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Meet Robert Fitzgerald of Gunwhale Ales

Today we’d like to introduce you to Robert Fitzgerald.

Robert, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My partners and I were looking to bring something different to the region, where we felt there was a lack of relaxed, premium but unpretentious brands that were making easy drinking beer. Most of OC/LA was being outsold by big San Diego breweries, and there were not many local breweries at the time making sessionable beer, and even fewer making rustic farmhouse beer. If they made one Saison, it would be mediocre… which we felt was only natural.

Focus is where we felt we could really improve our product, know our yeast strains, and differentiate in the market. We also felt our “west coast farmhouse” concept lent itself to some cool tensions for storytelling, for flavor profiles, and was a match for a place known for the coastline and its inland farms. We were homebrewers, but we felt we had good ideas and that we had a very clear approach.

We tried to learn as much as we could about the industry, so we tapped our resources, we scratched together some money from family and friends, and tried to be creative with what we had. That meant to build a blendery model, where instead of building a brewery too small or capitalizing one too large with too much risk… we looked for untapped resources and found that we could do wort production on other brewers’ systems.

We then would tote the wort back home and focus on fermentation. Our facility is small, and we knew we wanted to be in a retail area. JT worked for a business in our location for many years, and we set out to open it there. We planned to prove our ideas and then build the larger facility on the second phase, so we could eventually turn our first location to an all wild/mixed fermentation and blending facility.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Running a small business is very difficult, no matter what type. Cash is always a problem. We always put the money back into the beer and brewing, so we often lack the ability to do more merchandise, point of sale stuff, and other fun things. We hired a good team, and they do great, we are proud of them, and I think they believe in what we are doing.

We honestly are stretched right now because we are close to getting our large new facility open. But it is much needed, and we are excited to meet more demand and get a bit of scale/efficiency in our model that is sorely needed.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Gunwhale Ales – what should we know?
Our beers strike a balance between the raw, wild spirit of farmhouse brewing and the pioneering hop-forward styles of California. We have an obsession with yeast driven Saisons, hoppy IPAs, and other rustic, wild and sour beers.

This gives our beers uncommon qualities that are both surprisingly delicate and nuanced, yet refined and robust in their simplicity. From bright, billowy summer ales to rustic, fortifying stormers that stand up to the rougher seas, Gunwhale makes beers that reflect the culinary and cultural heritage of the West Coast.

I also think we are exploring some interesting beer profiles that are truly unique. That is yeast driven hoppy beers. We ferment in stainless and our oak foeder, we use clean ale yeasts but also saison yeasts and other wild Saccharomyces yeast strains that add fruit esters and rusticity to our beers.

Table beers, Farmhouse IPA, dry-hopped Saisons, grisettes, and Barrel Aged mixed fermentation beers are definitely less known to the average drinker.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Our Head Brewer Kevin Hammons deserves a ton of credit, as he is pumping out new beers almost every week with incredible quality. Without pilot batches, this can be a risk… and consumers should consider how hard it is to nail something on the first recipe.

Consumers want ‘the shiny new” but there really is a big degree of difficulty in executing it. The rest of our production staff and our front of house (taproom) staff also has been so great since day one.

Some of our industry friends have been very helpful as well, like Alex Tweet at Fieldwork, the folks at Noble, Brewery Rex, Mikkeller, Pure Project, Horus, and others we have collaborated with have been very gracious with us too.

Contact Info:

Photo Credits: Greg Nagel 

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