OAKLAND -- The resurgence of the craft beer industry here is reshaping some of the city's roughest areas, bringing culture, night life and community back to vacant industrial parks and troubled neighborhoods.
Once a thriving beer-brewing port, Oakland is again emerging as a craft beer destination, satisfying the palates of a new generation of beer drinkers and energizing redevelopment efforts in West Oakland. From big-name breweries such as 21st Amendment to casual homebrewers, beer-loving entrepreneurs are turning to Oakland as the next craft beer frontier.
It's a movement that carries the promise of revitalizing neighborhoods that have been lost to violence and disinvestment. Breweries are a magnet for new businesses, encourage people to bike and walk in the area and create a "social ambience" that helps to stamp out crime, said Margot Lederer Prado, senior economic development specialist for the city of Oakland.
From Portland to Boston, microbreweries have helped transform entire neighborhoods, taking over vacant warehouses and anchoring new developments of restaurants, cafes and galleries. Oakland, with just one full-production brewery, hasn't yet joined the class of urban brewing capitals, but the city has all the ingredients -- space to brew and a ravenous demand from young professionals who want high-quality libations that are made locally.
"Oakland is vastly underserved compared to cities of similar size, and consequently Oakland is ripe for a lot of additional breweries," said Stephen McDaniel, owner of Oakland Brewing and Independent Brewing companies. "There's a lot of potential here."
West Oakland's old warehouses and canneries are large enough to brew and bottle beer and rent for cheaper than buildings in San Francisco. Much of it is already zoned for industrial or mixed-use districts, a land-use designation that means fewer building permits and hurdles at City Hall.
"It's almost ideal for us to choose the inner city and industrial areas," said Adam Lamoreaux, who founded Linden Street Brewery in 2009, still the city's only full-production brewery. "You have the physical structure that is priced in the way that most of us small entrepreneurs need."
Ale Industries from Concord just signed a lease for a new facility in the Fruitvale neighborhood. The owner of Drake's Brewing of San Leandro is working on a beer garden near 24th and Broadway, which will open in February.
San Francisco's high rent and space shortage pushed 21st Amendment Brewery east in search of a new home for brewing beer. The brewery, which has offices in Oakland's Rockridge neighborhood and a pub in San Francisco, brews most of its beer in Minnesota, but has outgrown that facility, said founder and brewmaster Shaun O'Sullivan. He plans to open a new brewery and tasting room in either Oakland, Alameda or San Leandro by mid-2014 that would produce up to 250,000 barrels a year.
21st Amendment was a catalyst for the revitalization of the South of Market district in San Francisco and hopes to replicate that in the East Bay. "We've always wanted to be a part of the revitalization that's occurring within a neighborhood," O'Sullivan said.
Even with the city's craft beer movement in its infancy, new restaurants popping up across Oakland are filling their taps with local brews, craft beer shops are thriving and galleries are trading out wine in favor of local craft beer during the city's monthly art hop, First Fridays.
Rebecca Boyles jump-started the revitalization of Third Street when she opened craft beer store Beer Revolution at the corner of Broadway in 2009. This year, she gutted and remodeled the old train station next door and opened Old Depot Public House, a pub serving craft beer. At the end of the block, chef Tamearra Dyson opened Souley Vegan, which also serves locally brewed beer. The trifecta has transformed the desolate block into a destination for happy hours and lunch outings for neighborhood businesses. "It's really just been amazing to sit back and see this whole district coming to life. Before, it used to be no man's land,'' Boyles said.
But a shortage of capital and tight city budgets may stymie the growth of small brewers who say they can't afford the expense of upgrading Oakland's vacant buildings, many of which need new plumbing or ventilation. East Bay teacher P.T. Lovern started Line 51 brewing company in November and distributes to restaurants and bars along Broadway. He quickly tripled his production and now wants to open his own brewery in Oakland. Lovern and McDaniel live in Oakland but brew in San Jose.
"While the space is there in Oakland, the capital isn't necessarily there, and that's been our problem," McDaniel said.
The city used to offer redevelopment grants up to $45,000 through a program for small entrepreneurs, Prado said. But when the state dissolved its redevelopment agencies in 2011, the money disappeared.
Prado said the city is working to ease city regulations about where brewers can sell bottled beer and city officials have at times turned a blind eye to nano breweries that might not have the proper licenses. And city officials are cheering for microbreweries -- Mayor Jean Quan, a longtime champion of East Bay wineries, recently met with brewers and vintners to offer help.
"From the Mayor down to the permitting department, people have been really supportive," Prado said.
Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.
pioneers of Oakland's craft beer resurgence
1. Linden Street Brewery, 95 Linden St., 510-251-8898
2. Pacific Coast Brewing Company, 906 Washington St.
3. Oakland Brewing Company, sold at restaurants, bars and stores around Oakland, 510-836-2739
4. MacArthur Garage Brewery & Bar, 875 MacArthur Blvd., open occasionally (when the red lantern is glowing); follow them on Facebook or Twitter @GarageBrewery
5. Line 51 Brewing Company, sold at select locations from Alameda to Berkeley, primarily along Lincoln, Broadway and College avenues, email@example.com
6. Beer Revolution, 464 Third St., 510-452-2337
7. Commonwealth Cafe and Public House, 2882 Telegraph Ave., 510-663-3001
8. Telegraph Beer Garden, 2318 Telegraph Ave., 510-444-8353
9. The Trappist, 6309 College Ave and 460 8th Street, 510-238-8900 and 510-594-2339