In the spirit of Halloween or for those of us who are always ready for the impending apocalypse, I would like to introduce Epidemic Ales. This Concord brewery sells one of my all time favorite beers, Nightshade, as well as tons of other fun and interesting brews! Be on the lookout for their new ale, Belladonna (pale ale), and their ever popular Zombrew IPA. Now on to the interview with owners Holly and Brian Wang!
How did you become an owner of Epidemic Ales?
We have 6 partners (3 couples) who founded Epidemic Ales after brewing together for years as homebrewers at first using a kit and after time expanded out to a 1 barrel system. We have been brewing and perfecting our recipes for years so we knew we had a great product and an interesting established brand to promote. We planned the brewery around our 10-barrel brew system and produce a large variety of beers from lager, pale ale, red, brown, IPA, amber, stout, bourbon barrel-aged stout, and taproom-only limited beers. We also self-distribute kegs and 22oz bottles. Our taproom opened on January 2, 2016 and we’ve been brewing and distributing in our industrial location that is half-taproom and half-brewery since August 2015.
What was your inspiration behind the name Epidemic Ales?
We wanted to have a brewery name that is memorable and will bring in people who love beer and pop culture. Our catch phrase is “Beer Today. Apocalypse Tomorrow.” which points to the idea that you shouldn’t wait to try a new beer because it won’t always be available, and we have fun with the idea of craft beer as a real epidemic that is sweeping the country and is rapidly spreading across the world market as seen in growth in craft beer sales and brewery openings. We also have a lot of fun coming up with beer names like Zombrew IPA & Lager at World’s End.
Zombrew IPA is a frighteningly good IPA with a medium malt body that allows you to really sink your teeth into the five different hop varieties. Your mouth will be murdered with a striking but balanced bitterness then reanimated with the subtle fruit flavors and a snappy dry finish.
Why did you open your brewery in Concord?
We chose to be a Concord brewery because there is only one other brewery in the city and there is so much room to grow compared to California’s brewery-saturated cities like Sacramento and San Diego. The community is also extremely open to the development of the beer industry. In Concord, on any given day we’ll have visitors in the taproom that are home-brewers, restaurant or tap room owners, beer lovers, future brewery owners, and beer club members that come in to ask questions and sample our beer.
How has the City of Concord helped to facilitate your business growth and/or success?
The City of Concord has been extremely supportive since the very beginning of our business venture. From the Planning Commission to the City Council, the Permit desk to the Economic Development Department, they have helped us along every step of the way. They helped us navigate through all the different city, county, state, and federal agencies. We were even awarded the city’s Business Recognition Award last month after being in business less than a year!
What separates Epidemic Ales from other breweries?
Our partnership in the brewery developed out of a mix of family and friends with a background in home brewing, and love of great craft beer. All the brewery partners have kept our day jobs and have different professional backgrounds (finance, marketing, IT, technical writing, biotech) and settled into positions where we excelled in the brewery. We gravitated to our natural strengths but the majority of our duties are shared. Any one of us can be tasked with cleaning, sales, deliveries, tasting events, meet and greets, etc so we know each aspect of the brewery intimately. We’re constantly learning from each other and we’re a team. With that said, there are things that should be handled by the partner who has the experience and the ability to be successful and grow the company. We have a great head brewer and assistant brewers and our finance guy is a mastermind at accounts, planning, and production, which gives us the time and opportunity to build up marketing strategies, develop new beer recipes, plan tap takeovers at local businesses, and expand sales. We also all take turns behind the taproom bar serving customers. We love to have visitors in the brewery and we’re always open to questions on craft brewing and business.
