Posted in Breweries

Six Rivers, two owners, one beer expert

Six Rivers Brewery was brewery visit number 2 of my latest trip to Northern California —not counting the breweries where I didn’t conduct interviews. Don’t judge me; I already know it’s a lot of beer.

Six Rivers Brewery
The brewpub at Six Rivers Brewery

Needless to say, this latest trip felt more like a brewcation than a vacation, but we got to meet truly amazing people. I mean that. Everyone I met was so knowledgeable about their craft and so willing to share their passion. It’s the kind of vibe that keeps me wanting to write about the craft beer community. Of Course, Six Rivers was no exception. I also want to mention that this is the smallest of all three breweries I am featuring as a result of this trip. Those of you who read me regularly know I have a soft spot for smaller establishments. So there I was, anxious in a good way. It was the day after my meeting with Patrick at North Coast Brewing Co. and a couple of hours before meeting with the guys at Lost Coast Brewery. We got to Six Rivers a little early and we sat at the bar. I noticed a guy at the end of the bar who easily could pass for a brewer. He waved at me; I didn’t see him. Some time passed. Now it’s 3 p.m., and we know we are here to meet each other. Hey Carlos! Nice to meet you!

Six Rivers Brewery
Head Brewer Carlos Sanchez is pouring a Lemongrass Wit in the taproom

I’m just going to say it: I love Carlos (in a beery kind of way. You understand what I mean). The dude sure knows his stuff, but he also makes damn good beer. Take it from a somewhat picky (critical?) person. But most of all, I love his story. He has been at Six Rivers since day one. Let’s take a step back. Where did Carlos even learn how to brew? He moved to Humboldt County from the SF Bay Area in 1983 and started home brewing shortly after. Carlos first worked at the now-defunct Humboldt Brewing Co (The name may sound familiar, but the one you are thinking about is not the original Humboldt Brewing). between 1990 and 1996. By that time, he wanted to become the head brewer at a legit brewery. In the meantime, Humboldt Brewing had expanded to a larger brewing system and sold their 7-BBL system to… well, nobody really knew. Carlos decided to go on what he calls  “brewing espionage” and figured out the equipment was sold to Larry McCoy. So Carlos told him, “Now you are going to have to hire me.” Carlos brewed the last batch on the system at Humboldt Brewing and the first batch on it at Six Rivers. The brand-new brewery opened on Dec. 22, 1996 (That’s my mom’s birthday and it’s also the year I visited the US for the second time. It must be some kind of lucky charm. Right? Ha!) with 4 beers on tap.

But wait. Larry McCoy’s no longer the owner. So who took over? Meredith Maier and Talia Nachshon (along with a business partner) bought the place along with its name back in 2004. In 2008, they bought out their partner and effectively became California’s second women-owned brewery after Lost Coast Brewery. Things have been going well ever since they took over. You know what I like about most places up north? They serve food! And usually pretty good food at that! Six Rivers has a full menu and the food looked very appetizing (I didn’t have time to try it so I will keep it at that).

Six Rivers Brewery
The 7-BBL brewing equipment acquired from Humboldt Brewing Co.

What I did get to try is their amazing brews! But before we talk about my personal flight, let’s talk beer and brew. As you already know, they have 7-barrel system with 9 fermenters with which they produce about 2,000 BBL a year. Hey that’s quite a bit in my book. Carlos mentioned that he had just wrapped up brewing batch number 5005 before I got there, and he said that they have brewed 35,000 BBL since they opened. Wow! But while quantity is great for business, they also have to make sure they come up with new beers fairly often. “It’s very hipster driven,” Carlos said. “I’ve never seen a more fickle customer.” So Carlos tries to come out with a new beer as often as possible and at the very least once a quarter. “It’s so trendy. If you are not trendy, you are dying.” So what’s Carlos working on? He wants to make a Margarita wheat beer of some sort with key lime, orange peel and agave. But you what got me intrigued? They are currently in the process of making beer with kombucha. To be clear, the beer is a 50/50 blend with locally-made It’s Alive Kombucha. Carlos wants to eventually take this a step further and start using kombucha during the fermentation process. Interesting!

Six Rivers Brewery
The beer flight from left to right: Lemongrass Wit, NorCal Passion (Collab with Golden State Brewery), Macadamia Nut Porter, Raspberry Lambic

All right, all right. What did I try? I had their Lemongrass Wit, the NorCal Passion collab with Golden State Brewery, the Macadamia Nut Porter and the Raspberry Lambic. Oh boy. All of them were outstanding. It makes me wish I lived in McKinleyville, CA so I could make Six Rivers my watering hole. To be fair, I drink way too much as is and don’t really need a dedicated spot. Ha! In the meantime, I can always buy their beer in the Bay Area. However, I should mention they are super popular in Sacramento with their Macadamia Nut Porter and distribute there quite a bit. Although Carlos said he would love to have a canning line, they currently only own a bottling line responsible for all of their bottling needs.

Six Rivers Brewery
The bottling line at Six Rivers Brewery

What’s the future looking like at Six Rivers? You know, I’m starting to hear the same thing over and over, and I don’t like it. Last year wasn’t as good as previous years in terms of business. “Most of us are in survival mode,” Carlos said. “There is more competition.” True that. But Carlos also mentioned something that hadn’t even really occurred to me: pot money is virtually gone. Make no mistake though, Six Rivers is alive and well. They recently made room for for fermenters and are getting two more very soon. I look forward to seeing more and more of them around the Bay Area. I already started seeing them at festivals. They are definitely on the right track!

Oh and I can’t wait to try some of their barrel-aged brews (but they are style in the barrels so patience…)! One last thing: try to make it out to the brewery if you can. It’s pretty chill, and you can even see the ocean

More photos of Six Rivers Brewery: