As the Bay Area begins to open up after COVID – fingers crossed – many of us want to spread our wings and get out of the house. So I embarked on a quest for beer through the nine counties of the Bay Area. Each month, I’ll take a day trip to a brewery to visit a small, artisanal tap room – or two or three – that has done great things but may, perhaps, be new to you. Today we are heading to Richmond, home of East Brother Beer Co. and Armistice Brewing.
We can think of Richmond as a diverse town of about 110,000 people on the West Contra Costa waterfront, but part of that town is actually in the bay. East Brother Island and its lighthouse, built in 1874, can be found just off the tip of Richmond’s Point Saint Pablo in San Rafael Bay. Today, the Lighthouse Keeper’s House is a bed and breakfast – scheduled to reopen this fall – and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The island inspired East Brother Beer Co., which opened on the Richmond mainland in 2017. Childhood friends Rob Lightner and Chris Coomber had wanted to work together for years. The idea for the brewery arose out of Coomber’s home brewing efforts. I had tasted several of their tasty beers over the years, so I stopped by the bar on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon to chat with Lightner.
East Brother has set itself the goal of being a primarily lager brewery, says Lightner, and creating classic styles, not reinventing the wheel. “We’re not going to invent anything new, and that’s fine with us,” he says.
It might have seemed risky in 2017, but it turned out to be a winning formula. Their Bo Pils, a bohemian-style pilsner, has become the flagship beer, and it’s easy to see why. It is a very tasty and easy to drink beer that is full of subtle flavors that never dominate but delight the senses.
This was followed by a light and refreshing Viennese-style amber lager, the Red Lager, which may be more liveable than even the pilsner. Both represent more than half of their sales. Gold IPA, Red IPA and Oatmeal Stout round out their base beers, each a solid example of the style.
East Brother also offers a series of lagers, one for each season. The season this summer is Pre-Pro Lager, a lager based on pre-prohibition recipes using similar ingredients, such as cluster hops and corn as an adjuvant, with the more common barley as a grain. This fall, they’ll be giving away Festbier, a lager created for Oktoberfest that’s lighter than the old Märzen style, but similar. They also have a Freighter series of non-lager beers, like this summer’s Double IPA.
When I was there, the taps also included an English Strong Ale – the series’ spring beer, with excellent fig notes and a sweet finish – as well as a clean and spicy Belgian-style Tripel and a solid Russian Imperial Chocolate Stout. and coffee notes that are sometimes bitter, but never too harsh.
The large, airy faucet room is tucked behind a large industrial building, with seating available inside and out and several diversions, including the cornhole and board games. The bar is suitable for both dogs and children. Don’t miss the food truck parked there every day; La Santa Torta offers Jalisco-style birria, tacos and elote chidos – Mexican street corn with cotija, salsa, fresh lime, mayonnaise, and Flaming Hot Cheetos – as well as churros.
East Brother is a gem. Everything they brew is perfect, stylish and very drinkable. No fuss, no muss, but all tasty. And the taproom is very comfortable, a warehouse, yes, but a kind of oasis that allows you to forget that you are in the middle of a city and to relax and have a good time. (Want to sip from afar? Find East Brother’s canned beer in the Bay Area markets and beer shops.)
Make it a day and stop by Armistice Brewing Co as well. Less than 10 minutes away, Armistice was founded by a brother and sister team, Gregory and Alex Zobel, and has a great range of beers. Between East Brother and the Armistice Brewing taprooms, you can sample a number of different styles.
Details: East Brother Beer Co. is open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday at 1001 Canal Blvd. in Richmond; www.eastbrotherbeer.com. The Armistice is open from noon to 9:00 p.m. daily, until 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, at 845 Marina Bay Parkway; www.armisticebrewing.com.
If you have a local brewery or brewery that you think takes it out of the park, drop me a line at [email protected] and tell me why you love them.