Clandestine Brewing Sneaks Back into San Jose

When Clandestine Brewing opened the spring of 2014, it quickly established itself as one of the Bay Area’s quirkiest breweries. It was really more of a home brewing collective of four brewers selling a sprawling selection of brews out a small, cramped tap room in a   small industrial space in South San Jose. It was always packed. Problem was, there was some weird rift they had with their landlord and  finally a year and a half later, they had to close down, always vowing to reopen. It took about a year, but Clandestine’s second act started last fall, just south of downtown San Jose in a bigger and more comfortable space. I’ve been itching to return to the reborn Clandestine and finally got the chance this past weekend.

Good news, the beer is arguably better than before. I always felt that at the old Clandestine with their rapid tap list turn-over that maybe 50% of their beer was good to great, 30% of it OK, and the remaining 20% were clunkers with noticeably flaws or flavors that just didn’t work. That never bothered me too much, since they were always doing something unique. Even tasting a couple failures, all I could think of was “Well, that was  interesting.” But then, not everyone would be so forgiving if handed  a pint of some hot phenolic mess so I always told people to taste a lot of brews at Clandestine to find something you like.

It’s always a little risky judging a brewery on a single visit but it seems like they’ve really upped their brewing game. Everything I sampled was good to great, and thankfully, the crew hasn’t lost their playful, anything goes attitude, which never degenerates into silly gimmicks or weird homebrewing experiments.

Hands down, my wife and my favorite Clandestine brew that afternoon was their “Roger St. Peppers“, a smoked Pale Ale with Jalapeno. Chile beers are dangerous, but Clandestine found the absolute perfect level of heat, and the Jalapeno slowly picking up steam to become slightly noticeable at the end of each sip. It’s just a lot of fun to drink. I also loved the “Choco-Conaught“, a dark Lager, with liquid chocolate and toasted coconut. That could turn into like some big horrible disaster, but all the flavors were well balanced and worked together well in a wintery Lager. Other notable beers I tried were “M-Rations” IPA, “Hopothetical Idaho 007” Pale Ale, and their popular “Milky Way” Stout that I was always a big fan of.

Clandestine is back, better than ever, and looks like they’re here to stay for a long time.

Checking out the Hop Dogma taproom

Hop Dogma Brewing in many ways fails to deliver on the premise of their name, and for that, we should be grateful.

Merriam-Webster defines “dogma” as “something held as an established opinion; especially a definite authoritative tenet”.  Given the rapidly evolving nature of hops in the brewing industry, one could argue a “hop dogma” in today’s brewing simply doesn’t exist. For a brewery with “Hop” in their name, there were only three IPA’s on the tap from a line-up of more than ten brews the day my the wife and I visited their El Granada tap room on the shore of Half Moon Bay.  Three IPA’s out of 10+ taps is a welcome sight, in my opinion, given that IPA’s often completely dominate selections throughout the Bay Area.  In another refreshing change, they had as many Lager beers as IPA’s available, with plenty of malt forward Stouts and Porters as well. Yes, I’m taking the name way too seriously, but I never figured out the dogma of Hop Dogma.

Oh yeah, how was the beer? Pretty damn good. Sorry, no fancy schmancy tasting notes here from samplers I tried. But starting with “We’re All Going to Helles”, a solid Helles Lager and other excellent brews like “Lean Mean Vanilla Bean Porter”, it was pretty much one impressive beer after another. Now at 8.2% abv, “Lean Mean Vanilla Bean” might not be so lean, but the vanilla level was just where it needed to be noticeable, adding itself to the mix without screaming “I’m HERE!” like many vanilla additions do.  And yes, they do hoppy beers at Hog Dogma, my favorite effort being “Nelson Mosella”, a Double IPA brewed Nelson Sauvin, Mosaic, and Ella hops full of bright tropical character. I also took a couple sips of “Honest Intuition” one of those hazy, New England IPA’s I typically despise and…..must admit it has a few redeeming qualities.  “Le Monk Da Funk”, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale finished with Brettanomyces, was an arresting dry ale with lots of popping yeast-driven flavors. I’ve become a recent fan of Hop Dogma’s gleefully unbalanced IPA Alpha Dankopotamus, even though I kept needing help from the bar tender to correctly pronounce it.

