The Beermaker's Life: Inside Alameda's New Faction Brewing

Faction Brewing, which went into production late last month, will make a special pale ale — to be sold only in Alameda. Its other craft beers will be available on tap at taverns in the East Bay soon.

Faction Brewing assistant Chris Villamediana rakes barley mash out of the mash tun. Photo credit: Dixie Jordan.
Faction Brewing assistant Chris Villamediana rakes barley mash out of the mash tun. Photo credit: Dixie Jordan.
In an echoing hangar tucked between the Rock Wall Wine Company and St. George Spirits, a remarkably small number of people have begun brewing craft beers in remarkably large steel vats.

Faction Brewing is the newest beverage business on Monarch Street at Alameda Point. It's on a rather desolate stretch of road near the Estuary that some people are now calling Distillery Row (others say Booze Alley). 

When Alameda Patch visited last week, a few days after Faction Brewing passed its final inspections and began making a fall-season harvest ale, just three workers were around. 

Head brewer and co-owner Rodger Davis was loftily perched on a ladder at the top of a giant kettle. Assistant Chris Villamediana was raking barley mash into a huge box. And co-owner Claudia Pamparana (who's married to Davis) was cheerfully answering a reporter's most basic beer questions.

"What's that?" It was a mash tun, largely indistinguishable from a dozen other enormous containers but, like each of them, with a specialized purpose.

"What makes dark beer dark?" Beer color is determined by the malted barley that's one of its main ingredients. A darker-roasted malt equals a darker brew.

"What does IPA stand for?" India Pale Ale. Pamparana adds a story, perhaps apocryphal, about IPA's origins. It's said that ordinary beer spoiled en route from England to troops in then British-controlled India. IPA, a bit higher in alcohol and with more hops than a standard pale ale, could make the long ship's journey in drinkable condition.

With no worries about weeks or months at sea, Faction Brewing will focus on seasonal IPAs made with the freshest possible ingredients.

Right now they're brewing a fall IPA with wet hops — flowers from hop vines that are harvested in Washington state and shipped overnight to Alameda.

In winter they will use a dried version of hops, and for spring and summer brews they plan to import hops from New Zealand (where, of course, the seasons are reversed from those in the Northern Hemisphere).

Faction Brewing is also neighborly. They will age some beers in barrels from Alameda's Rock Wall Wine Co. A Castro Valley farmer picks up the spent barley and feeds it to his cows. And on the horizon — a beer that will be available only in Alameda.

The hyperlocal brew, called A-Town Pale Ale, will be on tap at Lucky 13, 1301 Park St., and at Fireside Lounge, 1453 Webster St., by sometime in November and will also be served at the brewery's tasting room when it opens (hopefully next month). Part of the proceeds from A-Town will go to local charitable organizations.

For the present, Faction is making only draft brews, although they hope to bottle their products eventually. Outside Alameda, Faction IPAs will be available at several specialty taverns, including the newly opened Hog's Apothecary in Oakland.

Davis brings extensive experience to the business. He studied at Chicago's Siebel Institute of Technology, the nation's oldest brewing school, and was the head brewer at Drake's Brewing Company in San Leandro fox six years. He's also done stints at the Triple Rock and Pyramid breweries.

Pamaparana adds a dozen years of front-of-the-house expertise, mostly as a bartender at the 21st Amendment brewpub in San Francisco.

Their assistant, Chris Villamediana (shown in the accompanying video), a home brewer who also worked at 21st Amendment, sums up the brewing life with enthusiasm.

"I'm one of the blessed in the world — to do my dream job," he said.

For more about Faction Brewing, see their website here and their Facebook page here.

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