Alum of Beer: Temescal Brewing
Sam Gilbert is a builder. After spending years in the food and tech industries, he combined his culinary chops and technical know-how by becoming a brewer. In 2011, this hobby led Sam and a friend to found Brewlab SF, a Bay Area home brewers’ collective housed in a hackspace where brewers can learn about home brewing and contribute to beer-related projects like growing hops, barrel-aging beer, making brewing equipment, and inventing new beer tech. His newest experiment? Temescal Brewing: a North Oakland based brewery and taproom that will house and support his growing passion for creative experimentation, as well as the growing community of Oakland “artists, makers, and schemers” he aspires to help build.
Just one year shy of Food Craft Institute’s inaugural Business of Beer course, we caught up with Sam for a coffee (and a couple beers, of course) to hear what he’s been brewing up…
Who is your biggest inspiration?
In terms of how I make beer, one of my big influences is Ferran Adrià (owner and former head chef of elBulli restaurant). The thing that I really got from his elBulli days was the process he put in place for experimentation. For any given dish he was doing, there was a lot of scientific method style experimentation that went into what ended up becoming a really playful and whimsical thing. What I got from him that I bring back to brewing is a love for pushing limits and experimenting. Not just creating new products, but new experiences around those products. I’m big on really radical innovation, but I don’t like to be willy nilly and wild about it. I like very controlled experimentation that leads to [that]. I think it takes a lot of hard work to create something that’s actually new. I’m not there yet, but I aspire to do that in beer like many other people in beer are doing.
As for local inspiration? He’s a new local, but I already look up a whole lot to Jay Porter (owner of Half Orange in Fruitvale). Like me, he’s sort of an outsider to the area, but he’s one of those people who’s doing an amazing job of trying to build community and put out a value-driven business that’s going to be really good for that part of Fruitvale. I’m trying to approach New Normal with the same friendliness and curiosity.
What were the most helpful aspects of The Business of Beer?
Being able to talk to other brewers. Starting a brewery is such a capital intensive endeavor. You can’t gradually transition into it and build your business. There’s a huge leap that’s required, where you have to go from zero to space, brewing equipment, license in one go. The only way to really learn those things is to make the mistakes or, in the case of The Business of Beer, by getting to talk to other brewers who’ve made those mistakes. It’s such an experience driven skill to be good at running a beer business, so being able to have full days grilling these other business owners to understand what they’ve been through was really really helpful. That’s the overarching thing. From there, so many details have affected how I framed the business from the get-go, to how I’ve been making decisions as I go along. For me personally, some of the financial advice and training that we got was really helpful. I’m not a numbers guy and I have since learned to embrace Excel in ways I never thought I would.
What do you envision the next year will bring for Temescal Brewing?
The plan right now is a production brewery with a taproom distributing, at first, hyper-locally and eventually to other parts of the Bay Area. A big focus for me has always been on the taproom because, through my past with Brewlab SF and based on the values that the brewery is starting with, I think part of it is creating a space for community to form around the brewery.
What advice do you have for new food entrepreneurs starting out?
Don’t get distracted by shiny things. Starting a food business is such a big project and there’s so much you can focus on. There are times when what you really need to do is focus on pushing forward to a new phase. There are other times when you really need to step back and evaluate what you’re doing, revisit your concept, and make sure that everything is still aligned. Be aware of your pacing and try to spend your time wisely. Check yourself.
Follow Temescal Brewing on Twitter to see what’s on tap next for Sam.
Inspired by Sam’s story? Take an FCI Course yourself! Our next Business of Beer course starts October 25th, 2014.