The Biggest Brewery You’ve Never Heard Of
BY ALEX CANTATORE
In a sleepy Turlock business park, anchored by an indoor shooting range and an industrial tool seller, a few local residents are brewing up a revolution.
With four big beers and momentum booming, Turlock’s Sandude Brewing Co. could be the best-kept secret in the craft beer scene.
“It’s the biggest brewery no one has ever heard of,” Sandude Brewing Co. owner John Freitas says with a laugh.
Freitas points around the massive warehouse space, chock-full of gleaming steel brew tanks and kegs emblazoned with the Sandude logo. He talks proudly of how the warehouse is laid out for maximum efficiency, with lots of room for expansion.
If anyone knows about building a brewery, it’s Freitas. He used his 15 years of construction expertise to build Sandude Brewing Co. from the ground up, walls and all.
Freitas even built the business park that Sandude Brewing Co. calls home. He rented out most of the spaces, but saved one to start the brewery of his dreams.
That dream started one lazy day at a friend’s house, sitting by a backyard pool. Freitas found out that a friend of a friend – Terry Chladek – was a homebrewer, and asked if he could take a look.
So Chladek invited Freitas over for a brew that Saturday. And Freitas jumped right in, taking notes on every detail as he worked to produce his first brew alongside Chladek.
“I was hooked,” Freitas said.
It was the science that appealed to Freitas, the chemistry that transforms hops and grains into beers that can taste drastically different. It was building something, with a whole new flavor.
“I told him that day I was going to open up a brewery here in town,” Freitas said. And two weeks later, Freitas had built his first homebrewing rig, a tiny, three-pot system that looks like something you’d find in your buddy’s garage.
The brewery’s name had long since been decided. Friends and family have called Freitas “Sandude” since he was 18 years old, going to Pismo Beach at any opportunity to ride quads with his now- wife Janette.
“I go down to (Turlock) City Hall, and even the fire marshal calls me Sandude,” Freitas says.
Freitas points across the warehouse to a dimly lit corner. Sitting there, he still has that first homebrewing rig.
Not too long ago, that rig was Sandude Brewing Co. Freitas built his brewery from that tiny setup, working 12 hours a day to fill three kegs daily.
Today, that setup looks comically small next to the massive, industrial brewing system that dominates the room. Now he can brew 60 kegs in four hours.
Freitas admits he’s only using about 5 percent of his brewing capacity. But if business keeps booming, Sandude Brewing Co. will be expanding again before long.
Sandude’s beers are already in bars from Los Banos to Lodi, Twain Hart, and Copperopolis. It was a contract with Turlock’s Applebee’s that started this period of rapid growth, along with successful sales at Mike’s Grillhouse in Modesto and Red Brick Cafe in Turlock.
And now, just since January, Sandude’s beers are available in bottles. Sandude brews are distributed in grocery stores around the region like Save Mart, Costco, O’Brien’s Market, and Village Fresh. Within the next 2 months, Sandude will be on sale in more than 200 locations, with 30 new accounts added each month.
The reason for Sandude’s growing popularity is obvious: The beer tastes good. And not just to beer nerds.
“We like smooth, full bodied, drinkable beers,” Freitas said.
Sandude Brewing Co.’s beers are formulated so everyone can enjoy them, Freitas says, not just the “hop heads” who like bitter beers. But Sandude caters to beer nerds as well, with their big, bitter Double IPA. “We want to appeal to everybody,” Freitas said.
The brewery is focused on its four core styles, each with a beach-inspired names: Suntan Blonde, Shades of Amber, Woody Brown, and Sandude Double IPA. Each has its own unique, eye-catching label and tap handle, crafted with the sort of style and finesse rarely seen from an independent brewer.
One day, Freitas overheard some big beer distributors marveling at his tap handles. “There’s no way that’s a local beer,” they said.
Sandude may be local, but Freitas is already setting lookingtoexpand.HehopestospreadSandude’sbeers across California, taking root in beachside communities – and those that wish they were. After that, he says expanding distribution to another 17 to 20 states should be easy.
“Tell him, John,” an employee shouts in our direction. “You want to be sitting in Hawaii drinking your beer.”
Turlock may not be Hawaii, but running a brewery is miles away from Freitas’ old construction gig. Freitas references an old Samuel Adams ad, where the founder Jim Koch says “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“It’s true,” Freitas says with a smile.