Dionysus Brewing co-owner Kyle Pittser is watching as beer streams from a seam between the oak staves in a Foxen Winery pinot noir barrel and into hastily placed buckets on the floor.
There is a chance the seam will expand and seal. He’s gambling it will.
Another stream of beer joins the first. Then another.
Pittser kills the pump, stopping the flow of beer from the conical fermenter to the barrel and cutting his losses.
He isn’t thrown.
Messing up, Pittser said, is his favorite thing about brewing beer.
Mash in, geek out
Things start just after 7 a.m. on a cloudy Friday morning.
Just inside the large roll-up door in the anonymous industrial building on Schirra Court, Kyle Isbell and Kenney Patterson are getting organized amid what looks like chaos.
Heavy bags of malted grain are piled on pallets in front of a wall of empty wine barrels on racks. Nearby a folding table is stacked with a jumble of hand drills, saws, hammers, levels, boxes of screws and company paperwork. Just inside the door a wheeled cart, topped with a grain mill, sits ready.
The brewery’s tasting area, now a mass of materials and tools, is done up in black, brown and wine-red wood with a handmade bar fronted with a jigsaw facade of old wine barrel staves.
Today Isbell and Patterson, Dionysus co-owners and co-brewers, are planning to redo the epoxy resin finish on the bar.
Just minutes later Pittser and assistant brewer Tiler Watt pull up in a Toyota Prius and blow into the brewery in a bluster, sipping at Monster energy drinks. Things start hopping.
Jokes and familiar insults fly.
Within minutes Pittser and Watt get the mill going, chewing through massive bags of malted grain for the first of two batches they will brew today. An appealing cereal smell fills the small brewery.
Opening day is March 31. There is beer to brew.
Meet the odd couple
Pittser is wearing a tie-dyed brewery shirt and repeatedly tucks his wild mop of long brown hair behind his ears, above his bushy brewer’s beard. He sports an irrepressible enthusiasm, a degree in microbiology from Cal State Bakersfield and a knack for promoting Dionysus on social media.
Isbell and Patterson are wearing black T-shirts and ball caps. Isbell has a close-cropped beard and an air of reserved intensity. Patterson has a colorful sleeve tattoo, street-style glasses and a quick, easy grin.
It’s clear that this crew of home-brewers are in a bit of an odd couple.
But beer connects them.
Patterson and Isbell are life-long friends from Taft who started making homebrew beer together a few years ago. Patterson and Isbell brew porters and stouts — popular darker beer styles that are known for flavors of roasted coffee, chocolate and biscuit.
But it wasn’t until they met Pittser, working as a bartender at Lengthwise Brewing, that Dionysus began taking shape.
Isbell and Patterson collaborate with him on other fan-favorite beers like India Pale Ales (known as IPAs), honey blondes and farmhouse ales.
But Pittser is obsessed with making sour beers that are fermented with Brettanomyces yeast and Lactobacillus bacteria and aged in wine barrels. The practice produces a wide variety of beers with tart, sour, salty and even “funky” flavors that are rapidly gaining an obsessive following from beer geeks.
“I love sours,” he says. “There’s a whole new world of brewing that has yet to be tapped.”
Still Pittser’s neo-hippie vibe blends well with the good ol’ boy charm that Isbell and Patterson exude.
“We’re doing what every guy in their garage wishes they could do. We’re the only ones crazy enough to do it,” said their fourth partner, Sandra Quigley, a former Kern County Administrative Office staffer who provides the business expertise the crew needs.
Beer geeks are stoked
Dionysus is coming into Bakersfield’s beer world as the small kid on the block.
The city’s legacy brewer, Lengthwise, is building a new facility with more space and brewing capacity and Kernville’s award-winning Kern River Brewing Company is doing the same.
Temblor Brewing Company on Buck Owens Boulevard opened in a massive venue in September with a 20-barrel brewing system that dwarfs Dionysus’ 3.5-barrel setup.
Dionysus’ small space was hand-built by Isbell and Patterson with the help of family and friends. But it has some unique strengths.
Where other breweries have ignored styles like sours, saisons and farmhouses — or dipped only a toe into those brewing waters — Dionysus is leaping into the deep end with both feet.
The city’s beer geeks are stoked.
At a recent tasting at Imbibe Wine and Spirits, the brewery sold out — in less than an hour — five-gallon kegs of Funkadelic Gose, Mr. Mojo Razzin, a sour with raspberries, and an experimental Berliner Weisse with strawberry, peach and raspberries.
Spills happen — and jokes do too
Things start moving fast in the brewery.
Patterson’s father, Leon, and another friend show up, grab sanding blocks and attack the uneven epoxy on the bar.
Pittser and Watt cart buckets of grain into the brew area and dump them in a mash tun, a large stainless-steel cylinder where hot water will steep out the sugars and flavors in the grain.
Later, Pittser’s beloved “Brett” yeast will turn those sugars into alcohol.
Spills happen and are cleaned up.
Jokes are cracked.
Then Pittser grabs a handcart, drags a stack of four wine barrels to the brew area and begins filling them with steaming hot water, expanding the oak staves to make the barrels water-tight.
As the hot water hits the oak, scents of Syrah and Pinor Noir waft into the air.
The sanding finishes. Epoxy is mixed up. Leon Patterson starts telling embarrassing stories about his son’s childhood antics as he paints the resin on with a brush.
When the new coat is down, the Pattersons and Isbell head out for Leon’s shop. There’s a grain rack to build.
Pittser and Watts keep brewing.
Then the barrel leak hits and its time to adapt.
’... when this place is full’
Things turn out all right.
By 3 p.m. Pittser has turned the brew day around.
The leaky barrels have been emptied, resteamed and filled again. Spent grain has been dumped, the mash tun cleaned out, wort cooled and Pittser and Watt are cleaning the fermenter, getting it ready to take the sugar-water and the yeast, which will convert it to beer.
Brewing on the new system has had its share of hiccups.
“It was flawless the first time,” Pittser said. “Every time after that has been a learning experience.”
But he’s loving this — long, wild days and all. And there’s more to come.
“The full experience will be when this place is full,” Pittser said, “and people are coming here to drink our beer.”