Michael Costello: Yolo Brewing Company

In an industrial area in West Sacramento, California, just off one of the busiest ports in the state, sits the region’s Beer-muda triangle. Three unique microbreweries within a few blocks of each other offering some 32 taps featuring beers ranging from traditional IPAs to stouts to English Pub Ales. And sitting right in the middle is Yolo Brewing Company.

Yolo Brewing Company
Yolo Brewing Company– West Sacramento, CA

The “yolo” in the name refers to Yolo County where the brewery is located and not necessarily that clever “you only live once” way of life. “First and foremost, it’s a geographic anchor,” laughs Yolo Brew founder and general manager Michael Costello.

Make no mistake– Costello doesn’t try to distance himself from the other “yolo”, he embraces it. He believes craft beer caters to those living in the moment, fellow outdoors enthusiasts who would rather spend a day on the river or riding down a mountain than on the couch.

“Why do those people do what they do? They are not waiting for the next time around to go out and live life well. So in that regard you drink craft beer for the same reasons… you only live once.”

Ironically, Costello has proven that in the beer industry “you only live once” doesn’t necessarily apply—at least to him. He’s now on his third life in the brewery biz.

Beer life number one started a couple of years after graduating from the University of California Davis’s fermentation science program in 1992.

“Took a few years off, drove trucks, just didn’t do anything intellectual for a couple of years. It clicked with me in ‘95 that I’ve got this knowledge, I’ve got this interest, it’s time to apply it and that’s when I came across the concept or the business model of a brew on premise; a place where people would make their own beer.”

It was around that time that he founded Brew It Up in Davis where you could get professional help to brew your own beer. It eliminated the complexities of home-brewing and the risks of making undrinkable swill. The business model proved to be more popular than even Costello expected.

Yolo Brewing Company
The kettles used to brew Yolo’s beer and where you can brew your own

“I went into thinking; it is one kettle, one batch, one person. Hey we have six kettles, we’re going to have six people here, but no it was six people per batch. So it was often just a big party.”

Such a party, that within seven years Costello moved Brew It Up from small-college town Davis east to big-city Sacramento. He also expanded the business. It was still a self-brewery but now it was also a full restaurant and bar.

“We jumped big,” he says and so began Costello’s second beer life. It lasted eight years.

Costello says a combination of poor location, economic downturn and mounting debt forced the brew-pub to close. He may have considered giving up at that point, but some willing investors convinced him he had another beer life to live.

“When Brew It Up failed I had a lot of people approach me quickly and say I want to be involved the next time around and I’m like, ‘do you see what’s going on here, this isn’t success.’ And I think their point was… this is a failed business for a lot of reasons, but not all of those reasons have to translate or transfer into whatever the next iteration of a brewery that I get involved with.”

Almost exactly three years after the doors of Brew It Up closed the doors for Yolo Brewing Company’s beer hall and brewery opened up. Yolo Brew doesn’t serve food but hosts food trucks. And like Brew It Up it still offers you the opportunity to brew your own beer.

Costello describes the brewery as, “a place where people can come in touch with the brewing process, drink the beers on-site, drink the beers they can’t get out in distribution and we also have the overhead and the space where we can grow a lot.”

With sweat on his brow and days that start at 5:30 in the morning, Costello admits running a brewery is a lot of hard work. Running one that lets guests brew their own beer is even harder. But it is work Costello is willing to put in to be successful and why not, you only live once.

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