American Breweriana Journal #243 May/June 2023


Brewing in California 1986 Part 1


By Rich Wagner


I’ll never forget hearing “Buffalo Bill” Owens proclaim, “Eventually there’ll be a brewpub in every town!” It was 1986 and I was attending the Micro Brewery Conference in Portland, Oregon. Owens was an iconoclastic mover and shaker that had gotten one of California’s first brewpubs off the ground in 1983. The few “industry suits” in attendance were making jokes about how many microbreweries would fit in their pocket and they didn’t know what to make of the Pumpkin Ale that Bill was pouring. Three decades later brewpubs and brewery taprooms have become as familiar as pizza parlors and Pumpkin Ale has become a regular seasonal beer. We’ll never know how many budding brewers he spawned, myself included, with his book How to Build a Micro Brewery For $250. The last I heard Owens had become a pioneer of the nation’s micro distillery movement.


This travel log is devoted to the breweries that I visited in California in the fall of 1986 – 15 in all – at a time when there were only 20 or so in business. At last count there were over 1,100 craft breweries in the Golden State.


Back then, one had to rely on word of mouth and a pay phone for leads and directions. I started keeping notebooks for researching Pennsylvania’s historic breweries in 1980 and started a second set for North American Microbreweries in 1986. The pages are numbered and each notebook has a table of contents which, when transcribed makes them searchable. I’m currently up to PA Vol. 20 and Continental Draft Vol. 9. And while the cell phone, with its access to internet, photo and video capabilities has reduced my dependence on a notebook, I still never leave home without it.


Stop #1 Saxton B.C., Chico


Thursday September 25, 1986. The Saxton brewery was in a metal building tucked between a pontoon boat manufacturer and a drive-in movie theater. Dewayne Saxton and his wife Stacey had recently moved the brewing operation from their house. He started the brewery after a twelve-year career as a chef, having studied under James Beard. He was brewing 50 gallons (1.6 bbl.) a week, ramping up to 300 gallons (9.7 bbl.). He said the water came from a secret spring located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains and said he gave it a negative charge to prevent bacteria and scale build-up, adding, “The yeast love it!”


The recipe was a combination of Kulmbacher style malt extract with equal parts dry malt, along with wheat, crystal malt and roasted barley for flavor and color, and four or five different hop varieties depending on the beer. The beer was fermented in five-gallon glass carboys, just like I did at home. He claimed to be the smallest commercial brewery in the world, turning out just 100 barrels a year. Saxton was the first homebrewer I had ever met with a license to sell beer!


The other thing that amazed me was that the beer didn’t leave the brewery for three months. His current batch of Excalibur Stout was six months old, three in the bottle, and clocked in at 10% a.b.v. He wanted to give it another three months until it reached 10.8% a.b.v.!


Saxton hit the market in December 1985, just in time for Christmas: $50 a case (24-half liter bottles), or $2.50 a bottle. Back home, the cheapest case of off-brand 16 oz. returnables was $5.00. By the time I spoke with him the beer was available in over 50 stores throughout California. His main account was the old Albatross tavern, San Francisco’s preeminent beer bar. The beer went as far as the Brickskeller in Washington, D.C., one of the first beer bars on the east coast. He and Stacey were planning to open a brewpub called Colsax Castle in Chico in the fall. 


01_01 Exterior Saxton B.C.


01_02 Dewayne Saxton in the brew house.


01_03 – 01_07 Labels. None of the labels have the government warning which was required after 1989.


01_08 – 01_09 Table Tent.


10_10 Coaster


Stop # 2 Sierra Nevada B.C., Chico


Thursday September 25, 1986. We arrived mid-afternoon just in time for a brief hailstorm. Ken Grossman welcomed me inside. He had already done an expansion to facilitate brewing six days a week. There were four 1,000 gallon (32-bbl.) open fermenters and six storage tanks. From what I can gather, the batch size was 250 gallons (8-bbl.) and they were doing double brews. They had two 500 gal. (16-bbl.) starting tanks where the beer fermented. After that it was filtered and sent to the government tanks from which it was bottled or kegged.


