It might not say “beer” on the Modesto arch, but at least two of the four tenets on the iconic landmark have gone into valley’s newest craft brewery.
Water and contentment, with hopefully health and wealth to follow, are key components in the new craft beer business from Modesto married couple Alejandro Serrato and Abena Darden. Their Contentment Brewing Company, named after the arch’s slogan “Water Wealth Contentment Health,” opened its taproom earlier this month.
Sitting in the shadow of the grain silos behind Modesto Junior College, the brewery-taproom has an intentionally industrial feel, an homage to Modesto’s agriculture and manufacturing roots. A classic 1942 Ford tractor is parked in the brewery, which is open to the adjoining taproom.
The 7,000 square-foot space was formerly a 7Up plant and most recently a sheet metal factory. Now it holds a seven-barrel brewhouse that can produce 210 gallons of beer per batch.
Serrato and Darden had been home brewing independently for more than a decade before they met at — as fate and the brewing gods would have it — a beer boat trip in San Francisco about eight years ago. They’ve been home brewing together since, donating their beer to local nonprofits over the years.
Then, about five years ago, their love of beer and bringing people together got them thinking about opening their own brewery. Little did Serrato realize that after signing the lease on their Campus Way space near the MJC East Campus, it would take another almost three years before they were able to sell their first beer.
“I am so dedicated to Modesto, we hung in there,” he said. “We want to be local to Modesto as much as possible. We want to be Modesto’s beer.”
It took them longer than anticipated to get approvals and permits with their from-scratch operation. With a small group of family and friends, they renovated the building through a lot of sweat equity and help from neighboring businesses. Then at the start of this year Serrato, an Air Force veteran who served from 1999 to 2003 including a tour overseas in the Persian Gulf, left his job of more than a decade as a paraprofessional working with children with severe disabilities in the Stanislaus Union School District to focus on the brewery.
Modesto has not had a more than micro-scaled commercial brewery built from the ground-up in decades. St. Stan’s, Modesto’s original craft beer makers, was reborn in 2017 when it opened a downtown taproom, but does not brew in city limits. Persuasion Brewing, which launched late last year inside The Marketplace specialty grocery on Seventh Street, is a small batch brewer — about the size of a robust home brew operation.
When the couple finally got the OK to open two weeks ago, Darden — who works in green design for an engineering company — was spearheading a project in Africa. Due to fire code restrictions, the business is only allowed to have a maximum of 49 people inside (and a mandatory security guard to keep a careful count on the number of patrons) until they’re able to afford a full sprinkler system.
For now the area in front of the brewhouse, which was going to be additional seating and activities, is filled with storage materials and that tractor. The capacity limitations also means customers have to enter the brewery via its back door off the parking lot, instead of the front or side doors.
Once inside, the main taproom area has plenty of space and lots of free games. Serrato tracked down a vintage shuffleboard table, complete with a retro sign and a beautifully cracked patina, and a retired billiard table from Stanislaus State University. There are also lots of board games and everything is free on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The taproom is filled with industrial and ag-based design touches, like railroad spikes as coat hangers and fruit drying trays as wall coverings. Serrato and his father made the bar and one of the standing tables out of a felled Ponderosa pine.
The taproom has three brews (pale ale and two IPAs) on tap now, with more coming. They’ll eventually have 10 of their own beers on draft as well as two homemade sodas. Expect an apricot ale, Belgian white and saison soon. A full pint runs $5 to $6 with tasters available for $2 each. And if you leave your car at home, you can get a green discount of $1 off your bill for walking, biking, busing or ride-sharing to the brewery.
The beers are very drinkable by design, even the IPAs which don’t blow out your palate. If you can’t make your way to the tasting room, you can also find their beer on tap at Kimoto Japanese restaurant on McHenry Avenue. But Serrato said wide distribution is not one of their goals for the brewery.
“We just want to make something good you can drink with friends. We’re not shooting for the stars here, we just want a place for people to hang out,” Serrato said. “I’m just trying to live the American dream and be content.”
They plan to have a grand opening sometime in October, when Darden can also celebrate, and by then they hope to have regular food truck service set up outside the brewery as well.