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