411 Broadway Ales & Spirits talk Sour Beers, Brewing, and the Grand Opening.
by Lisa Talley
It’s hot. I mean slow-roasting-inside-an-oven-while-wearing-a-fur-coat hot. And to top it off, the humidity is packing a punch so heavy it’s hard enough to knock Mayweather onto the canvas. One of two roll-up doors is halfway open and the only breeze drifting through the place is the muggy breath escaping my nostrils. And as I stand, positively melting like the Wicked Witch of the West, I realize that in spite of it all, I’m smiling. The building of 411 Broadway is ripe with excitement.
Two massive Letina tanks flank the far wall, patio tables – waiting to be assembled – stack next to the tanks, and vintage wooden barrels huddle in the middle of the room. Sure, it’s bare-bones now, but come October 27th it’s going to be a full-fledged microbrewery and a longtime dream-come-true for Co-Founder, Joseph Soleno.
“I’ve been home brewing since I was a teenager. I got my foot in the door with a local brew pub scrubbing floors, cleaning filters, cleaning the tanks and learning the tricks of the trade,” shares Soleno.
The enthusiasm radiates through his smile. In fact, there may not have been single a moment Soleno didn’t grin ear-to-ear while talking about his new venture. Even more, once I get him talking about the process of brewing he about loses me in the dust of palpable anticipation.
“We’re going to focus mainly on sour beers. A lot of that comes from bacteria naturally found in oak and micro-flora in the air so we’ll be using oak vessels for fermentation,” says Soleno.
If you had to reread that last paragraph, don’t worry, I’ll help fill in the blanks. Sour beers are a category of brews that express a sour or tart flavor. The brewing process for these types of beers typically uses some of the oldest methods in existence. Modern brewing techniques of today use sterile environments to reduce the risk of unwanted yeast strains. It’s important to most brewers to control every stage of the brewing process, but for Soleno, this is where he wants some variation. Sour beers achieve their unique flavors by allowing wild yeast to develop into the brew, and this is accomplished by utilizing open fermentation methods.
Soleno further explains, “The difference between a sour beer and a regular beer people are used to these days is that a regular beer uses a yeast strain called Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. You can actually get different varieties of this [to] produce different flavors but if you look at it under a microscope, it’s the same type of yeast. What we’ll be using is like a symbiotic type relationship between yeast and bacteria. We’ll be using the typical strain that regular breweries use but we’ll also be using different bacteria like Pediococcus, Lactobacillus, and a wild yeast strain called Brettanomyces. If you can balance all of these bacterias just right, you can come up with some really tasty beers.”
The two Letina tanks sitting in 411 Broadway Ales & Spirits are actually open top fermenter tanks. The floating lids allow the air to penetrate the brew so that micro-oxygenation can occur.
Letting go of some of the control in the brewing process is what makes open fermentation both exhilarating and unpredictable. Some brewers find the unpredictability risky and traditionally opt for a more predictable outcome. Joseph Soleno isn’t intimidated, on the contrary, he’s been working long and hard for this opportunity.
“As soon as I turned 21, I enrolled at UC Davis for their fermentation science program; I learned most of the art there. Afterward, I was picked up by Rogue Ales & Spirits in Oregon where I learned a lot about large-scale brewing. And then I did a stint at Dust Bowl, then went to Sequoia and now, Riley’s [Brewing Co],” he continued.
Soleno also has the support of his family who has taken up business with him in 411 Broadway Ales & Spirits. Daniel Soleno, Joseph’s father, will be taking on domestic and international sales. Joseph’s twin brother, Joshua, handles the graphic design and marketing with the help of Juan Martinez Jr. And Joseph, of course, maintains the title of resident Head Brewer.
Plans for a distillery are also in the works. However, because the paperwork is just as intensive as the that for the brewery, it’s still another 6 to 9 months in the making. Although part of the original plan for 411 Broadway, they found that the process could hold them in limbo for an additional year before getting the clearance to open. So, instead of making everyone wait, they opted to start with the brewery first and then incorporate the distillery later.
And do you know what they have planned for the distillery? Brace yourself. Absinthe and akvavit. Go big or go home, right? They also have plans for whiskey and non-aged spirits like gin and vodka. But you’ll have to keep in touch with them for the official launch dates on those.
The space inside 411 Broadway’s building will be largely dedicated to production due to the positive response they’ve already received. For the sit-down crowd, there is also a 4,000 sq ft space behind the building that will be used to establish a beer garden. The team is launching a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise the last of the funds needed to finish renovations and decor. The campaign will offer rewards like a VIP invite to their soft opening one week before their grand opening. The Kickstarter campaign will be announced on their Facebook page as soon as it launches.
Parking has been a common question for the brewery; the team has been working with Fresno PD and the Downtown Fresno Partnership on the topic of safety. If that isn’t a confidence builder, then maybe free parking will be; there isn’t a meter in sight.
“Brewing is a lot of science, but a lot of it is actually art. The ability to express myself through brewing is pretty rewarding; then to have people try it and actually enjoy it, that’s what’s really gratifying,” Soleno shares. After all the years of cutting his teeth on scrubbing floors, cleaning tanks, and brewing for others, he’s ready to step out on his own with the support of his family and his original brews carving the path ahead.
Craft beer is a love affair. Between the drinkers and the makers, everyone can agree that the fandom is real. Get ready, because 411 Broadway Ales & Spirits is about to bring yet another unique and original experience to the Central Valley.
Follow 411 Broadway Ales & Spirits on Facebook @411BroadwayBrew for up to date information and details about their grand opening.