There comes a time in every brewery’s life in which a decision must be made: do we bottle our beers or don’t we? In the case of Firehouse Brewery & Grill, as well as Palo Alto Brewing Company (PABC), that decision is yes! Last Thursday, both Firehouse and PABC, held a joint bottling day in the patio area of Firehouse brewery. Firehouse is bottling their popular Hops on Rye (HOR) Rye IPA in 22-ounce bottles while PABC is bottling their Hoppy Ending Pale Ale in 12-ounce bottles. Kasim Syed, owner of PABC and the Rose & Crown, brews his beers on the Firehouse system. It only makes sense that both of them would bottle their beers on the same day.
Since neither of them own a bottling line, they called in the services of Ron Gregerson who operates a mobile bottling line complete with labeler and filler. Gregerson is pretty much a self-contained bottling operation in that he sets up his system, operates it (with help from the brewery’s/brew pub’s staff) and supplies much of the bottles himself. The brewery just needs to supply him with their labels.
Despite bottling on the same day, both have very different reasons for doing so. PABC only sells their beer via draught, and seeing as how PABC and Rose & Crown have the same owner, you can count on Rose & Crown to carry at least one of PABC’s beers at all times. For PABC, bottling is a way for their customers to enjoy Hoppy Ending in the convenience of their homes without having to visit the pub. With regards to Firehouse, the ownership decided they wanted to transition to the next, logical phase of distribution and move their ever popular Hops on Rye Rye IPA from the brew pub into the retail environment. In both cases, it’s an exciting development for craft beer consumers who aren’t able to make it to either Firehouse or Rose & Crown, to finally get a chance to try beers from both breweries.
Hops on Rye will be, for the most part, self-distributed by Firehouse brewmaster Steve Donohue. You will be able to find HOR in select BevMo and Whole Foods locations but not all of them. If you’re interested in picking up a bottle, talk to your local craft beer retailer, bar or restaurant and ask them to bring in a couple of cases. Ironically, Hoppy Ending, was not as positively received. PABC had a tentative deal with BevMo to start carrying Hoppy Ending but was dropped after BevMo saw what the artwork for the labels looked like. According to Syed, BevMo told him the labels were “too edgy” and “may have gone too far”. This, of course, is debatable. I personally think the labels are fine and show a hop cone receiving care not unlike that of Kobe cows in Japan. A happy hop makes for a tasty and happy beer. Brewers have always had a skewed sense of humor and have incorporated double entendres in many of their beer names.
By the time I had arrived to Firehouse on bottling day during my lunch hour, HOR was already bottled and encased, much to my surprise. Many of both Donohue’s and Syed’s friends and family were on hand to help bottle both beers. Several palettes currently “decorate” the inside of the brewpub. Happy Ending was just getting started and Gregerson was calibrating his labeling and filling machines for the smaller 12-ounce bottles Hoppy Ending would be using. I would leave before I saw Hoppy Ending being filled into bottles but from what I heard, bottling day didn’t go as smoothly for Syed and his beer.
The issue, as I understand it, was on the mobile bottling line side. By his own admission Gregerson says his bottling line was originally designed for filling 22-ounce bottles. This is why HOR was filled so quickly. When calibrating and scaling things down to 12-ounce sizes, the mobile bottling line becomes more finicky. Unforunately the bottling line threw a veritable tantrum and the filling station never worked properly.
It looks like I’ve misspoken about the Hoppy Ending bottling issue. The mobile bottling line from Gregerson can be fitted with either 22-ounce or 12-ounce autofillers. The labeling part can do both with little to no modification. What ended up happening was the 12-ounce filler developed a wiring problem and the controller was fried. [Thanks to Arie for the update.] John Alderete from Mayfield Brewing Company came to the rescue and provided his 4-bottle filler as a last minute replacement. Just know that when you crack open your bottle of Hoppy Ending, each one was individually filled and capped.
Both beers are now available for sale. As I mentioned earlier, HOR will be available in select BevMo and Whole Foods locations. If you don’t see it, ask them to order it for you. Hoppy Ending on the other hand, will only be available at Rose & Crown. Pay the pub a visit and take home a 6-pack or case of beer, I think you get free PABC schwag with purchase (while supplies last, of course).