On the border of Menlo Park and Redwood city, in a shopping center best known for its Sunday brunch spot, Squeeze In, lies a little brewery and public house made to transport you back to the English countryside, with beer that’s much smoother and slightly warmer than you’re used to drinking. Freewheel Brewery and Pub was the vision of four friends (Malcolm, Pete, Gary, and Larry) whose love of cask beer and fascination with the traditional English pub, or “local,” brought them to take over a struggling laundromat and transform it into the community space that it is today.
At Freewheel, the focus isn’t on high-alcohol, hoppy beers (like the IPAs that dominate the small-brew scene), but rather traditional, English style cask-conditioned ales. “[Our beer] doesn’t rip the taste buds out of your face,” head brewer Alisha Blue tells me with smile. “These are good every day beers, and I think there’s so much value in that.”
Devin Roberts, Freewheel’s head of sales and marketing, says that staying true to their cask style of brewing goes deeper than paying homage to the beer itself. “When beer’s so strong and carbonated, it’s like you have to stop after every sip to talk about the flavor,” Roberts explains. “But when it’s smooth and more subtle, you can drink your beer and talk about things that are a bit more important.”
In contrast to most commercial brewers that force CO2 bubbles into their beer, cask beers are naturally carbonated by yeast that eats away at what sugars remain after alcoholic fermentation. There’s still a fair amount of head and bubbles, but neither are as intense as its kegged counterpart.
“The flavors are meant to be subtle,” Blue explains. “If you don’t talk expectations up front, [these beers] might be underwhelming.”
Cask beers weren’t a favorite of Blue when she received her Master’s in Beer Brewing from the Siebel Institute in Chicago, America’s oldest institution for learning the craft. It wasn’t until she moved to England and was hired on at Roosters Brewery in North Yorkshire that she fell in love with this warmer, maltier beer. When her husband’s job relocated the couple to the Peninsula, Blue was shocked to find that Freewheel existed and the two have been an ideal pair since 2014.
She now prefers cask beers, not only for their taste, but also for the challenges they introduce to the brewer and the pub. “Cask beer is a live product, you have to baby it,” she says. “You’ll know when it’s fresh and you’ll know when it’s not fresh.”
All of Freewheel’s beers are made on-site by Blue and her colleague, Erica DeAnda. Together, the two-woman team make 12 unique cask-style beers that are served at the pub and distributed to bars and restaurants across the Peninsula. The team does produce and distribute a few keg beers as well, but as Roberts says, “cask ale will always remain our main focus and first love.”
Local favorites include: London Calling Bitter (probably the easiest of drinking that Freewheel has to offer at 3.5% ABV), Freewheel Special Bitter (English ex-pats who frequent Freewheel have remarked that this one reminds them most of their childhoods!), and the English IPA (a nice combination of hops and classic maltiness).
It can be an uphill battle, trying to sell a beer that packs a lesser punch than its craft competition. Distribution is also a challenge, as most bars are only set up for kegs, not hand-pumped casks. But the team at Freewheel is up to the challenge.
“Not everyone wants a tongue sweater,” Blue says, again with a smile, describing the sensation a strong, bitter beer can have on your mouth. “Our goal is simple — well-made beers that are balanced.”
// Freewheel Brewing Company // 3736 Florence St, Redwood City // Sun-Wed 11:30am-10:00pm, Thurs-Sat 11:30am-11:00pm //