Kyle Bozicevic can’t stop trying to brew something we’ve never tasted before. Lucky us.
Kyle Bozicevic’s beer career started with a minor legal hurdle. Enrolled at Cabrillo College near Santa Cruz and not yet 21, Bozicevic (pronounced Boz-eh-vick) had to endure the indignity of asking his older sister to accompany him to the local homebrew supply shop to buy on his behalf. He spent the rest of the summer trying to recreate popular beers like Sierra Nevada and Chimay. Awards for his own homebrew recipes followed.
Today Bozicevic, 32, is doing some weird, wonderful things with an ancient beverage that’s already getting a lot of love. Maybe too much: last year there were almost 6,300 craft brewers in the U.S. alone. Bozicevic is out to be different than all of them.
At his four-year-old Alpha Acid Brewing Company in Belmont, Bozicevic and crew brew small and brew often — their commercial equipment supports no more than 77 gallons at a time and their preference for ultra-high end, hard-to-find ingredients means they couldn’t store bulk purchases even if they could afford them.
Making a commodity product in small quantities is a recipe for financial failure, so the Alpha Acid brewery specializes in producing beers no one else in the Bay is even trying, like boozy imperial stouts and grapefruit radlers. The upside to tiny quantities: crazy ideas that fail don’t cost Bozicevic his livelihood while the winners are prized by aficionados who trek to his tiny tasting room.
“We’re less than a sixth the size of the next smallest [brewery],” he says. “It gives us freedom to experiment.”
An education in brewing less ordinary beer
To beer lovers bored with bland pilsners and gut-wrenching IPAs, Alpha Acid offers the offbeat and unexpected. What’s on tap changes week to week and many beers are one-offs never to be sipped again. Their passion fruit-infused sour wheat beer will erase memories of that one time you tried pumpkin ale and never went near fruit-flavored beer again. Have a healthy fear of IPAs that can strip paint? Try a hazy, soft Belmont Blur and a sharper but not overwhelming Brosaic West Coast Double IPA.
Hardcore Alpha fans chase after Barrel Constrictor, a stout aged in liquor barrels for up to a year (rum was the flavor on tap when we visited). At 14.5% alcohol, you’re expecting to feel like an angry drunk just breathed in your face. Instead you get a subdued, mellow high. Fans line up down the street on the days it’s released in bottles.
Between brewing at home and turning out these sought-after beers, Bozicevic had to learn a few things about beer and the beer business. After college he came back to the Peninsula (he was raised largely in Redwood City) and took an unpaid job at San Carlos’ Devil’s Canyon Brewery, at the time the only sizeable brewery near his hometown.
The volunteer gig quickly became 40 hours or more a week and within a month he was running their brewing operation “grain to glass” and getting paid to do so. He learned to use commercial equipment and had a fair amount of creative freedom with the contract work that Devil’s Canyon was doing for a dozen or so other breweries who didn’t have equipment of their own, allowing him to experiment with recipes to turn out a wide variety of original beers that pleased the contract clients.
After three years with Devil’s Canyon, and annoyed that he still had to drive to San Francisco to get his hands on the craft brews he loved, he quit to open his own beer bar, Ale Arsenal, in a former wine bar space off El Camino in San Carlos. In early 2014 he leased a small industrial space to get back into brewing, with the idea that he could enjoy his hobby and sell whatever he created through his bar.
It was a gamble: Running a bar had taught him that he couldn’t serve whatever he found interesting, he had to serve what customers wanted, and at the time that meant bitter IPAs.
“If we didn’t have several IPAs available they’d walk right out,” he says. “When we started doing this people weren’t quite ready for sours yet. Now we have 20 on tap and in bottles or people are like, ‘Where’s the sour?’”
A hundred bucks a keg
Alpha Acid’s public debut came at San Francisco Beer Week in early 2015 when Bozicevic matched his IPA up against larger, established breweries. In a savvy piece of marketing he also brought along a stout brewed with cacao nibs and coconut he had dubbed Murder She Wroatmeal. “The stout totally blew people away. At a festival like that your palette kind of gets blown out on IPAs,” he says. Murder stole the show and now makes regular appearances at his tasting room.
Meantime craft beer bars like Toronado Pub in San Francisco were catching on to the unusual recipes Bozicevic was pulling off, like using a pricey breed of hops throughout the brewing process or turning out stouts like Barrel Constrictor without the sickly sweet residue that usually accompanies so much alcohol.
What had been a sideline brewing once or twice a week became the main attraction for Bozicevic. His sister took over Ale Arsenal and he started brewing four or six times a week. He still had a problem, though: selling kegs to bars for $100 was a money loser.
“We always sold out of everything we made, but brewing at this small a scale…you have to sell it by the pint,” he says.
When the space next door to Alpha Acid came up for lease in 2016 he jumped and set up a small tasting room that now moves two thirds of what he makes at a more profitable $500 a keg. He has regulars who come in every day but also sees plenty of beer lovers from out of town who want to hit one last brewery before a flight out of SFO. The extra sales, and a flourishing of Bay Area beer culture, have allowed him to expand his staff and get even more creative.
“Not some giant Sierra Nevada”
In the few years Alpha Acid has been in business the Bay Area’s beer scene has changed: Craft beer is close at hand, there are more breweries on the Peninsula and beerheads no longer worship hoppy West Coast IPAs at the expense of variety — they’re into mellower northeastern-style IPAs, sours, saisons and everything else Bozicevic can come up with.
Bob Giosso and Daniel Hallila, two local home brewers who wanted to make the same jump to commercial brewing that he did, are now working alongside him. The trio likes to split up batches to test out four or five ideas at a time and they try out collaborations with other local brewers like Hop Dogma in Half Moon Bay and Blue Oak Brewing in San Carlos.
Expanding the brewing apparatus to a more economical scale would make more money but might also mean losing control over the thing Bozicevic prizes most: control over what goes in and what comes out.
“The plan is not to be some giant Sierra Nevada, that’s not my end game,” he says. “I want to be known for making really cool, small-batch beers.”
Alpha Acid Brewing is at 121 Industrial Road, Suite 11 in Belmont. // Tasting Room is open M-F 3 to 9, Sat. 12 to 9 and Sun. 1 to 8. They also have a delicious Instagram.
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