Gilman Brewing Company opens in West Berkeley

Jihoon Park/Staff

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Looking closely, the similarities between Sean Wells’ day job as a veterinary surgeon and his second career as head brewer of Gilman Brewing Company become clearer.

“When you’re dealing with the science and problem-solving using different ingredients and timings to make new products, yes, I would say the jobs require similar skills,” Wells said.

Wells is the proprietor and one of two head brewers at Gilman Brewing Company — a brewery and tasting room that recently opened in West Berkeley. The brewery launched its soft opening in January and since then, according to Wells, business has been “very, very good.”

Currently open during limited hours four days a week, the doors of 912 Gilman St. first open to a bar, whose gritty decor is inspired by “the manufacturing in West Berkeley.” The tasting room sits on the second level of the building, with tables and seats providing customers a balcony-style view over eight fermenter tanks holding hundreds of gallons of beer.

Customers have taken quickly to the upstart brewery. Rebekah Thomson, a recent patron of Gilman Brewing Co.’s soft opening, was impressed.

“(Gilman’s beers) use a couple techniques that are quite interesting and unique,” Thomson said. “I can’t wait to see what else can come out with that and definitely plan on stopping by again.”

Wells said he began brewing beer in his home when he was 17 years old. After spending time perfecting his craft at the Folsom Street Foundry, a bar in San Francisco, he began producing beer at the Gilman location in October 2015 with co-head brewer Tim Sellmeyer, whom he has known since 2006. Because of delays with city permitting, the opening of Gilman’s public tasting room was pushed back to late January 2017.

The silver lining of the delay has been ample time to both install the manufacturing-spirited decor and develop a robust menu, according to Wells. Gilman currently has eight beers on tap — including an award-winning Indian pale ale and a specialty nitro-tap ale that has the distinct aroma of bacon and maple syrup. But Gilman’s intellectual curiosity as a brewer lies in farmhouse taps, traditionally known as saisons — the French word for “season.”

“Saisons are technically more challenging and require more finesse because you can’t hide the mistakes in your flavors,” Wells said. “I will put our saison beers against anyone else.”

Gilman will begin expanding operations in March, extending its tasting room hours to 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wells said the brewery is working with a food truck and chef to create a complementary kitchen menu to be served at the premises. The brewery also plans on bottling a couple of its products for retail distribution throughout the East Bay, as well as opening a second tasting room in Daly City in the next 18 months.

Other local businesses and competitors have been supportive of the upstart brewery, especially local restaurants, who Wells said have been “incredibly accommodating” in featuring Gilman’s products.

Jeff Kimpe, master-brewer of Triple Rock Brewery & Alehouse, said he welcomes the competition of the new brewery. He said the arrival of many different craft breweries in the East Bay, such as Ghost Town Brewing, Triple Rock, Fieldwork Brewing Co. and Gilman, inspire innovation in the market.

As for Wells, he said he considers Gilman to be in the “same game” of ending the “fast-food of beer” as other small scale breweries, wanting to help better educate consumers about beer and its production.

“It’s always great to see new places arising and opening — it always provides more opportunity for customers to get educated,” said Chelsea Holifield, retail marketing coordinator at Jupiter, another local brewery.

Contact Bobby Lee at [email protected].