Spring Check-In

Beer
It’s been seven months since I’ve written anything here, but it feels like a lifetime ago. Everything has been in a state of constant flux – actually, flux might be the wrong word. I want to imply more forward momentum. More like an ambling river which doesn’t feel that fast, but every time I look behind me, I’m amazed as how much ground I’ve covered. My life at a desk job fielding tech support tickets feels very far removed at this point, only visible if I squint at the horizon. Now felt like a good time to check in, take stock, and provide an update. Writing here has always served as both a creative outlet as well as a place to organize and arrange my thoughts – writing them down and being forced to put some sort of coherent order to my ideas helps crystalize my own perspective.

So here goes.

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SodaCraft: In a whirlwind eight months, SodaCraft gained life and has already been passed on to new caretakers. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to launch it as an immediate outlet to help make ends meet financially. The brewery was starting to become much more real (more on that later) but wasn’t quite ready for a full time commitment, and was quite far off from proving anything resembling a paycheck. In reality, launching two businesses simultaneously is a terrible idea (file under: obvious in retrospect.) But SodaCraft’s arc was outstanding.

It gave me great perspective to just how hard the work in the food world really is, as well as the realities of creating a food item and selling it to the public. I loved working at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, adore their community of vendors, farms, customers and staff. But as quickly as SodaCraft got off the ground, it became clear that there weren’t enough hours in the day to support SodaCraft on my own, much less do my part at Almanac. So as Almanac grew by leaps and bounds, I started looking for an exit from SodaCraft. After several false starts, I found one with HapaSF. William Pilz and soda-slinging parter Rita Williams were a perfect fit to take over SodaCraft: passionate about food, already armed with the right experience, and equipped to take on its challenges. The transition was easier than expected. They grasped the the basics immediately, and have already taken over running the stand and selling sodas with new flavors they’ve added to the menu. (And in a nice bit of coincidence, the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market seems to be running a Friedman-exchange program. The week I wrapped up SodaCraft there was Elianna’s first week at her new dream job: CUESA’s Market Chef. Stop by and see her coordinating the cooking demos any Saturday.) I loved SodaCraft and all that it taught me, but it was clear to me quickly that it my real passion wasn’t in soda; it was in beer.

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A quick aside: none of SodaCraft’s story would have happened without the help of Linecook415 aka Richie Nakano and the entire HapaRamen crew. Through Richie and his Ramen stand I got my first glimpse of the real possibilities of “jumping off the cliff” and going full time into the food world. After a first trial run offering my sodas out of his ramen stand at a Saturday market, my wife Elianna’s concern about quitting my day just was resolved. Afterwards she said that not only should i quit my desk job – based on what she saw, I had to. So it was through Richie’s generosity I gained my first real kitchen experience, and learned in trial by fire the realities of launching a business. My debt to Richie is huge: he offered me a way forward with SodaCraft, logistically and financially, and I couldn’t have done it without him. His passion for cooking, food, supporting the culinary community and doing things the “right” was knows no bounds. Compromise for the things that he really cares about (food safety, efficient use of resources, sourcing ethically, honesty, cleanliness, loyalty and music, but if you share the kitchen with him you already knew that) doesn’t come easily to him, and he’s never shied away from pointing this out. In collaboration with his rockstar team in the kitchen of Suzanna and Svet, they’ve creating a singular vision for what San Francisco Ramen can (read: should) be. With the impending opening of his own restaurant Hapa coming this year, I fully expect Richie to be the next big thing in the San Francisco food world. For proof, make a point of his upcoming Ramen-Free Hapa Preview Pop Ups coming soon at Wing Wings.

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Finally I get to the real point: Almanac. From inside, it’s hard for me to really appreciate what Damian and I have accomplished to get our little brewery off the ground. From our perspective, there is always the next project, next release, next ABC form that needs to be finished. But stepping back for just a moment, and the distance we’ve covered is staggering. If you had told me this is where I’d be only three years ago, I’d have called you at best an optimist, and at worst a liar. The impending release of our fourth beer – A Biere de Mars with Fennel from Heirloom Organic Gardens – marks a full year’s worth of seasonal releases. With each release we’ve stepped up our ambitions, creating amazing relationships with local restaurants and chefs all around San Francisco and the greater bay area. Two years ago Almanac was just a list of ideas for what a brewery could be. A year before that, Damian and I were just meeting at a local homebrew club meeting, and I was admiring professional-looking label he had made for a bottle of Abby-style ale he brought to share.

Damian makes an ideal partner and a great friend, and without him Almanac couldn’t exist. Our complimentary skill sets combine to make it what it is – I brought a vision for how to integrate in the ethos of the local food community. His own taste and ideas helped refine that to a razor sharp point. He brought the design and business acumen I sorely lacked, and I’ve relished my role as sounding board and editor. I’m always beyond excited to see what new design he has in the hopper to release next. We act as editors and sounding boards for each other’s areas of expertise, and both of contributions to the whole are better for it. The goals we set for Almanac when we started ranged from minor and personal to grand and sweeping. Now even the loftiest of those goals doesn’t seem so out of reach – in fact, they almost seem like they’re around the corner.

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So what’s next? As we come up on a second summer release, we’re excited and ready to capitalize on the base foundation we’ve laid. We have some big things in the hopper – including our first year round beers that grow out of the same “Farm to Bottle” ethos that have been such an important guiding light so far. These new beers will come in a whole new line of packaging, in a new size, at a new price point and wrapped in a new packaging design. We’ve got high hopes for these beers, and early test batches have been very promising. Our collection of barrels aging away now, with a phenomenal collection of local fruit aging inside them, along with wild Belgian bugs (the good kind). Soon some of these barrels will be ready for blending and to be released into the wild, and a full picture of the direction we want to take Almanac will exist in the glass – not just in our imaginations and business plans.

So here I am now: just past the precipice of the old, not quite fully formed in the new. But it’s the most exciting professional time I’ve ever had in my life, and wanted to share it with you.

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4 Responses to “Spring Check-In”

  1. Trott Says:

    Wow, I knew a lot had been happening, but that is much more than I realized. Congratulations and best wishes for continued success!

  2. Anita / Married ...with Dinner Says:

    I’m so thrilled for all of your successes — and not just because they’re delicious. Couldn’t happen to a nicer crew of folks. :) Can’t wait to see what comes next.

  3. Meredyth/Mom Says:

    I for one am immensely proud of you and support your Jump off the Cliff!! You are well on your way and it is with pride and awe that I watch both of your adventures and endeavors! May the journey continue with much joy and success!

  4. Kitty McGee Says:

    I’m in love!!!! With everything you guys do!!! The very best to you and hope to see you in late April.