Effigy has been a part of me for several years now. Almost ever since I moved from Ithaca, NY to Santa Cruz over 6 years ago. It began simply as something to call my homebrew — a hobby of mine which I had been semi-passionately pursuing for at least 3 years. My roommate back in Ithaca, a Doctoral Student of Physics at Cornell, taught me the basics of fermentation, which he learned from his time as an undergraduate at Georgia Tech. As I recall it, he used to pitch dry yeast packets into bottles of Mott's Apple Cider and sell it to students at a high premium.
We used to brew in the winter so that we could set our kegs outside in a snowbank before serving them because we didn't want to buy a fridge. We would go to the local brewing supply shop— which used to be housed in the original tasting room for Ithaca Beer Company— and buy whatever extract kit sounded nice at the time. Usually whatever was cheapest. We'd supplement with whatever we had on hand, or whatever crazy fucking ingredient we'd decided on at the last possible second; maple syrup, local bourbon, freshly roasted coffee, left over easter candy.
Around the time my roommate was showing me the ins and outs of extract brewing, I had just taken a job at a place called Ithaca Coffee Company. this place was like none other that I had seen. The front was an old-school coffee shop, but the back had a cheese counter, a wine selection, a general store, a tavern, and still one of the best beer bottle selections I've seen to date. They offered me the position of Beer Specialist because I was the only available person over 21. I didn't really care for craft beer at the time, but their offer to give me a mixed six pack every week to study at home, combined with the mandatory beer break every time a new beer went on tap and needed a description — that was just too cushy to resist even if I didn't really care for beer.
Well that job and those sessions brewing weird shit with my Ivy-League physicist roommate were more than enough to spark a passion for craft beer. I left my job as a rehabilitation counselor and the field of Psychology all together. I left town rather suddenly, traveled slowly across the country, took a detour to Tucson Arizona to find closure with a doomsday cult that had wronged my family (another story, another time), and landed in Santa Cruz.
I found my home in Santa Cruz. Working for Companion Bakeshop on the Westside, I started homebrewing with a friend and kindred spirit, Chris Pester, who introduced me to the craft beer scene in Santa Cruz. I remember brewing what were probably only my fourth or fifth all-grain beers with Chris, and pulled out a growler from a brewery I couldn't pronounce in Capitola, Sante Adairus Rustic Ales. I remember thinking that it sounded French, and tasted like nothing else I had ever had up to that point. Years later, Chris would take on the role of Head Chef at Sante's new tap room in midtown Santa Cruz.
It was during these years that I really decided that I wanted to be a brewer. It came out of nowhere. Sort of crept up on me. Chris and I talked at lengths about organic, local, rustic foods and fermentation. We brewed, and we drank. I brewed more, I bought a lot of equipment. I upgraded. Bought a kegerator, a fleet of kegs. Chris gave me half a dozen carboys. I was hooked and just like any good or bad homebrewer, I said "fuck it, I'm starting a brewery."
"fuck it, I'm starting a brewery."
After Companion Bakeshop, I took a job at Seven Bridges Cooperative Brewing Supply. I couldn't find any other way into the brewing community. I had applied to just about every brewery in town, and was told that I needed experience. Well, almost every brewery in town has somehow gone through Seven Bridges, so I put my eggs in that basket. I learned a lot there, and made many valuable connections with the local beer scene — professional and hobbyist alike. In particular, I had the pleasure of working with the last graduating class of Seven Bridges before it closed its doors permanently; Nick Menacho of New Bohemia Brewing Company, Shamus Mooney of Eastcliff Brewing Company, Michael Megill of Cellarmaker Brewing Company, Shane Winkler of Humble Sea Brewing Company, Brooks Schmitt of Bruxo Food Truck, and Tallula Preston of the forthcoming Fruition Brewing Company.
When I came up with the idea of Effigy, it wasn't really much more than fluke. I just wanted to feel creative, to give my hobby a brand and an artistic direction, even if no one drank it.
But then people drank it. And more than just the usual captive audience. The beer and the brand were gaining traction. I bought stickers. I printed shirts.
