It’s impossible to come to any conclusion other than Brian Ford was born to be a Brewmaster, following an unrelenting path that culminated in the creation of the Auburn Alehouse.
Born in Long Beach, CA, where his father was stationed in the Navy, Brian’s family moved to Weimar when he was 11, a place he calls home today with his wife and business partner, Lisa.
A quaint foothill community off of I-80, Brian’s parents owned the Applegate Saloon in Applegate Ca, a popular roadhouse torn down in the 1990s. “As a kid I cleaned the bar for money to race dirt bikes,” he said about his first job that pointed to his future occupation.
“My parents let me sample beer at home,” Brian explained. “They had a European attitude about it, not American—I was educated about beer at the kitchen table.”
After graduating from Colfax High School, Brian headed back to southern California where he embarked on his “first” career in construction. The skills Brian developed as a licensed contractor made him a double threat as he sought to segue into fulfilling a passion to become a professional brewer and ultimately the founder of a thriving craft beer brewery and restaurant. Particularly advantageous was his acumen for concrete work, honed managing major projects at U.C. Davis Medical Center and Beale and McClellan Air Force bases. Ultimately, with this background he would direct and perform construction of new brewery facilities when he was hired as a Brewmaster.
Two key experiences placed him on the unwavering path towards professional brewing: “I was introduced to my first craft beer called Redback Wheat from Australia—it changed my whole idea of what beer should taste like,” he recalled.
Then in 1992 in San Diego, he brewed his first batch of beer on the kitchen stove of friend and early brewing mentor Paul Zawilenski. The next year, Lisa’s mom purchased a beer-making kit for his birthday, and Brian was totally hooked. His first five-gallon batch burned on the stove and early attempts at pale ale and a wheat beer had to be sent down the drain, but success soon followed.
Next, Brian constructed his own 20-gallon, all-grain brewing system that he still owns today. With the encouragement of friends who lined up for his latest brew, it started him thinking: “I’m good at this, so maybe I should make more,” he recalled.
To join the professional ranks, he knew formal training was essential. When he learned about a program taught by a U.C.D. professor of fermentation sciences, he signed up for the 14-week program in the fall of 1996 taught in Woodland through the American Brewers’ Guild. “I learned everything from malting science and yeast biology, to fermentation and fluid dynamics” Brian said.
A major segment of the program was serving as an apprentice, and Brian scored a plum assignment at Rubicon Brewery, launched in 1987 and one of the first in Sacramento. After graduating, Brian was resolute: “My ultimate objective was to open my own brewery; my immediate goal, however, was to get a job as a brewer,” he explained, and throughout the process, he continued to work as a contractor.
His big break came in 1997 when he was hired as Brewmaster of the Old Nevada Brewing Company located in the historic Stone House building in Nevada City. But before he could commence making beer, Brian first had to design and build a brewing facility in a 150-year old building that once housed Nevada City’s original gold rush brewery. The fact that he was able and willing to do much of the labor and even drew the plans for renovations was a huge advantage in nailing down the assignment.
“The building was in good shape, but we had to excavate tons of natural granite to make room for fermentation and bright tanks,” he explained.
Both a vice president and investor, Brian was heavily committed to the project, but because of a number of issues, he moved on. None-the-less, he said, “It was a great learning experience that I could not have paid for.”
One of Old Nevada Brewery’s wholesale clients was a fine dining restaurant in Loomis, the Horseshoe Bar Grill, whose owner and general manager were in the process of converting a vintage building in Lincoln into a complex of restaurants and a brewery. This new venture, Beermann’s, presented Brian with a fabulous opportunity that he jumped at: Starting in 1999, he launched both the in-house brewing operation in the restaurant in Lincoln Ca and built a separate 5,000-square-foot, standalone facility on Industrial Blvd. in Roseville.
At Beermann’s, Brian focused on crafting English-style ales, but one of his most notable beers was an American-style red ale called “Rip Roarin Red.” An extremely popular beer, it was chosen along with Lincoln Lager by the Rivercats, Sacramento’s AAA baseball franchise, to pour for the inaugural first season at Raley Field. “We were already making more than twice as much Rip Roarin Red as our other craft beers, so we had plenty” said Ford. “The real challenge was to produce enough Lincoln Lager (lagers take 4 to 6 weeks to fully mature) to support three kiosks for all of the home games.” At the end of that first season, Beerman’s sold 18 kegs of each brand every game. “I know the River Cats experience made me a better brewer.”
Brian excelled as Brewmaster at Beermann’s for five years, but, even after all of the brewery’s early success the owners were simply not true “beer people.”
“When I realized that I would never change their perception of craft beer, and the people who enjoyed it, that was a deal breaker for me.”
It was 2003 and time to go back to the drawing board, but this time, Brian resolved to develop a plan and team to build his own enterprise. As a starting point, he purchased the brewing equipment from the defunct Bull Dog Brewing in Fresno in 2004.
With that equipment in storage in Colfax, he embarked on a search for the perfect location for a brewery and restaurant . . .a quest that ultimately led to Old Town Auburn.
For the story of building The Auburn Alehouse, click here.