Ale Industries is nestled between two generations of railways that run north to south along the bay. Its front door points toward Alameda and stares across a set of tracks built in the 1860s by the San Francisco and Oakland Railroad. Behind it, the elevated BART tracks hover over East 12th Street, before descending to stop only a few blocks away at Fruitvale Station. While the nine-year-old brewery, first established in Concord in 2009, still has a ways to go before claiming such historic import, after the closing of Pacific Coast Brewing Company, it surprisingly has grabbed the mantle of the oldest continuously operating brewery in Oakland, having moved there in 2014.
The night of our visit, a jazz band set up on the ramp leading up to the cavernous warehouse, and once it began to play, its sound took over the taproom. A modest affair, the warehouse features picnic benches, a pool table and a small bar situated in the back right. From the bar, tasters can stare at the innards of beer production: wooden casks aging fermented sours (like AI’s Sour Kush and Hopless Romantic), a quiet row of stainless steel kettles against the far wall and two cauldrons painted white. According to assistant brewer, James Real, the two oldest kettles were once used to process milk but, in the homebrewing spirit, were easily adapted for beer. Now, they serve as a reminder of the brewery’s early days in Concord.
The biggest, shiniest and most recent purchase sits smack dab in the middle of the production area: a 60-barrel kettle capable of churning out large batches of AI’s retail beers — Golden State of Mind, Uncle Jesse and East Bay IPA — that can be found in many stores across the East Bay. More importantly, however, is that this large production kettle has freed up the rest of the facility to make what business partner, Casey Cobb, calls AI’s “weird beer,” or what you might consider palate busters.
Ale Industries stands out for its commitment to experimentation and its refusal to pay any heed to categorization. Its beer production is heated with biofuels, essentially the repurposed grease from restaurants. It insists on sourcing quality local ingredients, and uses wild yeasts in open fermentations, to create beers that are as funky as its city. There is something about the mixture of the old and the new, and the resistance to being pigeonholed, in its equipment, furnishing and attitude that feels very Oakland.
What are the beers like, though? Here are a few that we tasted below:
Fruitvale Grind, 4.2%
AI loves to collaborate, and one connection is with neighbor Red Bay Coffee, best known for its interest in flipping the script on the narrative of specialty coffee’s role in gentrification. Fruitvale Grind starts with a light kolsch-style beer then adds Red Bay’s cold brew for a different kind of pour over. The aroma is pure cold brew on a sunny day. Compared with coffee-loaded stouts and porters, this lighter ale makes for a nice mid-afternoon refreshment.
Black Forest Shake, 6.5%
The label might as well read, “Warning: this is not your average can of beer.” If you’ve had fruit-, lactose- or coffee-infused beers and found yourself wanting more flavor and complexity, try the Black Forest Shake. Instead of attempting one or two additions, AI went for four. Count them: lactose (for that thick, hazy feel on the tongue), coffee (to continue its collab with Red Bay Coffee), raspberries (because why not?) and hop oil (notable since so many of its other beers are hop-free!). This beer pours clear and orange with a light head, and it looks like your usual IPA, but the aroma is pure raspberry. The bright, tart fruit balances nicely with the undertones of coffee flavor. We had trouble finding the hops in this one, and while the lactose doesn’t come off terribly sweet, it’s mostly in the middle of the tongue; the effect of it lingers like the fullness a milkshake leaves on the palate. Once poured from a can, it hardly looks intimidating, but one whiff and you know you’re in for an adventure.
Lady in Red, Amber in Pink, 6.5%
Ale Industries created this beer in collaboration with the Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit that works to support women in the beer industry. Brewed on International Women’s Day (March 8) and incorporating YCH hops Pink Boots blend, the resulting brew is a dark amber that allows the maltiness (primarily from Admiral Malting) to balance the hops. With a dash of hazelnut to accent the already warm amber, it makes for a nutty scent and smooth sip.
Golden State of Mind, 4.4%
One of the brewery’s flagship beers, Golden State of Mind is a typical AI beer in that nothing about it plays to type. It’s a beer without hops. It proposes that refreshing beers need not be the lightest of lagers. It finds new aromas and flavors in employing the oldest of brewing methods. AI is calling GSM a “tea beer,” and it is sort of a Belgian wit-style beer (think Hoegaarden and Blue Moon) with chamomile added. The use of spices and the lack of hops call to mind medieval gruit-style ales. This beer certainly has the aroma and flavors of a hybrid. It’s a brilliant orange in color, and it smells slightly of citrus with a bit of chamomile. It’s lightly carbonated, and, where you expect hops on the tongue, there’s a gentle herbal flavor. GSM comes off something like an iced tea in a beer.
Cherry Kush, 4%
Sour Kush, 4.4%
Golden State of Mind serves as the base for a number of other beers, including Cherry and Sour Kush. While GSM is steeped with coriander, orange peel and chamomile, Cherry Kush has enough fresh cherry juice added to give the beer a fruity waft at first glance and an even sweeter flavor to complement the smooth wheat and 2-row malt underneath. Sour Kush, its nine-month barrel-aged cousin, has the same smooth undertones but with a distinctive, lightly carbonated sour cherry flavor, with enough sweetness to accompany dessert.