Brewery of the Month:
21st Amendment Brewery:
This month, our featured brewery is the world famous 21st Amendment Brewery! We would like to thank co-founder Nico Freccia for taking the time to talk to us about the 21st Amendment Brewery and beer!
When did you open: August 2000
Where are you located: San Francisco, CA
Where do you distribute: We are in 28 states currently.
What was the craft beer scene like for you when you started?: When my partner Shaun and I started the brewpub, there were only 6 breweries at the time in San Francisco. We were the 7th. Immediately following 9/11, 25% of the restaurants went out of business in San Francisco because people were afraid to go out. We struggled so much in the early years. We had to borrow money from friends and family, but we still had trouble making ends meet. But in the years after 9/11, the market picked back up. We survived the shakeout.
You were among the first craft breweries to start putting beer into cans. What led to that decision?: In 2005, my partner Shaun went out to the Great American Beer Festival and ran into a little brewery called Oskar Blues, and he came back and said “I have a great idea that’ll help us start to make ends meet. We will put some of our most popular beers in cans.” I thought it was the most stupid idea that I ever heard- beer in cans were associated with crap discounted beers that your uncle and grandfather would drink back in the 70’s. But then we looked into it, and there was definitely demand for good craft beer in cans. Cans were superior containers for keeping light from skunking the beer, they keep oxygen out (which spoils the beer), and you can safely bring cans where you can’t bring bottles (like the beach). The main drawback back then was that there was a very high minimum order for empty cans (one truckload was the minimum and it carried a quarter of a million cans). But the barrier for entry got lower as new can manufacturers started competing around 2010.
We were originally canning our beers by hand and selling them over the bar. The main issue after that became space- we had maxed out our space in San Francisco, and finding more space in the city was expensive. We realized that canning our own beers by hand and selling them over the bar was not sustainable in the long run, so we decided to start partner brewing our beers at other facilities. We landed on Cold Spring Brewery in Minnesota in 2008. We wanted to can our watermelon wheat beer (now called Hell or High Watermelon) and our Brew Free or Die IPA (basically we didn’t want to become known as the fruit beer company). We like to think we have always been on the cusp of many beer trends. We were the first to put a black IPA into cans with Back In Black IPA. We were also among the first to put a session IPA into cans with Bitter American.
Talk about the first beers you decided to make as a brewery: Shaun and I were both homebrewers and we always thought about what would be fun to make and what everyone would enjoy drinking. We always went for balance and simplicity. Brew Free or Die was originally Shawn’s recipe while the watermelon wheat was my homebrew recipe. Shaun thought my beer was good, but there was no way we would put this beer in the brewpub- first there’s no practical way we could do it, and nobody would want to drink the beer. Then, one day coming out of winter, Shaun had some tank space and told me to come into the brew house. Back there, stacked about 9 feet high, was a pallet full of watermelons. The beer turned out to be our most popular beer, and we kept brewing it from then on. We even put a watermelon wedge on the side of every glass of watermelon wheat.
Talk about your partnership with Brooklyn Brewery and Funkwerks: With the craft beer market now, there is a lot more competition, and shelf space in stores is more limited. We decided we have to be smarter about the business we were in. This is a major change from even 3 years ago where if you were craft beer, people would buy your product no matter what- you could do no wrong. We decided that we needed to partner with completely different portfolios in completely different parts of the country. That way we could brew our beers effectively on the East Coast and Brooklyn could brew their beers effectively on the West Coast. We decided to combine sales teams so we could develop a sort of synergy that could be mutually beneficial for all of us and craft as a whole. It’s the best way we can compete with some of the bigger macro brands who are buying up small breweries.
What are your core beers: Brew Free or Die, Brew Free or Die Blood Orange, Spark Ale, Tasty IPA (our winter seasonal), El Sully Mexican Lager, and Blah Blah Blah Imperial IPA.
Do you have any plans for fun/cool beers in the future: We are excited to have a brand new beer/cider hybrid called Spark Ale. We like to think of it as a Rosé sparkling ale. It’s brewed like an ale and drinks like a cider- we use peach and cherry juice in the back-sweetening. The city of San Leandro used to be entirely a cherry orchard and every year there is a cherry festival, so we wanted to use cherries to honor our location. It’s a lower alcohol and lower calorie beer, and a huge left turn from our hop heavy portfolio.