Warped Brewing Company is a new, small brewing venture rooted in Sebastopol, California. You might be wondering why we’re interviewing a brewery on a website about music and video games, but when you realize that Warped draws inspiration for its beers from the classic era of arcade gaming, it makes perfect sense that I took some time to interview co-owner Noah (who shares the business equally with his wife Mirjam). I’ve eaten in their restaurant, but not sampled their beers, so I had a trusted friend take a trip to sip on each of their three offerings. When he confirmed the quality, I knew it was of greatest importance that we feature this brewery before word gets out elsewhere.
You’ve owned and operated a restaurant and pub for a while now. When did you decide to make the jump to brewing your own beers?
I wanted to do a pub where food was a centerpiece, where everything is under 15 bucks, good portions, and scratch. Barley is a restaurant first.
It was always part of the master plan. When my wife and I opened Barley and Hops Tavern (Mirjam and I are a team, every “us” refers to both of us, she deserves at least half the credit, probably more) – we had done so with the brewery in mind. One of the hardest things in a craft beer hotspot like Sonoma County, we reasoned, would be to get handle placement when there are so many great options (and pushy distributors). Having our own pub would allow us to become our own best customer. This is not to say that Barley and Hops was merely to be a stepping stone for Warped, we wanted to do this pub – a place where you can get (exclusively) craft beer and 100% scratch cooking. It’s extraordinarily tough to find a pub with 1) a great beer list AND 2) great food. If you manage to find one, it’s usually expensive, or the portions are really small. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE high-end dining with a beer focus. But I wanted to do a pub where food was a centerpiece, where everything is under 15 bucks, good portions, and scratch. Barley is a restaurant first. So the town we’re in, Occidental, has a lot of water issues. Getting sewer hookups and water approval would be pretty much impossible, so we were forced to look elsewhere. The nearby town of Sebastopol’s Barlow turned out to be (we’re hoping) the right spot. Long answer to a short question – sorry. Yeah, brewing was always the plan. I started homebrewing over 14 years ago when my wife (then girlfriend) made the… mistake… of buying me a homebrew kit.
With your pub and brewery separated by a short drive, would you like to eventually relocate and have both in the same space? The location in Occidental is very inviting and has its own charm, but is the travel between the two an issue?
Well, I live in Occidental, and the brewery is only 15 minutes away, so it’s not really a big deal. I do whatever I have to at Barley and Hops early in the day before heading to the brewery. I’m mainly focusing on the brewery, and Mirjam is focusing on the restaurant, so it works out. I don’t plan on relocating the brewery – if there is ever an expansion, it would be a larger production site, but I’d keep the 10bbl as the tasting room.
Your brewery’s theme is classic arcade games. Do you have any particular favorites?
Well, I built the bar out of arcade marquees that I’ve been collecting, and ebay-ing. But my theme is actually gaming. It’s what younger people (I’m 36) might call retro-gaming, but these are the games I grew up with, I still play them. I also play Xbox – I’m not just into the classics. For Arcade games, my favorites are a long list – some of them are: Tempest, Star Wars, Crystal Castles, Paperboy, Rygar, Q*Bert, Crossbow… there are dozens I love. Anything Pac-Man – I have a massive Pac-Man collection (though no arcade cabinet) that I’ll be putting on display when I get together some money for display cases. There are easter eggs in the logo, keg rings, etc… The logo makes commodore 64 fans smile. One out of about 1000 customers gets it.
As a fan of newer games, are there any impending releases you’re excited about?
I’m not into multiplayer, so I like to wait until a game gets cheap – I don’t do a lot of new releases. I’m playing through the 360 games I missed (working through the Assassin’s Creed series right now) before jumping on the Xbox One bandwagon. There are exceptions – I’ll be first in line to get anything Elder Scrolls (though not the MMO), Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Fallout, or Bioshock. As for upcoming games, I am looking forward to the next Witcher game, Mad Max, Watch Dogs, Lords of the Fallen, etc… I’m also always following indie games that are available on console (Brothers was a favorite last year). I don’t use Steam, because my PC is dated right now. It’s a bummer, because I’d like to check out The Stanley Parable, The Castle Doctrine, and others. I managed to play Frog Fractions
You’re currently only available on tap in select locations. Will there be plans for bottling your beer in the near future?
