The Hawaiian brewing community runs deeper than you think. Hawaii has world class breweries creating incredible beers, but our roots also run deeper than that. Like so many of us born and raised in Hawaii, Fal Allen eventually migrated to the mainland and ended up in the Pacific Northwest. There he discovered real craft beer and was hooked. The Hilo native has never looked back and has become one of the most respected and knowledgable brewers in the country, most notably as the head brewer for Anderson Valley Brewing Company in Boonville, California. I was lucky enough to catch up with Fal via email to find out what he has been up to.
Where did you grow up and go to high school?
I grew up in Keaukaha across the street from Richardson’s beach in Hilo. Some years later when I had just started Hilo High we move to Akepa Street (near four miles) a few miles closer to town
Did you get into beer while living in Hawaii?
Yes, the drinking age back then was 18 and so that means most folks started drinking beer about 16. Hilo was (is) a pretty small town and we did the same things teenagers in small towns everywhere do – hang out, drink beer, talk about the girls that we were not brave enough to talk to. We use to sit at one of the beach parks, have a few beers and see who was out cruising in their cars. When I got home my mother use to complain saying “you smell like a brewery” – little did she know then …..
Steinlager, Watney’s Red Barrel, and German Lowenbrau were the upscale beers we could get back then, but I drank my share of Miller High Life and Mickey’s Big Mouth too. Even at 18 I could tell the difference between good and bad beer and I started to hunt out the better beers I could find.
What was the first craft beer you remember having that left a mark on you?
Well, the first “craft beer” (although some might disagree with that distinction) was Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve from Oregon. I liked it so much I decided to go to school for a year in Oregon (ok, that was not the only reason I went to U of O). While living in Eugene Oregon I tasted RedHook and that beer really made an impression. There was very little like it out there back then.
How long did you homebrew before you knew you wanted to brew for a living?
I started home brewing in 1986, I started working at Redhook two years later in 1988. The thought of making beer for a living came to me one day out of the blue, but once I thought of it I perused it with a pretty high degree of vigor.
What was your first professional brewing job?
I graduated in UH in 1984, move to Eugene for a year then move to Seattle to find better work. I was trying to pay off my student loans as fast as I could and was working nights at a local bar (Ray’s boathouse), Some days I would cover the day shift and these guys from down the street that had this small brewery in a former transition repair shop would come in and try to hawk their wares to us. They were small but I had heard of them back in Eugene and their beer was pretty good. One day it dawned on me – maybe I too could make some money working at that small brewery. I started to take my home brew into the head brewer there to convince him I was serious about brewing – eventually he hired me and kind of took me under his wing and moved me from job to job so I could learn professional brewing from the ground up. I worked days at the brewery and nights at the bar. Eventually I quit both Redhook & Ray’s to take an extended trip to Germany. When I returned to Seattle I was lucky enough to find a brewing job at Pike Place brewery and from that point brewing went from being a part time job to a career.
How did your time brewing at Pike Brewing in Seattle influence you?
Working at Pike Place at that time was was seminal for my career (I started brewing there in 1990). Pike place was owned by Charles and Rose Anne Finkel. They also owned a company named Merchant du Vin. Merchant Du Vin imported classic beers from all around Europe and thus the Finkels were very well connected in the brewing community over there. When they opened Pike Place Brewery many brewers came to visit and on occasion they took us to Europe to visit the breweries they did business with. One of the first visitors that came to their brewery was a beer writer they knew; Michael Jackson. I was fortunate to meet many people in the brewing industry through my connection to Pike Place Brewery and it was a great introduction to the classic beer styles of Europe.
The Pike Place Brewery was very small so we brewed very often and that gave me a great chance to learn about the small changes in the brewing process that can make differences in the final beer. I was there or about 9 years and by the time I left I was their head brewer, had taken them through building a new brewery & pub up on First ave., and worked with some really great people (many of whom went on to open their own breweries). Working for Pike Place was a great experience.
Why did you leave Anderson Valley in 2005 to move halfway across the world to help start up Archipelago Brewing in Singapore?
I went to work for Anderson Valley Brewing Co. in early 2000. By 2004 it had become clear to me that the THEN owner (who shall remain nameless) was not a person I could work for any longer. For about a year I did consulting work but in 2005 the craft beer industry was struggling. Some of the shine had worn off craft beer and we were in a bit of a slump. One day when I was in Newport (OR) doing some work for Rogue I got a call from a headhunter looking for a brewer to go to Singapore. This brewer was to build a new brewery (well, design and oversee the building of it), get it opened, design and brew their beers and then be their brand ambassador. They wanted this brewer to blend European brewing tradition with South East Asian cooking tradition. It was a HUGE company (with deep pockets) who owned 28 other large breweries in Asia and they wanted to get in early to the coming craft beer movement in Asia. They wanted someone to build a craft brewery, design new and unusual beer & then promote its brands. I loved living in rural Anderson Valley but there was only one brewery there and a job shearing sheep did not suit my fancy much (what’s a brewer to do?).
