places in Russian Hill and further out in the Mission. We were looking to maybe serve the Mission Dolores, slash Noe area, which like Jim said are underserved, and when this place popped up it was a no brainer. We’re right between four or five different neighborhoods, we’ve got MUNI, we’ve got foot traffic with people coming and going from the park walking their dogs, it’s a corner location and it’s small and manageable for people who are new to owning and operating their own place. I’ve been serving a lot, but I haven’t been managing. Having to keep an eye on what’s moving quickly in the fridges and what I need to order in a place this size is a good start for the both of us to try our hand at a brick and mortar location.

When you thought about opening this place, what did you want people to get out of it and what were the most important design features?

Woods: It’s a blessing and curse, I think mostly a blessing in how small this place is, but its got a great layout and frankly it kind of gave us comfort that we could wrap our head around it. I think the important thing for us was creating a really comfortable environment for people to come and relax, incorporate brewing, food and bottles in a way that doesn’t have somebody’s head exploding.

Coelho: One of things we kept in mind the most was the flow around the space. We asked ourselves how can we make sure this place, in spite of its size, is still a fun place to shop or hang out? We wanted to make sure people can come in here and relax at the bar or in the window with a beer and empanada, while someone else can get at the fridge, pick out a beer and maybe ask us a few questions without having to crowd around people hanging out drinking beers.

 

I’m surprised to see you selling a lot more beer here then just the MateVeza brands. Could you talk a little about that business decision?

Woods: I think MateVeza is a different type of beer. It sounds like I’m shooting myself in the foot, but I don’t have many customers that drink only my beer the whole night, so I think the people that really enjoy MateVeza, are the ones that have two or three maté beers and maybe two other beers. I think putting it in a environment with other awesome craft beer is really a way to make it grow.

Coelho: I think it also shows the way we see ourselves. We’re both cicerones and beer geeks first. We geek out about a new beer just as much as anybody else and when we go and hang out at beer bars we’re excited about all the different beers. MateVeza just happens to be the brand we’re behind because we’re big maté fans as well. I think it’s a good thing when you see a MateVeza sitting next to a St. Bernardus. We’re excited about having the other beers next to the MateVeza beers. It allows us to explore our beer geekdom and help us talk about our brand and get people more familiar with it.

Could you talk a little bit more about how this place will be a laboratory for test batches?

Woods: Yeah, right now my laboratory is my homebrewing setup, which is great but this is going to be a better system with the steam jackets and we’re also going to have an awesome little focus group. We can have people sit here, try new beer in front of us and they can respond to a Sour Mash Saison, or if we’re doing something different and people are really digging it then we’ll know we’re onto something. Or, if we’re not doing something so great then we’re not going to brew a hundred barrels of it and go “Wow, maybe we should have done our homework on this?” It just makes a lot of sense. I think it’s great that some people can put together the capital and build a production brewery, but I didn’t think that was for my brand. We have a great production partner in Mendocino and we’ll continue to utilize that. In the meantime this will be the creative engine for the brand.

I’m curious about your interest in yerba maté and South America. I’m not sure a lot of people know and understand why? Could you explain how this interest evolved?

Woods: So when I was in college my cousin introduced me to yerba maté and I loved it. I just loved the ritual, the cup, passing it around and how it brought people together. It’s kind of like the green tea of South America. It’s prevalent in Argentina and Brazil. I’ve been down there to experience it first hand as well and visited where maté is grown. So I was drinking maté one day and then a little bit later I had a pale ale in my apartment and I just felt the bitterness of the mate and the bitterness of the hops. They seemed to be doing similar things, so I thought what if I brewed with mate, toned down the hops and created a different type of bitterness? Then I started to experiment with different styles and after several iterations I approached a brewery and scaled up the recipe and took it to market. That’s kind of the genesis of the brand. People are gravitating more and more towards maté. It’s doing really well in natural food stores and co-ops. The health benefits are awesome. It’s filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. I think the time is coming for MateVeza especially with yerba maté blowing up.

 

Your food program seems like a natural extension from your interest in yerba maté.

