In the former Tesla warehouse in San Carlos, just thirty five minutes south of San Francisco, Devil’s Canyon Brewing opens its doors for another busy Friday night.
Live music echoes throughout the expansive space, hushing the sound of the rain outside. Families and friends laugh and mingle underneath string lights that hang from long, steel beams. The very room that used to house the Roadster and Model S is now a place where all members of the community can come and enjoy chocolatey, dark beers, hoppy golden ales and even homemade root beer.
Sparkling silver tanks sit right past a glass window in the taproom, fermenting the brews that will someday hit the taps. At first this looks like your standard brewery. But it’s far from that. Over 90 percent of the brewing equipment has been recycled from another facility’s garbage.
Virtually everything used to brew the beer at Devil’s Canyon is repurposed, from kettles that once belonged to dog food factories to platforms taken from old Jose Cuervo plants. The very idea of taking unwanted junk and reutilizing it is what made the opening of the brewery on 935 Washington St. possible in the first place.
The road to Devil’s Canyon
Owner Chris Garrett brewed beer for Devil’s Canyon under its former alias — Brew4U — beginning in 2001 before moving into the San Carlos warehouse. Brew4U did just what its name says: if a bar or restaurant wanted its own “line” of beer, they’d ask Garrett and his team to brew it for them.
In 2003, they entered the Silicon Valley Brewer’s Festival at Shoreline Amphitheatre and won. The reward? Having their beer poured from the Shoreline taps for the rest of the season. It was then that they decided to rebrand themselves as “Devil’s Canyon,” after the Belmont Canyon named by Spaniards in the 1700s who thought the Native Americans in the area to be ‘devils’.
“It’s a misnomer, and that’s kind of perfect in my life,” says Garrett.
They opened a small taproom in Belmont shortly after, and served their beer to friends and patrons on the last Friday of each month. They outgrew the space and moved into their current building in 2013 when their popularity rose, creating the 20,000-square-foot facility out of unwanted materials taken from a hotel Garrett helped demolish.
Garrett now runs the company with his wife, Kristiann. When they originally moved into the warehouse, it wasn’t in the best of shape — theoretically, the entire ceiling should have been scrapped and built from scratch along with a lot of the other infrastructure. But throwing things away and letting them go to waste is not the Devil’s Canyon way.
One man’s trash…
After gutting and picking the hotel clean, it was not long before the brewery got a reputation for taking people’s junk and reusing it. Rather than throwing things away, businesses and locals would call up Garret.
You can find multiple rooms and workshops full of ready-to-be-repurposed old stuff if you venture further behind the scenes of the brewery. Little compartments holding recycled nails, screws, bolts, tools, and materials line the walls of some of the back rooms from floor to ceiling; organized and archived meticulously. Even the shelves, boxes and carts holding these materials were trash at some point: almost nothing inside has been purchased.
“We have more hardware than Home Depot does,” says Garrett. “But it’s all stuff that was thrown away.”
Not only is the overwhelming majority of the equipment involved in the brewing process repurposed, but almost everything you can see inside the taproom has been recycled, too. The stage was built from the materials of a house that was torn down in Menlo Park. Every table, chair, or structure in sight was discarded by someone else and rebuilt within the brewery. The acoustic staves on the wall are sound baffling pieces of artwork made from old bourbon barrels that couldn’t be used anymore. The lockers dedicated to their beer club members were taken from a local school. The bar outside is an old shipping container.
“We just do stuff because we know it’s right,” says Garrett. “We’re one of the most sustainable businesses in San Mateo County. Do we tell people about that? No.” He explains that for years, they never said a word to anybody about their sustainability because they have no intention of using it for marketing purposes. They don’t recycle or reutilize for publicity, they do it because they are genuinely conscious of their environmental responsibility.
Reutilization is not the only environmental focus at Devil’s Canyon. Patrons are required to bring their own glasses on Fridays or buy one from the bar in order to save water and resources — a policy they receive a lot of criticism for, but stand firm on. They recycle their old grain into cattle feed and bring in a garbage company twice a year to make sure employees are educated and trash is separated properly. There is also a large solar project getting ready to be set up in the parking lot sometime within the next three months, and currently every lightbulb in the place is LED.
21st century community center
Devil’s Canyon is not only conscious about environmental sustainability, but also of impact they have on the local community. They open only on Fridays, and host private events during the week. Part of the reason for this is to keep from competing with nearby bars and taking away their business.
“Years ago, at our old facility, we opened up for a Superbowl party,” Garrett recalls. “One of my biggest accounts walked into the building at the halftime show and said, ‘Chris, what are you doing to me? That’s my customer, that’s my customer, that’s my customer…’” Garrett realized that in order to build up the community and help it thrive, he had to do his part to share business with the other local companies.
Every week, they host functions and fundraisers for the sheriff and fire departments, local schools, city government, and other companies. The mayor even comes to the taproom to perform his State of the City address. On the last Friday of each month, they select a charity they feel is underrepresented and donate a portion of their proceeds to that organization.
Garrett feels it is a misnomer to call Devil’s Canyon a bar. “It’s a community center more than it is anything else,” he says, “and people happen to be drinking beer.”
Raising the bar
The taproom is filled with entire families interspersed with working professionals, people who live nearby, and anyone that finds their way into the Friday night bash. The live music still hushes the rain from outside. Children laugh as they play skee-ball and old arcade games, while parents sit back and enjoy the signature Full Boar scotch ale or a Barrel of Monkeys aged barleywine. Two golden dogs wrestle on the floor while other pups sit patiently next to their owners. The brewery does not have its own kitchen, but food trucks from Off the Grid are parked in the back, offering grub to hungry patrons.
Whether you are a regular, a local, or just a visitor, you are welcome at the Friday night party.
Devil’s Canyon does so much more than just brew beer. It gives a glimpse into a standard we should expect from all of our local businesses: a standard where communities work in harmony rather than competition, where we care about our place in the environment, and where people from every background can gather together and have fun.
In Garrett’s words, “It’s all about making good beer, trying to fit into the community and finding the right way to give to the community.”