Wilderness Brewing Co., a ragtag band of San Francisco homebrew pirates, reassembled this weekend for the first time since December 2013 to brew a backyard batch of “Night Swim” west coast-style IPA. We emerged from exile because founding member, Curse of the Derse, is getting married in October and we understood it would be our duty to offer an ultra-premium keg of Wilderness Beer at his wedding rehearsal dinner. “Night Swim” was his old tomcat OK Cupid screen name when he lured in Alison, so it was the perfect moniker for this offering.
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Wilderness Brewing Co. was originally a project Bartlett, Derse, Brennan and I started in the halcyon days of 2012 with nothing more than two plastic buckets and a handwritten IPA recipe from the legendary Griz (R.I.P.) of SF Brewcraft. Brewing (or “cooking” as we call it) mostly occurred in obscurity at Bartlett’s Bernal Heights garage on Saturday nights. His cozy neighborhood was a wonderful location because all the bored old married dudes in the neighborhood would smell the hops in the air and find an excuse to walk past the driveway to talk shop with us and share tales of their own brewing adventures. It was community building at its finest.
In the beginning, we screwed up every batch. But if the beer got us drunk when it was ready to drink a few weeks later, it was deemed a success. That was our only measure of quality. In time, our technique improved and our brews started getting good. Really good. We couldn’t brew it fast enough to keep up with demand.
Our first legitimate step toward developing our own beer brand was when we created a label for our bottles. Initially, it seemed impossible to find a cost-effective way to do this since all the custom labels available on the Internet actually cost more than the $.80 or so it cost to brew each beer. Our solution was pure genius – we slapped a brown piece of packing tape to each bottle and then stamped it with a custom rubber stamp of the Wilderness logo that Derse designed. The result was simple, effective, and rugged – a perfect representation of the Wilderness ethos.
As the male readers of this website can attest, the outcome of any serious hobby is typically an equally serious collection of gear. Beer brewing is no exception. After about 8 months, we amassed enough brewing apparatus to justify writing an article called The Wilderness Guide to Essential Brewing Equipment. This think-piece cataloged our Craigslist collection of prosumer gear that we felt was essential to brewing success – including our “brewer’s vault” and “job site” radio.
The pinnacle of the Wilderness experience was likely the “Beer Happening” event we threw under the giant redwood trees at Big Sur; one of the most iconic destinations in California. This several day Woodstock-esque camping party on the coast was attended by friends from all over California and featured two kegs of Wilderness ale that we kept chilled in the mountain waters of Big Sur river. The weekend is also perhaps best remembered as the setting for the classic What Up Mang music video, “Achy Breaky Heart,” (co-staring Horse), which features a brief cameo from “Sweatpea,” the 1976 Mercedes-Benz RV later featured in our Smoothspin Does the Grateful Dead video.
Like most things in San Francisco, Wilderness was ultimately a victim of the tech bubble and those goddamn Google buses. Members of our crew began to move to the East Bay in 2014 in search of affordable home ownership, thus dispersing our core group around the Bay Area. Initially, we made plans to get together on either side of the Bay to continue regular brews, but ultimately the distance was too great and we never reconvened. Our last cook was the infamous Wilderness employee Christmas party in mid-December 2013 in Brennan’s garage.
Is there hope for the future of Wilderness? One bright spot from this week’s brew was Nycz, an old friend, newcomer to the city, and fellow-brewer, officially joining us. He might be the catalyst we need to pick up the pieces. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, enjoy some photos from our Sunday afternoon cook in the backyard.