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Gilman Brewing Gets Back to Berkeley Basics

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Gilman Brewing is doing something different in Berkeley, but it feels very familiar. They established themselves with a simple mission to brew and serve up good beer in a simple setting that encourages people to engage and enjoy sipping on their hard work…and if the packed tables on a Tuesday night are any indication, it’s working out pretty damn well.

Gilman Brewing sign in West Berkeley, Calif. Photo by Nik Wojcik.

Gilman Street sits in a pocket of West Berkeley, between worlds — not untouched, but not quite yet jutted into the new vibe that permeates through the rest of the city — the stench of self-righteous, organic wealth. It’s not that Berkeley has been drastically altered in any real aesthetic sense, residents there would never let that happen – in fact, that’s the only thing people in Berkeley fight for (or against) anymore. Throughout most of the iconic city, things structurally look the same as they always have (sans the chain store signage) — it’s just that the essence of Berkeley, the greatness and grime, and the people that came with it no longer seem welcome there.

But in that one stretch of road sandwiched between the race track and San Pablo Avenue, where functioning industrial warehouses still coexist with homeless encampments, and street parking is still free, Gilman Brewing snuggled right in at home. What they’ve created is not just another craft brew spot where pretentious shits only communicate in order to lob judgement against the hazy IPA craze, the place is conducive to actual conversations and friendliness, accomplished by design in thought and structure.

The space is a little bit of a maze at first with a tiny tap bar at the front entrance doors where you’ll find chalked brew options by just name and alcohol content — no fancy aromatic descriptions needed — and a small sandwich board to highlight the handful of food options available. What’s impressive about the spot is what goes above and beyond, literally. The seating area upstairs gives patrons an escape from the noise below, but beyond the tap room is an open warehouse space kept simple with concrete floors, wooden tables and metal chairs. There’s no cheesy decor attempts, just a big room that opens fully to the sidewalk area where more picnic tables provide additional outdoor seating.

It’s what goes on in that simple space that makes some magic in our technological age of disassociation, people talking, actually talking to each other, and actually enjoying the process of it.

The folks at the brewery are not shy about packing their events calendar, and they choose events that strengthen the communal experience they’re going for. People get their trivia on every Tuesday night, hosted free of charge by Geeks Who Drink. Things start with a little bit of an awkward silence but a few questions in and the place lights up with competition and laughter, but let’s not lie, the beer also has something to do with that. This Wednesday, thirsty patrons can try their hand at painting a coral reef while drinking and noshing on buffalo wings or a cheese plate. Just this past Monday, the taproom hosted a night on the Brewery Comedy Tour. For the more adventurous, they offer up beer yoga on occasion — still not sure how that works out, but cool — and for the hangry, there’s a D.O.G. food truck appearance every Saturday.

It may not seem all that innovative – they brew good beer (I strongly suggest the Quarter Panel, btw), serve it up simple and hire staff that enjoys being there so that customers can drink good beer in a simple environment among good people, spiked with fun and good conversation. But in an era when craft beer can come off as snotty as caviar and people have turned to their phones for company instead of their friends, a space like this brings us back to basics. These are the simple pleasures we’re craving, whether we know it or not, and it’s the kind of place that still feels like what Berkeley once was.

Next time you and friends want to venture out, think about stopping over at Gilman Brewing for a night that reminds you of your most basic human roots: the need for companionship, laughter and ale. What more could you want?


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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.