LIVERMORE -- Move over, merlot. Step aside, sirah. There's a fresh libation in the Tri-Valley, and it doesn't come from a vine.
The newcomer is beer, being produced by two devoted brewmasters who've turned their passion into a business. Amid thousands of acres of vineyards and approximately 50 wineries, they're operating the first brewery in Livermore since Prohibition.
"It's a need this community has," said Greg Robles, co-owner of Altamont Beer Works and a Livermore resident for more than 40 years. "Livermore has always been good about supporting its local wineries, so I don't think it will be different here."
Named with a nod toward the valley's infamous 1969 rock concert, Altamont has been brewing up a range of suds, including "Hella Hoppy," a strong, double India Pale Ale; "Left Coast Session" Pale Ale, a hop-forward beer; "Rich Mahogany," a red ale; "Cerveza Espumosa," a German-style wheat beer fermented with blackberries; and "Shelter IPA," named after both the Rolling Stones' iconic song and the 1970 documentary that chronicles the concert.
"You can say 'Gimme Shelter' at the bar," Robles said. "We wanted to have fun with it."
Roles and partner Stephen Sartori each bring years of beer-making experience to the enterprise. Robles, 48, is a mechanical engineer for a software company and designs sheet metal and plastics for the computer industry. He grew up in Livermore, worked at Concannon Vineyard in the tasting room and
"I enjoyed seeing how to do this,'' he recalled. "Maybe that's the engineer in me. I've always appreciated the art of being creative, and wine takes too long. Our hard water here lends itself to happy beers, which lends itself to drinking it fresh."
Partner and Altamont co-owner Stephen Sartori, 27, was born and raised in Livermore and works days at Salinas Valley Santa Cruz Motor Express, the San Leandro-based trucking business his family has owned for 88 years. He broke his back several years ago and after a lengthy recuperation decided it was time to do something he enjoyed.
"I wanted to do something cool, so I got into brewing," he said. "I ended up really, really getting into it."
He worked for a time in Stockton with a more experienced brewer, where he honed his skills and eventually met Robles at a meeting of the Mad Zymurgists, a Tri-Valley home-brew club that draws members primarily from Pleasanton, Livermore, San Ramon and Hayward. The idea of brewing professionally appeals to him on several levels, he said.
"I've liked to cook since I was a little kid, and beer sparks my creativity," he explained. "I love art and music, but I never excelled at either. I can formulate recipes and express my creativity through my beer."
For now, Altamont's beer is made in small batches of 13 and 25 gallons at their production facility on Research Drive in Livermore. The glorified home-brew system will shortly be replaced by a 20-barrel arrangement that will allow Robles and Sartori to produce 620 gallons of beer at a time. Depending on the style, each batch takes two to three weeks to complete, and, unlike wine, most beer is best consumed fresh.
Their brew can often be sampled at Tap 25 Craft Beer in Livermore, the Beer Baron/Livermore Saloon, First Street Ale House, and at The Hop Yard and Handles in Pleasanton.
Because their licensing does not allow for pints to be sold and consumed at their facility, they plan to sell "growlers" -- half-gallon jugs containing four pints, or 64 ounces, that can be filled and refilled with the customer's favorite brew and consumed at home. They'll also have kegs of beer for sale.
For now, the partners are just hoping to fill a sudsy niche.
It's been a fun adventure," Sartori said. "For now, we just want to produce a great product and get it out."
Visit www.altamontbeerworks.com for more information.