Right then, I thought I was making a serious run at going professional. I asked a life-long friend and extremely professional designer, Jonah Stuart, to help me design the brand. Arlo Chapple and Phil Ashworth, both wonderfully talented friends from Ithaca, created unique artwork for future branding. Another extremely talented friend and Seven Bridges alum, the aforementioned Nick Menacho, designed and printed labels. More friends came out of the woodworks to support this thing in many ways. But I was pretty naive back then. My style of brewing and understanding of the brewing industry wasn't mature enough, and I had only a the slightest idea about how much shit the city, state, and country want to bury you in before you can start a brewery.
My real schooling regarding the brewing industry started when I was offered a job as Assistant Brewer at Humble Sea Brewing Company. At the time, they were brewing professionally in a carport on agricultural land in Ben Lomond with a far underutilized permit from the county that allows such activity. Those early days were rough. We brewed over 200 barrels of beer on a one barrel system with laughably inappropriate equipment. But I worked with Nick Pavlina, Taylor West, Frank Krueger, and Jacob Luna to develop their style of brewing and voice as a brewery. As Humble Sea grew into a custom 10 barrel system from ABE, and into a new space and taproom on the Westside of Santa Cruz proper, their popularity grew as well. My position expanded from Assistant Brewer to just plain Brewer— a promotion in the beer world. We brewed our asses off in order to supply various accounts, and festivals, as well as our own tap room, and egos. Those two years were intense. Things blew up, people got hurt, valuable connections were made, lessons learned, major events were attended, and the parties grew almost as fast as the tensions.
Things ended with Humble Sea rather suddenly. Some friends at Shanty Shack Brewing extended their hand to me and I spent a few very enjoyable months serving their beer and crushing their grain. I learned a lot from that experience in terms of the brewery I wanted to be. It was such a stark contrast from where I had just been. The pressure to expand astronomically was off, the atmosphere was comfortable and genuine.
I left Shanty Shack to work with some crazy coffee guys at Bottleneck Solutions. They are a contract facility making high quality kegged cold brew for discerning clients, as well as sparkling botanical tea in a can, and kombucha. I had worked with Trey, the CEO during some collaborations at Humble Sea, and his passion for making the best possible cold brew using repurposed brewing equipment intrigued me. It was here I learned the highs and lows of contracting, how to can things that don't want to be canned, and the never ending versatility of anything that has a triclamp fitting.
the freedom to focus on quality and style
While my departure from Humble Sea was messy, my time there was the most illuminating when it came to the inner workings of start up breweries. I know now what it takes out of you to start a brewery, and I know exactly what the brewing industry looks like; the good and the bad. Had I seriously tried to start a brewery 2 1/2 years ago, it would have been so much more innocent and immature. I'm sure it would have grown, but it would look so much different than it does today.
So what does it look like today? We've settled on the simplest form of a brewing business we could think of; a gypsy brewery. Gypsy brewing is the off-color industry term for a brewer or brand that does not have its own space. Instead, the gypsy brewer forms a contract, know as an alternating proprietorship, with an existing brewery in order to use their equipment, space and resources.
Gypsy breweries have a generally negative connotation in the brewing industry because they are seen as brewers who elected to skirt the hard work, sacrifice, and stress involved involved in opening your own brewing facility. We believe that viewpoint is changing as the brewing industry grows. There is no shortage of brewing facilities these days. In fact, we're approaching a point in the industry in which opening such a facility is less viable. With so many facilities opening and planning for future growth, there is a lot of unused capacity. A lot of unused capacity means a lot of lost money. Gypsy brewers help fill out vacancies without contributing to the problem of overcrowding. I'll write more about this relationship more as we gain insight.
The main attraction of gypsy brewing for me, is the freedom to focus on quality and style. With less overhead comes less of a pressure to play the hits, so to speak. Effigy doesn't have to rely on brewing 50% double IPAs in order to keep the doors open because it has no doors. That's not to say that we won't brew any crowd pleasers, but our main focus will be on low-ABV, mixed culture beers, raw beers, and seasonally inspired ales and lagers.
Most importantly, gypsy brewing is the model that gets Effigy beer to you in the shortest amount of lead time. We aim to have a glass of our beer in your hand by early next year.
Stay tuned for the rest of the story.