Fairfax brewer rolls bagels into well-bread concoction

Greg Newcorn isn't putting garlic, cream cheese or lox into his beer. He's going straight for the bagels.

For some, the initial reaction to the notion of using bagels in the beer-making process is to pucker up their faces as if they had just bit into a wad of wasabi or were forced to watch a Carrot Top movie marathon.

But using bread to make beer was an invention that had already come of age when Abraham was still getting carded at the local grog shop. All kidding aside, the use of bread products dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, and notes Newcorn, "My favorite bread is the bagel."

Yet for all the naysayers, Newcorn has the hardware to prove they should at least consider drinking a bagel or two. His aptly named Bagel Beer, in only a year on the market, has racked up beer festival gold medals like a liquid Mark Spitz.

In April, the brew Newcorn first created in his Fairfax basement beat out 200 other beers in San Francisco's International Beer Festival. He's also ranked first in the Petaluma Beer and Chili Festival (in the beer category) and the Fairfax Beer Festival, outrunning labels such as Anchor Steam, Lagunitas and Deschutes — "the big boys."

Newcorn, 42, is the son of an American-born Catholic mother and a Belgian-born Jewish father who changed the spelling of the family name from Neukorn when he emigrated before his son's birth. However, the younger Newcorn spent the bulk of his formative years in his father's native land.

He says his beer is not unlike him: Jewish, but subtly so.

"Bagel Beer says 'Jewish' without being so Jewish. [It's saying] 'I'm Jewish,' but in a humorous way. Bagel Beer did that for me. And, it's a great name," said a laughing Newcorn, who describes his product as "well-bread beer."

"You never forget that name. You can walk up and down the beer aisle, and out of 100 beers, you won't forget the name Bagel Beer."

The Wharton School of Business graduate has been brewing and drinking beer for most of his life. He quaffed his first pint at the ripe old age of 8, growing up in Belgium, where young boys and girls don't bother with root beer and graduate immediately to the real thing.

Yet the concept of melding bagels and beers came during college, when most young people are open to experimentation of one sort or another.

"When I was rowing in college, we used to eat bagels as a source of fuel, and, after a competition, we used to enjoy bagels with beer," recalled Newcorn.

"We often dipped them in the beer to soften them up. So you'd get pieces of bagel floating in your beer and we'd call it 'bagel beer.'"

The process of creating the award-winning Bagel Beer is nowhere near as crude, however. Newcorn grinds as many as 30 dozen bagels into the mash that will eventually ferment and be used to create 600 22-ounce bottles of beer. And, almost like a matchmaker, Newcorn pairs different bagels with different beers.

"I look at the character of a bagel and see what I can do with it. Pumpernickel, for instance, is a dark bagel. Pumpernickel is rye-based, so I use rye mash in the malt, and create a porter that is black in color," he explained.

In fact, Newcorn's Pumpernickel Porter received five stars from Celebrator magazine, one of only three porters in the world to record a top score.

Newcorn, the sole employee of Lotsolox Brewing Co., still distributes Bagel Beer via nearly constant trips crisscrossing the Bay Area in his trusty minivan. But the brew is now also available in Southern California, Arizona and Florida. Locally, one can find it at stores such as Whole Foods, Mollie Stone's and Andronico's.

"I'd like to create a really mainstream product, but, if you look at the industry, Anheuser-Busch spent like $5 million on advertising alone last year. I'm not in any position to do that," he said.

"But the beer is really good. I think you'll find what benefits the taste of a bagel really applies to a beer. That's why people keep coming back for the bagel. This is my passion; hopefully it will convey to the world my love of the bagel."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.