Fullerton micro brewery stresses small batches, fresh products and local appeal.
In a moist brewery room filled with the aroma of barley and hops, Aaron Barkenhagen pulls a sample of the amber hued Golden Chaos Ale straight from the tank.
“The devil is in the details,” Barkenhagen says as he tips his nose to the mason jar and inhales. “We make sure of the consistency with every batch.”
Aaron founded Bootlegger’s in 2008 when it was one of the first micro breweries in Orange County. With the growing popularity of craft beer, it is now one of dozens.
Craft breweries make up about 97 percent of the total number of breweries in the U.S., and the market continues growing. The remaining three percent represents mainstream brewers, according to the Brewers Association, and even they are cashing in on the craft beer craze with brews like Bud Light Golden Wheat, Shock Top and Michelob Black Bock. Though they only represents three percent of U.S. breweries, mainstream brewers produce about 83 percent of the barrels sold nationwide.
Produced in small batches, craft brews focus on non-traditional blends while placing an emphasis on local ingredients. Bootlegger’s is no exception.
Their humble beginnings are similar to other local microbreweries. Barkenhagen started as a home brewer while studying business at CSU Fullerton.
“Bootlegger’s was actually [Aaron’s] senior project,” said Aaron’s wife and co-founder, Patricia. “Part of the program is to make your own small business, so this basically started at Cal State Fullerton.”
Bootlegger’s now boasts more than 1,000 accounts across Southern California ranging from grocery stores to bars.
“What was funny is when we got 20 accounts we were so excited. We thought we hit the jackpot,” Patricia said.
In order to be considered an actual micro brewer, annual barrel production must be less than 12 million kegs, according to the Brewers Association.
Keeping this in mind, Barkenhagen only distributes in California and prefers to keep his business regional. Their motto, “Drink fresh, drink local,” is emblazoned on every case of beer they sell.
“We keep our accounts close to home where we can manage it and be certain that our beer out there is the freshest possible, so that kind of drives our whole philosophy,” says Aaron. “In keeping with that local context, we really try to get involved in the local community as much as possible so that people see us as their local brewery and identify with it.”
Part of what makes a craft brewery unique is that it is constantly trying new concoctions, Aaron said. He attributes the shift away from mainstream beers to the customer’s desire for a sense of community.
“People are starting to gravitate towards local independents,” said Aaron as he looked out at the new reflective tanks in his brewery, a far cry from the two wooden ones he began with.
“They want to find a place that has a good product, a good story to tell and something they can be proud of being connected with,” he said.
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