IPAs, stouts and steam beers: There's a craft beer for almost every taste and a brewery event space to match almost every function.
From nothernmost Etna to Coronado at California's southern tip, from the Central Coast to the eastern Sierras, you can find craft breweries making unique artisan beer. While not every brewery has the right space for events, enough do that booking one of California's 550 boutique beer production facilities is as easy as tapping a keg.
California’s modern craft brewery movement, kicked off in the 1970s by pioneering Anchor Brewing in San Francisco, New Albion in Sonoma, and Sierra Nevada in Chico, has exploded in the past decade. New breweries are opening at the rate of two per week, says Tom McCormick, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Craft Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade group; more than 240 are in the planning stages.
Brewery facilities are as varied as the beers they produce, but they all share a casual, laid-back vibe. Breweries range from large-scale production facilities (Escondido’s Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens) to small taprooms (Eureka Peak Brewing at the Chalet View Lodge north of Lake Tahoe) to brew-pubs. Because of their popularity, some book events only on off-days—San Diego’s Green Flash (capacity 200) is open for nonbrewery events only on Mondays.
Events at breweries can be just as versatile as those staged at wineries, ranging from casual tastings of small pours with staff guidance (larger groups should book ahead) to food and beer pairing seminars to full-on dinners (paired with beer, of course). Holiday parties, off-sites and celebratory occasions lend themselves to these über-casual venues, and some breweries have A/V capabilities in private rooms for formal presentations (recommended before the imbiling begins).
Whatever type of event you're planning at a brewery, you'll want to include an educational element, suggests McCormick. Beer geeks will be happy to pick up a few new arcane facts - and probably eager to show off their own knowledge. And, despite the recent proliferation of breweries and the popularity of the artisan movement, many people are unfamiliar with smaller-production craft beer and may feel daunted by something they've never seen, or tasted, before. “People get really nervous,” says Andrea Estrada, Stone Brewery’s events manager. “‘Why is this so dark?’ they’ll ask of a Stone Smoked Porter. We try to get them to broaden their horizons.”
Before the first glass is hoisted, you might want to treat your group to the brewery equivalent of a backstage tour. “People tend to appreciate a craft beer more if they have a simple explanation of how it’s made,” McCormick says. “If you’re hosting an event, it makes the overall experience much more enjoyable to be able to see the brewhouse, put some hops in your hand, smell it, nibble it and have a basic level of the brewing process, and of different flavors and styles, explained to you.”
What’s more, including a brewery tour gives your event structure and encourages engagement, says João Alameida, taproom manager at San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing. “It’s the benchmark, and from there, the evening progresses,” he says. And here’s a reason to raise a pint glass: Under new ownership and after decades of being almost impossible to book, the country’s oldest craft brewery—Anchor Brewing opened in 1896—is “saying ‘yes’ to events,” says Alameida.
Big Breweries North & South
Tours and tastings with brewery staff are examples of the kind of arrangements that can be made at large-scale brewhouses throughout the state. Still, an event at the Art Deco-style Anchor Brewing brewhouse is a one-of-a-kind experience. “We’re very traditional in our machinery and techniques,” says Alameida, "which makes us very visually engaging." Attendees are welcomed to the taproom, where a glass wall faces Anchor's active copper kettles, turning the working brewery into a backdrop. The taproom has a capacity of 400, although Alameida recommends a head count of 200 to 250 for the best experience.
Sister company Anchor Distilling means that functions can also opt for the company's spirits and accompaniments like gourmet Italian Luxardo cocktail cherries. Full catering is available through Melons Catering & Events.
Another option is to enjoy Anchor Brewing off-site. Anchor exports kegs and staff to large events, such as the annual Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Giants’ Brewfest. The brewery recently opened a 250-person outdoor beer garden at the Yard at Mission Rock (next to the Giants’ home field AT&T Park), which is available for private events on a limited basis. A new brewery is also in the works.
At Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, opened in 2006, event spaces were incorporated into the design from day one. The Escondido location, 35 miles from downtown San Diego, is a “beer mecca,” Estrada says. Closer to town, the Liberty Station location in Point Loma also welcomes groups with private banquet rooms, bocce courts, movie courtyard, patio and specialty taps. Although somewhat distant from San Diego’s convention center—groups are usually bussed in— the sprawling indoor/outdoor location with a 1-acre organic beer garden is a draw thanks to its first-rate culinary options. Stone owns a nearby 19-acre farm and the company’s philosophy adheres to slow food precepts.