Woods: That’s exactly right and we also think that empanadas are an overlooked type of food. For this location, the convenience made sense and we’ve done a lot of test pairings. The Morpho goes really well with the polo empanada, while the carne and mushroom go well with the black lager. We approached El Porteño. The founder, Joseph Ahearne, learned how to make them from his Argentinean mother and he started making them here in the city. He has a kiosk at the Ferry Building. He uses a lot of awesome local ingredients and they’re really delicious. We just thought he would be a natural fit. He knew the power of this location for the brand and was really excited. He’s going to deliver them and then we’ll bake them here.

Meet the Can Van: Craft Beer Canning on Wheels

Jenn Coyle, Lindsey Herrema & Barley / Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Picture this: You’re a small brewery that’s looking to expand to stores and markets all across your area. The thing is, you don’t have a bottling line and filling bombers by hand is more of a pain in the ass than you pictured. Sure it worked when you were home brewing, but we’re talking barrels of beer here. What can you do? Jenn Coyle and Lindsey Herrema might have the answer.

Jenn and Lindsey (and their mascot Barley) run a mobile canning line, dubbed the Can Van, which just got off the ground right here in the Bay Area. They just got back from picking up their custom trailer in Colorado and I managed to track them down at Devil’s Canyon Brewing in Belmont where they were doing their first run of cans.

The Can Van concept emerged from their final semester at Presidio Graduate School where they, along with several other classmates, worked on a solid business plan as a class exercise.  While conducting research on the idea, they received very enthusiastic responses from the breweries they called, such as “That’s a great idea! When can I hire you?”  Needless to say, they were on a roll before they even got started. After numerous presentations and some fundraising, the Can Van became a reality.

“Cans you say? I thought there had to be minimum orders of 100,000 for can production?”  That’s true. If a brewery wanted to use cans with a design that’s printed directly on the aluminum, then a minimum order of 100,000 is necessary. Luckily Jenn and Lindsey have found a way to label the cans themselves, as they would appear on beer bottles. This means no huge orders and no pallets of cans just sitting around for a year waiting to be used. They just order the amount of cans needed and buy the labels. The rest is beer history.

With so much beer to process I was curious about the speed of the canning line. I’ve heard many brewers talk about how slow a canning line is compared to a bottling line. When Jenn told me they could process 36 cans a minute, that lingering doubt went out the window. In fact, they’re able to package 30 barrels in a single day at full speed. I wonder if larger breweries will simply hire them full time to can year-round?

The Can Van will operate much like the mobile bottling line that many local breweries utilize. While they want to stay near the Bay Area, if there’s another region of brewers that want to can their beer then they’re totally down for traveling where there’s work to be done. In fact, they’ve been eyeing a trip up to Oregon to help out a few breweries there.

It’s pretty amazing what they’re doing, taking the whole canning trend and building a solid business around it. Right now they’re just getting started with their first client, but they could easily have more demand then they can manage, just like many breweries that can’t make enough beer to satisfy customers. It’s a great problem to have and I wish it on them.

Old Mining Town Gives Up Gold for Hops

Brewmaster Brian Ford / Photos © Brian Stechschulte

Auburn Alehouse is located in, well, Auburn, CA.  An old mining town that has had to re-purpose itself for tourism, Auburn sits so close to I-80 that by the time you get off the exit you’re in the heart of downtown.  The first thing you’ll notice is the town’s strict adherence to the old “mining era” vibe.  The storefronts look like they’re from an old western movie, which made the Hawaiian-themed store all the more silly looking.  Nothing says cold mountain town like Bermuda shorts and t-shirts that a cruise line threw up on.  But enough of that, let’s get to the brewery.

The layout of the Auburn Alehouse is spectacular.  It’s a large building and the owners have been very creative with all the space.  The bar is made from a beautiful piece of wood stretching the length of the restaurant and the brewing area is located behind tall windows at the back of the building.  All the tanks are stacked on steel beams and clean as a whistle.  It’s great when a brewery showcases their tanks. It never feels like a brewery without at least some equipment on display.  Brewers tend to hate being featured like zoo animals in a cage, but it appeals to customers.

After ordering the complete flight of samples I started off with their pilsner and lager.  It’s really hard to find good lagers and pilsners and I didn’t want to blow my taste buds away at first.  Up until then my experience with Auburn Alehouse was limited to their tasty uber-hoppy Gold Digger IPA, so I didn’t expect much from their lagers, but they weren’t just good, they were delicious. Both were crisp, refreshing and so flavorful that after the flight was finished I ordered a pint of each before heading out the door.

