(Healdsburg, California.) – Healdsburg Beer Company is proud to announce the release of “The H Cubed” Anniversary Ale to celebrating its third successful year in business. “It’s basically a riff on a Belgian Tripel,” said founder and brewer Kevin McGee. “We’re going to release it in July, to coincide with the third anniversary of the final licensing of my garage as a commercial brewery.”
“The H Cubed” is made with organic pilsner malt and a few other grains, imported Saaz hops, a good measure of local honey and the brewery’s house yeast strain. “I generally don’t make many high alcohol beers, but I love Tripels and for the anniversary I wanted to do something a little different. I’ve also wanted to work some local honey into a beer for sometime,” McGee said.
Founded by wine industry executive and entrepreneur Kevin McGee in his garage, Healdsburg Beer Company, with annual production of under 1,000 gallons, is one of the earliest breweries of what has become a national nano-brewery movement. “The popularity of nano-brewing is really incredible. When I started the brewery in 2007, I was able to find Two Beers Brewing Co. and Schooner Exact in Seattle, Breaker Brewing in Pennsylvania, Heater Allen in Oregon and maybe one other outfit on the East Coast, but other than the legend of Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head in 1995 that was it. Homebrew forums had no shortage of homebrewers wanting to open tiny breweries, but everyone seemed to think it was impossible.” That has changed. “I get a pretty constant stream of emails and calls about starting a nano-brewery. It’s great to talk to people from all over the country with the passion to get involved in brewing on a scale like this. No one thinks its impossible any more and it’s feeding and being fed by the momentum and power of the craft beer culture. It’s a great time for beer.”
Nano-breweries are generally defined (by vague consensus) as very small production commercial breweries, often operated by people who maintain non-brewing day jobs and serving hyper-local markets. Nano-breweries have experienced remarkable popularity in the past two years, with an unofficial tally (maintained by nano-brewery Hess Brewing) listing over 60 licensed and operating nano-breweries in the United States and over 40 more in planning. New Hampshire has recently enacted a licensing category for nano-breweries and the Federal Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau recognizes nano-breweries now and even has a FAQ entry for them.
A lawyer by trade and a graduate of the Executive Program at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, McGee came to starting Healdsburg Beer Company as an extension of his day job in the wine industry. “I had been doing a good deal of business planning and strategy at the time and had already gone fairly far down the rabbit-hole of home brewing.” McGee said. “I inevitably came home and penciled out a business plan for a commercial brewery I could run in my garage. The next day I showed it to my boss, almost as a joke, and he took it seriously and we spent the better part of a day working through it. At the end of the day, we were both pretty excited and thought it was a good idea. I went home and talked to my wife and we decided to go for it. My daughter was only a few months old at the time, but the signal from the baby monitor reached the garage so I was good to go.”
Looking back, McGee makes it clear that, while fun, it has certainly been a great deal of work. “The threshold problem was that no one made nano-sized brewery equipment. You had to design your own brewhouse, go hire a welder to put it together, source components and learn to wire your control panel and also find creative ways to manage fermentation temperatures.” McGee says that was just the start. “Then – the important part – you had to make the whole thing work, and work reliably, to let you brew consistent, exceptional beer. With new recipes. I’ve had a lot of late nights.”
With regard to the beer, McGee counts himself lucky to have a secret weapon – his wife. “As a nano-brewery,” McGee continued, “if you screw up and make something that’s not good enough to sell, you just lost several weeks of production and probably an account. There really isn’t any room for error – you can’t make marginal beer.” McGee’s spouse, Katee Pendergast-McGee, a professional photographer with a strong background in design, has directed and produced all of the imagery and merchandise for the brewery and is an integral part of the recipe development. “She’s got this amazing palate and tastes everything we brew with an eye on ‘do more of this, less of that.’ I’ve tried to mess with her by throwing in other commercial beers from time to time and she’s never been fooled.” The partnership is working, apparently, as each of the brewery’s year round offerings have been awarded medals from the US Open Beer Championship. “We take the beer very seriously.” McGee said. “I believe that at my size I have no excuse to cut any corners. It can be pretty labor intensive.” Apparently the beer drinking public has caught on, and is literally drinking the brewery dry. “I used to keep a keg on tap in the brewery for family and friends who came by – not anymore. Presently, I can meet about 20% of the current demand. In 2010 we tripled what we did in 2009 and we are on pace to double those 2010 numbers this year.”
After more than three years of work and late nights, McGee still says he’d do it again. “It’s been a ton of work, but I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done and the beer we produce. We’ve had such a great reception from the locals and gotten a lot of love from the professional community as well. I feel really honored to be part of the craft brewing community, even if it is just a nano-part.”
About Healdsburg Beer Company.
Healdsburg Beer Company is an independent and family owned artisan brewery. The brewery produces limited quantities of artisan cask ales using only the finest ingredients in laboriously attended to small lots. Healdsburg Beer Company produces three year round offerings, “The Fitch Cask” California Golden Ale, “The Lytton Cask” Robust Porter and “The Alexander Cask” English-Style IPA, as well as a continuously evolving selection of seasonal releases. For more information, come visit us at www.HealdsburgBeerCompany.com.