SAN CARLOS -- One of Chris Garrett's fondest memories of his childhood in rural New Mexico involves the special holiday packages his father received from a friend in Belgium.
Garrett would watch in fascination as his father pried open a wooden crate and pulled out colorful bottles wrapped in decorated paper. The ritual culminated when the elder Garrett removed the bottles' wire-and-cork closures and poured fruit-flavored lambic beer for family and friends to share.
For a boy growing up in a farming and ranching family, the ornate bottles offered a glimpse into an exotic world.
"Back in those days that was pretty fantastic," said Garrett, for whom Europe circa 1980 was just "a mysterious place far away."
When he grew up, Garrett brought his fondness for beer to California, where a class in fermentation science at Menlo College led him to experiment with home-brewing. After working seven years in Silicon Valley, he left technology and went into beer-making full time.
Today he and his wife, Kristiann, own Devil's Canyon Brewing Co., an award-winning Peninsula microbrewery with a devoted local following. This summer, Devil's Canyon made a leap that reflects its growing stature: it left its first home in a Belmont office park and took over Tesla Motors' old research and development facility just west of Highway 101 in San Carlos.
Garrett, 42, and his team of nine full-time employees are renovating the 22,500-square-foot building to accommodate the new brewing operation. An Oregon brewery is making Devil's Canyon's six varieties of beer until the job is finished in January. But the brewery's cavernous bar and entertainment space is finished and offering weekly evidence of the unique, family-friendly atmosphere Garrett has created.
The brewery is typically open to the public on Fridays only. The last Friday of the month is the busiest, with live music and a crowd of several hundred people.
But visitors on the first three Fridays of the month are likely to see children scampering around the 8,500-square-foot room, sipping Devil's Canyon root beer or playing on the cement floor with toys. A dog may be seated at the feet of a smartly dressed beer aficionado.
Brian Leckery and his wife, Tracy Turner, are regulars, as are their two elementary school-age children. For Leckery, a 46-year-old native of England, the brewery evokes the relaxed ambience of the beer gardens in his home country.
"There's so few places," he said, "where you can go and have a beer and your kids can run around."
Turner, a Belmont native, likes the company's philosophy of reuse. The wood in the bar came from a demolished Menlo Park home, for instance, while the 1,400-gallon mash tun in the brewery is a repurposed Berkeley Farms milk storage tank. The brewery donates its used grain to a Half Moon Bay farmer, who feeds it to his cows.
But the main draw at Devil's Canyon is the beer. The brewery, says marketing director Daniel Curran, strives for balance and complexity. Belle, a "sparkling ale" made from Champagne yeast, is Turner's favorite. Mark Borson, of San Mateo, prefers Deadicated Amber Ale.
"The beer got me hooked, and the events and atmosphere got me to stay," said Borson, who likened the brewery's unpretentious vibe to a "neighborhood block party."
Garrett enhances the brewery's community bonds in rare cases by putting his customers to work. Amy Taylor drank a Belle on a recent Friday as her husband, locksmith Carlos Fred, rehung the doors leading from the bar to the brewery. In return, she said, the couple will get credit toward a couple kegs for their wedding reception this summer.
Though the brewery has a loyal corps of regulars, it seems to pick up new customers every week. Hank Heyming, 41, paid his first visit Nov. 22, a couple growlers, or refillable jugs, tucked in his bag. He recently moved to the Peninsula from Virginia and had been looking for a good craft brewery.
Standing at the bar, Heyming snapped an iPhone photo of his beer, the popular Full Boar Scotch Ale, and uploaded to it Elixr, an app that allows users to log, share and rate drinks at bars and restaurants. Would he be back?
"Every Friday," Heyming said with a laugh. "This is going to be my thing to do. I'm excited."