Interview: Brew Revolution co-founder Andy NewbomPhoto courtesy of Andy Newbom
Andy Newbom and wife Nanelle founded Barefoot Coffee Roasters before falling for beer and moving to El Salvador to open the country’s first craft brewery, Brew Revolution. The couple debuted a brewery and bar in the tiny Salvadoran surf village of Playa El Tunco on June 1, 2012. The couple describes Brew Revolution as a “mix of punk rock, California and Belgian style ales, and Salvadoran ingredients and attitude.” Recently, they launched a Kickstarter Campaign to expand efforts. On January 2, Andy Newbom took time to share hop fueled insights.
Why move to El Salvador, and why switch from coffee to beer?
We used to own Barefoot Coffee Roasters in San Jose, CA. We were 100% Direct Trade and so we visited all our farmers several times a year. I personally focused on Central America and so traveled around the region for about 6 years before moving here. I took my wife and 4 year old daughter on a surprise 21st anniversary trip to Central America. We spent 3 weeks traveling around the region and visiting our friends and farmers in Guatemala and El Salvador. My wife and daughter fell in love with El Salvador. We made the trip again about 16 months later also with my older sons and again everyone fell in love with El Savador.
In 2009, between those trips, we met the local Bay Area distributor of a lot of Belgian beers including Russian River and Ommegang. I did not really much like beers that much before then. We did a trade for a bunch of coffee for a case of Belgian beers. We loved them all and we awestruck by the flavors and variety and complexity. And THEN we drank Russian River Salvation. Our life was changed. My wife and I were mindblown. I knew at that moment that I had to learn how to make a beer like that. Within a month we started brewing at home and visiting every brewery we could find in the area. I approached beer like I approached coffee and cooking before that (I was a chef for 6 years) with absolute laser focus and obsession. I read every book I could find, studied, drank like a maniac and went Craft Beer crazy.
In 2010 we had started working on the idea of opening a Barefoot Coffee in El Salvador with some our farmer partners. So we went back and forth quite a bit in addition to our normal farm visits. My wife and I were brewing now all grain 15-gallon batches every single week and loving it. We were not looking to sell Barefoot but at what seemed like perfect timing an old friend approached us with an active buyer. Long story is we ended up selling Barefoot and getting out of the rat race. We were tired of the intensity of Bay Area living and wanted something simpler and more fun. So we sold literally everything we owned besides some clothes, 4 duffel bags of beer and coffee gear and jumped ship.
We were here for about a year before we 100% realized that what we really needed to do (cause we are crazy entrepreneurs) is open the first Craft Brewery and make American style ales with Salvadoran flavors and ingredients. So we did on June 1, 2012
In what ways does your coffee experience help you with producing beer?
Coffee, Cooking and Cerveza are fundamentally the same basic principles and the same science and art. Namely: Ingredients are core. Nothing you can do can truly overcome the raw ingredients. Use the best quality and you get the best quality result.
Flavor is king. What really matters is that is taste freaking awesome. Not what style it is, what roast level it is or anything else. If it tastes fantastic we did it right.
Science and art are equal. You must take intense science principles, chemistry, and processes in order to produce true culinary art.
So both cooking food and roasting and preparing coffee have amazing similarities to brewing beer. Obviously coffee and malt are both grains so there are a lot of similarities. Plus we are brewing crazy flavorful beers
Is there anybody who’s been a beer mentor, and in what ways?
Quite a few. The gentleman who gave us that first magical case of Belgian beers who started the fire. Then one of our managers James Warren who had been home brewing for many years helped a lot. We also were fortunate to get to do some brewing with the awesome guys at Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz and Linden St Brewers in Oakland.
Our idols in Craft Beer are Sam Calagione at Dogfish Head and the whole team at Russian River.
What was the first beer that you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?
Our first beer we brewed was an American style Amber ale we called American HellYeah. It was not an IPA but more of a Belgian style American Amber with a lot of complex malts. It turned out fantastic as most peoples first batches do. Our second batch turned out horrible. But we learned and got better.
How do you and Nanelle divide up the Brew Revolution duties?
We both work full time in the business. When we owned Barefoot Nanelle was a police Officer so it was mostly me. Now we get to work together which is awesome. We actually both brew beers and do a lot of things together. Mostly I am in charge of beer and marketing and she is in charge of staff and wholesale clients.
What’s the criteria for a beer you brew at Brew Revolution?
Brew Revolution is brewing American style Craft Beer in El Salvador. Our mission is to brew to terroir reflecting the unique and flavorful land, water, fruits, flowers and spirit of where we brew our ales. We combine the California and Belgian styles of brewing beer, emphasizing seasonal and local ingredients, and complex flavors. All of our ales are made with pure water, malted barley (malta), American Hops (lupulo) and brewers yeast (levadura) but never cheap adjuncts like corn or rice. Each of our beers has a uniquely Salvadoran character. Sometimes we add a bit of local honey, rosa de jamaica, panela, manzanas pedorras, nispero, pineapple, marracuya, loroco or other tropical ingredients to bring the full flavor and feeling of our beloved El Salvador to our beers and to your glass.
What’s your top selling beer, and why do you think that’s the case?
It is a tie between our Mercurio IPA and our Venus Wit. The Mercurio is an El Salvador style IPA made with a ton of hops and Dulce de Panela. It is a great balance of bitter grapefruit and sweet caramel. The Venus Wit is a tropicalized Belgian Wit beer made with passionfruit and pineapple. It is crisp, refreshing and dry. Salvadorans are loving our crazy intense flavors and that we make all our beers with some taste of El Salvador. People everywhere like great tasting things better than crappy ones.
How do you go about naming your beers?
We named them after Greek gods. That way there is no American name, no way to screw up a local legend or Mayan god etc. Everyone knows something about the Greek Gods and that makes the names be easier to grasp but still VERY unique and different.
What was the most recent beer that you brewed, and what was your inspiration and approach?
We brewed a Double Chocolate Stout for Christmas. It ended up being a hefty 8.6% ABV 48 IBUs and so freaking delicious. We worked with a local chocolate company and used raw cacao, chocolate powder and chocolate bars, plus coffee, malt, rye, wheat and oats. It was my take on a chocolate covered cherry and an espresso for breakfast. It tastes exactly like that. We sold all 600 bottles in less than 3 weeks.. And they sold for $6 for a 330ml bottle.
Where is your beer available?