Are you in the brewhouse these days?
I tell people I always thought I’d be the brewmaster and the bartender, which I consider the two best jobs in any brewpub. But unfortunately I’m chief paperpusher and counselor for 250 people between the three restaurants.
We have a crazy wine list at Noonan’s. I’m falling in love with wine, too. Give me a god-damned monster Pinot and I’m in heaven. That stuff’s great. And steak. Protein’s essential.
Where do you relax?
Well, I usually just roll up a big fat one. This is California, after all. No, seriously, a beer at the bar with the boys—the customers, the regulars, the employees, they guys coming off the bottling line.
Pubs are a very social place. I have an obligation to the county, you know, the guys need a place to hang out and have a beer.
I’m very at home at the bar. We have great regulars. You can have a guy with a tie-dyed t-shirt and long hair, a hippy, sitting next to a guy in the three-piece suit. They’ll bump into each other, and it’ll be “Hey, Joe!” “Hiya, Bill, how ya doing?” And it turns out they know each other.
What makes your brewpubs successful?
I’m not going to put up with anything other than what I would like. I’ve heard you shouldn’t do this, but I designed these places to have what I would like in a bar. And if anyone else wants to hang out here, too, far out. They come into my place and they turn their nose up? Cool, that’s no big deal, hit the road. I’m not going to change for you. This is the way we are. People really enjoy themselves here, from little kids grabbing a toy out of the toy basket to grown ups relaxing with a beer before they have to be a parent again.
Which members of the previous generation did you look to for inspiration?
The first time I walked into Buffalo Bill’s in Hayward, it was like “Son of a gun. Look at this shit. He’s got a kitchen, he’s got a brewery, he’s got a bar. This is too cool. Crazy Bill.”
At the time I was selling beer, and he’d always have at least one German beer on tap: Tucher, EKU, Maisel, Paulaner, some nice Bavarian brands. It got me out meeting great people, like Judy Ashworth at Lyons Brewery Depot. Judy was the most enthusiastic pub owner I ever met.
What’s the culture in your brewhouse?
There’s definitely some rock and roll going in the brew house. The bottlers always listen to it louder than the brewers, there’s a little more noise.
I still spend time in the brewhouse, even though I don’t do day to day brewing, I consult with Denise [Jones, brewer at Moylan’s] and Arne [Johnson, brewer at Marin]. I’ve hired brewmasters with really strong brewing skills. I don’t need to tell them much, because they kind of think the way I do to begin with. I just have to make sure everything is fixed, and check their wish list of new toys. Denise has been killing me spending money at Moylan’s, but she’s so strong willed, and she’s always right.
This year at the GABF, Denise won first and second in the double IPA category, which was a coup since that’s quite a hot category. And she took the top two friggin’ spots. She took the gold in stouts and there was no silver, and the bronze went to Third Street where she used to brew, and where they still use her old recipe. She almost swept two categories. Then Arne got four golds. I walked out of there with six golds, and a silver, and the only reason I got a silver is that I already had the gold in that category . I don’t know of another craft brewer who’s done that in the 25-year history of that event!
I missed the whole thing because my ulcer flared—probably all the double IPAs I’d been having the night before. I dragged myself back to the hotel, then the phone started ringing “Hey, Arne’s just got a gold!” “Hey, Denise’s just got a gold!” Pretty soon, my stomach started feeling good, so half an hour later I’m back there, but I’ve missed every award. Seven friggin’ awards. I’m a pretty good ham, and I never got to go on stage
I expected Arnie to get brewer of the year because he got four golds, and he loses on a friggin’ technicality: because only your first eight beers get counted towards brewer of the year, and on his ninth and tenth beers, he got golds. So that’s why he didn’t get brewer of the year.
Are you going to the Craft Brewers’ Conference in San Diego?
You know why I’m going to San Diego, the main reason? There’s a place there called El Agave with over 1,200 tequilas. I gotta to meet Jose, the guy who runs it. Jose is even more renowned than Julio from Tommy’s San Francisco. Jose was given special recognition by the Mexican tequila authority for being such an ambassador, God bless him. So I’m going to be talking a lot of people into going down there and doing shots.