Tapping history at the Anaheim Brewery

When Barbara Gerovac and her husband, Greg, opened Anaheim Brewery in 2011, they weren't just hoping to bring good beers to the city. They were conscious of reviving a piece of history.

The original Anaheim Brewery, which was located on Center Street, opened in 1870, about 13 years after Anaheim was incorporated.

After going through three owners, the business was challenged by Prohibition in 1920 and converted to other uses, like making rubbing alcohol, until it was closed in 1933.

Now it has been resurrected in a sense — new owners, new location, but same name.

"Descendants of one of the original owners found us after we opened and had a big family reunion," Barbara Gerovac said. "It's been really cool to see that history."

The original brewery helped to attract visitors and newcomers arriving by stagecoach, since Anaheim was one of the only "wet" cities in the area, meaning it could serve alcohol, said Jane Newell, heritage services manager for the city.

"They would tout Anaheim in any kind of promotional booklets as an industry," Newell said. "We had our wine industry, a brewery, banks and other things, so it was something that was attractive to visitors and people who were contemplating relocating."

Now, nearly a century later, Anaheim Brewery is still attracting business, but with the Gerovacs' own touches.

The couple decided to open a brewery after they both retired from the U.S. Army in the early 2000s. They were living in upstate New York and had time to experiment with home brews during the long winters.

When they moved to Anaheim in the mid-2000s, they decided it was the perfect place to open up shop. They zeroed in on a building at 336 S. Anaheim Blvd. that was in need of rehabilitation.

Barbara Gerovac said that in 2011, the area of Harbor Boulevard and Broadway was practically deserted.

"This building had been a car repair shop, and the park outside was a used car lot," she said. "The Packing House building was just in shambles. This was our neighborhood, and it was kind of crappy. We wanted to help revitalize it."

They named the business Anaheim Brewery as a way to pay homage to the original, even though they had no affiliation with it.

Within a couple of years of opening, major businesses like Umami Burger moved in nearby. And the Anaheim Packing District grew into a communal gathering place of eateries and events.

"We were alone in the wilderness when we opened, but people came," Barbara Gerovac said. "We became the shill to convince other businesses to open in this neighborhood."

When the Gerovacs' version of Anaheim Brewery was founded, it had four original beers on tap. Now, the couple brew five year-round beers and three seasonal or specialty beers.

Barbara Gerovac said the company focuses on the brewing process two or three times a week. Many of the beers can take up to three weeks to finish fermenting.

Its popular Oktoberfest beer takes about eight weeks to complete and is one of the highlights of the city's Oktoberfest celebration, which includes live music, dancing and, of course, beer.

The festival kicked off Saturday and continues next Saturday, when Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait will tap the keg and the German-American Brass Band of Southern California will play traditional tunes.

While many customers enjoy Anaheim Brewery's tasting room, the business has big-quantity buyers as well, like Disney and the Anaheim Convention Center.

"Our focus has always been on a small roster of beers that we tell our wholesale customers will never run out," Barbara Gerovac said. "When the Anaheim Convention Center calls for 50 cases, we can easily say OK."

The brewery's Hefeweizen beer, one of its most popular, is also regularly on tap at Disney's California Adventure Park.

Barbara Gerovac said she believes beer has stood the test of time because of its affordability.

"Beer is an affordable luxury," she said. "Even if you're on your first job, you're not going to go out for a five-course meal, but you can afford a good beer. It's also a way of going out and being social."

Pints of year-round beers at Anaheim Brewery are $5.50, while pints of seasonal or specialty beers are $7. It also offers taster flights, four small samples of beer, and growlers, jugs of beer to take home, as well as six packs of bottles.

Barbara Gerovac said she is proud of the Anaheim Brewery legacy and its new incarnation.

"It all started with beer, and I think that's the thing I'm most proud of," she said.

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