For groups, the focus isn’t on putting away pints, but beer tasting samples paired with food. From chocolate and cheese plus beer flights to six-course menus matched with 4-ounce pours, planners have numerous choices. The exclusive upstairs event space at the Escondido location, for 20 to 80 persons, has full A/V capabilities and a built-in sound system, as well as its own private bar. An energy company hosted its annual holiday party for 60 in the space; other clients include entertainment, biotech, pharmaceutical and high-tech companies, as well as law firms. Unlike some breweries, Stone can serve other labels. (Licensing restrictions come into play at many taprooms and brewpubs; make sure to check for age restrictions if there are underage participants in your group.)
The New Kid in Town: Brouwerij West
The singular nature of craft breweries is a major part of their appeal. “A group coming into town will get a true local experience,” says Britta Wichers, event manager for Brouwerij West’s 25,000-square-foot, 1944 warehouse-turned-brewery in San Pedro. Long Beach’s Primal Alchemy is the caterer for the space that includes a Belgian-style beer production facility and adjacent 20,000-square-foot fully remade warehouse with bow-truss ceiling and wide loading dock/deck. Essentially a blank slate, the site can host up to 5,000. The Shelton Brothers’ craft brewers festival brought out 6,000 people over the course of a weekend last November to meet international brewers; an early spring charity event hosted 700.
Brouwerij West is an important element in the revitalization of San Pedro, arguably LA’s most underutilized seaside area. The port-side city is dotted with vintage Spanish-tiled roofs and a charming low-rise downtown. Benefiting from more-than-ample parking and no noise restrictions, the new brewery and event space will put guests in the heart of the working facility. “You’ll actually be able to smell the malt,” says Brian Mercer, CEO/brewmaster for Brouwerij West. Charmingly industrial, there is no wall or permanent separation between the tasting area and the production side—a rope and stanchions serve as divider. “We want to keep the look and character of the warehouse, which is the star,” says Mercer of the once gritty space, now cleaned up with new concrete floors, lighting and sound systems under a vast arched ceiling. That flexibility should entice planners to a location that’s midway between the convention and conference hubs of Long Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes’ Terranea Resort.
Musical Performances to Mustache Match-ups
Breweries can offer enough space for full-scale receptions, dancing and even musical performances. Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico has a 350-seat performance venue called the Big Room. The trend is also evident at Los Angeles’ Angel City Brewery, where a new beer hall is ready-made for live music. Close to LA’s Little Tokyo, the mostly open-to-the-air brewery is tucked in a multistory factory built a century ago. New in mid-2015: The beer hall has roll-up doors and its own 10-tap bar. Picnic tables provide the seating in the mostly raw space just off a working loading dock.
Angel City Brewery’s Melissa Corbin, bar manager and on-site event coordinator, acknowledges that planners may feel some initial apprehension booking, by her own description, “a rough-around-the-edges, working site.” To allay those fears, “I recommend a preview tasting for event planners to try our beers and experience who we are,” she says. Angel City often hosts community and nonprofit events; law firms and orthopedic surgeons are among the many who have booked tours and tastings. The Los Angeles Facial Hair Society’s beard and mustache competition was one of the brewery’s many memorable and highly visual public affairs.
“Depending on if they’re big beer nerds or not, the beer can be the highlight or in the background,” says Corbin of group experiences. Only Angel City brews can be served, but there are anywhere from eight to 12 on tap at any time. A second event alternative is the raised mezzanine area (80 standing; 65 seated) furnished with leather couches and comfy armchairs. “Coming here gives people a different view of downtown, gets them out of the convention center neighborhood and into the Arts District, where there is something fun around every corner,” she promises.
From vintage to brand new, California’s brewhouses span the decades. Close to Glendale, in a converted warehouse, Golden Road Brewery, opened in 2011, has Chloe’s, a hidden speakeasy-style two-level event space decorated with co-owner Tony Yanow’s vintage beer signs and finished with a marble-topped bar and a crystal chandelier. (It’s found via a door off the pub marked private.) There’s a pool table, 90-inch drop-down screen for digital projections and Wi-Fi in the customizable rooms overlooking the barrel-aging floor. Both Disney and DreamWorks Animation have used the flexible space for holiday parties and off-site meetings for groups from 30 to 200.
“We operate on a food and beverage minimum, which gives planners plenty of room to customize in terms of size and variety of menu options,” says Abby Ritt, Chloe’s manager. “We are extremely flexible and pas- sionate about hosting and planning unique experiences,” she adds.
There’s an overflow of event opportunities on the brewery front, all adding up to a tasty and genuine California flavor.