Oakland, California

Ryan Nosek co-founded a brewery noted for its heavy metal roots and award-winning beer.

Nosek wryly describes the decor within his brewery’s taproom as “evil chic.” There are coffin emblems and skulls. Beers have names like Demonium, Cryptid, Final Rites, Gallows Humor, and Tormentor. The labels on its cans display artwork sometimes befitting death metal album covers. “Everything’s themed toward that metal kind of angle,” says Nosek, who manages the company’s branding.

But Nosek’s evil chic brewery has earned a very good reputation. This year, Ghost Town Brewing took home the top honors in its size category (5,001 to 15,000 barrels/year) at the Great American Beer Festival. For the second year in a row, its beer Nose Goblin won gold within the Imperial India Pale Ale category. Despite its higher alcohol content, Nosek says Nose Goblin “drinks like a single IPA.” And its mix of hops lend to it notes of “white grape, a little bit of that diesel character,” in addition to “dankness” and “armpit,” plus a “beautiful strawberry, darker berry flavor.” He notes how, “When you mix them all together, it’s a really interesting beer.”

The brewery also medaled at the GABF in 2022 for its India Pale Lager (a gold) and American-Style Strong Pale Ale (a silver). And over at this year’s World Beer Cup, its beer Ossuary won a silver medal in the category of Robust Porter after competing with entries from across the globe.

Not bad for a brewery originally started by four dudes in a heavy metal band. As legend goes, in order to afford their rehearsal space, the bandmates also brewed beer on a one-barrel system and distributed the kegs to restaurants. But eventually, Nosek, who was one of the guitarists, says, “We kind of figured we were better brewers than we were musicians.” That led them to open their 15-barrel brewery in 2017, recruiting their current head brewer, Justin Burdt, to join the band, so to speak. “His attention to detail is really what makes the difference for us in our beer,” says Nosek. “He has an excellent palate. He knows exactly what he’s looking for, as far as malt profiles, hop profiles.”

This year, Nosek expects the brewery to produce 8,500 barrels within its 8,000-square-foot facility. Last year, the total output was just around 5,000. “We did something crazy, like, 130 SKUs last year,” says Nosek. And only one of those is brewed year-round: its flagship beer, Inhume. “It’s not an over-the-top version of a West Coast IPA,” says Nosek. “It’s something aggressive enough — and has enough bitterness — to quench that everyday thirst for a West Coast IPA.”

Photos courtesy Ghost Town Brewing

The majority of the beer is distributed in a 70-mile-radius surrounding Oakland. “That would encompass Santa Cruz, all the way up to, about, Windsor, which is in the North Bay, and then as far east to Sacramento,” says Nosek. But Ghost Town Brewing has also stirred interest in the beer-centric city of Portland, Oregon. “We’re sending about 50 to 60 barrels every other month up there,” says Nosek, who’s also quick to note how, “There’s a big metal/punk scene up there.”

Thanks in large part to Ghost Town Brewing, Oakland has become a beer destination itself. The brewery’s name references the West Oakland neighborhood named Ghost Town, which is said to have been “bookended by two coffin manufacturers a long time ago.” And while gentrification has transformed the neighborhood, it still retains some of its sketchiness. When Ghost Town began, there were two other breweries operating in Oakland, but Nosek notes how, “They both have since closed — so we’re actually the oldest brewery in Oakland, even though we’re only from 2012. And now there are, I want to say, close to 15 breweries here, just in Oakland alone.”

Nosek adds about Oakland, “It’s kind of getting known as a really big beer town. And we get a lot of people from all over the U.S. that stop at this brewery, and others here in Oakland, just because of that. And I think that’s really important to point out: Just how amazing it is that a weird little town like Oakland can develop into this West Coast powerhouse of a beer scene. So, it’s really cool.”

Challenges: “Controlling growth,” says Nosek. “It’s scaling at a pace you’re comfortable with, while being able to maintain what we’d like to think of as a very over-the-top amount of oversight into the quality and care of the beer.”

Opportunities: Adding to its two taprooms situated in West Oakland and Laurel. Nosek says the opportunity is “opening up some additional locations” around the Bay Area.

Needs: “More people,” says Nosek. “Just good, talented folks to help continue the growth and the trajectory.”