Why the death of Ramona’s little ChuckAlek is a big loss


In the circle of beer life, breweries open and breweries close. Nothing to freak out about.

Yet I’m mourning the imminent closure of ChuckAlek, the small but noteworthy five-year-old Ramona brewery, for several reasons:

1. Good beer. Co-owners Grant Fraley and Marta Jankowska were dedicated to beers that were solid interpretations of classic German and British styles.

2. Good causes. ChuckAlek brewed fundraising beers for various charitable efforts. Among them: benefitting victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shootings and assisting people with lupus.

3. Good people. ChuckAlek backed the Pink Boots Society, a group for women in the beer industry. This was not an empty gesture: in February, ChuckAlek became one of the breweries with a female head brewer, Sam Olson.

In May, Fraley and Jankowska announced plans to move to Denver. For awhile, it seemed ChuckAlek — the first names of the founders’ grandfathers — would continue with absentee owners. Last week, though, they told staff that the original Ramona operation would close at the end of July, while the North Park biergarten would carry on until Sept. 2.

This is a setback for Samuel Adams’ “Brewing the American Dream” program. In 2015, ChuckAlek secured a $10,000 loan and internship from the Boston-based brewery, with Sam Adams founder Jim Koch advising Fraley and Jankowska on marketing, brewing and other issues.

In 2017, Samuel Adams issued a 12-pack of beers from six independent breweries, including ChuckAlek’s Time Hop Porter.

“Getting a nationwide release like this is pretty exciting,” Fraley told the Union-Tribune then. “We certainly don’t have this kind of reach normally.”

In fact, the brewery was one of the smallest in the county, with annual sales never topping 1,000 barrels. (A barrel is 31 gallons.)

“We’re still a nice, small brewery,” Fraley said in 2017.

In our crowded, competitive beer market, is there still room for nice, small breweries?