For the past 28 years, Mark Heffernan has committed his life to beer.
He began brewing beer in 1985, and 11 years later started selling home brewing equipment: glass jugs and sanitized plastic tubing that look like giant, alien versions of high school chemistry supplies. To Heffernan, beer is less of a science and more of an art.
Or, judging by his stark white beard and slightly tinted glasses, he may even see beer brewing as a form of magic.
“Everything used to taste the same,” Heffernan said. “You had Budweiser. You had Coors. You had Miller. Now, there is so much more.”
Soon to be included in the category of “so much more” is Heffernan’s own brewery, Rök House, which will open in Claremont this April.
Heffernan and his partner Lars Bennett are part of a growing microbrewery craze. All over America, men and women are tweaking the simple formula for beer—water, malted grain, hops, and yeast—to create new and diverse forms of an age-old alcohol. Their product is generally called craft beer, and it is categorized by distinct flavors and small-scale production and distribution. Although they are taking creative risks with Rök House beer, Heffernan and Bennett haven’t lost touch with their roots.
“Rök House is Norse,” Heffernan explained. “The Rök House was where the Vikings did most of their fermentation, so everything in our brewery is Viking-themed.”
For instance, the Rök House India Pale Ale, a beer categorized for its bitterness, is called “Hammer of Thor.” Its brown ale is called “Berzerker Brown,” which, as the brewery’s Facebook page explains, is a reference to the tradition of Vikings drinking enough beer before a battle that they were compelled to strip off their armor and charge the enemy.
When it opens, Rök House will complete what Heffernan and Bennett have unofficially trademarked the “Brew Triangle,” consisting otherwise of Dale Bros. Brewery and Claremont Craft Ales. With Rök House’s location at the northeast corner of the Claremont Colleges, these three breweries will sit less than half a mile away from each other.
“The hope is that, on certain weekends, there can be a bus that drives from brewery to brewery and lets people try all sorts of different beers,” Heffernan said.
The Brew Triangle’s proximity will provide college students an easy venue for enjoying beer. With such a wide spectrum of beer available and the emergence of exciting, new products, Heffernan believes that there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Andy Link CM ’14, co-president of Claremont McKenna College’s Brewing Club, echoed Heffernan’s sentiment in his senior thesis. Link explained that the craft beer scene in America is related to the millennial generation’s fascination with variety. Unlike their parents and grandparents, Link argues, this generation seeks diversity in their food and beverage, a versatility that craft beer possesses.
This creativity and quality that accompanies Rök House and other craft breweries like it, is now accessible to students at the 5Cs.
“You can do anything you want with craft beer,” Heffernan said. “Some of our beers will even have wine in them!”
But Heffernan’s beer-laden utopia, where everyone accepts and enjoys the artistry of beer, is still far in the future.
Rök House itself has experienced some of what Heffernan understands as a continual stigma surrounding beer. Heffernan and Bennett began planning for Rök House nearly two years ago. They had a location picked out in the Claremont Village, but the landlord refused to allow a brewery.
Heffernan and Bennett later found a suitable location in Upland, but they battled with the city’s building department for over a year, fighting over red tape issues like occupancy and door requirements. To many, it seems, beer is still scary.
“It’s not what mom and dad are drinking,” Heffernan said.
But brewers have learned to stick together. Rök House recently joined a group called the Inland Southern California Brewer’s Guild, a consortium of 25 breweries mobilized to promote craft beer all over Southern California. In Heffernan’s assessment, because every brewery has something different to offer, this larger consortium can only benefit everyone.
Rök House’s individuality comes from more than just its beer, according to Heffernan.
“Rök House is going to be a little kicked up decor-wise,” Heffernan explained. “The bar is going to be made out of concrete and dark woods, like a Viking bar would.”
Heffernan hopes that details like these will make Rök House unique.
“We want Rök House to look appealing enough for people to drink more,” he said. “Get them in the door, drink three or four, and take some to go.”
Rök House, and the rest of the Brew Triangle, represents an emerging culture among members of the Claremont Colleges. For craft beer lovers, it offers variety, and for those who want to learn to enjoy craft beer, it offers a friendly—and cost-effective—forum to do so.
Although Rök House will not open its doors until April, Heffernan and Bennett will be at the Inland Empire Brewing Company Festival in March with their beer in hand. In fact, last month, they showcased a few of the eight beers they will have on tap at Rök House.
“Our beer was very well received,” Heffernan said. “We brought more beer to our last festival than anyone else, and we ran out faster.”
To Heffernan, drinking craft beer can be a hobby or a lifestyle, but it doesn’t need to replace current drinking habits. Near the end of the interview, Heffernan stood up and rested his hands on the table, facing me.
“Let me just say one thing,” he said. “Beer spans all ages, all cultures. That’s what’s so cool about it. You go to small breweries like Rök House and you see every nationality, every type of person. Also, us old farts can enjoy it too.”