The Hop Dogma tap room is on the ground floor a majestic old wooden house on the corner in El Greneda, giving it a feel like you’re sharing beers in somebody’s living room. The ocean views are nice, too. The cold wet afternoon we stopped by, lots of locals filled the place, chatting away and slowly sipping pints of their favorites. I bet it’s packed on hot summer days.

We’ll be back.

piller point
Strolling on the beach, not too far away from Hog Dogma’s tap room

The Session #131: EMERGENCY 1-2-3!

The Beer Blogging Session lives on, thanks to Jay Brooks! In an emergency last minute Session post, Jay asks us three questions about our beer preferences. I’ll jump right in.

“…what one word, or phrase, do you think should be used to describe beer that you’d like to drink. Craft beer seems to be the most agreed upon currently used term, but many people think it’s losing its usefulness or accuracy in describing it. What should we call it, do you think?”

Oh dear, could this be a reprise of the dreaded “What is craft” question? Recently, it’s morphed into “Maybe craft beer lost its meaning, so should we call it indie?” question. I’m not going into that toxonometric morass. Most beer I like is from small breweries dotted about the San Francisco Bay Area. I also like plenty of beers from independently owned national brands like Sierra Nevada and Deschutes, not to mention others from other breweries with corporate ownership like 10 Barrel, Boulevard Brewing, Saint Archer and Lagunitas. And there are even those rare moments when a nice cold Budweiser is perfect.

I like beer, dammit. Next question.

“…what two breweries do you think are very underrated? Name any two places that don’t get much attention but are quietly brewing great beer day in and day out. And not just one shining example, but everything they brew should be spot on. And ideally, they have a great tap room, good food, or other stellar amenities of some kind. But for whatever reason, they’ve been mostly overlooked. Maybe 2018 should be the year they hit it big. Who are they?”

I used to think Dust Bowl Brewing  was badly underrated, until their Public Enemy Baltic Porter won Gold at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival. They’ve quietly worked their way into the San Francisco Bay Area from their base in the sleepy Central Valley farm town of Turlock, CA. After a couple trips to their Turlock brewpub, I knew they were pretty special, starting from their excellent flagship IPA, Hops of Wrath. From Lagers to Porters to their various hop-bombs, they just do everything really well.

Then there is Kobold Brewing in Redmond, OR which I discovered over the past Labor Day weekend. I was out with friends on a day the air was choked with soot from nearby forest fires. We were just holed up in the store front tap room, drinking beer and eating tacos from a food truck out back, wondering what we were going to do for the rest of the day when simply walking outside was hazardous to your health. Thankfully, we just enjoyed one spot on beer after another. When people talk about go-to breweries in Central Oregon, Kobold Brewing, which is short 20 minute drive north of Bend, rarely makes it into the discussion. That needs to be corrected.

Final question:

“For our third question of the new year, name three kinds of beer you’d like to see more of….What three types of beer do you think deserve more attention or at least should be more available for you to enjoy? They can be anything except IPAs, or the other extreme beers. I mean, they could be, I suppose, but I’m hoping for beers that we don’t hear much about or that fewer and fewer breweries are making. What styles should return, re-emerge or be resurrected in 2018?”

When the Gose re-emerged a few years ago, they were wonderful studies of yin-yang balance between salt and sour. As brewers tend to do, they started playing around with the style and added various fruit additions to their Gose offerings, which for a while was interesting. Unfortunately, what started happening is the sour and salt got dialed down to better accommodate the fruit, and way too many beers called “Gose” were not really Goses, but uninteresting fruity wheat beers with barely any of the salt and sour character that makes the Gose so interesting. So one beer I’d like to see more of are Gose beers which are, like you know, actually a Gose.

