I’m Irish, so I talk fast. First generation American: My father’s from Tipperary and my mother’s from Wexford. I grew up in the Sunset District of San Francisco. It’s a great place to live. Shhhh—don’t tell anyone.
How’d you get into brewing?
It was that first six-pack of Coors that I shared with my buddy Dan Mahoney back in the eighth grade. After that, they couldn’t keep me away from the stuff.
You became a brewer. What became of Dan Mahoney?
He’s a police officer, one of San Francisco’s finest. Then, of course, in high school, as a special project for our religion class, me and another guy did a little report on how to brew beer and somehow got class credits for it.
For religious studies? This wasn’t in chemistry class? How’d you manage to put a religious twist on beer?
Let’s be real. One of the most famous fasts in the world was Martin Luther’s Diet of Worms. So what was the poor guy doing? He was slugging bock beer the whole time. I never realized that fasting did not exclude bock beer. So the monks are bragging that they went on these fasts—quite frankly, I would have lined up for it if I’d been one of the monks! Those bock beers are so thick and rich, no wonder they could take 30 or 40 days fasting. The nuns made it sound like they didn’t have anything at all.
When did you start brewing—I mean legally?
We opened up Marin Brewing Co. on April Fools Day of 1989. College-wise, I have a degree in accounting, but me in a tie and suit in an office didn’t seem to fit my personality. I was a beer salesman for a number of years. I remember telling my dad the day I graduated “Dad, I got a job.”
“Brendan, that’s great,” he says, “What firm are you with?”
I said, “I’m going to get a job with a guy named Wolfgang Morandell selling specialty beers!”
He didn’t say anything. He just walked away. I think he asked my brother “Can you make any money selling beer?” He was all distraught: the first kid to go to college out of seven, and he’s blowing off his big career chance to get into the beer world. I never did take any job in accounting.
But you must have the best set of books in the beer business?
Oh, yeah, I’ve got some great books. I also worked at the Jug Shop Liquor store, which is a fantastic liquor store. At the ripe age of 18, I talked the boss into putting me in charge of the beer section. That was in the late seventies. The imported beer scene was really hot, before the exchange rate went to hell about ten years later, and so did a lot of the imported beers. By then, the micros came on.
So you were in the middle of the beer scene way before you went into brewing?
I remember when Sierra Nevada had long necked bottles. I even remember that crazy day when they repealed Prohibition, and we got those little bottles from Anchor. It was like, “What’s in these things, anyway?” (Laughs)
There were breweries like Cartwright up in Portland or DeBakker in my own home town of Novato. There was an old fireman who had a brewery right here. Then there was New Albion brewing Co. So I was around in the early, early days.