Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson
I work hard not to play favorites, most of
the time, when it comes to craft brewing.
Yes, I am clear about my preference for
darker beers over lighter brews. I try to maintain as much
objectivity as I can when it comes to specific beers and breweries.
I cannot really control my preferences this
month. One of the things for which I am truly grateful is that
November is the month Bootlegger’s Brewery in Fullerton,
California begins serving their seasonal Mint Chocolate Porter.
sat down with Aaron Barkenhagen, the founder and CEO of Bootlegger’s
Brewery, to celebrate Mint Chocolate Porter.
Aaron began brewing at home with his brother
when he was 19 years old. He enjoys good beer. He came to appreciate
that brewing at home allowed him to pay about the same amount, but
get better tasting beer.
Within eight years, Aaron decided to get
serious about brewing and develop the dependability that craft
brewers need. He began brewing 10 gallons each week, working to
develop consistent flavors. He gained experience with dry hopping,
and experimented with a variety of yeasts.
Aaron has neither academic training focused
on brewing nor technical production experience at another brewery.
His brewing skills come from practice. He tends to enjoy creating
and innovating with flavors and brewing approaches more than
sustaining ongoing operations.
In addition to honing his brewing skills,
Aaron enrolled in the Entrepreneurship program at California State
University in Fullerton. He developed a business concept and
business plan for a small, artisan brewery that would supply
handcrafted beer to the local community, and beyond.
After two years of planning and building,
Fullerton’s first packaging microbrewery opened its doors.
Aaron enjoys a good ale. His favorites are
either Bootlegger’s Palomino, a classic American Pale Ale, or,
depending on the day, their Knuckle Sandwich Double IPA. We talked
about the ways it is more challenging for him to drink Bootlegger’s
beers now for enjoyment. He tend to be evaluating, assessing,
thinking about possible improvements whenever he tastes his own
beer. It is more difficult to sit back, relax, and appreciate the
Bootlegger’s Tasting Room in Fullerton hosts
some special events, but does not have regular live music. They do
not serve food themselves, but have a friendly relationship with Two
Saucy Broads Pizza, which is directly across the alley from the
The tasting room may be the best place to
try Mint Chocolate Porter.
Bootlegger’s brewed Mint Chocolate
Porter for the first time four years ago. It began with an idea, and
took a number of different tries to find the best way to brew a
porter flavored with chocolate and mint, especially mint, that did
not carry flavors that drinkers found hard to enjoy. They tried
adding mint to the boil or the fermenter before finding the method
they use now, which is essentially brewing a large batch of mint
The current formula is a combination of
spearmint and peppermint.
The flavor is a combination of maltiness and
chocolate, which is altered by the freshness of the mint. Aaron and
I agreed that it is a beer that people either love or feel
uncomfortable, similar to a chipotle stout. We both love it.
Aaron and I talked about the legacy of craft
brewing in Southern California, and where that legacy is headed. At
a time when brewery operations that began as craft breweries are
growing larger and it is more and more difficult to begin a small,
independent brewing operations, there are a lot of questions about
the future of craft brewing in the region. It is difficult to draw
lines in a meaning full way.
Rather than focusing on questions of size,
production, or distribution, it seems to be more helpful to ask why
a particular brewer or brewery is brewing a specific beer.
The definition of craft brewing seems to be
more about the reasons and less about the results.
Bootlegger’s exceeded Aaron’s expectations
in that first business plan five or six years ago.
In North Orange County, Bootlegger’s has
helped develop and shape the craft beer market. Their beer tends to
be more accessible for many people, and they tend to explore
innovations in more categories.
Bootlegger’s has given opportunities to a
number of people who have gone on to work at other breweries,
including breweries they started themselves. By broadening the
market and providing those opportunities, Bootlegger’s has raised
the level of appreciation in the craft beer community.
Over the next few years, Bootlegger’s hopes
to continue developing new beers and a wider distribution for its
product, including adding brewing sites. The challenges are to
maintain their standards of quality and their local identity as they
grow. The future may include expanding into foreign markets, sharing
new beers and local feeling with people far from Southern
Whatever the future holds, be sure to
try Mint Chocolate Porter during the next month or so. You will be
grateful you did.