Scenes from Hermitage Brewing

I don’t think I’ll ever get tired visiting breweries and talking to the folks there who make the beer. This time, my travels took me to San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing, where I spoke with Brewmaster Peter Licht and Head Brewer/Cellarmaster Greg Fillipi.

Hermitage is not your typical brewery. For starters, 75% of what they brew is made under contract and sold under a different label. If you ever see “Brewed in San Jose, CA” on the label of a small California brewery, chances are it was brewed at the Hermitage facility. Hermitage has their own line-up, but what they’re really known for is their single hop IPA-series, a fun and tasty way to explore hops in their many forms, and some highly underrated barrel-aged sour ales. I’ll have a lot more to say about Hermitage in an upcoming writing assignment, but for now, I’ll leave you with a few pictures from where the Hermitage magic happens.


Hermitage Disco Ball
Every brewery should have a disco ball

Hermitage man leaning overhermitage equipmentHermitage toolsHermitage make it niceHermitage moving barrelshermitage fermentershermitage Barrels and fermentersHermitage Barrels and fermenters2Hermitage Foedershermitage barrels and foeders

hermitage fermented kiwi
There’s fermented kiwi in there
Hermitage - Peter and Greg
Hermitage Brewmaster Peter Licht (l) and Head Brewer Greg Filippi

hermitage glass

Rambling Reviews 3.19.2018: The Sour Edition

You might say I’ve been in a sour mood. I’ve been savoring tart brews these days, whether soured by the yeast used to make them or by the fruit added. Let me tell you about three that have particularly caught my fancy.

We’ll start with Rubaeus Raspberry from Founders Brewing.  The beer kind of sneaked up on me. At first sip, I’m thinking it’s not very tart, there’s a moderate sweetness and then pow! Lots of fresh raspberry flavors blew through my taste buds, ending with a soft earthy finish. Brewing this with a neutral, light underlying malt was a wise decision by Founders, as it let all those big raspberry flavors shine. One of those rare beers that work both as a thirst quenching lawn mower beer, or something to slowly sip and contemplate.

hermitage flower sourMoving along, there’s Flower Sour from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing. Hermitage brewer Greg Filippi ages a blonde ale for up to 24 months in French oak barrels and flavors it with a bunch of flowers including rose, hibiscus, lavender and chamomile. Yep, there’s a real depth of floral character to this moderately sour ale, which reveals a little white winey-ness. Sorry, I can’t really tick off of a bunch of flavor characteristics, I was just enjoying this one too much to get into all that.

We’ll end with the 2017 version of Almanac Beer’s Farmer’s Reserve Blueberry which uses four, count ’em four pounds of blueberries in each and every gallon. So as you might expect, it has a lot of blueberry flavors, rounded out with a little sweetness, a slight tartness, a noticeable peppery spiciness and a barely detectable earthiness. It’s a fascinating composition that screams “blueberry” but it’s all those different, barely noticeable accents surrounding the blueberries that really makes this one work so well.


almanc farmers reserve blueberry

Scenes from Almanac Beer’s new brewery in Alameda

It’s pretty amazing how much Almanac Beer accomplished as a contract brewery, borrowing brewing equipment at a few locations to create their unique, farm to bottle style. So it’s pretty exciting to see what they’ll accomplish now that they have their own brewery that’s just opened in Alameda in a World War II area warehouse they share with Admiral Maltings.

Perhaps the best thing about writing about beer visiting breweries, talking with brewers and learning their craft. The hour I recently spent with Almanac’s Jesse Friedman was a top notch clinic in that respect. Behind the farm-to-bottle ethos is a lot of careful process coupled with science, and it really pays off in beer infused with all sorts of character from the meticulously sourced ingredients, many from California farms.

You’ll be able to read all about it in an upcoming issue of Edible East Bay.  For now, here’s a few shots from inside Almanac’s new brewery.

(The top photo is from Almanac Beer, the ones below are mine.)



Almanac’s Damian Fagan (l) and Jess Friedman

Take aways from the 2017 Hop Growers of America Statistical Report

I must admit, my idea of a good time is looking at hop statistics. The 2017 Hop Growers of America Statistical Report has been released and I’ve been pouring over the numbers recently.  Here are a few of my take aways from after looking over the numbers.

The growth of hop acreage has slowed. In the 2016 report, overall hop acreage growth was up 17.9%, compared to 2017, with a reported growth of a more modest 5.3%. Since 2012, US hop acreage has increased 79.5% but that looks to be slowing down considerably.

