Bethany Clough

Fresno’s newest brewery is open. It’s huge and there’s cheese in the beer

Walk into Fresno’s newest brewery and you’re likely to say “Wow.”

That’s because the historic building Zack’s Brewing Co. took over in downtown Fresno is huge – way bigger than you’d expect for a couple of home brewers who decided to open their first taproom.

Zack’s also puts cheese in its a beer, an oddity that inspires the word “wow” and all kinds of other exclamations. More on that in a moment.

The taproom is at 712 Fulton St. in downtown Fresno, across the street and a few doors down from Tioga-Sequoia Brewing Co.

Its grand opening is from noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15.

There will be four food vendors (Rude Boys Acai, The Rolling Donut, Dab Tacos and Just the Tip catering), two bands (Llama Boy and Bill Clifton’s Chicken & Whiskey Band) and a photo booth.

The 7,500-square-foot building in was built in 1911. The Walling and Alexander building was built as what appears to be a garage for stages. An old photo by Claude C. “Pop” Laval shows, not stage coaches pulled by horses, but a sort of an early bus — an auto with three or four rows of seats.

Most recently the building was an auto body and paint shop.

Now Zack’s Brewing is a huge open space with exposed beams, brick walls and a giant chess set. A architect cousin of the owners who designed Riley’s Brew Pub designed the Zack’s space. The beer is brewed in the back.

“The vibe in here is so cool and as soon as we walked in, we thought, ‘Yes, this is the one,’” said Gail Zack, one half of the married couple who founded the brewery, along with her husband Steven Zack.

What about the cheese?

The idea of using cheese came when Gail was eating blue cheese and drinking a glass of red wine. Her husband took a bite of the cheese and thought it paired well with the IPA he was drinking.

A glass of of It’s All Gouda porter beer made with smoked gouda cheese sits on the bar at the new Zack Brewing in downtown Fresno on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. Zack Brewing will be holding a grand opening on Saturday. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

Now many of Zack’s beers are flavored with cheeses like smoked gouda and blue cheese. The cheese is boiled in the early stages of beer making with the wort, the liquid that will become beer after its fermented. Sometimes they do “dry cheesing,” like dry hopping where hops are thrown into the fermentation vessel.

Putting cheese in beer elicits some interesting reactions, not always positive.

“Then they try it and they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s actually pretty good,” Steven said. “As far as I know, we’re the first brewery to put cheese in beer.”

The flavors are subtle. The “it’s all gouda” beer is a porter, with smoked gouda giving it a slight smoky flavor. The “hot Hawaiian” beer, named after their good-looking, beer-drinking Hawaiian friends, is a gose beer flavored with gouda, jalapeno, pineapple and bacon. It’s sorta tastes like a Hawaiian pizza.

Zack’s doesn’t serve food, but will have food trucks in its beer garden, similar to the setup at Tioga-Sequoia.

And speaking of Tioga, Zack’s is a much smaller operation. Despite its large building, they don’t bottle and aren’t on store shelves or restaurants yet. To compare, Zack’s makes it beer in batches of three to seven barrels at a time. Tioga-Sequoia does 30 barrels at a time and can do two batches a day.

There’s a chance Zack’s could run out of beer at their grand opening. If that happens, they may not be open the following weekend. Check Zack’s Facebook page to see if they’re open. Once things are up and running smoothly, they hope to open Thursday evenings and from noon to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

“If we have beer, we’ll be open,” Steven Zack said.

Zack’s is the latest brewery in Fresno’s fledgling Ale Trail, a group of breweries in downtown Fresno. It joins Tioga-Sequoia, Full Circle Brewing at 620 F Street and HoP PK brew pub at 820 Van Ness Ave. Next up will likely be 411 Ales & Spirits, which is close to opening its brewery and distillery at 411 Broadway St.

Bethany Clough covers restaurants and retail for The Fresno Bee. A reporter for 20 years, she now works to answer readers’ questions about business openings, closings and other business news. She has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and her last name is pronounced Cluff.