Fieldwork Brewing Company’s Monterey taproom at 520 Munras Avenue has received ABC approval, moved kegs into the cooler, and pending final inspection today, will be pouring beer for customers this weekend. It’s the latest — and, for the moment, the last — major expansion move from the Berkeley-based brewer, which has grown at an astounding clip, and all without a flagship beer to its name.
In its first year, Fieldwork produced 2,700 barrels of beer. This year, it’s on track to produce 16,000 barrels, all of it self-distributed, cutting out the industry’s notorious middleman. Drinkers won’t find Fieldwork bottles in corner stores, but that’s an advantage according to co-owner Barry Braden, the business brains behind the operation who came out of retirement to pursue Fieldwork with brewing savant and co-owner Alex Tweet.
“We deliver every keg, and we know when it goes on tap,” says Braden. “We’re committed to a very high-touch relationship with our customers.” Most of those kegs are polished off within two weeks, maintaining their freshness.
Fieldwork’s first taproom opened in West Berkeley in 2015, followed quickly by locations in Napa and Sacramento. This summer, the brewer opened a massive beer garden in San Mateo, and the Monterey taproom wraps up its first period of serious growth.
Monterey Friends: These are just a few of the fine folks who will soon be enthusiastically pouring a beer for you or filling your growler @fieldworkbrewing_monterey. Final inspection is scheduled for tomorrow and we hope to see you this weekend if all goes well! #monterey #montereybay #montereybeer #fieldworkbrewing #awesometeam #firepit
At just 1,800 square-feet, the Monterey location is smaller than the one in San Mateo. It’s also an outdoor facility built partially around shipping containers, with fire pits for cooler temperatures and 12 to 15 rotating taps.
Tweet, who also helped launch the San Diego brewery Modern Times, first honed his craft at Ballast Point, an early San Diego brewing star that sold to Constellation for $1 billion in 2016 seemingly on the strength of its mega-popular Sculpin IPA alone. That acquisitions was among the first of many, several of which have recently rocked the Bay Area. Speakeasy, a distribution-focused brewery canning a few signature beers, had to be sold this spring to pay off debt obligations. In just the past two weeks, Anchor Brewing was sold to Japan’s Sapporo and Magnolia Brewery was bought by Colorado’s New Belgium.
Maybe as a result of Ballast Point’s experience, Fieldwork’s approach has been radically different. 400 of their distribution accounts will serve whatever rotating IPA Tweet comes up with. So far, the strategy has kept customers coming back for more. “No matter how much people love your IPA, they’re going to get sick of it,” says Tweet “I didn’t want that to happen with any of our beers.”
The model has also flipped the typical script according to Braden. “Accounts that we hear from say [customers] ask, ‘Oh what’s the Fieldwork?’” It’s the other way around for beers like Racer 5, a ubiquitous and dependable IPA whose brewer, Bear Republic, many regular drinkers might be unable to name.
But brewing massive quantities of untested beer is a high-wire act. “I’m fairly confident we’re the world’s largest pilot system,” jokes Tweet — as in, “we don’t have a pilot system... We’re taking 100 barrel gambles all the time on our beers. We’ve done close to 200 different beers now since we’ve opened — none of them piloted.”
That’s so many beers that Tweet keeps a running list of “more than 1,000” possible names for them, often subtle variations like Bloomsday IPA and In Bloom IPA, ready to assign at any time.
“Everyone’s got their own business model; nobody’s right or wrong,” says Tweet diplomatically. “In this industry, everyone wants to tell everyone how to do stuff. Whatever works for you, go for it. I’m proud that our business model works, because it’s one that not many people could do.”
At the moment, Braden says Fieldwork can’t take on any new accounts — its maxed out with more than 700. But the brewery won’t slow down its frenzied pace of new beer production. And if Tweet has his druthers, the next rotating tap sensation will be a lager, not an IPA, the style he’s most excited about going forward.
“Craft beer consumers weren’t ready for lagers about a year ago. I think it still had a bad connotation to people who were newer to craft beer,” he reasons. “I’m confident this is gonna be the year of lagers. For me, I like making these big bold flavors, but at the same time, I enjoy making more delicately flavorful beer that you can take camping or fishing or hiking. You can’t do that with 99 percent of craft beer.”