Today I made my way over to Benicia to try the offerings at Brüehol Brewing.
Brüehol Brewing was established in Benicia in 2014 by Mark Keller, Mark Ristow, and Steve Nortcutt, but opened its tap room only three weeks ago. I was eager to get there because Mark R. and Steve used to be homebrewers in the same club as I -the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts (DOZE). Both of them are highly skilled brewers, and it shows in the beers they are producing at Brüehol.
It is relatively rare for small craft breweries to produce lager beers. In part it is because of the time involved --while a lager rests -i.e. lagers- it takes up valuable fermenter space that could be turned to producing a couple of ales. However, it is also because lagers, specially pale lager styles, are unforgiving of mistakes. They don't have the roasty, malty flavor character or hoppiness to counterbalance any flaws.
It takes a bit of courage to make a lager a part of one's brewery's regular line up, and Brüehol offers two of them: a Gold Rush Helles Lager, and Old Capitol Pilsner.
Both beers are very good. The helles was light and clean, and the pilsner was appropriately malty while maintaining the lightness of body that characterizes the style. I dare say that they are two of the best craft lagers that I've tasted in the area.
The other beer I tried was the 5W-30 Black Ale. It has hints of caramel or toffee in the nose, and coffee and chocolate in flavor. Despite its looks, however, it is not a stout, but truly just a black ale. Like the other beers its name is an homage to Benicia, in this case to its history (and present) as a refinery town.
Currently, Brüehol is producing about 10 barrels a month, running double batches on a 3-barrel brewing system. Steve told me that in a few months, however, they expect to expand their output by gaining the ability to brew and ferment on a 10-barrel system. That would also free the guys up to be able to produce more special occasion or one-off brews on their pilot system. There are plans to add a couple of ciders, and several more ales to the taps.
If you're in Benicia Brüehol is well worth looking up -just be aware that the tap room is not downtown but over on the east end of town.
4828 East 2nd St