Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream Brewing & Business Experienceship: A Q&A with ChuckAlek Independent Brewers

As part of the Brewing the American Dream program, craft brewers nationwide have the opportunity to apply for the Samuel Adams Brewing & Business Experienceship. Through the Experienceship, each year one craft brewer is selected and provided the opportunity to experience extended coaching and mentoring from the Samuel Adams team, access to beer industry events, and the opportunity to brew a collaboration beer with us at the Boston Brewery.

2014 Samuel Adams Longshot American Home Brew Contest

This year’s Experienceship winner is founder and head brewer Grant Fraley and co-founder and CEO Marta Jankowska of ChuckAlek Independent Brewers. ChuckAlek Independent Brewers opened its doors in January of 2013 in Ramona, CA. Named after their grandfathers, Chuck and Alek, the brewery pulls some of the past into the present by creating “Old School Beers for New School Palates,” with a particular focus on porters and stouts. We had a chance to chat with them about how they got into the craft beer industry, what they’re currently brewing, and how Brewing the American Dream has had an impact on their brewery.

Q: How did you get into brewing?

A (Grant): I got started brewing at home several years ago when I first moved to San Diego.  I got interested in doing more European and classic styles while pursuing my master’s degree in Geographic Information Science over in Germany and Austria.

Q: When did you make the jump into starting your own brewery?

A (Grant):  Marta and I were really interested in exploring different styles of beer that weren’t readily available in San Diego. You can get triple IPAs, double IPAs, black IPAs – they’re all so prevalent. We were brewing a lot of British and German styles at home and we were like hey – this isn’t really being done, so there was a good opportunity to bring underrepresented styles to San Diego craft beer drinkers. We opened ChuckAlek Independent Brewers with help from friends and family, but most of it we built out on our own, including the brew house.

Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced?

A (Marta): One of the biggest challenges we faced was articulating our identity. One of the best pieces of advice we got from a friend in the beer industry is that we needed to form a very clear story as to who we are and our mission. There are already so many breweries in San Diego, so if we just went into it saying “hey, we make awesome beers” we might be OK, but no one would really notice us.  That really took us some time.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of owning your own brewery?

A (Marta):  It’s a lot of fun! We get so many customers come in who are blown away. People come in and the first thing they ask us is “what’s your IPA?”  We have to divert them and say, we don’t do an IPA, but we do some of the best porters in San Diego County and you should really try one. You see the doubt in their face, but then they try it and say “Oh my gosh, it’s so good!” We get multiple people like that in a day. It’s fun to challenge San Diego’s taste buds a bit.

Q: Your brewery specializes in recovering, reviving, and recreating heritage craft brews – what are examples of some of the styles you have brought back?

A (Marta):  This year we did a historical beer project called the Archives Series, which traces the history of porters and stouts from 1804 all the way up to 1933. It’s been really fun – we’ve been working closely with beer historian Ronald Pattinson. Ron helped us by consulting on various beer styles and recipes, making sure our recipes were as accurate as possible. He also joined us in a collaboration project we did with Stone Brewing Co. – an East India Porter called Colonel Sykes.

Q: How has the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream (BTAD) program helped support your brewery?

A (Grant): We didn’t sell our beer outside of the tasting room for the first six months or so. We decided that we wanted to use some of our brewing capacity to get our beer out into the marketplace, and that was about the time we received the loan through BTAD. We used that loan to help purchase our first couple dozen kegs, and to hire a part-time sales representative to go out and land some of our initial accounts. Now we’ve gone from half a dozen draft accounts to more than three dozen draft accounts. We’ve also gotten some great coaching on marketing and media outreach – it has been useful advice for how we want to represent and market our brand.

Q: What are you looking forward to about the Experienceship?

A (Grant/Marta): Coming to Boston of course!  We can’t wait to see the brewery, soak in all of the advice we can get our hands on, and get some good feedback from Jim Koch about the next steps to take. We’re also looking forward to the collaboration beer – we’re hoping to do a Revolution Era Porter or Stout, something that could really dig into the history of Samuel Adams and Boston while showcasing the types of beer styles we are best at.

Want to learn more about ChuckAlek Independent Brewers? Visit their website.