Wildcard Brings Ale Storms to Albany

A new craft brewer expands its Redding footprint to a hub in the East Bay.


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Photo by Paul Haggard

Sometimes a phone call changes everything.

“A long, long time ago,” as Jenny Hansen put it, she and her husband, Jeff, received a home-brewing kit as a wedding gift.

“We loved it right away,” Hansen recalled. “But what the instructions didn’t say was how much cleanup is involved: Lots and lots of cleanup. Too much for me.”

The newlyweds, having just graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, were too busy for a labor-intensive hobby, however much they enjoyed its sparkling golden yield. Both worked full time: he at Trader Joe’s and she for a farmers-aid nonprofit.

After becoming manager of a San Jose store, Jeff faced a long daily commute from Santa Cruz.

“One day, he fell asleep on Highway 17 and woke up on the wrong side of the road,” his wife recalled.

“He put in his notice that day. But it was also the day he got a certain phone call.”

He’d applied weeks earlier to the prestigious beer-making school Brewlab at England’s University of Sunderland — which he was told at the time had a yearlong waitlist.

“But suddenly a place opened up, and he got a call that day saying he’d been accepted and asking if he’d like to attend.

He did. The pair moved abroad.

Photo by Paul Haggard

“Brewing is mostly chemistry,” Jenny Hansen said. “So he was doing high-intensity coursework: a lot of science and math.”

Meanwhile, they sampled English brews, finding them “maltier than the California beers we’d loved — and with a heavier mouthfeel, a softer texture. They’re not highly carbonated or served cold.”

After finishing the program, in 2012 Jeff launched with Jenny in the Shasta County town of Redding a microbrewery whose name, Wildcard, honored the strange synchronicities that had led them there. Early Wildcard brews included a cream ale, an imperial red, an oatmeal porter, and an English-style IPA. Now, Wildcard produces 2,500 barrels of beer a year, releasing a new IPA or hazy IPA every month.

As Wildcard has been distributed in the Bay Area for over two years now, “we needed a hub here,” Hansen said. “And I love Albany. It’s a super-cute community with a great downtown vibe. We spent nearly a year looking for retail space in this area, and finally we found the perfect fit.”

Open since October, the boldly minimalistic, lofty-ceilinged space with airy ground-floor and intimate mezzanine seating sports 10 taps and serves a rotating selection of brews by the pint and to go.

Wildcard Brewing Co., 1122 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-280-5728, WildcardBrewingco.com.

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