Rob Lightner, co-founder of East Brother Beer Co. will explain in a second. It has nothing to do with brothers at all, but it’s still a very good friendship story nonetheless.
I was going to visit East Brother Beer Co. right after SF Beer Week and then the pandemic hit. So much for that. However, I was lucky enough to try some of their beers, which are all very solid. As most of you may know, I now live in Colorado and will have to visit them on my next trip to the Bay.
So without further ado, I will let Rob give you all the details on the brewery!
How did you guys get involved in craft beer?
I couldn’t have asked for a better team. Every person I work with is committed and passionate, not just about beer, but about their own personal projects, causes they support…and about each other. It’s so refreshing to work with people who give a damn about something.
As far as how we got here, we all have a different story. Here at East Brother Beer, we like to use the lighthouse analogy (more on that later): Beer is that beacon of light, and no matter where you are in life, if beer is where you’re supposed to be, you’ll eventually end up here, it’s inevitable. Our team is a great example of that. We have people from all walks of life with incredibly rich backgrounds – folks who spent years in the corporate world before coming here, and also those who joined East Brother straight out of school – who use their past experiences and skills to make our company and beer better every day.
As for me, I just love beer! And I happened to have a close friend, my fellow co-founder Chris Coomber, who was making amazing beer, and after years spent in the for-profit and non-profit worlds, I was ready to come home to beer!
When and how did East Brother Beer get started?
Chris and I have been friends for decades, our kids grew up together, our families celebrate special occasions together. And for years, Chris and I had talked about working together in some way. One day, over dinner, Chris asked if I was interested in opening a brewery, and I might have answered a little too emphatically with a “hell yes!”
We scouted the Bay Area for the perfect spot and landed in Richmond, California, a city with an incredible industrial history and strong working-class heritage. We opened our taproom to the public in early 2016 and have been going strong ever since. The community, drawing from the local population, that has sprung up around our taproom is incredibly gratifying.
How do you go about creating recipes?
Co-founder Chris Coomber developed the recipes for all five of what we call our “Core” beers, and he now works closely with our Head Brewer Paul Liszewski to collaborate on new recipes, and ensure that our beers are flawlessly executed. We obsess over process, and take pride in brewing beers that easy to drink and accessible. You won’t find experimental beers here; instead, you’ll find clean, balanced, classic beers that are well done and will have you coming back for more.
We’ve got a couple of award-winning beers under our belt, but if I had to choose one flagship, it would have to be our Bo Pils, which is short for Bohemian Pilsner (we like to call our beers what they are – brewing is so all-consuming that we just don’t have the time to come up with witty names!). Our Bo Pils has a beautiful golden color with a lemony noble hop character. It’s the perfect beer for non-beer drinkers and beer connoisseurs alike; it’s a representation of what we think beer should be: not too fussy, and welcoming to everyone.
Last year was a great one for Bo Pils: It won Gold at the California Craft Brewer’s Summit for best “Czech Style Pilsner” and Silver at the Great American Beer Festival for best “Bohemian-Style Pilsner.”
Any plans for the future at East Brother?
Two simple words: more beer! We’ve been working closely with Wine Warehouse, our distribution partner and fellow Richmond business, to get our beer to as many new accounts as possible. When we started with them last year we were only available in the San Francisco Bay Area, but quickly expanded, and now, our beer is available all over California. The next step is to expand into other states – not in a crazy way, but really just to respond to fans in a few other states who’ve asked when we’ll be coming to their region. If you’re somewhere other than California and you’d like to see us near you, feel free to reach out, we’re always looking for new markets.
What do you think of the craft beer scene in the area and its expansion over the past few years?
We love seeing new breweries open up! It’s incredible to see the creativity that goes into both the beer itself as well as the packaging and presentation – and the quality is off the charts! I think, looking from the outside in, people assume that there is a lot of competition between breweries, and I’d be lying if I said this isn’t the case – but at the same time, we really are a tight-knit community. We share brewing tips and will even lend a can or two when someone finds themselves short. Besides providing us all with delicious beer to drink, craft breweries have an incredibly positive impact on local and state economies.
Why East Brother?
Contrary to what the name might suggest, there are no brothers involved with East Brother Beer. We took our name from the East Brother Light Station, located just a few minutes from our Taproom. Built in 1874, the lighthouse welcomes ships from the bustling San Francisco Bay into the quieter San Pablo Bay; it’s a testament to both human engineering and dedication. It’s been doing its thing for so long, and very few people in the Bay Area know about it – we’re inspired by the understated way it does its job…kinda like our beer! It’s an amazing piece of Richmond history, and we couldn’t think of a more fitting name.
How have you been coping with Covid-19?
At the beginning of COVID, we found ourselves in an interesting – and scary – scenario. Like everyone else, we had to shut down our taproom to the public, so we immediately started up a curbside pickup model. This proved to be a great way to provide our local fans with fresh access to our beer and allowed us to keep our taproom team employed. And on the distribution side, as restaurants and bars started shutting down, we saw our draft (keg) business plummet. Fortunately – as everyone has probably heard at this point – sales of beer (and alcohol overall) have increased dramatically at grocery stores, bottle shops, etc – so we’ve benefitted from that. And thank goodness we purchased a canning line last year! It’s been getting a ton of use, and those can sales have kept our Production and Sales team employed. Truth be told, the financial part hasn’t been easy, but via a combination of loans, increased can sales, and the sheer grit and determination of the East Brother team in coming together to persevere through this crisis, we are keeping the lights on … just like the lighthouse! And we’re looking forward to the other side.
More photos from East Brother Beer Co.: