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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.

"I think what we got going here is that sense of pride, that sense of participation," said Pedro Ceja, who has been active in helping Jesus brew the beers.

The venture into brewing marks the family as pioneers once again, since there are hardly any Latino-owned operations among the 2,300 breweries in the United States. The sparse examples include 5 Rabbit Cerveceria near Chicago and Pacific Plate Brewing near Los Angeles.

"We want to leverage our heritage," Ceja said. "We're very proud to be one of the first Hispanic families to have a microbrewery."

While they are not aiming primarily at a Latino market, they do hope to draw more Latinos into the craft beer world, starting with the beer names, playfully mixing in Spanish terms: "Cerveza Pilsner," "Morena Ale," "Jefe-weisen" and "Negra IPA."

Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, an industry group, said few breweries have tried to tap into the growing Latino market, which so far has not been deeply involved in the craft brewing movement.

"It is an area where craft brewing is underrepresented, both in terms of owners and employees, and the market," he said.

Carneros Brewing is also unusual for its setting. Where many microbreweries are in industrial areas or downtown restaurant locations, Carneros aims for a Wine Country vibe.

It features an outdoor beer garden with a bar and a pond, a hop garden that will produce some of those used in the beer, and lovely views of the rolling Carneros hills. The taproom sells bread and cheese and other food for guests to make a picnic outside, where there will be music and entertainment on weekends.

The new brewery has a capacity of just seven barrels, or about 217 gallons at a time, using an old brewing system built by a Santa Rosa company in the 1990s that has been traded around the country over the years, most recently at a brew-pub chain in Florida. The system will allow Carneros Brewing to produce no more than about 5,000 barrels of beer every year.

That's quite a change for Jesus Ceja, who is accustomed to counting the beer he produces in the millions of barrels, not the thousands.

During a two-decade career with Anheuser-Busch, he was brewmaster at facilities that could produce nearly half a billion gallons each year.

"The whole dream was to have our own little brewery and make our own beers," he said of his years learning the trade at some of the world's largest breweries, including the Anheuser-Busch facilities in St. Louis, Houston and Los Angeles.

The company "has a very regimented training program where we literally spent years learning the craft, the process, in order to have that consistency across the world," he said. "Whether you have a Budweiser here on the West Coast or New York or China, Budweiser is Budweiser."

His Carneros Brewing products are quite different from those he brewed at Anheuser-Busch — heartier and hoppier — but the discipline and consistency he learned from the global giant guides his brewing, even on the tiny, mostly manual system he now owns.

But the brothers don't intend to stay small forever. Armando Ceja is building a huge new facility next door that will one day host a larger taproom and has the room to install a brewing system capable of brewing 100 barrels or more at a time, 14 times the current capacity of the brewery.

"Then we can compete with the big boys," Jesus Ceja said, hinting at grand ambitions. "That's Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada."

You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.)

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