Ken had come to Chico for college to study chemistry. He had a homebrew shop and in 1978 he cashed out and together with another home brewer, Paul Camusi and $110,000, they built their brewery from scratch repurposing dairy tanks and whatever they could find in salvage yards.


One of the things that stood out from my notes was that the brewers all spoke in terms of gallons, not barrels of beer, including Ken Grossman, a founding father of the craft brewing renaissance and currently head of one of the nation’s largest breweries.


02_01 Exterior Sierra Nevada B.C.


02_02 Ken Grossman in the brew house.


02_03 Dairy tanks converted for mash tub and kettle.


02_04, 02_05 Pamphlet


02_06 – 02_17 Labels.


02_18, 08_19 Coasters.  


 Stop #3 Mendicino Brewery & Pub, Hopland


Thursday September 25, 1986. I met Don Barkley when he spoke at the conference in Portland. He was a partner in Mendocino B.C. and told the story of how Jack McAuliffe incorporated New Albion B.C. in Sonoma in 1976 with $10,000 and built equipment using a nineteenth century book on brewing. He brewed five times a week on the 1.5-bbl. system and actually started fermenting in carboys before getting 55-gal. stainless steel drums. Barkley started working part time in 1978 and went full time in 1981. Maximum production was 120-cases per week. Early on McAuliffe wanted to expand in order to become profitable but couldn’t raise the capital and closed in 1983. Mendicino got the equipment. For the serious beer researcher, this was as close to the source as you could get. I asked Barkley, “You mean you are still using equipment from New Albion?” He said, “McAuliffe built his equipment to last! We’re cranking out ten batches a week!”


03_01 Exterior Mendocino B.C. The building on the right looks like an old hop oest (kiln).


03_02 Sign


03_03 Don Barkley, brewer and partner.


03_04 Wort receiver made from stainless steel 55-gal. drum.


03_05 Announcement, stock offering.


03_06 Label.


03_07 Coaster.


Stop #4 Redwood B.C., Petaluma


Saturday September 27, 1986. Redwood B.C. was in a storefront in downtown Petaluma. I met Jeff Barrington who told me he was going out of business and moving to Booneville. He had been doing all grain brews with a 62 gal. (2-bbl.) system and was fermenting in a stainless steel 55-gal. (1.8 bbl.) drum but had been serving guest beers since May.


04_01 Exterior Redwood B.C.


04_02 Label


Stop #5 St. Stanislaus B.C., Modesto


Sunday September 28, 1986. We arrived at the ranch where Stanislaus B.C. was located and Ames Hanshaw was busy brewing. I pieced the story together from Robert Carson’s article in All About Beer Magazine (February 1986) and Rick Flynn’s piece in the California Celebrator (Sept./Oct. 1989). It would appear that Garith Helms’ Stanislaus B.C. emerged from a perfect storm: his father-in-law was a brewery chemical distributor in Germany, Garith and his wife visited Germany and fell in love with the beer, he started homebrewing and then spent hundreds of hours learning everything he could about brewing during summer vacations in Germany.


Not only that, but Altbier was first brewed in a monastery to commemorate the reign of Frederick the Great. The monk who brewed it went on to become known as St. Stan. To top it off, Modesto is in Stanislaus County, California!


Carson’s article described it as a “weekend only” business, but building the brewery took four years and was a family affair with five kids involved. Not only that, but Garith was a physics professor at Cal State Stanislaus while he was perfecting his Altbier through hundreds of batches of homebrew and building a 20-bbl. brewery.


Classified as malt liquor, St. Stan Amber was 5.0% a.b.v. and Dark was 5.5% a.b.v. and brewed with Fuggles, Tettnang, Cascade and Bullion hops. Primary fermentation at 65°F for one week, secondary for two weeks, then kraeusened and stored another week. The packaged product was unfiltered and unpasteurized, available in kegs and 5-gal. plastic party balls.


