Welcome to the first installment of The Fermentor, where I will sit down with Orange County's craft beer brewers to learn more about what got them here and what got them brewing. First is Brandon Fender and his wife Robyn Spevacek, owners of The Good Beer Company in Santa Ana. This October will mark their one-year anniversary of slinging ambitious farmhouse saisons and sours. Here's a look at what got them started.
OC Weekly: How did you come up with the idea for The Good Beer Company? Fender: Well, this is a really long answer. I started off working in real estate and economic development. So I was working with cities to improve their downtowns, like Santa Anas. I've always had this fascination and passion for old urban areas and bringing them to life and bringing people together within them and having people experience the place and each other.
I was working in that and at the same time I began reading, Brew Like a Monk, and it describes how Belgian brewers, the Trappist brewers specifically started making beer to pay for things in the monastery and to support themselves. Then World War I went through and destroyed towns and destroyed monasteries and they started brewing to raise funds and improve those places and bring them back to life. I was really driven by that idea--that a brewery could be a socially responsible force in a community. At the same time, a pub is traditionally a local gathering place; people used to come together and talk politics and sorts of things, so it has this crazy connection to community. So that's where the [title] "The Good Beer Company" came from. We're the good beer company. Our goal is to be part of Santa Ana the way the monastic breweries were to their small communities.
Did you read [Brew Like a Monk] before brewing? No, [brewing] was always just a hobby. We had very well-off friends and family telling me, "This is good beer, you should be making this," as a home brewer and for a while, I liked brewing beer but I didn't have that connection to it that I would need to do something like this. It wasn't until I read that passage in that book that really connected me to beer.
So it wasn't going to a brewery and thinking "Hey, I can do this too"? No, it was realizing that beer and breweries were important social movements. It's been a good five years since the [initial] idea of Good Beer. It was probably around this time of year [summertime] that I thought about opening up a brewery and by the holidays, I had a pretty solid amount of research of costs, revenues, conceptual ideas of what it would be. That was when all the laws changed and my line of work was eliminated.
How so? So, redevelopment was what cities used to do to improve places like Santa Ana. It's part of the reason why 4th Street is in good quality and they turned it around. [Redevelopment] was a funding source for cities to reinvest in their communities and then the economy crashed, schools were underfunded, there were a couple of others things that Jerry Brown said we needed to move our priorities over to and cities were an easy target because they don't have the legislative power to do much.
What do you guys think about the changes in Santa Ana? Fender: It probably brings a few more people downtown. Spevacek: Well, it's changed a lot since I was living here as a kid. I grew up in West Floral Park area, and you wouldn't come down here at all. Fender: She got her ears pierced out here. Spevacek: Now it's like, I can stay at the brewery by myself at night and I feel perfectly safe. There are people constantly walking around now.
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Why did you choose Santa Ana to open your brewery? Spevacek: We really wanted to be in a place that we wanted to hang out in, not an industrial park. His original thought was in Old Town Orange. Fender: Yeah, because that was just down the street [from our house]. Spevacek: But my parents own [the Good Beer] building and when the bottom floor opened up, they were just, "Welp, why don't you try here?" Fender: It goes back to what we were talking about earlier. Jerry Brown nixing the redevelopment, the [redevelopment] firm that was occupying the first and the second floor--I worked for them--and they contracted up to the second floor all of the sudden, the first floor was vacant. So, here we are.
How are you finding the space? We've already grown out of it. We're looking for storage spaces now. We condition all our bottles and we condition all our kegs and it takes time to reach the desired carbonation level and that just eats up space. We're just looking for a place to age beer, basically.
And now half of our barrels are filled with Tart Oro (their flagship tart saison) and fruited versions of Tart Oro too. Whatever seems fresh at the Farmers' Market or whatever my farmer can get to me that week, we'll fill a barrel of Tart Oro with it.