You know that Canadian rapper who is semi-famous? Yeah? Well, we are not going to talk about him today. So stay put!
Although… Brewmaster John Gillooly and Director of Brewing Operations DeVonne Buckingham were half-joking about naming one of their future beers after the (in)famous singer in the near future. Hey, why not? After all, they were the original Drake, right?
Drake’s Brewing has a really cool history behind it, but I don’t want to bore you with too many details so let’s keep it (somewhat) short. It all started as Lind Brewing Co. in 1989 when Roger Lind took over what used to be an old Dodge factory in San Leandro, CA. You can still see a lot of the old piping system running down the ceilings and walls. Pretty cool stuff! Fast forward almost 20 years and John Martin and his business partner Roy Kirkorian buy the brewery, bringing Drake’s Brewing to new heights by increasing production and distribution. The business partners kept working on Lind’s original 15-barrel equipment until very recently in 2016 when John M. and Roy decided to invest in an additional 60-barrel brewhouse and fermentation tanks! Wow!
As you may already know, Drake’s has also opened a few taprooms around the area. They first opened a taproom as part of the brewery in San Leandro then expanded to Oakland in 2015 and more recently to West Sacramento in 2018. Drake’s has become a household name in California, but if you want to taste the real stuff you’ll have to take a trip to one of their locations. Remember that 15-barrel system I was telling you about? Well, they are still using it today to make some of the more experimental beers that John G. calls “whacky little specials” and are available only in their taprooms. Trust me, you’ll want to try some of those!
That 15-barrel system is also where the brewers have fun with their craft. “It gives me the opportunity to fail,” John G. said. You know, you can’t really ruin a huge batch of beer just because you want to try something new. But you can definitely discard smaller batches when they don’t make the cut. Some of the beer that is originally created there ends up making it into the bigger brewhouse when it’s successful. For example, Flyway Pils started small, was made better and better over time and eventually made into a bottled product.
John G. has been working at Drake’s since 2012 and has been in the brewing industry since 1995. So I’d say he knows a thing or two about the business. What do you say? But even then, John G. said he has a nice challenge on his plate because the brewery constantly grows. “We are trying to stay ahead of the customer,” John G. said. Part of that is being innovative and crafting beer that is new but will also please the customer. “I wake up every morning trying not to be a 30-year-old brewery,” John G. said. Don’t worry John, Drake’s is as relevant as ever… if not better.
So what’s the future looking like at Drake’s? Well, everyone is trying to expand their production and distribution to get into the big-box stores. Drake’s is already in a lot of them and John G. said that his focus is really to do more at the taproom level. When you have a facility that can produce up to 65,000 barrels a year, I guess you can worry about more creative things. Drake’s is a well-oiled machine. “I want to support our retail,” John G. said. “It’s so hard to be the flavor of the month.” But John knows it’s also very hard to beat the big guys on price when it comes to big distribution.
No worries. Drake’s is set up for more creativity and even has a barrel-aging program run by Travis Camacho. Travis has been with Drake’s for 7 years and said that the barrel-aging program doesn’t get a lot of funding. However, they make do with what they have and are quite creative with it. They run two different product lines: one sour red and one sour blonde. The rest is fruit magic as I call it. Travis’ favorites include the peach sour and the cherry sour, but he’ll have to wait a bit as fruit season is not starting for another few months. They get into lots of different flavors such as kiwi, guava/passionfruit, raspberry, etc. and produce about 600 barrels a year. “We grab whatever interests us and gets dropped on our door steps,” Travis said.
So what’s up with all that beer anyway? Well, I got to try five of the ones available in the taproom. I had already tried quite a few of their production beers before. They were good but more common. The stuff I tried at the Drake’s taproom was just fabulous. I tasted some of the Rye Robustico Barrel-Aged Porter, the Impact Test Hazy Rye IPA, the Unholy Alliance Sour Blonde w/Malvasia Bianca Grapes, and the Electric Owl Nitro Coffee Brown Ale. My fave out of the batch? It’s a toss-up between Electric Owl and Impact Test, I think. It’s hard to decide because they were all so good and different. Want to know something funny about Electric Owl? It ended up on nitro because their marketing department requested it. Interesting… and super smooth!
Want to get a good grasp on Drake’s Brewing’s culture and brews? Head to the Oakland taproom. John G. said that’s where you’ll get the best experience. I have to take his word for it until I make it out there…
More photos from Drake’s: