Jesus Ceja thinks beer drinkers have had enough of the extremely strong and hoppy brews that some companies make, so he's planning to do something different.
"It's a job to drink one of those big heavy triple IPAs and all that," he said, as he sipped a pilsner in the tap room and brew house of Carneros Brewing Company, which opened Saturday. "It's all about enjoying the beer and the hop varietals we have and the beautiful beer we craft."
The brewery, adjacent to Ceja Vineyards on Highway 12, is starting with a line of five beers, all relatively light in alcohol but large in flavor. None even reach 6 percent alcohol by volume, an unusual lineup in a modern microbrewery, where beers routinely soar to 8 percent and beyond and powerful India Pale Ales lead the lineup. Even his IPA is just 5.8 percent alcohol and has a more subdued hop flavor than many similar brews, particularly on the hop-crazy West Coast.
Brother Pedro Ceja, a partner in the business, said Carneros Brewing will take a lesson from the family's wine business, aiming for a product that is harmonious with food.
"A lot of the IPAs that are on the market, they are not food compatible, because, I think, once you drink about half a glass, you saturate the palate where you are unable to taste the nuances, the beauty of the dish," he said. "And so we want that balance, that compatibility of the glass and the plate."
The lighter style also stems partly from Jesus Ceja's background as a longtime brewer at Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser and other mainstream beers. In his own brewery, he wants to find a middle ground between the mild, mass-market beers he used to brew and the more challenging beers made by other craft producers.
"You have individuals who like hardly any flavor, it's basically water, and you have people who like these triple IPAs, you need a spoon to drink this stuff. ... But the majority of the people want something that is clean, that is drinkable, that can pair with food. The key to our beers is that they are not over the top."
The brewery is unusual in other ways as well, starting with who owns it.
Ceja is one of five brothers who came to California from Mexico with their parents, migrant farm workers. While Jesus Ceja was building a career in the brewing industry, older brothers Pedro and Armando were building a wine business in Carneros, one of only a handful of Latino-owned and operated wineries in the United States.
"A lot of people would like to say it is an American dream, but the dream of empowering our families, it is truly a universal dream," Pedro Ceja said. "What is very American, and what I love, is the American opportunity, the opportunity to empower our families."
The brothers teamed up again to create Carneros Brewing on family land. Since the word "carneros" is Spanish for "rams," the brewery's logo features five rams, representing the brothers, although only three of them live nearby and have a direct hand in the brewery.
As with the family wine business, the wives and kids of the brothers are deeply involved as well, including Jesus Ceja's daughter, Itzli Ceja, who will manage the taproom.