I can now admit to having a bit of sick feeling while writing a recent post on Mayfield Brewing for The Session. This sickness was due to a nagging suspicion the brewery was going out of business. The week before I posted the article, I wanted to do some extra research for the article at Mayfield’s usual open house, held monthly on the last Friday of the month concurrently with Devil’s Canyon Brewing’s much larger Beer Friday just across the alley of the small industrial park in Belmont, CA both breweries call home. Everyone was having at good time over at Devil’s Canyon, but Mayfield was all closed up, with a new “For Lease” sign covered the top of Mayfield’s building. Now this sign could have been intended for any of the units in that industrial park, but it did looked a little ominous up there over Mayfield’s loading dock. I sent Mayfield owner John Alderete an e-mail asking “What’s up?” and didn’t get a response. Hmmmmm.
So I thought maybe he was just on vacation that month. Alderete had talked to me the previous open house about transitioning to a “Wine Club” business model, and so I rationalized this this might have been part of that transition. But now their website has nothing but a boiler plate “Under Construction” graphic and Alderete hasn’t responded to another e-mail about what’s going on, and it’s pretty hard to come to any other conclusion than Mayfield Brewing is in pretty serious financial difficulty, if it hasn’t completely gone out of business. I certainly hope to be wrong.
You never want to see anyone fail, and Alderete clearly had the passion for beer everyone in the craft beer community shares. The ever present elephant in the room at Mayfield was the very high price of their premium beers, aged for several months in used wine barrels. Their $30-$45 price for 750 ml bottles was way above what most breweries charge for similarly barrel-aged and special releases, and I’m afraid not everyone who tried his beers felt the taste justified this pricing.
Now I gladly paid $30 for a recent vintage of Mayfield’s Noctura Imperial stout, a sensational brew with wine, vanilla, smokey notes mingling with the ale’s very rich, complex roasted malt. But I didn’t feel the same way about Mayfield’s IPA and Alt-style offerings, nor was I alone. Aged in red wine barrels, the resulting flavors seemed to clash more than they complimented. An interesting, complex, thought provoking, but not necessarily delicious beer is not something most people will pay $45 a bottle for, especially in the Bay Area’s floundering economy. The fact that the Bay Area has many excellent barrel-aged beers, such as Russian River’s Temptation, that taste sensational, are hardly “acquired tastes”, and cost about half of what a typical bottle of Mayfield was going for indicates how out of whack Mayfield’s pricing seemed to be.
Of course, this is my outsider’s view. Who really knows the complex set of issues facing this business? A lesson I learned from running that has served me well in professional life is that when setting goals, one can sit down and formulate an intelligent, reasonable, and well conceived plan to reach them. And then you follow that plan with great effort, dedication, and focus. And even after all that hard work and well directed effort, failure is still very much an option.