My location at the Barlow is extremely tight. There is no room for a bottling line, and I have no fermentor capacity for it anyway. I’d have to expand – maybe someday. I know that a lot of game enthusiasts want some warped to go with an all night CoD session, or (if you’re like me) 12 hours of Skyrim.
Since you’re not doing bottles right now, do you plan on providing growlers at some point so that visitors can take a drink or two home?
Yep! I’m waiting for growler label approval which could take between 10 and 2 trillion days. You can bring a growler (though I won’t fill Russian River growlers – they’ve asked breweries not to) or purchase one, once I can afford to stock them. If you bring a growler, I have to obscure any prior label by law.
Currently you have three different beers. Any additions to the family in the works or are you going to stick with the three for the time being?
Well, I only have four fermentors, one of which doesn’t chill. Therefore, I have to keg everything, and it goes at a rapid rate – it’s tough to sneak in with another beer. I can manage a fourth, which will rotate. Right now, I’m brewing Red Ring of Death for St. Paddy’s day.
To my knowledge, you’re the first brewery with a fixation on the classic era of arcade gaming. What inspired this?
This is what I’m into. I still have an NES hooked up at home in our bedroom.
I’m a big kid. It’s twofold. ‘Merica is awfully pretty which has inspired a lot of breweries to base their branding on geological features (mountains, hills, plains) – or wildlife. I don’t want people to think I’m doing something dramatically different just for the sake of it being different, however. This is what I’m into. I still have an NES hooked up at home in our bedroom. I find myself ocassionally on the defensive when people think I’m trying to capitalize on some gimmick. It’s just my thing. For Ballast Point it’s fish, for Bear Republic it’s race cars, for A-B Inbev and Miller-Coors it’s the tears of kittens and woe, and for me it’s video games.
Because your theme is unique, do you feel a kinship to any other breweries with unconventional themes or are you more interested in the quality of the final product?
The beer industry is almost entirely unlike any other craft industry, in that it is largely anti-competitive. I have a very, very strong kinship with the local craft breweries regardless of theme or style – that’s how this industry has gained ground against macros and crafty (faux-craft) brands like Blue Moon and Shock Top. The brewery across the street (WoodFour) and I went in together on a pallet of kegs. I just washed half a dozen kegs for another local brewery who needed a hand. This is very typical. That said, I do have a certain fondness for other breweries who buck the trend, when done so for good reason. See my favorite brewery, Moonlight. Brian Hunt continually defies style guidelines in a beautiful way.
Have you considered placing classic arcade cabinets in your tasting room and restaurant?
Shout-Out to allyoucanarcade.com – I rent an arcade cabinet for them, which they will trade out as often as monthly if I want. What I’m doing, is whoever gets the highest score gets to choose the next game from what’s available. Right now I have a Millipede. I also own a Gottlieb Aquarius pinball machine which here at the tasting room. I’d like to get an anneversary edition pac-man cocktail table game, but again, money.
Finally, do you listen to music while you brew? If so, what gets you into the right productive space?
Yeah. My Pandora on brewday starts with Buzzcocks and The Cars. I get a good blend of DK, The Specials, The Tubes, maybe some Runnaways, maybe some Vandals for good measure. I have pretty broad taste though. My dad is a blues musician. I like technical music, and loose barely coherent Rolling Stones. I love Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (first and third movement) and Thelonious Monk. Occasional weakness for 80s pop, but only when it’s on the darker side (Talk Talk and Dramarama, not Debbie Gibson). Not really into metal or country, with exceptions for both.
Thanks for your time. I look forward to sampling your beers in the near future.