Brian Hunt, the founder, brewer and inspiration (as well as keg filler, delivery man and just about everything else) of Moonlight Brewing jokingly asks his assistant Jeff: “How much product did we make today?” On cue Jeff shouted back “We don’t make product, we make beer”, and added an F-bomb for emphasis.
Brian wants us to all know that being a brewer shouldn’t be mostly about creating “product”, building a business and cutting corners to make the accountants happy. “I am an artist that expresses himself in beer”…”When I look at those kegs, I think – there’s a lot of very happy people in those kegs”. Brian’s passion for what he does is clear from the first time you step foot into his very small rural brewery outside of Santa Rosa.
Moonlight has been a (mostly) secret treasure in the Bay area for many years, producing small batches of memorable and flavorful handmade beers like the black lager “Death and Taxes”, fresh pilsner “Reality Czeck” and “Twist of Fate Bitter Ale“ and “Lunatic Lager” since the 90’s and the last nine years out of his 1000 square foot brewery. (His rural location in the midst of wineries and farms limits the size of his facility, so he has it so packed with equipment it’s hard to walk around, and somehow he puts out about 1000 barrels a year of incredible, inventive, well balanced brews.)
The waiting list for a Moonlight account is longer than trying to get Niner’s tickets, but that doesn’t bother Brian. He simply loves his work and “I’m not trained to do anything else”.
None of his beers are over 6% ABV, most around 5% – and unusual recipes are not unusual. “I’m not a teenager, I don’t want to drink three high alcohol beers and become a pool on the floor. Beer is for conversation, it’s part of normal life, you should be able to drink a few and still have a good conversation.”
He shared with me “Legal Tender” a brew he had locked up in his refrigerated walk in – flavored with “gruit” herbs instead of hops. “When I make up a recipe, I do look at historical ingredients – get a sense of why they are there – like using hops. It’s like when you smash your thumb with a hammer – when you can’t use it you really know why it’s there…. Brewers have used spruce tips in beers way back through history, but out here we don’t have spruce trees – but we have plenty of redwoods. So, I use redwood tips in one of my beers.”
If you are fortunate enough to get to spend some time with Brian, what you really get a sense of is his pride and dedication in creating memorable beer that he really likes to make – and that beer drinkers find remarkable.
“When you hear someone say – ‘I had one of your beers a year ago, and I thought it was really delicious’ – that’s what matters”. Brian’s not worried about being driven by popular styles or profit “Money gets in the way of the soul” is a theme he repeats. “…and I only have one.” (His assistant Jeff suggested that in his case maybe soul gets in the way of money sometimes, but he also shares the passion and commitment of Moonlight with obvious dedication.)
While the reputation and demand is high, other than adding some space off site to increase storage capacity, Brian has no interest in expanding to accommodate the needs of others. “If I ran my brewery as a business first, I might as well be working in a cubical”. He added: “Beer is the reason I get up in the morning. My coffee pot is right next to the bed, but my fridge is across the room… So I have to get up.”
He didn’t think I got it… But I do.
I sincerely hope you can find a glass of one of Moonlight’s fine beers. Brian mentioned that he brought a keg of “Death and Taxes” to Philly Beer Week two years ago and shocked many people. I also sincerely hope we can learn from Brian and Moonlight how you can have passion for what you do and at the same time create memorable experiences for others – as his motto says “… the beer is poetry on draught…”