05/27/2014 12:00AM ● Published by Brandi Barnett
Photos: Brett Faulknor
Less than two years ago, Jeff and Jenny Hansen were looking for a home for their craft brewery, wading through the permitting process and wondering if their venture—aptly named Wildcard—would actually fly.
Today, it’s full steam ahead for Wildcard Brewing. Another fermenting tank was installed to increase capacity, a second brewer was recently hired, three signature ales are now available in bottles and it was named Start-Up of the Year for the Sacramento District by the federal Small Business Administration.
“Our growth is due to this community and their passion for handcrafted beer. The community’s outpouring has been inspiring,” Jenny Hansen says.
The Hansens’ initial concerns were not without merit. Earlier attempts to jump on the craft brewing bandwagon, including the Redding Brewing Co. (closed in 1990), Kennett-Diamond (closed in 2001) and North Star Craft Brewery (2009), all fizzled.
Despite those misfires, the North State never lost its thirst for good beer. John and Amanda Hutchings, whose Fall River Brewing will celebrate its first anniversary next month, were delighted to learn that.
“We’ve really gotten a lot of support from local communities,” says John Hutchings, whose Intermountain-area brewery produces ales, lagers and porters for distribution in parts of six counties as well as in their taproom in the Safeway/Lowes shopping center on East Cypress Avenue.
“Sales have really taken off. It’s looking like we’re going to triple what we did last year,” Hutchings says. In fact, demand for Fall River products prompted Hutchings and Brewmaster Clay Brackley to add three more fermenters and double the brewery’s capacity.
Marc Pinnell and Jack Goschke are the latest to take the leap: their Palo Cedro-based California Brewing Co. opened in February. Early results are encouraging, Pinnell says. “The reception has been fantastic and the local support is amazing. Everybody is bending over to help us.”
Craft beer is brewing up a favorable response nationwide, according to the Brewers Association, an industry group with more than 1,000 members. Craft brewers accounted for 7.8 percent volume of the total U.S. beer market in 2013, an increase from 6.5 percent the previous year. There are 2,768 craft breweries in the county, the association says, and they tapped into 14 percent of the dollar share of the beer market.
Jenny Hansen is not surprised the craft brewery movement has resonated in the North State. “It’s a sign that with the right beer, the right person can succeed here,” she says.
Does she worry the craft beer field is getting too crowded? “It’s not a concern. I think the craft beer industry is still so young. The more people who get exposed to different styles of beer, it helps all of us. The craft beer industry is very unique in that way. We’re a very collaborative group.”
Pinnell says he learned early what can happen when beer drinkers are exposed to new styles. “My greatest success is I converted my brother from Corona. He has discovered there is a world beyond those mass-produced beers. Now that he’s tried it, he has discovered there really is some flavor out there.”
Pinnell and his partner have the distinction of operating the Redding area’s only brewpub, offering up eight beers on tap and a menu that emphasizes locally sourced food. Furnari sausage and olive oil from Happy Valley are two examples.
Like a lot of small businesses, Hutchings’ Fall River Brewing has discovered that early success can come with a price. “We’ve outgrown our space, which is a good and a bad thing,” Hutchings says. “We’re looking at an expansion in a year or so.”
Helping spur demand for Fall River’s products is the brewery’s recent success at the 18th annual Battle of the Brews in Sonoma County.
The upstart brewer snagged three medals: Best Double IPA (for its hop-heavy Widowmaker), best light beer (for its NorCal Blonde) and, in a real coup, the People’s Choice award for its signature Hexagenia IPA. “We were really happy. Kind of shocked, actually,” says Hutchings.
Increasing distribution is the next step for Fall River, Hutchings says. “We’re hoping to add a new distributor for Chico and south to Marysville. Early next year we hope for Sacramento, Santa Rosa and the North Bay. After we won those awards, we’ve had quite a few establishments calling on a weekly basis, asking us to get distribution down there but we just can’t do it.”
With its popular Double Down Imperial Red, Shot in the Dark oatmeal porter and Liar’s Dice IPA now available in 22-ounce bottles in Shasta, Butte, Tehama, Trinity and Siskiyou counties, Jenny Hansen expects Wildcard’s name to travel farther. “By expanding our market into the retail side, we’ll get a lot more exposure than we already have. That’s where we’ll see a jump,” she says. Wildcard’s offerings also are available at the brewery’s tasting room on Crossroads Drive in east Redding.
Helping to meet that growing demand will be Mike Tona, a brewer with experience at Great Basin Brewing in Reno, 21st Amendment, Eel River and Stone. “He spent some time in Redding and he wanted to get back. He’s an amazing addition to our team. He’s seen some substantial growth at other breweries, so he can help us with that. We’re lucky to snag him,” Jenny Hansen says.