Production stood at 12,000-bbl. in 1988. Amber was the flagship with 75% of sales. They even got a “spokes-monk” by the name of ‘St. Stan the Monk’ and with his German accent was perfect for promotional events. There were plans for a 15K square foot brewery restaurant in downtown Modesto and Helms had already developed a prospectus for taking things nation-wide.


05_01 Brew house.


05_02 Outdoor bottling equipment and beer tanks.


05_03 Refrigerated storage.


05_04 Table tent.


05_05 Label.


05_06 Coaster


05_07 Table Tent.


05_08 “Spokes-Monk” with Rony and Garith Helm.


Stop #6 Roaring Rock Brewery, Berkeley


Saturday October 4, 1986. I had visited friends in Berkeley a couple of times over the years and returning to find brewpubs just added to the town’s mystique. I met Rick Warner, the brewer who told me they had a custom-made 7-bbl. system. After three or four days of primary fermentation the beer was conditioned in one of six 7-bbl. tanks.


Latrobe B.C., brewers of Rolling Rock Beer in Pennsylvania, sent them a cease-and-desist order and Roaring Rock became Triple Rock Brewery in 1987. It was easier to comply rather than argue that Roaring Rock was a local geologic feature.


06_01 Exterior Roaring Rock Brewery.


06_02 Brew house.


06_03 San Francisco Bay Guardian May 7-14, 1986.


Stop #7 Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub, Hayward


Tuesday October 07,1986. Unfortunately, Bill Owens was not there when I visited and I took photos but no notes.


07_01 Exterior Buffalo Bill’s Brewery.


07_02 Interior.


07_03 – 07_07 Labels.


07_08 Coaster.


Stop #8 Anchor B.C., San Francisco


Wednesday October 8, 1986. Entering the Anchor brewery was like wandering around inside the active volcano that had energized a movement that, while in its infancy, would ultimately change the nation’s brewing industry more profoundly than anything since the introduction of lager beer! Jack McAuliffe may have built the nation’s first microbrewery from scratch, but it was Fritz Maytag that rescued San Francisco’s last steam brewery in 1965 and started marketing Steam Beer and other traditional styles that ignited the craft brewing revolution.


Our tour guide was Dennis and he told us they used Northern Brewer hops in the beer and porter; Cascade in Liberty Ale; Galena in porter and Steam Beer. Christmas Ale had imported Kent Goldings and wheat beer was dry-hopped with imported Saaz hops. They brewed about twelve 120-bbl. batches a week.


After the boil, and whirlpool, wort was chilled and sent to large rectangular open fermenters where we viewed the beer in high kraeusen. The temperature was 55°F and the cellar was supplied with sterile air, that being one departure from the traditional method of brewing.


After sixteen hours, the beer was sent to a cellar located in the side of the hill which maintained the proper temperature and conditioned for three weeks, developing 60 p.s.i. then filtered, pasteurized - using the heat exchanger - and packaged. To achieve a brilliant product, they drop the temperature of the beer, centrifuge and filter before packaging in 12 oz. bottles and 50-liter European Sankey kegs. Production was 8,000 bbl. in 1985 and they were expanding their markets to the east coast.


08_01 Exterior Anchor Brewing Co., in a former coffee factory.


08_02 Cleaning the exterior of the kettles.


08_03 Steam beer is fermented with lager beer yeast at a warmer temperature than normal giving it characteristics of an ale.


08_04 Bottling line.

American Breweriana Journal #244 July/August 2023


Brewing in California 1986 Part 2

By Rich Wagner

Stop #9 San Francisco B.C. San Francisco


Wednesday October 8, 1986. I scheduled a meeting with Allan Paul, a partner who was in the process of turning the city’s premier beer bar into a brewpub called San Francisco B.C. He was the brewer and had a passion for making lager beer. Together with the chef and an assistant the three had 25 years of homebrewing experience between them and had honed their recipes after experimenting with countless ingredients and yeast strains. In retrospect, I have to wonder if Dewayne Saxton was the chef in the equation.


We went down to the basement to see the equipment that was being installed. The most unusual thing I remember was that through some obtuse legal finagling, he had parking lot stripes painted on the floor. There was a tank on wheels so that he could move the beer from the fermenting cellar to the government cellar.


