A new Riverside microbrewery has given a different spin to the initials, “BYO.”
At Wicks Brewing Company, it means “Brew Your Own,” making it one of a few brewpubs in the state to offer a supervised on-site experience.
It seems you can’t go anywhere these days without bumping into a little brewpub. The $99 billion annual U.S. beer industry runneth over with a total of 2,483 craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association. The Denver-based trade group reported that the growth of the craft brewing industry in 2012 increased 15 percent in volume and 17 percent in retail revenues.
But what gives Wicks its wow factor is that aficionados say the closest craft brewery with a similar hands-on operation for wannabe brewers is in Huntington Beach, at a place called Brewbakers.
“There’s nothing else like this around,” said Chris Stolberg, an experienced home brewer.
At Wicks the other day, he sipped a red-headed Belgian ale while concocting his own robust porter, honey red and pale ale in three of the six 15-gallon kettles set up for public brewing. He’ll return in two weeks to bottle his brews after they’ve been fermented and carbonated. Then he’s going to serve them at a huge cook-out he’s hosting at his Escondido home.
After years of talking about it, Brad Wicks, 62, and his family, opened their microbrewery on April 22 in a building they own at 11620 Sterling Avenue. Sons Ryan, 30, and Cole, 28, also work at the brewpub, which is located on a quiet, dead-end street with freeway visibility.
It’s next door to the family-owned Wicks Construction Company, builder of hundreds of Mimi’s Cafes, Soup Plantations and Chipotle Mexican Grills. As a hobby, Brad began brewing his own beer 13 years ago in his warehouse. “I worked really hard to retire,” he said, “but it’s like trying to stop a freight train.”
Running the microbrewery as well as their adjoining garden store, which sells home brewing supplies, definitely derailed any man-of-leisure plans.
The Wicks remodeled the 7,500-square-foot former machine shop in a style Ryan calls “medieval meets New Age Industrial,” and installed a commercial kitchen that Cole manages. He’s created a high-end deli menu that includes ceviche, a veggie pesto croissant, turkey chipotle Swiss wrap, apple tart and homemade pretzel bites infused with liquid malt extract. Nothing is fried.
“Food sales are giving beer sales a run for their money,” Cole said.
With its seven-barrel brewing system (each barrel is the equivalent of 31 U.S. gallons), Wicks produces five of its own brews which are rotated with six guest beers. The microbrewery distributed its first keg on Wednesday, Aug. 14. “Every restaurant in town wants to put our beers on tap,” said Brad proudly.
[In early August] Wicks launched its brew-your-own suds sideline. “We want to bring craft beer to the masses,” Ryan said. The customer pays $250, which works out to $3 a beer per 15-gallon batch, he said. “We provide everything and then you leave the mess to us.”
First, Ryan finds out what they want – say, something similar to a black double IPA – and helps budding brewers customize the drink by tweaking any of a dozen house recipes. “It’s really very simple,” he said of the process that involves following typed, step-by-step instructions. “After you’ve done it once, you don’t need the directions.”
Unlike Wick’s big, all-grain brewing system, the small kettle procedure for the public eliminates the sugar removal step and starts with liquid malt extracts.
Because Wicks wants its 20 employees to learn the process, Ryan recently helped two servers produce a Belgian Strong. “The malt extract imparts a whole lot of flavor and color,” he told Ashley Garcia, 24 and Tiffany Cedillo, 27. They stirred the liquid into boiling water to prevent the malt from sinking to the bottom of the kettle and burning.
As they added the first hops, Garcia said: “Now when people mention hops, I know what they’re talking about. It’s a whole different world for me working here.”
For Chris Stolberg, the joy of customized suds is tailoring the flavor exactly to his and his wife’s palates “I’d put mine up against the best beers anywhere,” he boasted. “And they’re really a lot of fun to make.”
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