Sandro Tamburin said he realizes that it’s not the most opportune time to open a local brewery. After all, two North Coast breweries have closed this year, and the growth of craft beer has slowed considerably across the United States.
But by focusing at a hyper-local level, Tamburin hopes his Old Possum Brewing Co. will attract a loyal customer base that other Sonoma County brewers have been able to achieve in one of the most competitive beer markets in the country. The southwest Santa Rosa brewery, which intends to produce 1,500 barrels annually, will have its official opening Thursday.
“I feel there is a big need and want in the area,” said Tamburin, an Italian immigrant. “(Customers) want almost like a neighborhood brewer.”
Old Possum is not located in a heavily trafficked retail district. Instead, it’s housed in an industrial park just south of the city limits on the 300 block of Sutton Place. Tamburin points to the success of HenHouse Brewing Co. and Cooperage Brewing Co., which have attracted customers even though they are located in out-of-the-way industrial parks.
“They were able to create destinations,” Tamburin said.
The brewery is relying on the expertise that Tamburin and co-owner Dan Shulte bring to the business. Old Possum’s beer is served only at its 49-seat taproom, on draft, and is not available at any retail locations.
Tamburin had a previous career as a Dallas restaurateur and then later enrolled at UC Davis to get an undergraduate degree in enology and viticulture. He also took malting and brewing courses while in college.
After working for Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville, Tamburin was offered a job with Anheuser-Busch InBev in Belgium. But his wife wasn’t keen on moving to Europe, so he concentrated on doing something entrepreneurial locally.
Shulte has engineered and helped install brewhouses for local breweries such as Crooked Goat Brewing Co. in Sebastopol, Tamburin said.
The brewery focuses on quality ingredients — such as Northern California grain from Admiral Maltings in Alameda — combined with a beermaking process that emphasizes consistent quality, resulting in brews that are not too malty nor too bitter, he said.
Old Possum offers a varied tap list, which includes a blonde ale and chocolate espresso stout aged in rum barrels. The brewery will have a sour beer program in the future.
Its India pale ale is aromatic, but Tamburin concedes that he doesn’t “try to reinvent the wheel” when it comes to the most popular beer style in the North Coast.
Old Possum differs from many new brewery entrants by serving food from a limited menu. Its food offerings are unique for a local taproom: bologna sandwiches, collard greens and hot links.
The county government required the brewery to serve food on its premises as a condition for the alcohol license, Tamburin said. Food service, however, could be an enticement to bring customers who also are looking for a meal while drinking, he said.
“I feel like it’s vital to have food with beer,” he said. “We want to offer a smaller menu that’s always fresh.”
Editor’s note: The story has been updated to clarify the breweries that Dan Shutle worked with.