09_01 Clipping


09_02 Traveling companions Ed and Anna Wagner.


09_03 Coaster


09_04 Impressive beer menu, both imports and local craft brews.


Stop #10 Golden Pacific B.C., Emeryville


Saturday October 11, 1986. Listed as Stop #10 because we found them closed when we first visited Thursday October 9, 1986. Tad Strafford and Maureen were the proprietors. They didn’t give tours but told me they had a 250-300 gal. (8-10 bbl.) system and from what I could gather, they were using malt extract. Golden Pacific Ale was a Bass Ale knockoff. I purchased a 5-gal. plastic cube in a box and they told me this batch was brewed with Willamette rather than Fuggles and was very hoppy.


10_01 Label


10_02 Coaster sheet.


10_03 Tad and Maureen.


Stop #11 Front Street Pub, Santa Cruz B.C.


Tuesday October 14, 1986. I arrived at the Front Street Pub around 5 PM and Scotty Morgan was in the middle of his second brew of the day. He was happy to show me around and said he had been a homebrewer for twelve years before turning pro and was brewing recipes he had developed over the years. General partner Gerry Turgeon was also a brewer but with more of a wine background.


The brew house had a 240 gal. (7-bbl.) system and Scotty told me, “Today is the first day brewing with Chinook hops. We’ll know in two or three weeks how close the beer is.” He uses a combination of Cluster, Hallertauer, Tettnang and Chinook hops.


A headline in an undated news clipping reported Santa Cruz to be the first brewpub to brew Dry Beer, the latest new thing. Scotty was quoted as saying, “We thought we’d let the ‘Big Boys’ do it; spend big bucks and take care of the marketing of this new beer type.” He employed a step-infusion process to extract as much potential sugar as possible, then added highly aromatic fresh cascade hops during the boil. A long cold fermentation cycle produced a beer with a slightly higher alcohol content and less sweet, or drier than their regular beers.


11_01 Exterior Front Street Pub, Santa Cruz B.C.


11_02 Scotty Morgan with the malt mill.


11_03 Transferring hot wort.


11_04 Cellar.


11_-05 Fermenter.


11_06 Pamphlet.


11_07 Label.


11_08 – 11_11 Coasters.


11_09 Neon.


Stop #12 Palo Alto B.C., Mountainview


Wednesday October 15, 1986. I had seen Pat Malone’s article on the Palo Alto B.C. in All About Beer Magazine (January 1985) and it was a unique story. Kenneth Kolence was a co-founder of an early software company at the center of the emerging tech industry. He used his skill set to create a business plan for a microbrewery.  His son Jeffrey had recently graduated from California Polytechnical Institute with a major in industrial technology and a minor in engineering management. His capstone project dealt with selecting equipment and planning the layout of a brewery.


Their market research revealed that the Bay area was one of the nation’s largest markets for imported beer, spurred in part by a significant population of British ex-pats and their families. Jeffrey went to Kent, England for an intensive six-week brewery training program that included, among other things, cleaning kegs at Whitbread brewery and bartending in one of their tied-houses.


Kenneth raised $400K and put out a bid for a brewery and was quoted: “…They say that making beer is not much different from making integrated circuit chips. The basics – marketing, management, manufacturing and capital – still must be covered.” A British company specializing in pub systems started them off with a 6-bbl. system. They identified 35-bbl. a week in sales as the break-even point and started out selling about a third of that.


They started brewing with malt extract, Kent Golding hops, fermented with yeast from “a well-known British brewer.” They rolled out London Real Ale on draught, competitively priced at $2.00-$2.40 per pint. The beer was a hit with the Brits, who couldn’t believe Palo Alto nailed it with their London Real Ale! Next up was California Ale, a lighter beer with a snazzy foil label that was making inroads with the “twenty-something” demographic. They tried the “poly-pin” or plastic cube-in-a-box, but switched to one-liter bottles, then 12-oz. non-returnables.


