Beer ends a sibling rivalry, leads to founding of Armistice Brewing

Alex and Gregory Zobel, co-founders of Armistice Brewing Company in Richmond. Photo: Armistice Brewing Company

An armistice is a ceasefire, a truce, an agreement to stop fighting and settle down to the business of peace. Brother and sister Gregory and Alex Zobel, the founders of Armistice Brewing Company in Richmond, didn’t really get along as children. But as adults, two things happened that allowed them to reconnect: a home brewing kit and a cancer diagnosis.

Their mother Kathryn Tunstall was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2012. “It was really important for her to know that her adult children were going to get along after she left,” said Alex. Looking for a path to reconciliation, Gregory introduced Alex to home brewing.

“Gregory ruined my life by giving me a little one gallon home brewing kit,” she said.

The sibling’s first experimental batch left a lot to be desired.

“It was a bad beer,” said Gregory. “But it served its purpose.” The beer got them talking again, and soon, brewing even bigger batches together.

“We really reconnected over brewing beer,” said Alex. “When beer is doing really good work it’s bringing people together.”

Alex Zobel of Armistice Brewing Company in Richmond. Photo: Armistice Brewing Company

By the time the two were writing up a brewery business plan they had already won scores of home brew competitions. “We don’t get into hobbies lightly,” said Alex. “And the learning curve was really fast for us, mostly because we neglected every other part of our lives.”

“Including relationships,” said Gregory.

Except of course their own. Their mother passed away in 2015, but the siblings continued strengthening their familial bond through beer-making. That one gallon home brew kit — at first a peace offering from brother to sister — has since expanded into a full-fledged brewery, opened in August of 2017. “Brewing beer together really was our ceasefire,” said Alex. From which the duo arrived at the name.

Armistice is different than many other breweries that have opened in the past few years. For one thing, Armistice does not distribute. It is a taproom only. Which means readers curious for a taste of its ales will have to make the trek to Richmond. Though the Zobels are sure to make it worth the trip.

“We’re really focused on being a community space,” said Gregory. “A place to interact with neighbors over pints.” The hope is that locals choose Armistice as their “third place” in Richmond. That is, a gathering place outside of home and work where locals can gather and talk.

“We’re trying to provide a space for interaction as much as we are on creating a great product,” said Alex.

The taproom at Armistice Brewing Company in Richmond. Photo: Armistice Brewing Company

The brewery has a heavy focus on ales and IPAs — hazy IPAs, West Coast IPAs, English-style golden ales — with at least three on tap at a time. But the Zobels are clear that they don’t brew “flagship beers.” The rotation is constantly changing, and experimental recipes are always at the ready, with names and descriptions that make for stirring readings in themselves. For example, the description for the brewery’s dank session IPA, The Good, the Bad, the Danky reads: “It’s a nihilist in a church-yard with a job to do at high noon, and it’s worthy of its hire.”

“We’re definitely a little more towards the trend,” said Alex. “We’re a little more about what’s new, hot and exciting.”

The pair are always trying new things. They are currently workshopping a brew with galangal and kaffir lime leaves. Just before our interview Gregory pulled himself away from assembling ingredients for a milkshake IPA. That is, an IPA with lactose, fruit and vanilla, in addition to yeast and barley. “We like to be a little more experimental,” he said. “Push the boundaries a little more.”

Fistful of Flowers, a session IPA from Armistice Brewing Company. Photo: Armistice Brewing Company

However, the siblings are not averse to the tried and true. All good beer starts with good malt. And to that end the Zobels are pleased to source theirs from Admiral Maltings in Alameda. Admiral sources dry-farmed barley grown within a 50-mile radius.

“We love taking advantage of the new malt,” said Alex. “We can brew with truly local ingredients. There’s a lot to feel good about there.”

Feeling good and doing good may as well be a motto for Armistice. The brewery also hosts an ally tap. Each month Armistice partners with an ally, or a local organization it feels is doing good work in Richmond, and pairs them with a beer. A dollar from every pint sold from the ally tap then goes to benefit that particular organization. For January, Armistice is partnering with RYSE (“not an acronym but a bold call to action”), a Richmond-based organization offering youth leadership programs to Contra Costa residents, ages 13 to 21.

Gregory Zobel at the taproom at Armistice Brewing Company in Richmond. Photo: Armistice Brewing Company

Richmond was a “no-brainer” for Armistice Brewing. Similar to Oakland’s Jack London Square, Richmond’s zoning laws and its industrial past have made it easier to open brewing operations in the city’s old warehouse districts. Not to mention the local market was, quite literally, almost entirely untapped.

“Craft beer has been sort of all over the Bay Area except for the Richmond, Pinole, El Sobrante area,” said Gregory.

“For the last 10 to 15 years everyone has been going to San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley,” added Alex.

“And we’ve got around a 110,000 people living in Richmond,” said Gregory. “Some of those people like beer too.”

The Armistice taproom is open noon to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; noon to midnight, Friday and Saturday.

Make it a day trip

For you readers who consider Richmond a bit beyond your normal beer-drinking boundaries, get more bang for your buck by planning a weekend Richmond brewery day trip. Visit Armistice, as well as the two other beer breweries within city limits. (And don’t forget, there’s also Far West Cider, too). Just make sure to bring a designated driver with you!

Benoit Casper in Richmond. Photo: Benoit Casper

BENOIT CASPER BREWING Richmond’s first and oldest brewery, Benoit Casper was founded by Marc Benoit and Chad Casper. The two first met in 2013, at a gathering of home-brewers. The pair brewed for friends and family, entered competitions, and soon they were winning home-brewing awards. Eventually, they turned their shared hobby into a legit business, opening their operation in Richmond’s Iron Triangle in 2014. Benoit Casper serves everything from a light saison up to a Belgian Dark Strong, with tripels, IPAs, and a sturdy array of barrel aged beers in between. The brewery makes up to 40 different styles, though typically only serves seven to eight in its taproom at a time, including its signature Point Richmond Pale Ale. Benoit Casper’s taproom is open just three days a week: 3-7 p.m., Fridays; noon to 7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. Benoit Casper Brewing, 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, Richmond

East Brother Beer Co. in Richmond. Photo: East Brother Beer Co.

EAST BROTHER BEER CO. Commuters crossing the 580 freeway from San Rafael to Richmond may notice a pair of rocks jutting up from the water as they look north and east across San Pablo Bay. For centuries, the two islands, known as East and West Brother, have served as beacons and landmarks guiding ships into the bay. It’s in that steadfast spirit that long-time friends Rob Lightner and Chris Coomber established and named East Brother Beer Co. East Brother, which opened its brewery and tasting room in December 2016, eschews the experimental (“We don’t brew face-melting hot bombs,” said Lightner). Instead, it favors the standards, like Czech pilnsers, Vienna lagers, oatmeal stouts and IPAs. The selection at East Brother is chiefly composed of what Lightner calls “easy drinking beers.” Taproom hours are 4-8 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; 4-9 p.m., Friday; noon to 9 p.m., Saturday and noon to 8 p.m., Sunday. East Brother Beer Co., 1001 Canal Blvd., Richmond