Some unfamiliar taps have sprouted in valley watering holes in recent months. Available at a handful of locations, Farmers Brewing Co. LLC, is using local wheat, rice, and almonds to brew beer, is gearing up to go big time.
There’s not much action here, about a mile off the Sacramento River, just a few migratory birds framed by the jagged silhouette of the Sutter Buttes. Here, far from craft brewing clusters that seem to cross-pollinate in San Diego, the Bay, and Chico Bill Weller is making a big bet.
Beer is traditionally brewed from water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. Weller also worked with rice. It's a less costly alternative to barley that has crept into beer recipes, especially among large brewers. What gives Weller an edge on the big boys?
“The fact that we can grow our own stuff, and it’s different than most other breweries, most other breweries just buy a barley malt, whatever,” Weller explained. “We grow it and it’s a lot of extra work, and a pain in the ass, but I think it’s worth it for us.”
A 7th-grade report he wrote on the empire built by Adolph Coors helped inspire years of home-brewing. After a couple of successful decades of farming, and increasing family land holdings more than seven-fold, Weller and his family were ready to diversify.
Inside a simple warehouse is a funhouse of stainless steel. Pipes and ducts soar and dip, Technicolor control panel LEDs contrast with giant tanks standing at attention. A whirring centrifuge provides a backing track.
The place is clearly well-capitalized, but Weller demurs when asked how much he has on the line.
“I’m not going to disclose that. But, it’s not cheap to build a brewery.” Weller said.
Planning to start slow, three years ago Weller snapped up the equipment of a defunct Arizona brewer, capable of producing four times what he’d planned.
It costs more to move, repair and install than to buy he said.
“There’s been a whole lot of twists and turns throughout the whole process.” he said.
The exponentially larger volume no longer sparks worry. Weller says its efficient production more than makes up for the financial uncertainty of starting bigger than he planned.
Weller is planning to launch with three different beers delivered in kegs to about 80 spots between Sacramento and Redding. Weller says he's most proud of his Farmer’s Light, a micro-brew take on the traditional American lager, and is confident enough to talk a little smack.
“It’s a like a Bud-Light, Coors-Light, but tastes better, of course, I’m biased.” he said.
He says it’s something beer drinkers, especially locally, are clamoring for.
“We have our sales guy and we have a distribution guy that’s been in sales, knows the business really well, and they’ve been going around and a lot of people are like ‘soon as your, well, you can supply us, Coors is gone. You know, it’s, people want that more local taste and Bud, Budweiser, is not an American company.” Weller said.
The iconoclasm doesn’t end there. Where most small brewers are getting hopped up on ever-hoppier formulations, Weller’s again an outlier.
“We’ve seen that out in the market people are like, thank you, yes, that’s awesome. Enough of the triple IPAs. That’s where we want to be, that’s my goal, that’s my passion.” he said.
That’s not to say Weller ignores trends or advice.
“I’d never made an IPA until, a salesman’s like ‘just, just try one.” Weller said.
Needless to say, he’s satisfied.
“So, we made that beer and it’s, I actually really love it." he said.
Rounding out the selection, 5-3-0, an unfiltered wheat beer. Weller says peer pressure is leading him to the next step. A tasting room.
“I had so many people tell me, ‘you, you just don’t realize how many people are going to show up here, and I still don’t.” Weller said.
The proposal goes before the Glenn County Planning Commission next month. Weller said it could open this spring or summer. A canning line and grocery store shelves could follow.