What was/is the craft brewing scene in SE Asia?
When I arrived in 2005 the craft beer scene was small but growing. There were two other breweries (Brewerkz & Paulaner), but Singapore has a very robust food culture. They were primed for craft beer to pair with their diverse food selection.
Having grown up in Hawaii (with the many Asian cultures melded together there) I thought that I knew what to expect in S.E. Asia. I did not. My having grown up in Hawaii certainly gave be some “training” and insight as to customs and culture but at first I still very much I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I quickly grew to love Singapore and with the exception of a few pretty monumental hangovers I love almost every minute I was there. I decided to document my time there and started a blog (plus then I could tell my friend “sorry for not writing but read my blog”) – you can check here for the blog – http://singbrewer.blogspot.com/. And here for the photo blog – http://www.flickr.com/photos/55592119@N00/sets/
The beer scene changed rapidly while I was there and by the time I left there were 7 craft breweries on the island. The beers that were available were mostly of European decent but the Archipelago brewery (where I worked) had produced some exceptions that used local ingredients with flavors that were definitely not what you would find in European beers.
What brought you back to Anderson Valley Brewing and what is your current role there?
I loved my time in Singapore (the people, the food, the bars, the beers, the access to the rest of S.E. Asia) but like with all things there comes a time when it must end. My original contract was for two years, I had been there more than five. My job of designing, building, starting up the brewery and then designing the beers and introducing the beers – that was mostly completed. There was a change in the management of the company and my boss (although a nice guy) had a different vision from the one we had been working on. It was time to go.
Anderson Valley Brewing had been on the market for a few years, and as it happened the brewery sold just a few days after I gave my notice in Singapore. The new owner (Trey White) called me up and we decided to meet in Chicago at the Craft Brewer’s Conference. We came to an accord and here I am. My title at Anderson Valley is Brewmaster although most days I think plant manager fits better. Mostly I have spent the last 3 years upgrading systems, purchasing new equipment and designing new beers. We have come out with a whole lot of new beers. We have increased our seasonal beer program (with Spring & Fall Hornin beers). We have beefed up our barrel aged beer program (from just a few barrels to over 600 now). We increase our sour beer program too. Lots of new fun things to try.
AVBC is widely known as one of the leaders in environmentally conscious brewing. What are some of the things the company does to lessen its environmental impact?
We recycle almost everything. We recycle all our glass, metal, plastic (including shrink wrap), paper/cardboard, spend grain, spent hops, excess yeast and all of our waste water gets treated and reused for irrigation on our property. We have a large solar array that provides us with about 40 % of our annual electrical needs. And although we do it for environmental reasons we also know that it also makes good business sense. We were awarded the California Waste Reduction Award for several years (before it was discontinued). You can learn more about it our environmental programs here https://avbc.com/the-brewery/ecological-commitment/
What are your favorite beers to brew at AVBC? Anything new we can expect in 2014?
I like the experimental beers we make. We just made a Galangal IPA (that was a fun one) and we are doing a collaboration brew with Kross brewery in Chile next week (it’s a Porter that has cinnamon, Dark raw sugar, Cardamom, and Cocoa nibs). We are also doing some fun barrel aged beers. One of my favorites is the Belgian Old Brown style beer that has Redwood tips in the brew – it is then soured in barrels and aged for a year. I think it is a delicious beer.
You co-authored “Barley Wine: History, Brewing Techniques and Recipes” and have written articles for many various publications. Any plans for another book in the future?
I don’t think so, writing a book is a HUGE investment of time and energy. I toyed with the idea of writing the book on wood aging for the Brewer’s Association but I am just to busy with other projects. I believe Dick Cantwell (my co-author for the Barley Wine book) is going to be writing it with Peter Bouckhaert (from New Belgium Brewing). I am sure it will be a better book for having them do the research and writing.
If you could brew a beer with a Hawaiian product what would you use and what type of beer would you make?
I would love to brew a Hawaiian beer – there are many local (but not native) plants you could use – like Guava, or Pineapple or macadamia nut. But more interesting to me would be the native plants like Lehua or Kava (Awa) or Ohelo berries or Akala – or maybe use some native wood like Ohia, or Iliahi. All pretty exciting stuff that one could brew with and make a distinctly Hawaiian beer. When I live in SE Asia I did a lot of experimenting and brewing with local ingredients. I even made a beer with Durian Fruit once (or twice) which I thought was awesome (but then I love Durian) although some people thought it horrible. Some things worked, some did not – you never know till you try them.
How often do you make it back home? Do you ever see yourself moving back to Hawaii?
I don’t get back home to the Big Island very often (it’s been a few years) although I would love to get out there for the beer fest one day. I still have a lot of good friends on the Big Island and I really should go visit them.
I would like to live back in Hawaii one day, but I also love where I am in NorCal. Hawaii now has some great breweries. One never knows.
Aloha – Fal