by joanne... Mar 8, 2016

Through hard work and creative brewing, Black Sands Brewery co-founders Colm Emde and Andy Gilliland have made this Lower Haight brewpub a popular addition to the neighborhood.

Through hard work and creative brewing, Black Sands Brewery co-founders Colm Emde and Andy Gilliland have made this Lower Haight brewpub a popular addition to the neighborhood.

Black Sands Brewery opened in Lower Haight midway through 2015 and has since been building a reputation for brewing great beer, serving great food, and being a great local spot for the community.

Head brewer Cole Emde launched the enterprise, which also houses a homebrew shop, with partners Andy Gilliland, Stefan Roesch and Robert Patterson of Ken Ken Ramen and Voyager fame.

The brewpub has received accolades for the work of Chef Eric Ehler (see recent SF Gate article “What to eat with your Bay Area craft brew”) and for both the creativity and quality of its brews. During SF Beer Week, Black Sands held a standing-room only event, SMaSH Fest, serving a host of single malt, single hop beers. It was a great way to showcase diverse grains, hops and yeast can be, but also the quality of what Black Sands is turning out. People couldn’t get enough.

Next up is a collaborations with 4505 Meats & BBQ, using 4505’s smoker to lightly smoke grains for a Baltic porter and saison.

And for the March 16 Meet the Brewers night, which Black Sands is hosting, Emde is rolling out a number of tasty treats for what will be a discerning crowd:

— nitro milk stout featuring cocoa and coffee,
— a black rye IPA using three types of rye (chocolate rye, pale rye and flaked rye),
— a SMaSH IPA, of course, this one using 100% Simcoe hops and 100% Vienna malt, and
— a red double IPA that is a collaboration with newly launched Ghost Town Brewery out of Oakland

Read more about these beers and all the festivities launching on March 16 as part of the San Francisco Brewers Guild’s Meet the Brewers night.

We caught up with Cole Emde to get his reflections on what it took to launch Black Sands and how things have evolved along the way.

Q: What most influenced you to become a brewer?

A trip to Belgium, France, Germany, and Netherlands sparked my interest the most. I was amazed how much care was put into making and then serving the beer. Proper glass, etc. One of my very first jobs was in a brewpub called Rocky River Brew Co. where Matt Cole was the brewer for many years, so I think [the idea of brewing] was built into my subconscious. From there, I started homebrewing, meeting some excellent brewers [and drawing inspiration from them]. The more I brewed the more I wanted to brew so I decided to pursue a career in brewing and dedicate my life to fermentation.

Q: Which decisions did you make, and what expectations did you have, early on that had to be adjusted after launching?

Even before we launched we had many ideas that we erased. We decided to make the brewery bigger, and we also decided to move the homebrew shop into a dedicated space. At first, it was going to be ‘integrated’ into our layout and the design of the space, but it was clear once we opened the store, a year ahead of the brewery, that it was a good fit to stand on its own next to the brewery.

I didn’t expect the beer to sell out as fast as it did and anticipate how busy we’d be right out of the gate. For sure, sourcing hops early and having to adjust recipes is something we’re always working on, and building up staff is something I didn’t think was going to take up as much time as it does.


Q: Was there ever a ‘pivot’ moment when you had to shift your strategy?

Absolutely, when we were starting our construction process, we failed an inspection leading to a huge foundation repair that set us back many months. That’s when we decided to open the homebrew shop early, something we didn’t anticipate doing. When we hit bumps in the road we try to look at them as opportunities as well. The foundation issue allowed us extra time to work with our building plans and redesign our layout to accommodate the larger brewery and make the space flow better. It really worked out for us in the end having a whole brand new foundation to build the brewery on top of.

Q: Was there any ‘ah ha’ moments when an opportunity presented that you hadn’t expected? What has surprised you most now that you’re up and running?

For me, it’s the number of people willing to help out. When we had a question or something would come up, there were always other people willing to lend advice or just help out. I was very surprised by the amount of support we had.

My brewing assistant Steve was a big ‘aha’ moment for me. He came to us with very little experience but had the right attitude and was willing to work to learn everything we do, then make lots of our processes into a standard that we now carry each day. He’s been a huge asset to us and he came from a homebrewing background, which you know we love.

Q: How do you differentiate Black Sands from the other breweries launching around you?


We’re unique by having our brewery intertwined with the homebrew shop. Giving away the recipes is a huge deal to most people even the ones who don’t brew. Whenever we tell people that they are like “really?” Yes, really.

The ever changing beer line up always keeps it fresh and people will always be coming around to see what’s new. We put out a new beer every week! The contemporary craft beer drinker is always looking for something new.

Lastly, I think our SMaSH series is something that stood out quickly for us. [Ed. note: Single Malt and Single Hop]. The beers are coming out great and people notice. When people try them they think there are more grains and hops in there, but there aren’t. Making complex beers using minimum ingredients is a challenge.

Q: How does where your located effect your business, its growth, the beers you make, how you market yourself?

Lower Haight is a residential neighborhood, and we strive to make Black Sands a comfortable causal neighborhood spot where our guests can enjoy great food and beer any day of the week for a reasonable price. If we were located somewhere else in San Francisco, or another city or town, I think we’d have to be bigger on all levels. Bigger kitchen, more seats, and certainly be able to make more beer on a larger system. Being [where we are] limits our ability to grow and scale up. But being on the smaller side also has the great benefit of keeping us focused on producing high quality products and services.

Our location also influences the beers we make. We make many hoppy beers and I think if we were located somewhere else, we’d have to educate customers’ palates to tolerate the amount of hops we pump into some of the beers. But in San Francisco and along the west coast, people are able to appreciate those dominating flavors.

Q: How do you see Black Sands evolving in terms of its craft beer offerings and overall growth plan?

We’re in the planning stages of an expansion. We’ve been doing a tremendous amount of research on all aspects of the industry about how best to grow. The goal is to open our own larger facility to produce several 1000 barrels per year and to distribute that throughout the Bay area. We hope to a
ccomplish this within the next three years.

Visit Black Sands Brewery at 701 Haight Street, and join the San Francisco Brewers Guild there on March 16 when Black Sands will be hosting this month’s Meet the Brewers night from 6-9pm.