Bootlegger’s Brewery: of business and beer

Aaron Barkenhagen, founder of Bootlegger’s Brewery in Fullerton, CA is one of those rare cases where school and real-life actually correlated. We sent Jace Milstead, ever excited over Mint Chocolate Porter, to Bootlegger’s to talk beer, books, business, and the point where they all meet.


Being a business owner was always part of Aaron’s life plan, “I always had this goal of basically working for myself and being my own boss by the time I was 30.” Graduating from Cal State Fullerton’s entrepreneurship program, he had a leg up against the typical homebrewer in terms of making a business out of beer.

Schooling gave him a foundation of skills like creating a business plan, which was something he needed to do to graduate. He recognizes his education as being helpful to his success as a businessman. As his business grows, he is able to roll with the “awesome and stressful” growth of 175 to 3500 annual barrels over a 3.5 year period partly from this foundation.


Aaron homebrewed for 10 years before doing it full time. The name comes from their brewing style, “we’re not afraid to try any style of beer. We regularly brew up to 20 different beers at a time.” Maintaining fearless homebrewing roots with an emphasis on great tasting beers is what they are all about at Bootlegger’s.

We say fearless because they don’t have magic barrels creating golden beers. In fact, what they consider good is not always the case with the public. When asked about conflicting opinions, Aaron says, “it happens all the time.” But he sticks to his approach, “brewing is a kind of artistic expression. You got to go with your gut. Not everyone is going to be a stellar performer but you got to try it.”

In the bootlegging spirit, they’re foremost goal is to produce beers for locals with an identity based on quality, “we don’t hold ourselves to one certain style or one certain geographic area of brewing.” They just want to make great beers.

The intersection

You can make great beers that nobody ever notices and you can go to business school and run your business to the ground. While the opposite can also be said, what is it that allowed Aaron to put 2 and 2 together?

It goes back to his plan of being his own boss before hitting 30. With the homebrewing interest and experience, plus the goal and deadline, “I quit my day job a month and a half before my 30th birthday,” says Aaron.

Beer tasting

Here’s some tasting notes on the beers that Aaron and Jace had during the interview.

Hefeweizen – traditional German style with more banana than clove and a little darker. Uses a specialized strain of yeast that accentuates the banana notes. Aaron describes it as a “banana cream pie” strain which is soft and creamy.

Black Phoenix – chipotle coffee stout served on nitrogen gas. Ground chipotle and Kéan Coffee. Likens it to some wines, a little bit of acidity balances the beer with a subtle chipotle finish.

Eliminator – Sorachi Ace hops and big lemon notes. Dry hopping with bitterness that doesn’t overpower.

Mint Chocolate Porter – started as a crazy idea. Toughest part was finding enough suppliers for the mint. Jace goes gaga over this beer.

Bootleg video

See Jace’s full interview with Aaron at the Bootlegger’s brewery.