Secondly, I’d like to see more Milds, or at least malt-driven session beers.

Finally, Scotch Ales are few and far between but ones are out there are usually dynamite. More Scotch Ales, please.

Long live The Session!




Starting 2018 off right…sort of

After an encouraging 2017 running year, I decided to lace up the racing flats for the Kiwanis 2018 Resolution Run held New Year’s Day at Mountain View’s Shoreline Park, one of those small charity races where a couple hundred people show up in a good mood full of holiday spirit.

Won’t bore you too much with a blow by blow of the race, mostly because with the small field, everyone basically separated after the first couple miles and I was running by myself for the last five miles of the 6.2 mile course. My goal was to break 42 minutes, which seemed challenging as my legs felt a little creaky and not so energetic.  Going out at what felt like an easy pace, I looked down at my Garmin watch and noticed I was running about 6:25 per mile pace, significantly faster than 42 minute pace. I eased off just a little more, and still passed a runner just before the mile marker.  Up ahead was a guy in a blue shirt. Keeping eye contact on the blue shirt while trying to keep a 6:40-6:45 pace, a followed him over the winding path through Shoreline Park. When it was over, crossed the finish line in 41:24, which is 6:40 pace. Having run a number of well-paced races in 2017, it was an encouraging running start going into 2018. I have a goal to break 40 minutes in the 10k this year, and the morning’s effort made that seem very possible.

Unfortunately, that afternoon’s home brewing session was a lot less successful. It’s been a couple years since I brewed, and it showed. I had no good way to cool down the boiling wort so after stacking the big stock pot on bags of ice, and then pouring it into a couple 1-gallon jugs I used as fermenters, the wort eventually cooled down enough after a couple hours and I pitched the yeast in the warm brew.  Twenty four hours later, not a lot of fermentation is going on and I fear I may have killed off or severely weakened the yeast by pitching it into wort that was too warm. We’ll see what happens in a couple weeks.

A good 10k race and a dicey homebrew session.  I can think of far worse ways to start 2018.

wort 1-1-2018


Ramblings on the Year that Was

This is the 58th and last blog post for the year of 2017. For those that pay attention to these things, it’s bit down from previous years, where I’d post at least 70 times a year.  The good news is the main reason for less blogging this year is that I’ve spent more time on writing assignments for print publications than ever before.  For the last few years, I’ve written on beery subjects for the the Edibles:  Edible Silicon Valley and Edible East Bay, two quarterly publications focused on local food in their respective Bay Area regions. This  year, I expanded my geographic horizons southward for a couple of pieces for Edible Monterey Bay.  And I’ve really enjoyed working with all the editors at these publications, who have really help pushed my writing to greater heights.

I’m pretty enthusiastic about a couple of articles coming out in upcoming issues in Edible Silicon Valley and Edible East Bay. My editors generally don’t like me giving out sneak peeks of stories, so I won’t do that here. I’ll just say these two upcoming stories touch on historical, economic, and social aspects of beer which is the type of beer writing I’ve always wanted to do the day I started this blog. I’m happy about the step forward my writing took in 2017 and hope to continue that again in 2018, even if that means less postings here.

In other news, my normally sleepy Facebook page and Twitter feed became, well let’s just say both were less sleepy in 2017. I enjoyed the various discussions with various friends in real life and anonymous passers by, and looking forward to even more livelier discussions next year. Social media can be a time waster, but on some days, you can pick up some real nuggets of knowledge plugging into the world’s hive mind.

Not only was it a good year for writing, it was a good year for running. I stayed pretty healthy in 2017 compared to the year before when I was perpetually battling injuries. Running became fun again, and I never had a bad race. Again, the plan is to sustain that in 2018, enjoying a few low-key races this spring.  Fall is a long way off but most likely, I’ll sign up for a big “circle the calendar” half-marathon.

Hope you don’t mind the personal navel gazing nature of this post, but if I can’t navel gaze once in a while, what’s the point of having a blog? Look forward to what 2018 has in store, and as always, thanks for reading! Without your readership, none of this would matter.

