Matthew Fox is Hopped Up About Alameda Island Brewing Company
A beloved hobby turns into a career for Matthew Fox.
Photo of Fox by Chris Duffey
Matthew Fox, a self-proclaimed beer geek and head brewer of Alameda Island Brewing Company, is ready to spice things up in Alameda. That’s why he opened a new brewery this spring, turning his fondness for beer into a full-time job.
Was the idea of owning a brewery always a dream of yours?
Not always. I brewed beer as a hobby for over six years and really enjoyed it. I started out using kits, and I never made the same beer twice. I found the whole process to be fun and interesting, which led me to trying out new recipes and spices. Then, to my surprise, three years ago, I was approached with the opportunity to open my own brewery. After lots of obstacles and detours—and with the help of Bill Phua, my business partner—the idea was realized. It has also helped having friends in Southern California who own breweries and have been super helpful exposing me to the equipment. I’ve learned that if you have the basic concept, good equipment, and enthusiasm, you can produce a great final beer product. It isn’t often that hobbies can turn into jobs that you love, but in my case it has.
Tell me about your beers.
Right now we have six on tap and a seventh on the way. We work from two house strains and serve five in our sampler flight. Our most popular beer right now seems to be the Cavanaugh Kolsch—named after Cavanaugh Motors, formerly in our building space—which is light, accessible, crisp, and clean. It appeals to almost all palates. The next favorite is probably the Alameda’s IPA, which has a citrus bouquet flavor with a touch of malty caramel sweetness to it. Others include Control, Alt, Delete, a traditional German style (“alt” referring to old); Exiled, a classic German beer nearly extinct in Germany; Sea Haggis, a strong Scotch ale packed full of malt; and Neptunes’s Pale Ale, a hoppy session pale (named after Alameda’s old-time Neptune Beach). We are very excited about our upcoming beer that will be called Park Street Morning. We’re putting dark-roast coffee beans in the fermenter after primary fermentation. It’s going to be a rich, delicious beer.
So, why no food in your brewery?
Since we have so many incredible restaurants and eateries surrounding our brewery, and we welcome customers to bring food into our tasting room, we saw no need to serve food. We aren’t a bar, which allows for all ages to hang out at our place and bring in whatever snacks or meals that anyone wants. Our patio is available, too, which is a popular place to hang out. We may eventually serve small snacks, but we’ll never have a kitchen. The majority of our beer is for wholesale distribution. We are self-distributors right now and are working toward serving the East Bay and eventually beyond. Our tasting room is fun, spacious, and welcoming to all, but it isn’t our primary business. Down the road we want to offer kegs for customers to have access to and possibly rent our space for private parties. As a side note, we’re very proud of our tables in the tasting room. They are made from reclaimed wood from a church in the Haight district in San Francisco. We love the interesting and clean aesthetic that they offer and joke that our tables are holy.
What made you choose Alameda as a place to start your business?
It was actually a no-brainer. My wife is a fifth-generation Alamedan, so we knew there was nowhere else that would offer the supportive spirit that Alamedans are famous for. We are a family business, and Alameda is really just an extension of our family. And with Park Street being so centrally located and booming like it is, we felt really lucky to have such a sweet locale. Our hope is to be symbiotic with all the great restaurants in the area. Of course, were it not for Bill Phua’s belief in what we were doing, we would never be here. Alameda and the rest of the country are really consuming beer again, so we had a feeling that our Island Brewery concept would be enthusiastically embraced.
It seems that beer has really had a comeback.
It definitely has. In the ’90s there was a strong beer movement, and then there was a bubble for so many industries. But the culture is back in a big way. Small breweries are on the rise all around the country. While wine will always be appealing, there’s only so much you can do with it beyond combining grape juice and yeast. I think beer is more interesting. It’s a much more complicated science with unlimited possibilities. I think the interest is great because it’s a renaissance brew that can incorporate hundreds of hops strains and spices and expand the yeast variables, yielding flavors that are surprising and wonderful. We are still just scratching the surface for what is possible with beer. Beer is a classic, comfort beverage that predates Prohibition and will always be in demand. Good beer continues to be important to us enthusiasts, and more people than ever are catching on.