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By Lorraine Sanders
Richard Brewer-Hay leads a charmed life. Not only is the 31-year-old British-born Noe Valleyan happily married to wife Alyson and gainfully employed in the high-tech world, but he has a sparkling new brew pub in his garage, courtesy of the Learning Channel's home-makeover show While You Were Out.
The popular reality television series helps friends and family members play Santa to one another by completely revamping a room in 48 hours or less and revealing the results as a surprise at the show's end. Last spring, the show picked as its candidate for renovation the Brewer-Hays' self-described "Elizabeth Street Brewery," a basement-like room at the back of the couple's garage where Richard had been experimenting with brewing beer for two years.
For Alyson, 31, the initial call from the show's producers was as surprising as the final "reveal" was for her husband. While visiting the BBC's web site one day in February 2005, Alyson saw a While You Were Out advertisement calling for contestants.
"I filled it all out and clicked submit and basically thought I'd never hear from them again," says Alyson, whose maiden name is Brewer, by fortuitous coincidence.
She didn't hear a thing for two months. But then the producers called one day in April with a series of follow-up questions. How big was the project space? What did it look like? How will you get your husband out of the house? (She and Richard have lived at the corner of Elizabeth and Douglass streets for the past four years.)
In response to the last question, luck landed on Alyson's side. It just so happened that on the August weekend the show wanted to take over the house, she and Richard had already made plans to be out of town. A few days before the scheduled trip, Alyson told her husband that her aunt was making a surprise visit to San Francisco and perhaps he should take the opportunity to go on a boys' weekend up north while she visited a spa with her aunt. Richard took the bait.
But instead of relaxing on a massage table, Alyson spent the weekend pitching in, as a crew of 20 to 25 transformed the couple's bare-bones brewery into a cozy, stylish space complete with English Tudor detailing, pub tables, a lounge area, and work and storage space for her husband's hobby. As added touches, the previously plain walls became muted orange and teal blue in honor of Richard's beloved Miami Dolphins, and display shelves were built to showcase beer bottles. The show also called in the experts from San Francisco Brewcraft to create a special recipe for "While You Were Out Stout" and deliver its ingredients.
On the show, which aired Oct. 22, suspense mounted as the crew painted and repainted the walls to get just the right colors, raced to build and stain tables with faux-antique details, and created handmade fabric napkins stamped with the Elizabeth Street Brewery logo. With the show's huge truck parked out front, the work continued right up to the last minute.
"The main crunch was [that] they had to get everything in here back in the truck and move it so he didn't see it," Alyson explains.
When Richard arrived home around 6 p.m. on Sunday evening, Alyson was frantic. She told him that one of his beer fermenters--containers where hops and the beer brew are stored for up to two weeks at a time--had broken. Then she rushed him down the stairs into the pub.
"I was stunned," Richard says of the moment he saw the cameras, crew, and newly decorated room.
For Richard, who began brewing beer after the couple married in 2003, the pub makeover illustrates why he's "the luckiest guy on the planet." After his surprise, he found out that Alyson had told the show's producers she wanted to give her husband a beer sanctuary to thank him for being so giving and caring to his family and friends.
"I love my wife!" Richard declared as he surveyed the crew's work at the end of the show.
Along with brewing beer, Richard runs a blog about the pub and Bay Area breweries and is now developing podcasts for beer enthusiasts.
"When we got married, someone told me, 'Even though you've been together a long time and even though you don't have any problems, it's always nice to have a hobby,'" Richard says, grinning. "This hobby that I was going to have that had nothing to do with my wife or my job has ended up being both."
And both the Brewer-Hays are happy with that. Alyson has learned brewing techniques along the way, and the couple has settled on four favorite recipes to perfect: the ESB (Extra Special Bitter), Mabhotscha Brown, Rams Red, and Sandros Stout. The last three are named after guides the Brewer-Hays met on a trip to Africa earlier this year.
Can things get any better?
Says Richard, "Ultimately, if we're completely honest with you, we want to open a brewery."
And they've got their eye on Noe Valley.
To learn more about the Brewer-Hays' adventures in brewing, visit their blog at http://blog.360.yahoo.com/rmbrewer_hay.