Moonlight Brewing owner, brewmaster, quality-control engineer, delivery man and part-time philosopher Brian Hunt doesn't make beer for money. He's been asked several times in the 20-year history of the Santa Rosa brewery why he never signed a distribution deal. "I just don't care," he says nonchalantly. "I'm not in this to make a big pile of money. I do this because I love beer."
Since 1992, his brews have existed without so much as a bottle to call home. Beers like Death and Taxes, Twist of Fate and Lunatic Lager are like nomads, popping up wherever they can in cafes, pubs and restaurants for extended stays, and there's a waiting list of over a hundred places that would love to have just one of Moonlight's brews on tap. They have never been available to enjoy at home unless one were willing to purchase at least five and a half gallons at once. Hunt says staying small is his way of controlling quality—and keeping the battle of supply vs. demand in his favor.
"I've been harassed for about 20 years by people who want it at home," says Hunt. "The only place to come pick it up was from me."
But now, all that's about to change. Hunt recently announced his plans to open a tasting room in Santa Rosa, hoping to open by the end of summer. "It's not a pub," he says. "It's not a place to linger—more of a growler-filling station, and you can have a pint while your growler is filled." The new location on Coffey Lane will also have a couple new tanks for brewing, leading to an increase in production.
This comes to the delight of fans of his beer, some of whom are so fervent they have mapped out locations that serve it (Flavor in Santa Rosa is the most reliable, with five taps dedicated to Moonlight). "All their beers are the perfect example of the style," says enthusiast Craig Tierney. "He's really careful to make sure the people are drinking beer that's fresh."
Collin McDonnell, cofounder of Petaluma's HenHouse Brewing, agrees. "Brian is one of the best brewers in the nation," he says. "There's a lot of interest in Moonlight beer beyond the brewing community." McDonnell is excited about the prospect of taking home some Moonlight outside of his own belly. "The ability to go there and see what kind of cool things he has to pull out is amazing."
Hunt isn't some hobbyist who just likes to make a batch of beer now and then. He earned his brewing degree from UC Davis in 1980 and worked at Schlitz brewery in Milwaukee. His black lager, Death and Taxes, was the first creation he made at home, and is still the brewery's most popular. "I had this taste of beer in my mind, and there was nothing like it, so I had to make it."
Lately, Hunt has been exploring the idea of unhopped beer, a style sometimes known as gruit (pronounced "grew-it"). About 500 years ago, hops were illegal in England, and Hunt has several recipes that don't contain the cannabis relative. Working for Tips is one example; it's made with redwood twigs from his front yard.
For Hunt, brewing is about experimentation and innovation. "A brewer's job is to make delicious in a glass," he says. "I want beer to taste like poetry."
For more information, visit www.moonlightbrewing.com.