Photo by Jon Page
Could he ever open his own brewery, Alex Tweet had his core beer lineup nailed down. After years of experience at Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits and Modern Times Beer, the brewer even had a vision for his flagship beer. But on Tweet’s first day of brewing at Fieldwork Brewing Company, which he cofounded with Barry Braden, Tweet scrapped his plan.
“I just want to make something different all the time,” Tweet remembers thinking on that day in early 2015. “I just walked up to [Braden] and was like, ‘Hey man, what do you think about just making different beer all the time?’ I thought it was going to turn into a big argument. He kind of just smirked and he went, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ ” The pivot is paying off for Fieldwork. The California brewery picked up a silver medal at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival, and its ever-rotating beers are among the most highly sought after in the San Francisco Bay Area. A steady stream of customers frequents the Berkeley brewery, and this summer Fieldwork opened its fourth satellite taproom in Monterey. It also has locations in Sacramento, Napa, and San Mateo, but all of Fieldwork’s beers are brewed in Berkeley.
When visiting the taprooms, expect to find a few standby styles: a lager, a pale ale, several IPAs and double IPAs, a stout or porter, and maybe even a gose. But don’t expect to return the following week and find the exact same draft list. It’s a matter of engagement and creativity for Tweet, who doesn’t want Fieldwork’s brewers and employees to feel like they’re working in a factory. Since its founding in 2015, Fieldwork has brewed more than 200 different beers, including a double IPA brewed with toasted coconut and milk sugar and a cream ale inspired by a churro.
“It keeps our bar staff more engaged, more excited to see what’s on, what’s coming out,” Tweet says. “Our sales team is more engaged because they’re not just trying to keep pumping out the same stagnant product. But then the ultimate thing is that our customers are engaged. When they come in here, there should always be at the bare minimum one beer that they’ve had before that they’re excited to see back and then one new beer that they’ve never had before that they’re excited to try.”
On a recent visit to the Berkeley taproom, many customers gravitated to hazy, hops-heavy options (Fieldwork does not filter any of its beers). A woman at the bar proclaimed that Hazy Train—a juicy, 6.9% IPA brimming with grapefruit that would perfectly complement brunch—was “the greatest beer that ever lived” before bemoaning that it wasn’t available for growler fills. “Sorry,” said Braden from behind the bar. “It’s the last keg.” Braden immediately poured samples of Atomic Garden, a double IPA, and Invisible Touch, a pale ale. After a few approving sips, the woman ordered three growlers to go.
Despite the attention to high-gravity double IPAs, Fieldwork’s cofounders prefer lower ABV offerings. Tweet is a perfectionist who struggles to enjoy his own beer. He is constantly analyzing his beers, thinking of improvements. “Even if it’s something mundane and nobody will notice it, I notice it and it’s going to drive me insane,” Tweet says.
Tweet believes that Finer Things, a 4.2% lager dry hopped with Mosaic, is one of the most perfect beers Fieldwork makes.
“It’s this perfect balance [that] gives me all that hops sensation I want from craft beer,” Tweet said, “but I can drink twelve of them on a boat while I’m fishing.”
Fieldwork brewed 2,700 barrels in 2015, 9,500 barrels in 2016, and Braden expects to close 2017 at 15,000 barrels. He said 6,000 of those barrels will be sold directly through Fieldwork’s growing stable of taprooms, which also sell beer to-go in growlers, crowlers, and occasional small releases of cans.
The satellite locations are possible thanks to the California Type 23 liquor license, which allows breweries to hold six duplicate licenses for tasting rooms in addition to a brewery. Fieldwork recently revealed plans for a fifth satellite location in San Ramon, and a sixth and final offsite location will soon follow. The settings vary widely, from a former Odwalla juice factory (Berkeley), to a trendy Wine Country market (in Napa’s Oxbow Public Market), to a midtown location (Sacramento). But each of them were carefully chosen as areas that Braden and Tweet believed were underserved when it came to craft beer. Creating this footprint was part of the plan from the start.
“It’s the way that we most like to express our feelings about our beer—as fresh and as close to the consumer as possible,” Braden says. [We want to] have that beer served within days or ultimately not more than a week after it was put in the keg.” Braden and Tweet appear to be an odd couple. Braden is a no-nonsense, clean-cut businessman who also counts on twenty years of experience in business development for software and hardware companies in Silicon Valley. Tweet sports a bushy red beard, and bold tattoos peek out from his shirt sleeves and collar. But the pair became fast friends when they met at a bottle share. Tweet was just getting started at Ballast Point, and he became a regular at a restaurant run by Braden. Tweet actually crafted the beer that would become Grapefruit Sculpin as a New Year’s Day alternative to a mimosa (he referred to it as Beermosa) for Braden’s bar.
At the restaurant, the pair often chatted about opening a brewery. Tweet assumed it was just talk that would never come to fruition. But Braden was serious all along. In Tweet, Braden saw the same type of ingenuity he’d seen in tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. “It’s the same profile,” Braden says. “It’s a person who’s really interested and curious and passionate about what they do and isn’t willing to be boxed in and isn’t afraid to take chances.”
Like taking a gamble on an ever-revolving tap list.
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