Brewing beer with Oakland’s Linden Street Brewery
on February 18, 2011
Perched above a steaming stainless steel cauldron, Adam Lamoreaux rhythmically stirs the contents with a large metal oar. Inside, a thick amber-colored concoction of cracked grains and hot water simmers. As he continues to stir, a sweet malty smell fills the air. Lamoreaux looks down into the vat and studies his mixture, then says, “For the first two years of my daughter’s life, she thought I made oatmeal.”
Lamoreaux is working on the first step of making beer, called mashing – and basically it is just like making oatmeal. “It’s grain and hot water,” Lamoreaux says as he stirs. “I’m making sure there’s no dough balls, making sure it’s all mixed up.”
It’s San Francisco Beer Week this week, meaning hundreds of events that showcase Bay Area beer, and as the owner of Linden Street Brewery—the only production brewery in Oakland—Lamoreaux is stretched thin. Between attending tastings, contests and Q&A sessions, Lamoreaux also has to keep brewing beer.
Down at Linden Street, in the industrial part of West Oakland next to the port, Lamoreaux is mashing grain to make his Urban People’s Common Lager. This golden beer is smooth and not too high in alcohol; it has a slight bitterness with a dose of malt to tone it down.
To make it he combines two different types of malt, specialty and pale. Before he began the mashing for this batch, he milled and cracked about 600 pounds of malt grain. As he bounded up and down the stairs of the brewery switching levers on and off, getting ready to mash, he announced, “Let’s get this party started.”
The building that Linden Street occupies was built in 1890 and originally produced electric cabling; it has two-story-high brick walls and the original wood-beamed ceiling with skylights. Lamoreaux signed the lease in 2005 but didn’t officially start up the brewery until 2009. “It was a boot-strapped project,” he says. “We didn’t have a bank loan, it was a piece-by-piece thing.”
Besides getting the funding, Lamoreaux also had to work with the City of Oakland to make the brewery legal and up to safety standards. Oakland hadn’t had a production brewery since 1959, so there was nothing in the books about how the process worked. “We had to learn together,” he says.
Oakland once was a big beer city. In 1890, the city had 40,000 residents and more than 40 breweries producing 35,000 barrels of beer a year. By 1959, Oakland’s last production brewery, Golden West Brewing Co., was making half a million barrels of beer a year and the city had 200,000 residents. Now, Oakland has around 400,000 residents and Linden Street is only making 1,000 barrels of beer a year. (For comparison, Anchor Brewing, based in San Francisco, makes 150,000 barrels a year and Anheuser-Busch makes 100 million.)
“We are a very tiny brewery in a very big city,” Lamoreaux says. “We never make beer fast enough, we are always running out.”
When Lamoreaux, who had worked in the beer industry for several years prior, first set his sights on opening a brewery in Oakland he wasn’t sure what kind of beers he wanted to make. “But when I got this space I said, ‘I’m going to make beers like they made back in 1890,’” he says. “The building says it all.”
Lamoreaux was determined to make a unique beer. “I didn’t want to bring sand to the beach,” he says, “We had to throw our flag down somewhere else and come up with something different.”
He says his interpretation of beer comes from three places: yeast, equipment and leaving the liquid in a natural condition like what was done in the 1800s, which means not filtering the beverage and letting it carbonate naturally. “It gives it a natural rustic flavor,” he says. “I like my beers to feel alive.”
When Lamoreaux first started brewing the Urban People’s Common Lager, he says he imagined what Jack London would’ve been drinking back in the day—a crisp, drinkable golden beer that still has complex flavors. “I wanted to make a working man’s lager, a longshoreman’s lager,” he says.
After a few months, Lamoreaux started making his other beer—the Burning Oak Black Lager, now his most popular. “I call it the beer that’s going to put my kids through college,” he says. It’s a black beer with a light chocolately and roasted flavor with about 5.5 percent alcohol. “Even though it’s dark, it’s not heavy,” he says. “It’s not as ominous as it looks.”
Both of Linden Street’s beers are lagers. Most beer falls into two categories: ale or lager. The difference between the two is based on the type of yeast used and the fermentation times. Lager yeast gathers at the bottom of the fermentation tank and works at lower temperatures than ale yeast. Lagers are also fermented for a longer period than ales, which creates a clearer, lighter beer. Typical lagers are pale, pilsner and dark lager, while typical ales are India pale ale, stout and wheat beer.
All beer is made from four staple ingredients: malt, water, hops and yeast. As Lamoreaux finishes making the mash, he begins the next step of the process called sparging by spraying hot water on the mixture and separating the liquid from the malt. “So much water has been added that it stripped the color, flavor and sugar from the grain,” he says. “Basically we are starting the process to make sugar water, which will be fed to yeast.”
After boiling the liquid for an hour and adding in the hops, which gives the beer aroma and bitterness, it’s cooled and pumped into the fermentation tanks where the yeast is waiting. “When I pump the beer in there, that yeast is going to start eating,” Lamoreaux says. “The thing that comes out of it is alcohol and CO2.”
The yeast takes a week to eat through the sugars, then another week or two to actually ferment. “Yeast is like people,” he says. “It wants dessert before vegetables.”
Once fermented, the brewing is done and the beer goes right into kegs and out the door. As Lamoreaux explains this process, he gets a phone call from a local bar that wants to get a keg. “It’s beer week,” Lamoreaux says apologetically. “Almost every drop is accounted for.”
Lamoreaux is planning on increasing production, but it’s tough to find the time. “I’m the beer guy, the janitor, the guy who takes the trash out,” he says. “It’s kind of a one-man show around here.” However, that will change soon. His ultimate goal is to make 20,000 barrels a year, but right now he’s looking to expand to 5,000—which means producing two batches of beer every day, five days a week—not to mention hiring more help. “That’s all this brew house can handle,” he says.
Once he eventually expands to 20,000, the current brewery will become more of a research and development locale for beer making rather than purely a production facility. “It will become the beginning of the pipeline,” Lamoreaux says. With the increased production, he is hoping to create jobs and host beer brewing apprenticeships to help Oakland’s beer market multiply. He estimates that he can provide one job per 1,000 barrels of beer.
Lamoreaux would also like to experiment with making other kinds of beers. “We haven’t had a chance to play with other styles,” he says. “We want to show people we are not just a two-trick-pony. That’s what expansion is all about.”
For more about beer week events, look at the SF Beer Week schedule. On Friday, the Grand Tavern in the Grand Lake neighborhood will host a “Meet the Brewer” night featuring Linden Street and on Saturday, Beer Revolution near Jack London Square will host a “We Love You Linden” event. Linden Street beers can be found on tap at several Bay Area bars and restaurants, including the Common Wealth Cafe & Pub, Barclay’s, Yoshi’s, The Trappist, Wood Tavern, Adesso, Cato’s Alehouse, Brown Sugar Kitchen and Pacific Coast Brewing Co.
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