Hop yields have increased as well as the price per pound. Good news for hop farmers as yields improved from 1,710 pounds per acre in 2016 to 1,960 last year. The report attributes this to less “baby” or newly planted hops in the field and better weather conditions in 2017.  (It takes generally three years for a hop plant to fully mature and deliver maximum yield.) In addition to getting more hops per acre, hop farmers are getting more money for their hops, at $5.92 per pound in 2017 compared to $5.72 in 2016. I should note that different hop varieties will fetch different prices, so averaging this out is a little problematical, and some farms certainly made out better than others. The average revenue per acre jumped to $11,600  in 2017 from $9,800 the previous year, which the Hop Growers of American estimate that each acre of hops gained a profit of $785 per acre when an estimated $10,810 per acre of production costs are factored in. So hop farmers did well in 2017.

Now what’s good for hop farmers is often bad for brewers and consumers, since if the price of hops go up, breweries have to pay more for them and often pass those costs on to consumers in terms of higher prices. But considering the modest price growth, it’s doubtful this would create a disruptive shock that would affect a breweries ability to brew certain beers, or result in sudden pricing increase to consumers. A thriving network of hop growers allows for innovation and greater willingness to take risks on exotic hops that might product the next killer IPA or be a dud. So in general, I think these numbers are sign of a healthy hop market that should also be good for both breweries and consumers.

Hop growing outside the Pacific Northwest has really slowed. The Pacific Northwest (Washington / Idaho / Oregon) accounted for 95.5% of the total hop acreage in the United States, so contributions from other states are tiny to the overall market. But for people like me, eager to see breweries across the country source local hops, and the potential for different hop growing regions to express their unique terroir, it’s something I pay attention to.

In 2016, hop acreage outside the Pacific Northwest grew at a gaudy 64.9% clip. In 2017, this growth still outpaced the overall hop industry, but was way down from 2016, at 18.9%. A few states outside the Pacific Northwest that had small but booming hop farming activity screeched to a halt in 2017.  This includes my home state of California, which had zero growth in 2017 despite growing at about 50% each of the previous two years, and Colorado which also showed zero growth in 2017 despite nearly doubling hop acreage in 2016.  California and Colorado accounted for 130 and 200 acres respectively, which isn’t very much.  But for people hoping to see new hop growing regions emerging, it was disappointing to see a couple of promising hop growing regions stalling out.

Michigan may become next significant hop growing region. The one bright spot outside the Pacific Northwest is the state of Michigan, which now totals 810 acres of hops under cultivation, a 24.6% increase over last year. This is significant as it appears Michigan’s hop industry is gaining critical mass.  As Bart Watson, Chief Economist explained in an e-mail, a big issue facing farmers outside the Pacific Northwest is “…a lack of processing infrastructure, which is really expensive, and limits the scale they can get to. Michigan looks like it’s largely overcome that threshold.”

I’ll mention the states of New York, Wisconsin, and Minnesota also continued to show strong growth, but at acreages of 400, 297, and 120 respectively, it will take a while before they show the same promise seen in Michigan.

It ought to be interesting to see what developments occur 2018.

(Hop photo from Wikipedia Commons)


Racing into 2018 at the 408k / The passing of running legend Sir Roger Bannister

Running seemed to be going good for me early 2018, but you never really know how good running is going until you test yourself in a race. So I eagerly lined up in Sunday morning’s 408k, a 8 kilometer race that starts at the SAP Center (I still call it the “Shark Tank”), weaves through San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood and finishes at the swanky Santana Row Mall. It was 35 degrees F during the early morning warm-ups, frigid for Bay Area conditions.  But with clear skies, the sun quickly warmed things up for ideal conditions at start time.

My goal with to break 33:00, and felt a hitting a time faster than 32:30 would be pretty difficult. So when I passed through the 1st mile just under 6:30 pace feeling reasonably comfortable, I took that as a good sign.  Continuing to focus on pace, the next mile was about the same time and mile three was even a little faster, all the while slowly moving up the field, picking off two or three runners each mile.  Some small hills on mile 4 and mounting fatigue begin to wear on me, and my pace slowed to over 6:30 per mile pace. I started to get a bit gassed on the last mile, but had enough left to finish strong and crossed the finish line in 31:50 on a course that was probably about a tenth of mile short, based on my GPS watch. Adding about 40 seconds to my time to compensate for that tenth of a mile seemed about right, which puts me right at 32:30 for the 8 kilometer distance, right on fastest target. So I really couldn’t ask for a better racing start for 2018. Next race up is the Gr8tr Race, an 8 mile race from Los Gatos to Saratoga and back, held on April 29th.

