Mare Island Brewing Co


In the early 1970’s, in the midst of the Cold War, Admiral Rickover (there’s a street named after him on Mare Island to this day) sent the USS Halibut, one of his treasured Mare Island nuclear submarines (Mare Island Shipyard built 70% of the nuclear navy), to the Sea of Okhotsk—Soviet waters where the U.S. was decidedly not welcome. The first part of the mission was to search the coast by periscope for a “cable crossing” sign, written in Russian; Rickover had theorized that there must be a communications cable running under the sea, connecting Moscow with the Soviet’s main naval base. The cable was found, the Halibut hovered at 400ft of depth, and two NSA divers silently exited a specially-designed diver lockout into the freezing water with near zero visibility and attached a 20-foot recording device. The top-secret operation “Ivy Bells” had begun. For the next decade, subs from Mare Island returned monthly to covertly, and dangerously, swap the recording tape, keeping the U.S. appraised of key aspects of the Soviet Navy.

This is one of our favorite stories from Mare Island, and we’re eager to commemorate this tale with the release of our newest lager: Ivy Bells Pilsner. More on that in a moment.


So much going on as we ramp up 2019 here. We’ve made the decision to move all of our major events to the Coal Shed, in order to dedicate our Ferry Taproom to serving the public with great beer, tasty food, and hosting live music every Saturday night. With Winter Feast and Super Bowl having kicked off the Coal Shed’s year in style, we’re busy as could be prepping for the upcoming Yardbird Party, a new Comedy Festival we’ll host at the Brewery, a half marathon we’re sponsoring, the July 4 celebration, a crazy BikeFest we’re helping organize that’ll start and stop right at our doors, and more.

Spring Yardbird Pick-Up Party
Saturday, May 11th, 1-4pm​

Comedy, Hops!
Saturday, May 18th, 1-4pm

Mare Island Half Marathon
Sunday, June 30th

4th of July Firework Viewing
Thursday, July 4th

Yardbird Brew Cruise
Saturday, August 10th

Yardbird Crawfish Boil
Saturday, September 14th

Saturday, September 28th

Mare Island BikeFest
Sunday, September 29th

Halloween Party
Saturday, October 26th

Fall Yardbird Pick-Up Party
Saturday, November 23rd, 1-4pm

Saturday, December 21st



Of note from the above list is the spring edition of our semi-annual, always-awesome, Yardbird Pick-Up party. With temperate Mare Island May weather guaranteeing our ability to spill out onto the waterfront promenade, Yardbirds will be given the option to get tickets for up to five additional guests. We’ve got The Brothers Strong lined up to play, and for this party, we’re going to have food trucks on hand to provide multiple options for grub. Of course, the Yardbird game will be as competitive as ever.


Not a member of our Yardbird?
There’s still time to join our beer club. Named after the civilian workers on the ship”yard”, our Yardbirds get invited to multiple events throughout the year, (including the semi-annual Pick-Up parties). And of course, the core of being a Yardbird is two releases, 1 case each, per year, with each case including new brews and flagship reserve beers not typically available to the general public. Click here to sign up or for more information


Included in this year’s spring Yardbird Release (and it may be available in the Ferry Taproom after if there is any leftover), is our “Ivy Bells” Pilsner, our newest lager. Ivy bells is smooth, cold-fermented, and crafted in the same location (Mare Island) as the famed submarines that once undertook that incredible secret mission from the story above.


Also included in the upcoming release is our new “Shop Bike” Sessions IPA. We were cleaning out a storage area, and lo-and-behold we stumbled across a vintage bike frame, one of the many official bikes of the Shipyard back when cycling was the main (really, only) form of transportation on the Island. You could get to Mare Island by rail, bus, ferry, or even walk across the causeway, but once on the base, bicycles were the main mode of transportation. In fact, the shop on the Island dedicated to servicing the Island’s bikes estimated they changed 16,000 bike tire tubes per year. We’ve been wanting to craft a lower-alcohol "sessionable" IPA, and we felt like this “Shop Bike” was the perfect inspiration.


Continuing on the theme of Mare Island bicycles, we’re excited to be one of the key founders/partners in the new Mare Island BikeFest, to be held at the end of summer on September 29th. Mark your calendar. A festival for all things bike, the BikeFest will feature casual, family-friendly, docent-led “Lap of the Shipyard” tours of the historic sites of Mare Island. On the festival grounds (on the waterfront promenade in front of our Coal Shed Brewery) will be Donny Robinson, an Olympian in BMX for the USA, providing a BMX clinic and exhibition for younger kids. And the highlight of the BikeFest will be the “Wet Mile Urban CX”, a crazy-exciting, unique, urban-cross bike event, where beginners, amateurs, and pros compete in heats, doing laps of the Island’s obstacles: mud, stairs, hills, jumps…everything we can put in their way. The event is free for spectators; come enjoy a brew and watch the excitement. Or consider grabbing your bike and entering one of the heats!


Click on the image for more information.  

Another event particularly worth note is our first ever comedy festival, to be held May 18th from 1-4pm at our Coal Shed Brewery. We’ve partnered with The Laugh Cellar to create a line-up of six stand-up comics, each performing half-hour sets outside on the waterfront at our Coal Shed Brewery.

The Laugh Cellar has done partnerships like these throughout wine country, but now we’re bringing beer into the mix for the first time with “Comedy, Hops!”. Come join us for a day of laughter and craft beer on the Mare Island Waterfront.



Operation Ivy Bells continued until Ron Pelton, a skilled NSA analyst who was nonetheless horrible with personal finance, walked into the Soviet Embassy and sold out the program for $5,000. But this was nine years after the cable was first tapped, and the program had provided invaluable information to the U.S. about the Soviet Navy and their movements throughout the Cold War. The Soviets raised the device, and today it is on display in the Patriotic War Museum in Moscow (in fact, the Mare Island Museum is in discussions to get the device on loan, back to Mare Island, for display here).

To bring the story even closer to home, as we were restoring our Coal Shed Brewery, we discovered our electrician (and friend) on the project, Sparky Steve Taugner was a veteran who served on the USS Richard B. Russell, one of the submarines that worked the Ivy Bells cable tap. His clearance level was such that he was one of only five sailors on the boat who knew the mission at the time; submarines don’t have windows, so the other sailors were unaware they were in Soviet Waters, performing that mission, with their boat rigged to self-destruct if found (the mission was considered that important). Only in 1999 when the entire mission was declassified and chronicled in the book Blind Man’s Bluff did all those sailors find out what they’d been doing all those years. But Sparky Steve knew all along. And he is the guy who re-wired our Coal Shed a couple years ago. Incredible stuff indeed.

With Ivy Bells Pilsner as well as our other beers, our events, our Ferry Taproom, our historic Coal Shed, and our Yardbird Club, we strive to help keep the story of Mare Island alive and share with the world the critical and colorful contribution the Shipyard made to our country. We invite you to come drink it in!

Damn the Torpedoes,

Kent and Ryan (Founders)

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