By Kathy Chouteau
A big idea sparked during grad school at the University of San Francisco has evolved today into a bustling, woman-powered, backyard nano-brewery in Richmond’s North and East neighborhood.
Michelle Baker, founder and owner of Origin Brewer, initially started it as her someday retirement plan, “opening” for business in January 2017. While Origin Brewer doesn’t have a storefront open to the public, it does sell its beer to consumers directly and also via special events and bars including Point Richmond Social Club and Elevation 66.
Locals may have seen Baker pouring her brews at happenings around town like A Taste of Richmond at Riggers Loft, the LGBTQ and Commercial Kitchen launch events at Bridge ArtSpace and the Inside/Out art projection experience at the Richmond Art Center.
Baker, whose daytime gig is in the environmental sector, often delivers growlers and kegs to customers within a 10 miles radius via her bike, which is equipped with a front loader.
She brews her beer in a sleek looking, rectangular wooden structure she had built for the purpose in her backyard, producing an impressive lineup that includes: Gardener’s Gose, a crisp wheat beer with Pilsner and acidulated malts; Mannered Mild (English), a light-bodied, malt-focused, flavorful ale made with 12 different malts; Backyard IPA, a mildly-hopped and bitter IPA; People’s Porter, a medium-full-bodied malt-focused ale made with pale and Munich-style malts, and also a bit of dark roasted malts and barley; Resister’s Wit, a light-bodied, Belgian style wheat beer with bitter orange peel and coriander; and UnKonventional Kolsch.
“I really enjoy spending time in the backyard,” said Baker, who said that the sliding doors of her compact brewery open up to her backyard. “It’s an incredibly peaceful space to be doing the craft of brewing. And certainly just to have the flexibility to make it work when I’m able to. The flexibility and just enjoying brewing in the backyard is really lovely.”
Another part of the experience of brewing that Baker relishes is “the people that I’ve met, who both taught me how to brew and about different beer styles—the beer community—is something else that I really enjoy; it’s a great group of people.”
On the horizon for Origin Brewer are three new beers that will be introduced in the coming months.
The Richmond nano-brewery will collaborate with Passaggio Wines of Sonoma soon to create a Belgian Wit beer with chardonnay grape blends. According to Baker, it will be a limited release, with the kegs expected to be ready in December and bottles in January.
Another new beer soon-to-be-launched by Origin Brewer is a Scotch Ale that Baker says is inspired by a really old brew house in Scotland, Traquair House, and is a Scotch Ale with coriander that should be ready by Thanksgiving.
“The origin of these beers are both in Europe,” said Baker. “Part of Origin Brewer’s purpose is taking beers from other places of origin and then making them with very local ingredients. And so the ingredients are mostly from Admiral Maltings in Alameda, sourced from California growers [to brew] international beers made with local ingredients.”
As for the third beer Origin Brewer will launch soon, Baker says it’s a Gose beer made with persimmons plucked from a tree in her front yard that will be ready in late December/early January. “Another very exciting, very locally sourced beer,” enthused Baker about the Gose.
So when it comes to Origin Brewer’s future plans, what’s Baker’s long view? “The goal is to keep it in the backyard,” said Baker. “The growth goal is just to have the beer served in more local establishments.” She also hopes to expand the scope of her deliveries by bike.