That success was tinged with sadness that morning with news outlets reporting the  passing of running legend Sir Roger Bannister.  In many ways, Roger Bannister was in the right place at the right time to break the 4 minute mile barrier, but mere circumstance could not have picked a greater running ambassador. His humility in his achievement of excellence was inspiration to countless runners, including myself. During a time in the early 90’s at my running peak, I devoured his book, The Four Minute Mile. Bannister’s amiable style, coupled with a scientific approach to running, honesty about his failures and weaknesses, and a matter-of-fact attitude about his supreme accomplishments moved me at the time. I wanted to be him.

I’ve choked up a couple times since learning of his death. Rest in peace, Sir Roger. You are so badly missed.






Women in Beer in Edible Silicon Valley

Jenny Lewis, CEO of Strike Brewing (photo by Yvonne Cornell) 


It seemed like an easy idea at the time, write about two women in leadership positions in the Silicon Valley Brewing community. It turned out a lot harder than that. I certainly wanted to avoid a patronizing “see, women can brew beer, too!” kind of article, because, well you know, they can. And I wanted to avoid muck raising if there was no muck to be raised. Sure, many women face a lot of discrimination, but I wanted to tell the stories of how Strike Brewing’s CEO Jenny Lewis and Freewheel Brewing’s Alicia Blue got to where they were. Both told me they pretty went about their business finding a career in beer without having to deal with a lot of sexism.

The female editors at Edible Silicon Valley were enthusiastic about the story, which is always good, but sometimes I felt they wanted it to go in a different direction than the material dictated. At times, I felt some pressure to produce a story about the freewheeling, sassy barrier busting women of Silicon Valley Beer about subjects that were more subdued and technical. It didn’t help my first draft was a little tentative and lacking some punch. Good collaborative efforts often involve tension, as this one did, and I certainly appreciate the editors comments even though at times I wasn’t too thrilled to hear them.

But I’m pretty happy with the final result, which I credit my editors for helping achieve this, and you can read here:

Women in Beer: Meet the Masters

(Top photo of Alicia Blue from Devin Roberts, Freewheel Brewing)

Scenes from The Rake at Admiral Maltings and the Almanac Barrel House Brewery and Taproom

In less than a year, a dormant World War II  warehouse in the gritty industrial district of western Alameda has been transformed into a hub of activity centered around local brewing. The last time I was at this building was May of last year when it was an active, chaotic construction zone. Admiral Maltings’s Curtis Davenport and I dodged buzzing forklifts as he showed me around the largely empty building, describing all the plans to turn the spaces into a floor malt house and adjoining tap room serving brews that used Admiral’s malt. Last weekend, I finally got to see what could only be conceptualized back then.

There’s something about sitting only three feet away from a bed of malt while sipping away on a beer brewed with barley that had only recently been lying on that very floor. Maybe I’m just a hopeless beer geek, but I found the whole experience magical. Having had over five beers from various breweries using malt from this malt house, there’s something different about it my palate just can’t quite identify. The brews have a depth and complexity despite a simplified malt bill. Only California-grown barley is malted here and only barley from a single farm is used in each batch. I think it’s too early to identify a unique California-malt character but the possibilities are intriguing, and to people like me, exciting.

On the other side of the building, I checked at the recently opened Almanac Barrel House, Brewery and Taproom. Given their heavy emphasis on fruit infused sours, this was more a celebration of yeast and local farming than malt. The place was also a celebration of capitalism as they were selling plenty of beer that afternoon. There’s a much stronger drive to connecting people more directly to the source of their beer than all the feel-good stories and growing awareness of food culture could possibly create due to a simple fact  People pay good money to drink beer in rooms full of shiny brewing equipment. That was on full display at the crowded tap room.  I’ll leave you with a few pictures from that afternoon.


Getting some reading done at The Rake Taproom at Admiral Maltings
This was my view of the malt house floor.
Another view of the malt house floor
In the Almanac Beer tap room, where people like to drink in front of shiny brewing equipment
Nary a seat was to be had at the Almanac Tap Room