Brooks on Beer: Moylan’s turns the big 2-0

Beer mogul Brendan Moylan hoists a pint in the refrigerated room at Moylan’s in Novato. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal)

In just a few days, give or take a week, Moylan’s Novato brewpub will celebrate its 20th anniversary. The actual anniversary is Aug. 25. Or Aug. 18.
Here’s what happened: The brewpub was ready to open, founder Brendan Moylan says, and the only thing still awaiting approval was a city occupancy permit. Undaunted, and itching to get going, Moylan opened the doors to his first patrons that Friday — Aug. 18 — and for three days served his housemade beer and food.
As you might guess, the city learned about the renegade brewpub and, by Monday, was planning a surprise inspection. So Moylan’s closed again while things were sorted out with local authorities — and the official grand opening took place a week after the unofficial one. Moylan has been brewing ever since, and that renegade streak has never quite disappeared.

As San Francisco Giants fans packed bars through Marin County to watch Game 1 of the World Series, Kathleen Steppler, an employee at at Moylan’s Brewery and Restaurant in Novato, pours a beer Oct. 27, 2010. (Douglas Zimmerman/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)

A San Francisco native, Moylan started home-brewing after he graduated from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga — and realized he wasn’t very interested in becoming an accountant, now that he’d earned a degree in it. He was working for a beer importer when he walked into Hayward’s Buffalo Bill’s one day. Seeing one of California’s earliest brewpubs in action was a lightbulb moment for him. He saw a business that was, in effect, several kinds of businesses: a brewery, restaurant, wholesaler and distributor.
So Moylan got serious about brewing, attended UC Davis to learn brewing on a commercial scale and, with a partner, opened Marin Brewing Company in Larkspur in 1989. Flushed with that success, he set his sights on a more personal brewpub, one bearing his name, and opened Moylan’s on Novato’s Rowland Way on Aug. 18 — or 25 — in 1995. His first brewmaster was Marin Brewing’s assistant brewer Paddy Giffen.

Today, brewmaster Derek Smith — who cut his teeth in the East Bay at Black Diamond Brewing Co. — keeps up the Moylan’s tradition with a wide range of beers, including a delightful Plum Saison, along with Morning Ritual Coffee Stout and Man-Go-Crazy Session IPA. My personal favorites include the Hopsickle Triple IPA, the Pomegranate Wheat Ale and — to honor the San Francisco Giants’ World Series victories — Orange and Black Congrats Ale.
I stopped by a few weeks ago, while they were brewing their latest, an anniversary beer, and even helped out by throwing in one of the hop additions. It’s a 60/- shilling-style beer, a lower-alcohol Scottish Ale they’re calling Little Lifter. It’s a new, lighter version of their popular Kilt Lifter, which they recently released in cans. Also on hand: their third batch of Double Kilt Lifter, an 11 percent alcohol by volume Scotch Ale.
Join the anniversary festivities on Tuesday, when Moylan’s will be celebrating all day with appetizers, treats and 1995 beer prices. Plus, of course, a bagpiper to help with the revelry. (Find details and directions at
As for the future, Moylan’s brewing empire is expanding. He’s in the final stages of a land purchase in northwest Oakland, at West Grand Avenue and Wood Street. He’s planning to build a new, 20,000-square-foot structure on the former railroad land to house a production brewery and possibly a separate distillery. If all goes according to plan, there will be a rooftop beer garden and bar, gathering spaces and a whiskey tasting room. And one can’t help thinking that his business degree was useful, after all.
Contact Jay R. Brooks at

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