The Story of High Water Brewing
Our story begins in the small farm town of Romulus, NY – part of the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY where Steve Altimari is from…
Born and raised here, Steve attended college at nearby Alfred University. After graduating with a Ceramic Engineering degree, the industry of the same name promptly collapsed. With a question mark on the future, the road called Steve’s name. He hopped in the cab of a truck for a one-way trip out west to meet up with some friends in Santa Cruz, CA. Which also, unbeknownst at the time, inspired the name of the kiwi and kumquat sour in our Calambic series – West Meets East.
While living at the beach and selling cameras at a local store was all good, a customer learned of Steve’s ceramic engineering background and helped him score an interview at Intel, where he worked for the next 10 years. It’s during this period that Steve got into home brewing and shortly won a Gold medal for his Barley Wine at the local Celtic Fair competition. From here, his operation escalated from the stove top to the garage to a homemade gravity fed 3 tier homebrew system. Though working full time at Intel, all Steve’s free time was spent brewing beer and hosting friends to enjoy it. A light goes off that it’s time for a change…
Deciding to leave his job at Intel, Steve enrolled at the American Brewer’s Guild in Davis. Around this time, he saw a brewpub for sale in Stockton which he ended up buying. After performing his course apprenticeship in this location, Steve kicked off his professional brewing career with El Dorado Brewing, though the name ultimately changed to Valley Brewing after learning the El Dorado name was already in use. As Steve notes, this was in the “collaboration not litigation” era of brewing.
Steve and his wife Barri, who is First Lady and Flavorologist of High Water, spent about 2 ½ years in this role with Barri as the chef and Steve brewing the beer. However, the business turned into a full-time restaurant management operation which was not their ultimate goal. So, they sold it to focus on the brewing side of things. While Barri spent the next 4 years opening 3 new restaurants in Stockton, Steve continued to hone his craft. He managed the brewpub system at Valley while also building a separate production facility and taking the Valley Brew brands to market.
Ten years on, Steve initiated a partnership deal to acquire the production brewery but the deal went sideways. So, he headed back to NY to formulate a plan. It’s here that his mother, Marcia, plants the seed for High Water by suggesting he open his own brewery and name it after the loose translation of their last name – Altimari. In Italian, Alta means High and Mare means Sea. It’s Steve’s buddy Jay Brooks of Brookston Beer Bulletin fame that took it from here to its present name of High Water by noting Steve was coming from the depths of the Valley into the High Water. Steve concurs and a brewery was born.
At this point, Steve headed back west to his present-day home city of Stockton. It’s here that he incorporates High Water Brewing with his current board of directors, Kevin Sweeney and Davin Abrahamian. They license and fund a contract brewing company with Drake’s Brewing out of San Leandro. After a successful launch, they outgrew their space at Drake’s in 2 short years. So the brewing operation was moved to Hermitage Brewing in San Jose which is still the primary production facility today. As well, EJ Phair Brewing in Pittsburg becomes the High Water production license home and additional brewing contracts are added at Uncommon Brewers in Santa Cruz and Morgan Territory Brewing in Tracy. From self-distribution in the beginning, High Water is now available through 35 distributors in 16 states and over 20 countries.
All About the Beer
As you might already know, the 2 most popular craft beer styles in the US are IPA followed by DOUBLE IPA. Given this state of the industry, Steve began with his award winning Hop Riot IPA followed by Retribrëwtion, an Extremely Large Imperial IPA with Many IBU’s. But considering the incredible number of India Pale Ale’s on the market today and the ever-present challenge of freshness around this beer style, Steve and Barri make a shift. First, all High Water hoppy beers get downsized in scope and are done only on draft in the local market to ensure quality over quantity. And Barri comes up with the idea for a s’mores themed beer which Steve develops a recipe around and Campfire Stout is born in 2012. Within a few weeks of introducing the beer it becomes apparent that Campfire Stout is destined for larger markets. In a few short months it is High Water’s number one selling beer and still is to this day.
The Calambic series is a natural expression of Steve’s love for the sour beer style. He’s been brewing all manner of sours over the last 10 years driven by a love of the experimentation and blending process. And in general, he prefers the fruity character of these brews versus the inherent bitterness of IPAs.
A recent addition to the lineup is Cucumber Kolsch and Break Apart Chocolate Orange Cream Ale. These deliberately smaller beers are not just gimmick brews with flavored syrups. They’re a testament to the High Water motto of “Unique Flavors for the Curious Palate.” Each beer is all about bringing out the flavors described by the name and it’s a process that Steve takes seriously. They’re all about drinkability because let’s face it, not everyone wants an imperial porter or barley wine on a summer golf outing.
Question and Answer Time
What’s the best part of Steve’s job?
The feedback from super stoked fans, seeing High Water on tap when you walk into a bar, the overall craft beer community from brewing to sales to the consumers and last but certainly not least the reaction from a customer the first time they taste Campfire Stout!
And the hardest part?
Not working directly at the brewery every day makes it harder to address issues that come up. The relative lack of control means you can’t be a control freak. You have to trust the people to do the job they are best at. Of course, quality control is still a never-ending source of fun, drinking beer and getting paid to do it!
What is High Water’s annual production volume?
We began with 500 barrels in year one and have increased by roughly 500 barrels per year bringing us to our current volume of 4000 barrels in 2017.