Their Gold Digger IPA is a staple of mine, but in all honestly those two beers were my favorite beers of the day.  The Shanghai Stout also stands out as a great beer, but my mind kept wandering back to the lagers whenever I thought about the brewery (the pilsner won Bronze at GABF in 2010).

Brewmaster Brian Ford was there working on his latest batch and took some time out of his day to show me around the brewery and answer questions.  Like many small breweries that produce popular beer, Auburn is running into supply issues and just can’t keep up with demand.  A good problem to have, but also frustrating.  The brewery is nearly maxed out of space and might have to start contract brewing like many popular small breweries.

Altitude also plays a role in the brewing process at Auburn. Higher altitudes means water boils at lower temperatures and it also takes longer to boil (crazy, eh?).  This increases costs a bit. I can’t imagine what breweries in Colorado have to do to make their beer.

Expanding into different styles, Ford just released a barrel-aged version of his Old Prospector Barleywine. He even went the extra mile by wax-sealing the bottles.  He was aiming for that cool Makers Mark drippy wax look to the bottle, but they must use some sort of plastic because I’ve never seen a beer bottle with that drippy look.  By the way, brewers might want to avoid that red appearance since Makers Mark seems to be “sue-happy” about its wax look.  An interesting wax factoid that surprised me, was that dipping bottles in the gooey substance can damage the beer if the heat is too high or it’s exposed for too long. Apparently it’s a very delicate process.

All in all, Auburn Alehouse is a great place to stop and have a pint on your way through town. The beers are fantastic, the vibe is welcoming and if you’re passing through to hit the slopes or are headed to Reno I couldn’t recommend it more.  I just wish they could spare a few more hundred gallons of beer and send it down to the Bay Area.

New Year Brings New Brewery to San Francisco

Photos © Brian Stechschulte

“This is one of the larger projects to happen in this area and the brewing community. I invite everyone to come see it.” – Chris Lawrence

If all goes as planned, Southern Pacific Brewing will open its doors in the Mission District at 620 Treat Ave in mid to late January. Planning and build out has been in the works for two years. San Francisco native and beer industry veteran Chris Lawrence is working with his business partner Anthony LaVia to put the final touches on the new space, while waiting for the last permit to be approved.

Once that’s behind them, patrons will arrive and be greeted by an outdoor patio and a lofty two-level interior bathed in natural light and framed in steel, chain link fence and wood. Architect Seth Boor of Boor Bridges Architecture took on the project, who is well known for transforming old industrial spaces. Former projects include Four Barrel Coffee and Flora Grubb Gardens.

The space feels cool and hardened like you might expect, but a few soft touches breath life into the bar, which is backed by reclaimed Redwood. Lawrence, who also served as the general contractor, acquired the antiquated wood from a 130-year-old barn on his parent’s property in Mendocino that was falling over. Only the barn door seems to have remained intact, which is pinned to the wall next to a restroom entrance. The bar top, tables and chairs were also fashioned from reclaimed Douglas fir.

Along with some vintage light bulbs and forest green tile work, that’s the extent of the decor as it stands now except for one final touch that’s yet to be installed. Two holes were cut out of the concrete slab so large trees could be planted that will rise toward the skylights and give the space a beer garden touch. Capacity should clock in around one hundred for guests who want to sit and eat, while there is plenty of standing room.

Lawrence cut his teeth doing local and national sales at Speakeasy Ales & Lagers and then did a stint with Matagrano, a regional wholesaler. He recruited another Speakeasy alum, Andy French, to crank out brew from their 15-barrel system, which was pulled out of a warehouse where it had been sitting since Potrero Brewing Company closed in March of 2002. French will also be working on a 4-barrel system to craft experimental batches. Brewing capacity is set at 2,000 barrels per year.

Southern Pacific actually holds two alcohol licenses that make it a brewpub and production brewery. One license, a type 75, allows them to function as a brewpub and serve wine and liquor in addition to beer. The other license, a type 23, is for retail production.

According to Lawrence, “Technically we’re two different breweries on the same premise.” This may seem odd, but it’s not terribly unusual. For customers it means they can enjoy the beer on-site and find it at another bar in town.

