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Turlock Brewery honors Dust Bowl

TURLOCK — Brett Tate wanted to honor his forbears who fled the Dust Bowl thirsting for a new life.

He did so by starting a microbrewery, quenching the thirst of people partial to fine beers.

Dust Bowl Brewing Co. opened last year in west Turlock's industrial zone. It has produced two beers so far: an India pale ale named Hops of Wrath and another pale ale called Old Wire.

"The goal is to be a major player in the microbrew industry," Tate said Monday at the Spengler Way brewery.

The company is starting small, producing the equivalent of 600 31-gallon barrels a year. Tate and brewmaster Don Oliver hope to expand the volume and selections and add a brewpub somewhere in Turlock.

They began by selling the product in five-gallon and 15.5-gallon kegs. This week, they launched 22-ounce bottles of Hops of Wrath, whose name plays on "The Grapes of Wrath," the classic John Steinbeck novel about the Dust Bowl era.

The beers are available at about 40 stores and restaurants across Central California, as well as at Modesto Nuts home games and online.

They aren't cheap — the 22-ouncer costs $6.59 online — but fans say they are worth a try. "They just make a good, solid beer, and it helps that it's local," said Ryan Johnson, manager at P. Wexford's Pub in Modesto, where the India pale ale is in the rotation.

Tate, 47, is a former high school physical education teacher and coach. Oliver, 32, a former Marine Corps helicopter mechanic, studied brewing through the University of California at Davis Extension program.

They are the only full-time workers at the brewery. They get part-time help in sales from Keith Larsen, 53, a longtime friend of Tate and former men's basketball coach at California State University, Stanislaus.

Tate declined to say how much he invested in the brewery, but he said he wanted to assure "quality and consistency" in the product.

It takes 15 to 17 days to produce a batch of ale, Oliver said while showing off his array of tanks, pipes and hoses. He starts by mixing malted barley with hot water, then adds hops to boost the flavor and yeast to start the fermentation.

Oliver said he makes a "moderately bitter" India pale ale, a type of beer that was enjoyed by English traders in the Asian country long ago.

Old Wire pale ale "is more balanced compared to the IPA," he said. "It has more of a sweet malt flavor but still has a good hop aroma."

Tate's grandfather moved his family from Oklahoma to California in the 1930s. About 70,000 people came to the San Joaquin Valley in that decade to escape drought and poverty in the Plains.

Images from that time — a coil of barbed wire and a wild rabbit — adorn the beer labels. They describe the product as "a tribute to the strong-willed, gritty people of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression era."

The historical references could help the beer stand out in the crowded microbrew market. "The branding is huge in this industry," Tate said, "so if you can get something people identify with and make it fun, that gives you a good footing."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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