Microbrewery: Bayhawk Ales

With the sun barely up, Brian and I were on our way to Bayhawk Ales in Irvine, Calif. The location was not what we expected as they seemed to be right in the middle of corporate central, but that is not to say they don’t make awesome beer! When we arrived, everyone seemed to be moving about and getting their day started after the night shift ended.

Bayhawk Ales brewery is set up a little different than most. As you approach the Pilsner Room restaurant doors, President Karl Zappa’s office sits to the right and the bottling/keg/storage room is on the left. Through the quaint restaurant, a large room is positioned in the corner with tall windows so patrons can view the giant tanks where the magic happens. At nearly 8:00 a.m., the restaurant lights are out and the barstools are empty. The brewery, on the other hand, is in full swing. Head Brewer Jeremy Mayo, like the condiment (and yes, he’s heard every clever mayo joke you can imagine), is making sure everything is running smoothly. Unusual for a Tuesday, Bayhawk Ales is not brewing today, but they are still bustling about. Jeremy grabs a glass and taste tests the Belgium Triple straight from the tank, which will be heading to a bar in Los Angeles.

Bayhawk Ales does a lot of contract brewing and believes in helping new brewers who may not have the space or equipment to make it happen. “A lot of guys don’t have the equipment we have… I’m just one of those guys, if you want to talk about the beer business, I’m here,” said Karl. Bayhawk began operation in late 1994 and is a public corporation with over 1000 local and out of state stockholders. They specialize in brewing House Beers for many restaurants and taverns throughout California, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

People would be surprised to know that all the brewing happens within 800 square feet, yet they are capable of producing 10,000 barrels of beer per year. With the amount of beer they brew, Bayhawk Ales has clearly outgrown their space. Karl said they are looking to expand in the next 3-4 years and may be moving to the Inland Empire or San Diego.

Regardless of where they end up, Karl said, “My plan is to be in business for 100 years.” With such an ambitious goal, it’s a good thing they have such a strong following. They have a selection of permanent styles as well as seasonal beers, but 50% of their sales come from their Hefe Weizen. Though Karl said, “There’s a lot of money in the beer business, but not for small breweries.” However, that did not seem to bother the president, who previously earned his living in mortgage banking for 15 years. Some may wonder why he made the switch.

“Beer just happens to be more fun than anything else,” said Karl. His father owned several liquor stores until he finally sold the last one in 1981. On his desk, Karl proudly displayed a Lucky Lager can from one of the first cases sold in his family’s liquor store in 1960. Attached to the can was old inscribed bottle opener. Karl first got his job at Bayhawk Ales in 1997. No one else wanted the job and Karl happened to be in the right place at the right time. He started out with a six month contract, but turns out he planned to stay a lot longer.

A similar thing happened to Jeremy. He was looking for work when he and his wife saw an ad that read “Brewer Wanted.” So he rode his bike to Bayhawk Ales to inquire about the position, and was offered the job. The first month Jeremy worked there, he was moving a load of kegs in the parking garage, which also serves as their loading dock. Being in the middle of corporate Irvine, it’s safe to say, there are a lot of nice cars parked in that garage. As he was moving the forklift, Jeremy heard a loud crack. When he looked back, he watched as the heavy kegs fell and crashed into a brand new BMW. Needless to say, the owner of the car was furious, but Jeremy kept his job. Eight years later he worked his way up and became the head brewer and can now laugh about that crazy day. Eventually, Jeremy looks forward to starting his own company in the beer industry. For now, Bayhawk Ales is his home.

From the newest guy to the president, everyone is proud of the beer they produce and love what they do. In fact, Bayhawk Ales proudly states on their Web site, “We just might be the Greatest Beer You Never Knew Your Drank!”

It’s true. Karl said Bayhawk is everywhere; you just have to know what you’re looking for. He said, even the Bayhawk truck can be seen all over Southern California. And wouldn’t you know it, on my way home from work that day, (a good six hours later) I sat in traffic behind the Bayhawk Ales truck. I had to laugh.

Brian and I were sent home with a case of their Beach Blonde Ale… so good! Plus, Brian recently found their Stawberry Blonde and Chocolate Porter in a local Bevmo… so next time you’re there, pick up a bottle.

For more information on Bayhawk Ales including a list of their beers, visit http://www.bayhawkales.com/ .

Head Brewer, Jeremy Mayo

Bottler, Matt Camarillo

President, Karl Zappa

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