GOOD BREWS WINDSOR MAN MAKES BEER WITH CHARACTER
Published on September 6, 1995
© 1995- The Press Democrat
BYLINE: Tim Fish
Staff Writer PAGE: D1
Anheuser-Busch brews more in an hour than Brian Hunt will in a lifetime, but
then no one will mistake Hunt's Moonlight Pale Lager for Budweiser.
Dethroning the king is not an issue for Moonlight Brewing Co., or any of the
nearly 40 specialty brewing companies pouring Friday at Something's brewing, the
annual tasting to benefit the Sonoma County Museum.
What is the issue is making lively, distinctive beers and ales.
``A lot of people don't want a new draft ice dry every month. There are plenty
of people who look beyond bikini commercials,'' Hunt says. ``I make beer that I
want to drink and hope there will be enough people out there who have the same
It's a modest business plan, yet a growing number of beer drinkers are seeing it
Hunt's way. Sales of specialty craft brews have increased nearly 40 percent
annually in America during the past five years.
Brews like Samuel Adams, Anchor Steam, Red Hook and Red Tail Ale are no longer
oddities on the shelves, plus Northern California has a new generation of brew
makers like Moonlight, North Coast Brewing Co., Dempsey's, Humes Brewing Co. and
the Santa Rosa Brewing Co., to name a few.
When it began three years ago, Moonlight lived up to its name, but today Hunt
spends ``nine days a week'' toiling at his one-man brewery in a weathered barn
behind his house near Windsor. One day a week he crosses the west mountains to
Napa, where he does consulting for Downtown Joe's Brewery.
``It's definitely a low-budget, scrounge sort of brewery,'' Hunt says of
Moonlight. ``I've got parts from 18 different breweries in here. It takes me
more labor to make a batch of beer because I don't have 2,000 bells and
whistles, but thousands of years ago they didn't have bells and whistles, and
they made great beer.''
Hunt brews between 25 and 35 barrels a week. While Moonlight isn't available in
bottles, it's on tap at Gaffney's Wine Bar, Willowside Cafe, Inn at the
Beginning, Jerk's Pizza, The Wine Exchange of Sonoma, Silverado Tavern, to list
a few, plus a dozen bars and restaurants around the San Francisco Bay.
The three main brews are Moonlight Pale Lager, a light beer with the gourmet
beer drinker in mind, matching a delicate body with distinctive malt and hop
characters; Twist of Fate Bitter Ale, a dark amber ale with strong hop flavors;
and Death & Taxes Black Beer, which isn't a stout but an inky dark lager that
has a more delicate body and flavor than you might expect.
Fans of American beers like Coors and Bud are quick to dismiss brews like
Moonlight as dark and heavy monsters. It doesn't have to be so, says Hunts, who
points to the new popularity of hand-crafted wheat beers, lighter beers with
character that Europeans have traditionally consumed on warm summer days.
``It's not that I just like heavy-bodied, dark full flavors,'' Hunt says. ``I
made Death & Taxes to prove that dark beers don't have to be stronger. There's a
time and a place for lighter bodied beer.''
Graduating from the University of California, Davis, with a degree in brewing,
he began making beer in 1980.
``My first job was with Schlitz in Milwaukee,'' Hunt says. ``That was the old
Schlitz brewery, and it was a fascinating place. But the beer had no character.
And I like to see character.''
Later, Hunt was brewmaster for the short-lived Santa Rosa brewery Excelsior and
now admits ``I wasn't entirely satisfied with how the beer turned out.'' He was
also the start-up consultant for Anderson Valley Brewing in Philo.
Hunt and his beer are a good fit; neither is particularly ordinary. Tall, with a
graying beard and a ponytail, he's a character with an easy but dusty dry wit.
Consider how he names and describes his own beers, like Twist of Fate or Death &
He calls his Old Combine Four-Grain Ale ``a very weird beer but it's darn
good.'' Then there's the Mandolin Red Lager, which he explains this way: ``I
wanted a beer to taste like a mandolin sounds. If people read this and say I'm
weird -- OK, I am.''
As for the future, well, Hunt is plenty happy the way things are. ``I'm not
making any money,'' he jests, ``but that's beside the point.''
One thing the future will not hold is bottled Moonlight. Hunt is devoted to keg
``Bottling is a cruel thing to do to beer,'' Hunt says. ``I'm not willing to
sacrifice the quality of the beer for convenience. I'm not that desperate.''