Admit it, you thought this day would never come. Truth told, neither did I.
Presenting our first Master of the Beerverse:
Fal Allen, Brewmaster at Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Boonville, CA
Fal grew up in Hilo, Hawaii, and left the Islands to attend college in Oregon, where he first encountered Northwest craft beers. After graduation and a couple of years honing his craft as a home brewer, he took his first brewing job with Redhook in Seattle in the late ’80s.
After a falling out with ABVC in 2004, he was offered a dream gig to start the beer program for Archipelago Brewing, a new brewery in Singapore, in 2005. A two-year tour turned into five, but by then Fal yearned to return to his adopted homeland in Northern California.
Fortunately, an ownership change facilitated his return to Anderson Valley, where he’s been Brewmaster since 2010. He was kind enough to chat with me via email regarding his time in Singapore, the excitement of his second tour at AVBC, and what he’d do a with bajillion dollars.
BV — Okay, not gonna ask how your Boontling is. I assume it’s perfect, so I wouldn’t understand the answer anyway.
FA — Well, I am surely no bahl Boont harper, I am a bit shaggish, but I can harp a wee slib of the ling and a bahl Steinber helps a missit.
BV — Shoot, where did I put that Boontling/English dictionary. It was just here a second ago…
Anyway, I would imagine a chance to return to your tropical roots was a big factor in moving to Singapore in 2005. Was your familiarity with the climate an asset, or were there more cultural differences than you expected?
FA — I accepted the position I Singapore because it was an opportunity just too good to pass up. They wanted me to design a brewery from (literally) the ground up, then design all their beers and become their brand ambassador. You can see the progression of the building of the brewry here, and read about some of my adventure about it here.
My familiarity was with a mild Hawaiian climate and a multi-ethnic culture. Singapore is just plain hot (even the locals agree on that) and most Singaporeans are of Chinese decent. I am sure that my growing up in Hawaii helped me cope with the differences in Singapore, but I certainly had a lot to learn about how different Singapore was from where I grew up.
Having said that, I loved it in Singapore. The people were great, the food is some of the best in the world, and exploring Southeast Asia was fantastic. I learned a fair amount of the local slang (Singlish) but I was never able to grasp the differences in pronunciation of Mandarin Chinese.
BV — How was your experience working for such a large parent company while in Singapore? Lots of challenges or were you given a fairly free hand?
FA — Working for Asia Pacific Breweries, who at the time owned more than 30 breweries throughout Asia (all which produced over a Million hectoliters), was a big change; some good, some not as good. But overall it was a great experience. It was certainly nice working for a company that had the money and inclination to spend it on nice equipment.
They were good about knowing where their expertise was. They hired me because they knew what they wanted to do was not where their expertise lay. They found a great general manager for the project, and she and I worked well together to develop some nice and interesting beers with some good concepts and marketing behind them. For the most part they let us do what we thought would work. The brand had a story to tell and the beers were distinctive and fun.
BV — I understand differences with management led to your departure from AVBC. Has your second stint been all you were hoping for?
FA — The previous owner of AVBC was a bit difficult to work with. The new owner is much better. His name is Trey White and he has made great investments in the (much needed) upgrading of our equipment, has given the brewers a lot of free reign to try out new beers, has pushed us to increase our barrel beer program, and has worked hard to both grow the brands and to get the brands back into the conversation about which breweries are relevant.
I think that our Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout and our Holy Gose are great examples of him facilitating the creation of great beers. The best part is that our beers are getting better and we are developing more of them all the time. In many ways this time around has exceeded my expectations.
BV — Regarding your barrel program, any plans to use barrels other than bourbon? Say, wine or tequila? Or does your agreement with Wild Turkey limit you to their barrels exclusively?
FA — We are fortunate to have such a good partner in Wild Turkey. They have been very helpful, and our agreement with Wild Turkey does not limit us to the use of bourbon barrels. We have used bourbon, Rye, brandy, whiskey, raw oak and both red and white wine barrels to produce beers.
To date we have focused more on our Wild Turkey barrel series and less on the beers from those other barrels. Many of those beers produced from other barrels don’t make it into bottles (they are draft only), so not as many people are aware of them. For example, we have over 200 wine barrels in our sour beer program. Since the beers that come out of those barrels are only in the draft format, not as many people have tasted them (but they are worth tasting). Maybe in the future we will bottle some of them.
BV — Any dream collaborations, people you would love to call and say “Hey, come brew a beer with me”?
FA — We have done a few collaborations, both with retailers (having them up to the brewery to help design and brew a beer) and with other breweries (we have collaborated with a few breweries in South America — Cervesaria Kross, Wals Brewery, Amazon Brewery). But we did them more for the fun and the sharing of experience of brewing the beers than for commercial reasons. We are always open to the possibilities of other collaborations, they are fun and it is exciting to work with other people.
BV — Any trends in the craft brew industry you find disconcerting? Exciting?
FA — Disconcerting, no. Exciting, yes, always. I am excited by the new lower ABV beers that we are seeing out there (and there are some great ones). I like to drink beer so the lower ABV beers afford me the opportunity to have several, not just one or two (as the 8+ ABV beers do). And I am excited by the many new sour beers we are seeing. I think sour beer will replace the IPA craze and all the beer aficionados will be seeking them out soon.
BV — Are there any underappreciated/forgotten styles you’d like to see come back?
FA — Mild ale. I would love to see Mild ale make a comeback, but I doubt it ever will here in the USA. Whenever I see one on draft I always order it. Of course, Mild Ales are lower in alcohol and yet have to have a good, interesting flavor profile, so that makes them challenging and interesting (as a brewer). But with a name like Mild Ale they won’t be that appealing to most craft brewers. I think that is why we don’t see them that often.
BV — If you had a bajillion dollars and could run your own place and do whatever you wanted, what would you specialize in?
FA — If I had a bajillion dollars, I would specialize in drinking beer on the beach. (And I might open a nano brewery behind my estate sized beach house – you know, mostly for fun.)
BV — Speaking of your own place, if you ever move back to the Big Island and start something there, could you use an assistant? Cuz I’ve been there twice and would move there in a nanosecond. Absolutely beautfiul.
FA — Well, as much as I love the Big Island I am fairly entrenched here in the Anderson Valley. But never say never, so I will keep you in mind for an assistant … for my estate nano brewery … should I win that Bajillion dollar lottery.
Thanks, Fal. And I’ll be scouring the papers for lotto winners. If a certain someone hits it, I’ll be calling.
(Special thanks to Beer in Hawaii for very helpful background info.)