Art of 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.

I 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 flavors.

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 tasting room.

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 tea.

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 California.

Whatever the future holds, be sure to try Mint Chocolate Porter during the next month or so. You will be grateful you did.

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