We operate as a little to no-waste brewery. All of our wastewater from the brewery is collected and transported back to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD). The biogas emitted by the microorganisms in the wastewater is captured by EBMUD and used to generate renewable energy to power the wastewater treatment plant. EBMUD also sells excess renewable energy back to the electrical grid to cut fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. Our local farmer, Jim Hanson of Hanson Family Farms, takes our spent grain and uses it as a high-protein feed for his goats, pigs, and sheep. We also have local snacks for sale in the taproom that helps support other small local businesses such as Spicy Peanuts from Chef Kev’s Specialty Foods in Concord and Kettle Corn from Pop! Mama Pop! in Pleasant Hill. The jerky sticks we sell in the taproom are from Hanson Family Farms and is often an interesting story for taproom guests. We’d had a contingent of local food trucks like Slice of Italeigh Gourmet Pizza, ADOruBOwl, StreetSteam Bunz, Canasta Kitchen, Mo’Shroom Edible Productions, United Bites, Yummi BBQ, out to the brewery on weekends when possible because they are great to work with and create menu items that work with or often incorporate our beer into recipes- plus, who doesn’t like to pair food and beer?! We also donate beer to charitable events that will benefit the local community. We’ve done more than 20 events in the last year that have been for charitable causes. We also fill outside growlers and have our 22oz bottles for sale at reasonable prices in our taproom.
Additionally as a 50% woman-owned business (and proud of it!) we have our woman owners brewing beer, out making sales, delivering kegs, pouring in the taproom, cleaning tanks, shoveling grains and working hard to produce great beer and help bring in more taproom customers.
Our taproom is family-friendly and dog-friendly and we encourage every type of legal-aged beer drinker to try our variety of beers ranging from Lager to Barrel-Aged Stout and to tell us what they think of them- we never mind a critique…. positive or negative. You’ll find one of the brewery owners working behind the bar because we love to talk about beer and owning our own business.
What advice would you give for anyone considering opening a brewery?
Be sure you have your finances in order and a great backup plan when you inevitably find that you’re going to need to double or triple your initial investment. Because we came from a home brewing background, there was a huge learning curve for us not only in brewing (scaling up from 1 barrel to 10 barrel batches) but also in sales, delivery, production, training, and marketing. The amount of accounts you have to have established just in order to brew your first beer is mind-boggling. Think- brewery equipment (brew house, fermenter tanks, brite tanks), grain supplier, yeast strain supplier, hop sales, C02 supply, keg manufacturer, taproom hardware, supplies for cleaning and sanitation, and a great contractor to build out your taproom. Our best advice is to get to know other brewery owners and make as many contacts as possible and ask a lot of questions. The brewery industry is very collaborative and everyone is usually willing to help because they’ve been helped themselves and are looking to pay it forward. We frequently have people coming in to ask our advice on opening a brewery and we offer help however we can. We appreciated other breweries that assisted us when we were first starting out so we are happy to return the favor. We always suggest that people looking to open a brewery consider Concord- we would love to have a big brewery community in the Concord and the surrounding cities, and we see that slowly happening.
What can we expect from Epidemic Ales in the near future?
We’re expanding our footprint as much as possible. With all of us working full-time we’re feeling the full effects of trying to do too much – often working 60-80 hour weeks which includes our day jobs. As much as we like being the ones to deliver our beer so we can visit with our accounts first-hand, it’s becoming clear we need help. We’re currently looking into hiring a small distributor with similar values as ours that can appropriately represent our beers. In the background we’ll still be delivering on our own here and there as we’re able. In the works also are some large accounts we’re speaking to that are interested in picking up our 22oz bottles so we can ramp up our bottle production. And as always we’re constantly in search of more permanent taps and more tap takeover events. We especially love it when our accounts contact us with creative ideas. We’ve done 4 course dinner pairings, trivia nights, East Bay brewery battles, and even a 16 brewery tap takeover. Keeping up the pace we’ve set, we’re still looking to release 1 new style of beer per month and will be adding to our Experimental Beer Series which are unusual beers we test out in the taproom. We’ll also be trying out new initiatives like happy hour, merchandise promotions, growler discount days, etc. What stays will depend on how our customers react. Keep tabs on us and stay tuned! Facebook, Twitter, Website
If the apocalypse really did come…what one beer would you want to have stocked in the bomb shelter?
We would probably have to go with a duo. We have to stock Lager At World’s End because it’s perfectly and ironically named and at 4.5% it’s suitable for drinking in a bunker while you still have to be alert for zombie attacks. And of course we’d stock Zombrew IPA if we had to appease beer-drinking Zombies (you never know!) or Zombie hunters during the Apocalypse.