Rambling Reviews 12.26.2017: Beers from Strike Brewing, Ale Industries, and Bear Republic

For the last Rambling Reviews for 2017, I’ll start with Splash Hit, a Helles Lager from Strike Brewing made with California malt from Admiral Maltings, the Bay Area malt house I wrote about for Edible East Bay. Local malt gets me excited, and it should excite everyone if it leads to beers as good as Splash Hit. There’s a rich, wonderful complexity to this brew that’s arresting and I’m finding difficult to characterize. There’s a slight caramel note, a bit of a woody character, and this certain “fullness” of character that really go my attention. (Yes, truly I am struggling for words to adequately describe this beer.) The folks at Strike wisely used only a smattering of hops so the malt really sings. My first taste of a beer made with Admiral Maltings malt and I’ll definitely be on the hunt for more. Will Admiral Maltings become the “Intel Inside” of California beer?  Don’t bet against it.

Ryed PiperSpeaking of malt, next up is a brew the skillfully utilizes malty goodness that’s long been a favorite of mine, Ryed Piper from Ale Industries. It’s really well balanced, with the peppery rye malt working well with earthy fruity hops. Just a great blend of flavors make this a nifty beer.

Finally, we’ll end with Sonoma Pride from Bear Republic. As you might guess from the name, Bear Republic will direct the sales proceeds from this release to benefit victims of the recent Sonoma county wildfires.  It’s a hoppy Blonde Ale, with a soft malt undertone that seems a bit dominated by the earthy, herbal and slightly citrus hops. To my taste, I found it unbalanced, the hops overwhelming the delicate malt. My wife, who’s much more of a hop head than I, really liked it. Needless to say, we’ve argued over plenty of other stuff besides how much is too much hops in a Blonde Ale. So buy a bottle of Sonoma Pride, share it with your friends, and discuss whether or not the hops overwhelm the underlying Blonde Ale. It’ll help solve the burning issue of just how many hops can you add to a Blonde Ale and help victims of the Sonoma County Wildfires at the some time.

Sonoma Pride


Brewery Twenty Five in Edible Monterey Bay

cover-emb-winter-17The e-mailed request from Edible Monterey Bay editor Sarah Wood came out of the blue. “I’m writing to find out if you’d like to, and have time to do do a short profile of a new brewery in San Juan Bautista called Brewery Twenty Five for our magazine,” and she went on to apologize for the short notice, given a tight deadline. I didn’t know a whole lot about Brewery Twenty Five, other than sampling one of their beers earlier this year at a beer festival. I honestly don’t remember it other than liking it. I was already a little tied up with some other projects, but hey, I’ve been enjoying writing for the other “Edibles”- Edible East Bay and Edible Silicon Valley, so figured this was a good way to expand my geographic writing horizons a bit. I took on the project.

So one afternoon, I headed out to San Juan Bautista to gather material for the article. The brewery, located on owners Sean and Fran Fitzharris property, is nestled atop one of the hills on the outskirts of town and was a hard to find. I finally had to call Fran shortly before our appointed meeting and ask for directions.  Turns out, I was close, and when I told her my location, so told me to just go around the corner. As I drove into a small valley, I looked up and way on top of a hill, I saw the couple waving their hands at me, and figured that was where I needed to be. Taking a small winding road up to the top of the hill, I finally made it to the brewery.

What a neat little brewery it was, full of all sorts of jerry rigged equipment. Sean and Fran are pretty resourceful folks, using their local connections to pick up all sorts of used equipment on their shoestring operation. Yet, their beers, especially the two fruit infused wheat beers I sampled, have a lot of vibrant flavors and a certain sophistication. I’m looking forward to when their tap room opens in historic downtown San Juan Bautista when I can sample their full compliment of flavors.

For now, you can read their story I wrote for the latest issue of Edible Monterey Bay at the link below:

Edible Monterey Bay Notables: Brewery Twenty Five