Justin Catalana and his brother, Tyler, co-founded San Francisco’s Fort Point Beer Company with a single mission in mind: Brewing craft beer that appeals to everyone.
After the siblings launched Mill Valley Beerworks, a successful restaurant that pairs a locally sourced menu with exceptional beer and wine, Fort Point provided them with the opportunity to create a craft brewery from the ground up, concocting the types of beers they themselves would enjoy and building a business that embodies San Francisco — while distributing far beyond it.
We caught up with Justin to learn more about Fort Point’s growth, his thoughts on craft brewing and his best advice for celebrating International Beer Day.
With a popular restaurant already on your hands, why launch Fort Point Beer Company?
We loved the idea of starting something right in San Francisco. The city has a history of independence and craftsmanship that we love. We wanted to create a brewery that would reflect that. It’s a spirit that is incorporated into our core values. We also wanted to build something from scratch. Our goal has always been to brew approachable, very drinkable beers that have a wide appeal.
There are thousands of craft breweries across the U.S. How does Fort Point set itself apart?
I think people talk a lot about the high number of craft breweries, but the vast majority are very local, small breweries serving only their own towns. So, we don’t see ourselves as competing with other craft breweries. Instead, we want to raise the bar for what’s available for consumers. We’re currently distributed across Northern California and going head-to-head with other national beer brands you can find in most stores. In addition to great beer, part of what makes us different is that we do all the distribution ourselves. We form really strong relationships with the stores and restaurants that sell Fort Point beer.
As an industry expert, what do you think beer lovers should be keeping an eye out for?
There are a couple of interesting trends happening right now. I think there’s been a real movement to showcase hops, which we’ve seen in a lot of the IPAs. There’s a focus on hops horticulture, which are now grown all over the world. For brewers — and beer lovers — this results in new and different ingredients and unique beers. I believe this focus on hops will continue for a long time.
We’re also seeing a lot of breweries get really good at specific kinds of beers, such as sours or domestic IPAs. And of course, there are tons of micro-trends in what people are making right now. For example, hazy IPAs — unfiltered IPAs also known as "Vermont-Style" — are becoming more popular.
Does Fort Point have a specialty or specific beer niche?
We don’t focus on making one kind of beer — we want to create beers that are dependably enjoyable. We also strive to do something a little special with each one. My favorite beer that we have right now is Animal. It’s one of our newer beers, a tropical IPA that’s got this intense fruity flavor that only comes from the hops — we didn’t brew it with any fruit.
A fun part of craft brews is the names of the beers. Speaking of Animal, how do you decide what to call your beers?
We do that as a group. We want to keep the names short, simple and memorable. And we really want to avoid puns. When we make the beer, we start with an idea of the experience we want our customers to have — where people might drink it; what they would be doing. So for our Park beer, we named it after where we thought you might enjoy it, and the beer itself is super refreshing and great for eating and being outside.
What have you learned about entrepreneurship from starting both Fort Point and Mill Valley Beerworks? Any advice for aspiring founders?
Starting a business is exciting. It’s the most fun you’ll ever have — especially at the beginning. I think the key to success is to stay focused. When you’re building a business, you can take it in a lot of different directions, but you want to pay attention to what’s important. Also, learn how to delegate. Give control to people you trust, so you can stop being a jack of all trades and specialize in specific things to help the company grow.
It seems like you’ve been able to do that. Fort Point’s experienced some pretty phenomenal growth…
Yes, every week we’re selling more beer. We’ve been putting in the hard work to make it happen and it’s amazing to see it come to fruition. Since starting in 2014, we’ve consistently doubled our business annually. This year, we are on track to sell 20,000 barrels, or the equivalent of 1,000,000 six-packs. We also have about 85 employees — and we’re still growing.
Finally, International Beer Day is upon us. How should people celebrate?
Like I said, we do think beer should be experiential. So go out and celebrate with a great beer in a great spot — maybe have dinner with friends or come out to the Fort Point kiosk at the Ferry Building. That would be a great way to celebrate International Beer Day.