I spoke with Ray, the brewer. He told me the company sold their first beer November 1, 1983. He said the Bob Soddard came on board as sales director in 1984 and purchased the business in July 1985 with a silent partner. Charlie McKinnon was Jeff’s roommate and he became a partner in January 1986.


They installed a 20-bbl. brew house and sold the original system and now had six 783-gal. (25-bbl.) jacketed fermenters. Ray said they were selling 125 to 155-bbls. a week, around 3,000-bbls. a year and had the capacity to double that. I ended up helping him unfold six-pack carriers and set up cases to get ready for bottling the next day. “London Real Ale” became “London Style Ale” over the fact that it was, in fact, brewed in California.


12_01 Controls.


12_02 Setting up for tomorrow’s bottling.


12_03 London Real Ale table tent.


12_04 Table tent (back).


12_05, 12_06 Labels.


12_07Table tents.


Stop # 13 Hogshead Brewpub, Sacramento


Tuesday October 28, 1986. Jim Schlueter was another pioneer, having opened River City B.C. in Sacramento (1980-1984). I had tasted River City Gold and Dark at the Great American Beer Festival in 1982. Schlueter had recently opened the Hogshead Brewpub in Old Town, Sacramento’s historic district and was brewing his River City recipes.


13_01 Exterior Hogshead Brewpub.


13_02 Brew house.


13_03 Menu.


Stop # 14 UC Davis Pilot Brewery, Davis


Wednesday October 29, 1986. UC Davis is just outside Sacramento and I arranged to meet beer guru, Michael Lewis, professor and head of the brewing program there. He spoke at the conference in Portland and I couldn’t wait to see the quintessential “micro” or shall we say “nano” teaching brewery, which as it turned out, consisted of a five or ten-gallon system mounted to the wall in the brewing laboratory. I later found that it dated back to the 1950s and countless brewers had gotten their start there.


At the end of the tour, he reached into a laboratory drawer and pulled out two beer glasses so we could sample some of what the students had brewed. What I remember most about our conversation was that he had spoken with many people passionate about brewing, but those with capital and a business plan were most likely to succeed.


Stop #15 Buster’s Brewpub, Buena Vista, Los Angeles


Thursday November 13, 1986. As we headed south the climate got warmer and drier but we were also entering a craft beer desert, the one oasis being Buster’s Brewery in a suburb of Los Angeles. It was good-sized restaurant-turned brewpub and hosted a micro beer tasting event.


Thousand Oaks was involved as consultant or contract brewer, but the house beer, Buster’s Red Dog Ale, was advertised as being “Made in The Valley.” It was brewed with a combination of malt extract and crystal malt, roasted barley and Chocolate Malt. Cluster hops added to the boil; Cascade and Willamette at the finish. The beer was two weeks old. Thousand Oaks was one of the breweries I missed on the tour.


The tasting included: Augsburger Beer and Bock (Huber B.C. Monroe, WI); five-week-old Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Summerfest, Porter and Big Food Barleywine; Anchor Steam Beer and Porter and Thousand Oaks Lager. The event was well attended and I met some people from the convention in Portland including a couple of guys who were set to open Crown City Brewpub in Pasadena in March. 


15_01, 15_02. 15_03 Exterior Buster’s Brewpub.


15_04 Label.


15_05 Coaster.


That was the last brewery stop in California. From there it was homeward bound where I’d have to rely on my subscription to the California Celebrator to keep me up to date on craft brew happenings out west.


California Craft Breweries











Sierra Nevada








Firestone Fletcher








*Devil Mountain




Redwood (est.)




Tied House




Triple Rock




Santa Cruz




Gordon Biersch
















San Francisco








Alpine Village




City of Angels




Anderson Valley




Nevada City




Crown City












San Andreas




North Coast








Buffalo Bill’s




Mammoth Lake








Central Coast




Pacific Coast
















Paso Robles








Golden Gate








Napa Valley




*Thousand Oaks




Golden Pacific












43 CA Breweries





Visited in 1986  *Missed in 1986   No. = National ranking  (Modern Brewery A

NOTE: ABJ broke this into two parts and not all images were used that are identified as captions in the print version of the article.