Last fall, I organized a collective of local Steelers fans to pre-party at a bar in the Mission before heading to a Monday night football game against the 49ers at Candlestick Park. Everybody around us was buzzing about the special charter bus I had booked for the event. We had to keep this custom-made ride on the DL, though, since seating was limited to 26 people.
When the 40-foot converted school bus pulled up, my friends’ jaws dropped in unison. We climbed on board and were greeted by a planter box full of seasonal flowers to the left of the steps. Beyond that, the seating had been rearranged into benches flanking the walls. The raised ceiling was outfitted with five pop-up skylights. The big draw, however, was in the back, where a bar with six beer taps hosted a distinguished selection of artisan ales.
As we barreled through San Francisco on this unique ride, it was fun watching the reactions of bewildered pedestrians and motorists. Our troupe brought to mind Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, who once gallivanted around the country in their bus nicknamed “Further.” Our Further was called “brewtruc,” though, and our magic elixir was strictly limited to craft beer.
Hugh Schick is the visionary behind brewtruc. I met him while working as a bartender at Magnolia Pub & Brewery a few years ago, and it was obvious that he was all about craft beer.
The mobile taproom concept was originally born out of a mobile restaurant. A few years back, Hugh created the first of its kind food truck called Le Truc . While most snack carts were serving people on the street, Hugh had converted a school bus into a mini kitchen and dining room and invited guests on board. He was determined to figure out how to properly acquire a restaurant liquor license for Le Truc , even though this unprecedented idea would be a difficult sell to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
After some investigation, Hugh learned that the Public Utilities Commission grants the authority to offer booze on limos. The news struck him like a lightning rod. “If I can serve alcohol on a vehicle because it’s considered a limousine, why don’t I just convert another bus, build out a bar, and serve beer?” Ten months later, brewtruc was born.
Hugh runs brewtruc with his business partner, Phil Cutti, who is moving into the beer business with his label Muddy Puddle, and the help of Patrick Horn of Pac Brew Laboratories. While in transit to the ballgame, I got to know these brewers better and learned more about nanobreweries, which are fully licensed and regulated breweries that produce very small batches of beer. (Nanobreweries can become microbreweries or brewpubs as their production volumes increase.)
“There are currently 70 odd nanobreweries in the U.S. and another 50 homebrewers who will soon gain legal status to become nanobrewers,” Patrick explained. His Pac Brew Laboratories is one of SF’s fastest growing nanobreweries; and Phil is on track to attain a nanobrewery license for Muddy Puddle. Brewtruc helps nanobrewers and homebrewers promote their creations in a private mobile living room.
Both Phil and Patrick make incredible and oftentimes experimental beers reminiscent of Sam Calagione’s Dogfish Head brewery. While we chatted, I sipped on a pint of Patrick’s Squid Ink, a subdued black IPA blended with the toasty flavor of coffee and chocolate malt.
Going down the line of taps being served, brewtruc was offering up a number of beers that you can’t find elsewhere. They had a Bacon Brown Ale created by Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz, who threw an entire smoked pig into the mash tun. Brewtruc also procured two kegs from one of the hottest up-and-coming breweries in the country, Golden Road Brewing, based out of LA. (Golden Road brews an IPA and a Hefeweizen lighter in alcohol content for these styles of beer yet is still full of flavor.) Magnolia Pub & Brewery’s Proving Ground IPA rounded out the West Coast offerings, while Santa’s Little Helper, from Danish label Mikkeller, served as a reminder that European beers deserve a place in any world-class lineup.
When we arrived at the stadium parking lot, fellow pre-gamers started to circle around us. With a slight grin, Patrick whispered to me, “Are you ready for this?” There was an audible gasp among the tailgaters as he popped off an exterior back panel of the bus to reveal an outer six-line tap system – and started serving perfectly poured pints of beer to our group.
There’s no limit to the type of event you can arrange with brewtruc. They’ll roll up to your front lawn to give your BBQ an extra boost, whisk your group away to wine country, or take you on a custom journey of vistas around the city. Brewtruc will also be hosting various nonprofit-sponsored beer gardens in the coming months.
The Candlestick Park tailgate party was such a success I decided to ramp up the possibilities of what brewtruc could offer and hire them for a second event.
For round two, I envisioned using the bus as a shuttle between two clandestine dining locations. I got in touch with Stag Dining Group, who host sustainable underground meals in sophisticated (but not stuffy) environments – I knew if anyone could help me pull off an idea as nutty as this one, it would be them. Another fellow nut, Carl Sutton of Sutton Cellars, agreed to host half our event in his winery, while The Hub signed on as our second location.
The brewtruc looped between the two venues throughout the course of the night, transporting small groups between SOMA and the Dogpatch. In addition to the craft beers, Hugh served up an amuse-bouche that included a reduction of Sutton Cellar’s Sonoma Apple Cider. Chef Jordan Grosser of Stag, in tandem with the former head chef of Facebook, Tim West, offered perfectly paired courses such as pastrami ribs, cheese soup, and oxtail sliders. The band Chicken Paw added warmth to The Hub with its hypnotically twangy music that’s uncategorizable – much like the event that we managed to pull off.
It has taken half a century for the idea of craft beer to rebound from the effects of Prohibition. The number of homebrewers is now quickly on the rise, making corporate beer distributors very nervous. Many homebrewers in the U.S. are on the cusp of legitimacy, applying for the official status of nanobrewers. However, Hugh believes there are indications that the California ABC is starting to go after homebrewers by restricting the consumption of these beers outside of private homes.
Since brewtruc is governed by the Public Utilities Commission, homebrew prohibitions don’t apply to Hugh’s bus. That means with the exception of privately judged competitions, brewtruc has essentially become the only legally sanctioned place to consume homebrew, allowing craft beer connoisseurs to get sneak previews of the beers of the future.
Hugh is part of a growing movement working to create legally acceptable private venues for homebrews. If that’s not reason enough to climb on board the brewtruc, then let the beer do the coaxing.
If you are thinking about pioneering your own brewtruc adventure, call (415) 926-5060 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hugh will accommodate parties of up to 26 in the bus. The price of hiring the bus fluctuates depending on how adventurous you want to get, but the base is $30 a person, plus fees for a driver and mileage.
Watch a video about the moveable feast event with brewtruc below.