“I compare our beer line with a soap opera,” says Alex Tweet, brewer and co-owner of Berkeley’s Fieldwork Brewing. “I think you have to kill off some main characters here and there to keep it exciting. Game of Thrones would suck if no one died.”
Tweet is referring specifically to Petit Verdot, a Fieldwork beer that went through some major evolution to become the 6.7 percent ABV Grand Gose it is today. Tweet liked the “leathery, inky, tobacco-y greatness” that Petit Verdot grapes imparted, but added Cabernet Franc to bridge the acidity. It’s a personal victory, which means he must destroy it.
“I really enjoy killing off a beer when it’s at its peak of fandom — if for no other reason than I can,” Tweet says. “With that said, it pretty much is like a soap opera, and it will come back.
“I like that level of uncertainty for beers,” he adds. “It makes it more engaging, more fun, more exciting.”
Half-serious megalomaniacal tendencies notwithstanding, Tweet has an admirable approach to brewing beer that prizes constant improvement over consistency. Small batches — many canning runs number only 3,000 or so — add to this ethos. And, like a doomed ex-lover on Days of Our Lives who may reappear in a flashback or the fever-dream of a medically induced coma, nothing’s necessarily gone forever.
Since its founding in West Berkeley in 2014, Tweet and co-owner Barry Braden quickly expanded Fieldwork to four satellite taprooms: in Sacramento, Napa, Monterey, and San Mateo. Built from shipping containers, the newly opened San Mateo location is a 10,000-square-foot facility on the site of a former racetrack that Braden says “dwarfs anything else we’ve done.” It’s got a bocce court, 30 tap lines, and a food menu, plus it’s conveniently located 200 yards from a planned Caltrain station, and even closer to the headquarters of SurveyMonkey, whose workers tend to fill it up quickly on a Friday afternoon such as this. A Whole Foods is nearby, and a Roam Burger and Blue Bottle Coffee will open in the months to come. The artisanal-food desert several miles south of Downtown San Mateo is trending oasis-ward.
In the meantime, the open-air taproom is a great place to drink a Green Rest, a double IPA brewed with Simcoe hops for a pine-and-grapefruit finish that embodies Tweet’s “balancing act” with between reproducibility and incremental improvement. If served the day it’s kegged, it’s good, he says. But after three to five days, it “pops much brighter.” Waiting almost a week isn’t always the easiest when stocks run low, however.
“We’re looking at the tap list like it’s a video game,” Tweet says, referring to a character’s energy level or health bar. “We’re getting beat up and sitting there going, ‘We got this energy thing, and we need it!’ It’s hard not to say, ‘Put it on.’ We have to remind ourselves that it pays dividends to hold the beers back. The difference between the day we kegged it and day five is night and day.”
Fieldwork doesn’t filter or centrifuge its beers — “it’s not wrong, but it’s not what we do,” Tweet says — so the beer is very much alive, and varies from batch to batch. Counterintuitive though it may seem, Tweet professes admiration for Budweiser, whose producers can get it to taste the same no matter where in the world it was made.
Fair enough — but isn’t Bud, well, shit?
“I love it, and I know it’s not the right thing to say,” Tweet says. “It is shit, but I happen to love that shit. I’m a firm believer in ‘different strokes for different folks.’ I always teach our staff the phrase ‘Just not for me.’ I love Bud Light. For me, why compete in that realm? I’d rather compete where our strength is, which is process improvement and exploration.”
There is a downside to this sense of playfulness, and that is the vicissitudes of the human palate. Even a standardized product with a simple flavor profile will taste different to people based on what they ate or drank, how much of it, and where — to say nothing of crop years for the barley and the malt that went into a beer. But by forgoing a certain aesthetic reliability, Tweet is introducing more variables into the experience — and this risks losing customers who aren’t getting what they want when they want it.
“We’re in the entertainment business,” Tweet says, contextualizing the enjoyment of a given beer with the network of taprooms Fieldwork has built. “Not the alcohol business. At the end of the day, that’s what people want.”
That extends to doing what he himself may dislike, in order to make people happy. While refusing to name it, Tweet and Braden admit that they hate one of their “most-requested” beers. And Tweet further offers that the best piece of criticism he ever got was when someone in the industry whom he respected told him that this beer was, in fact, terrible. The fact that the guy felt he could be so honest indicated that Tweet had earned his respect.
“I liked having someone I admire tell me that something I did sucked,” he says. “It was kind of cool.”
Tweet snuffs out his beers with the cold zeal of a cyborg sent from the future, yet that one beer won’t disappear forever — possibly because he’s more of a softie than he lets on, reluctant to be a true buzzkill. In the meantime, Fieldwork is moving forward with hoppy pilsners like Outdoor and dry-hopped lagers like Casa de Citra, whose distinctive graphic can labels Tweet and Braden say are part of the company’s “Grandma’s wallpaper” line.
“The one thing a lot of people don’t realize about brewers is, the first choice will always be a pilsener,” Tweet says. “It’s the best: so nuanced, such subtlety. They’re gonna get a lot of love.
“Every week, there’s at least one new beer,” he adds. “I killed off probably a third of our rotating beers this week, just because I felt it was time for a shakeup — like a Game of Thrones episode where all these people die and you’re pissed at the producers, but guess what? Viewership’s going to be at an all-time-high next week.”
Fieldwork Brewing, 3030 South Delaware St., San Mateo, fieldworkbrewing.com