21st Amendment Brewery and Restaurant has long been identified with San Francisco, where co-founders Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan set up their venerated establishment in 2000. But few of their fans have been aware that since 2008, much of the company’s production has taken place 1,500 miles away. Look closely at one of the colorful cans and you may be surprised to see “Brewed in Cold Spring, MN” in small print. For years, this Bay Area producer has quietly engaged in a common industry practice known as “contract brewing,” which essentially amounts to having the product made elsewhere.
But that’s changing. As more and more breweries are figuring out how to do their work locally, 21st Amendment has been part of the trend. After launching a new brewery in San Leandro last June, they have slowly been ramping up production. While the move was certainly motivated by business imperatives like reducing costs and expanding into new markets, it’s undeniable that Freccia and O’Sullivan are hoping to replicate in San Leandro the neighborhood pub experience their patrons have enjoyed in San Francisco. After all, community building was a motive that drove them to create 21st Amendment in the first place.
It goes back 15 years to when these two entrepreneurs were trying to name their business. Their search through San Francisco brewery history was both a disappointment and a revelation. “The names we found were unexciting,” recalls Freccia, “but what really struck us was that in 1900, there were more than 40 breweries operating within San Francisco. The brewery was the neighborhood gathering place, with one on practically every corner. Prohibition wiped that culture out and so we chose the name 21st Amendment, the repeal of Prohibition, as a name that represented a society starting the slow climb back to reclaiming the essence of the neighborhood gathering place.”
With Freccia’s business acumen and O’Sullivan’s passion for brewing, the duo had a recipe for success, and by 2008 they were looking toward retailing their product. But their small brewpub lacked the facilities to produce at that volume, and without the considerable funds required to build a brewery from scratch, they had to find another way. The answer was Third Street Brewhouse in Cold Spring, Minnesota, a company that could contract-brew their two best-selling products, Hell or High Watermelon Wheat and Brew Free or Die IPA.
That partnership with Third Street Brewhouse still works well for Freccia and O’Sullivan, but the duo never gave up the idea of their own large-production Bay Area–based brewery. “We needed a location where we could grow over the next ten, even twenty years,” says Freccia.
They found the spot in San Leandro at a former Kellogg’s factory that had been pumping out Pop-Tarts and boxes of cereal for decades until it closed in 1997. In addition to housing the brewery, the new facility includes a taproom where patrons can enjoy 21st Amendment’s regular line-up as well as special seasonal and experimental beers. A restaurant (now in the planning stages) should come to fruition in three to five years.
“The building was built for manufacturing and has the bones, the infrastructure, we were looking for,” explains Freccia. “In addition, the city of San Leandro is committed to bringing manufacturing back to the city, and they worked with us really hard to make this project happen.”
Indeed, San Leandro officials jumped at the opportunity when 21st Amendment came calling. “We were excited to make it happen,” San Leandro Mayor Pauline Cutter recalls. “I’m not a beer drinker but I love their Hell or High Watermelon Wheat.”
But Cutter adds that it wasn’t all about beer or even tax dollars. “What I like about 21st Amendment is what they want to do for the community here. A lot of thought went into planning their facility: Not only will it be a great brewery and restaurant, but it’ll be a catalyst for the area.”
With Drake’s Brewing, another major Bay Area producer, only two blocks away, and the smaller Cleophus Quealy brewery also nearby, an industrial park known for construction materials and scrap yards has quickly transformed into a beer destination, a development that makes Mayor Cutter especially enthusiastic. “Our industrial space traditionally has been pretty dead after the workers go home for the day. What we want is more things for all ages to do and make the area a destination; a magnet for other restaurants, breweries, and more social activities for the area, something to do after six o’clock, where people will come to the area and enjoy the place. We believe this will be a model of how it’s done.”
Speaking about how the new brewery changes the way 21st Amendment makes its beer, brewmaster O’Sullivan sounds like a kid who just opened his birthday presents. “What’s exiting is that we have the opportunity to stretch our creative wings and put out more beers and in interesting packages.”
For example, their latest beer, an India-style red ale called “Toaster Pastry,” is an homage to the brewery building’s history and one of its most successful products, the Pop-Tart. O’Sullivan describes the beer in a way that highlights the similarities: “Biscuit malts give the beer a slightly nutty, crust-like flavor, while pale and dark crystal malts offer the mouthfeel and flavors reminiscent of strawberry jam. Calypso and other experimental hops give this ruby ale a welcome bite with a fruity aroma.” While people have been sampling this ale already in the 21st Amendment taproom, it’s now rolling into the brewery’s retail-distribution network.
O’Sullivan says that their first beers out of San Leandro will be exciting new releases. “We’ll also be experimenting with our San Leandro neighbors, Drakes, and Cleophus Quealy, to produce some really inventive collaboration beers. We’re working to make San Leandro a craft beer Mecca.” ´
21st Amendment Brewery and Tap Room
2010 Williams St, San Leandro
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