Far from the bars and restaurants of downtown, in an area that mostly closes down after dark, Bakersfield's semi-official brewing district is forging a unique identity that participating business owners see as becoming a popular destination for craft beer connoisseurs and hobbyists.
An industry cluster beginning to fill in between Stine and Gosford roads north of District Boulevard and south of White Lane recently attracted its first alcohol-free business — Kern County's only home brewing supply store. It's also about to welcome a third and possibly a fourth brewery.
The district follows a familiar model in which like-minded businesses set up shop in close proximity with the intention of building shared momentum. Instead of competing for limited business, these ventures often end up attracting mutual customers in search of a geographically concentrated experience.
District Boulevard and business parks surrounding it offer specific benefits to brewers: Rent is relatively inexpensive, there's plenty of suitable space and, unlike most heavily trafficked retail centers, the area's industrial zoning designation allows the manufacture of beer.
The result, brewing-related businesses there say, is a community where serious and casual beer-drinkers can take a tasting tour and maybe become inspired to make their own fermented concoctions.
Until this past weekend, though, a significant ingredient was missing. Growing numbers of brewing enthusiasts had nowhere locally to buy the grains, yeast and equipment they need to make beer or wine at home.
With Saturday's grand opening of Central Valley Home Brew Supply at 5640 District Blvd., Suite 108, home brewers no longer have to make the trek to Fresno, Los Angeles or San Luis Obispo to get their hands on premium roasted barleys and base malts.
The store, founded and owned by brewing club buddies Stuart Hoetker and Jared Wyatt, sells an assortment of about 30 different grains, three dozen yeast strains and a wide variety of containers, tubes and specialty devices designed to help hobbyists turn out custom suds and wines.
Hoetker and Wyatt see their role within the district as symbiotic. Not only will they be ready with a new hydrometer, for example, if one breaks at a nearby brewery, but they expect to share customers who are just as interested in inventing a new recipe as trying out one by a prominent local brewmaster.
"As a community, we're able to support each other," Wyatt said.
Hoetker added that, at least in his experience, beer-making and beer-tasting go hand in hand.
"Every time I'm drinking beer" from a craft brewery, he said, "I'm thinking of making my next beer."
The Bakersfield Brewing District, as some call it — others know it as the Bakersfield Beer District — originated in the late 1990s with the opening of Lengthwise Brewing Co. at 7700 District Blvd. Specializing in the India pale ale-style of beer, the business has since expanded elsewhere but maintains a brewing operation on District.
A second brewery opened nearby in 2015, Dionysus Brewing Co. Known more for its sour beers than its West Coast IPAs, it operates at 6201 Schirra Court, Suite 13.
When beer-lovers Tara Douhan and her husband were looking to establish a bottle and tap room to sell brews discovered during their travels, it seemed obvious to locate somewhere near Lengthwise and Dionysus. The place they found is a few doors from Dionysus in the same industrial complex.
"That’s our people. That’s the beer culture," Tara Douhan said, adding that the downtown area seems less inviting because rents are typically higher and the advanced age of buildings there generally makes them less than ideal for brewing.
Cutting red tape
The city is trying to make both areas attractive to brewers. Last year, the city amended its municipal code to specifically allow microbreweries and distilleries in the industrial zones and the downtown area.
Jacqui Kitchen, Bakersfield's development services director, said by email she understands why brewing businesses would want to be located around District Boulevard, for the purposes of cost and convenience, but that the city would welcome a second cluster downtown.
"The city will continue to do what we can in facilitating reduced sewer connection fees (in support of new breweries) and parking requirements," she wrote.
Another local beer-maker, Great Change Brewing, is in the final stages of opening at 4200 Resnik Court, near Lengthwise's central brewery. Tapping growing local enthusiasm for craft beer, the business would be conveniently located so customers can make Great Change another stop on the local beer circuit.
"The craft beer culture is one of camaraderie and wanting to see your fellow craft breweries succeed," Sales and Marketing Director Kim Belmont said by email.
"If you have enough craft beer-related businesses in that particular area, you should be able to draw a larger customer base," she wrote. "Breweries and tap rooms add a new dimension to the choices local residents or visitors have for gathering with friends and family. A very welcoming environment with great craft beer — what more could you ask for?"
Several local brewers told of another brewer considering opening soon nearby, but the apparent owners could not be reached for comment.
Lengthwise's sales manager, Chris Perier, was pleased to see continuing development of the cluster that has grown up around the company. He and others expressed confidence that the brewing supply store would do well, in part because it's preferable to see and smell fresh ingredients rather than buying them more or less blindly online.
He also welcomed additional brewers to the "district on District," noting that the price is right and the zoning's perfect. Plus, he said, "there’s plenty of space out this way."