The brewery has already made a few batches and the style sensibility will be decidedly West Coast. Right now you can expect a Pale Ale, IPA, a White Beer and a Porter along with three other beers, which is all their seven serving tanks will allow. “If there’s a demand we’ll make more,” said Lawrence, whose also going to let French play with barrel aging down the road. The winery next door, A.P. Vin, may even provide the barrels.

Aside from Southern Pacific’s beer, they’ll also offer a fully stocked bar, wine, guest taps and food will be prepared by Chef Tyler Morrish. He’s worked at Osteria Coppa and with Rich Higgins on his Brewmaster Dinner Series at Social Kitchen & Brewery. Lawrence described the menu as “pub fare” and it will include burgers, sandwiches, small pizzas, and salads. “We want to keep it casual and be here for everyone, whether they’re looking for a neighborhood bar or want the brewpub experience.”

So far some of the neighbors have welcomed Southern Pacific with open arms. Even the Principal of a nearby school wrote them a supportive letter, who appreciated how the new business would benefit the neighborhood. Lawrence said “It’s unique, there’s no other business like it in this area.”

The breweries name actually stems from industrial history of the Mission District. The Southern Pacific Railroad carved right through the heart of the neighborhood within a block of the brewery and down Harrison.  “The imagery and the industrial feel of what San Francisco was at the time spoke to us,” according to Lawrence. Beer names may even pay homage to the past. The railroad company had a passenger line called the Cascade Limited. Sounds perfect right?

Southern Pacific Train at Harrison & 21st, 1905. Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

It’s been awhile since the city has welcomed a newly built brewery of this size and ambition. With demand for craft beer continuing to increase, up 16% in 2011, I expect a thirsty audience will descend on Southern Pacific.

Strike Brewing Hopes to Draw a Crowd of Thirsty South Bay Sports Enthusiasts

Jenny Lewis & Drew Erhlich / Photo © Brian Stechschulte

Office cubicles are a daydream incubator. The drab interior, droning computer fan and annoying neighbors can suck the life out of any man or woman. With a little forethought and diligent planning anyone can break down the walls of corporate fatigue. Jenny Lewis and Drew Ehrlich started assembling their escape plan three years ago. Both were spending hours of free time over the homebrew kettle and decided it would be a more fulfilling career in spite of the risk.

Not long after the plan was hatched, Lewis went to business school at Rice University where she spent two years writing the business plan, researching the industry and getting advice from anyone she could, while Ehrlich was fine tuning recipes at home. The day after graduation capital razing commenced and permit applications were filed so Strike Brewing could call the South Bay home. Lewis, 27, will fill the CEO position and Ehrlich, 29, is the brewmaster.

Their first three batches were contract brewed earlier this month over at Hermitage Brewing. According to Lewis “we wanted to get the product out as soon as we could and start establishing accounts, while still raising capital. We plan on opening our own facility in the spring or summer of 2012. It will be a fifteen to twenty barrel production and warehouse facility with a tasting room in the front, which we would like to locate within walking distance of downtown Campbell or Los Gatos.”

On December 15th, kegs and six packs of Strike Brewing Blonde, Porter and Brown will start turning up in bars and stores in the South Bay, which are part of their Session Series. “Right now we want to offer people beers they can have a couple of with friends. Eventually we’ll turn things up a notch with an IPA and a few seasonals in 2012,” said Ehrlich.

The series also ties into their active lifestyle-marketing plan, which Lewis explained is targeted towards a wide range of individuals who walk the dog or run a marathon. “In Northern California people are doing every sport you can imagine. We want to reach out to people that may be conscious of calories and give them an alternative to Bud Light. For us it’s more about full flavor and modest alcohol.”

The effort will extend even further as they attempt to build an athletic community around the brand, which will start with a free running club and extend to sponsorship of marathons and other sporting events. “We want to have a community that can identify with Strike. We both love sports and we know and understand the market” said Lewis, who’s been competing in triathlons since being a collegiate swimmer. Ehrlich retired from a career in professional baseball.

By now you’ve probably made a connection between the brewery’s name and their fondness for sports, but it wasn’t meant to be a clear correlation. They simply wanted a one-syllable name that was easy to spell, could convey a variety of different meanings and be memorable. As for the Phoenix on the logo, it doesn’t contain any personal significance, but it’s hard to ignore the symbolism of the mythical bird. Starting any business is a trial by fire that can lead to rebirth or reinvention. For Lewis and Ehrlich, this could be the beginning of a craft beer transformation.