Hermitage Brewing: Now in Edible Silicon Valley

Hermitage Brewing is one of those “under the radar” breweries that Silicon Valley beer drinkers have plenty to be thankful for with their experimental single hop IPA series and some really wonderful barrel aged sour ales.  Their Stouts, Lagers, Porters, and other brews are all pretty solid for good measure.  They opened the first tap room in San Jose in the summer 2013. While they didn’t have high expectations for it at the time, they discovered people would venture into the industrial region just south of downtown to enjoy local brews, paving the way for other breweries that followed. Today, this 5 square mile area is home to four additional brewery tap rooms.

You can read about this and other Hermitage matters in the story I wrote in the Fall Edition of Edible Silicon Valley which you can find right here:  Master Brew Revival: Hermitage Brewing

Google Trends: The Brut IPA continues its march westward across the United States

Back in early July, I looked into Google searches for “Brut IPA” and found this new riff on the IPA style was clearly gaining in popularity in West Coast regions outside its origin in San Francisco.  On July 8th, here was a geographical breakdown of metro areas of the frequency of “Brut IPA” searches on Google for the proceeding twelve months.

Brut IPA metro areas
Metro area distribution of Google searches for “Brut IPA” as of July 8th, 2018 for the proceeding twelve months

At the time, I noted that with the exception of Chicago, all the hot spots for Brut IPA were west of the Mississippi.  Now take a look at the metro distribution of “Brut IPA” searches as of August 26th, 2018 for the proceeding 30 days:

Brut IPA metro areas 8-26-2018 last 30days
Metro area distribution of Google searches for “Brut IPA” as of August 26th, 2018 for the proceeding 30 days

While West Coast metro areas continue to be leading areas for Brut IPA searches, the Brut IPA has definitely made it to the radar screen of lots of beer drinkers on the East Coast in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Boston. Minneapolis in the Upper Midwest has also emerged as a place where the Brut IPA has gained in popularity. Interest in Brut IPAs has clearly migrated eastward across the United States from the West Coast.

Still, most of the rest of the Midwest, outside of Chicago hasn’t registered much interest.  There aren’t many searches for Brut IPAs  in Texas or the Southeastern United States, either. It will be interesting to see whether or not these regions turn on to Brut IPAs interest in the coming months. As it stands, people are increasingly searching for Brut IPAs on Google, as the trend line below shows.

As for someone who prefers their IPA on the dry side, I for one find this encouraging.  Will they continue to spread across the country?  Tune-in back here in another month or two, when I’ll do another update.

Brut IPA last 12 months 8-27-2018
Google search frequency for “Brut IPA” over the past twelve months

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Scenes from Chicago’s Revolution Brewing

I passed through Chicago quickly.  A quick stay with my parents and lunch with an old high school friend before turning south to Kansas City to celebrate the 60th birthday of my brother-in-law.  But I had the chance to drop by the brewery tap room of Chicago’s Revolution Brewing on a quiet weekday afternoon and sample a few of their brews. You can tell you’re at good brewery when everything they do, from Lagers to Porters to IPA’s to Saisons are all good to great. I’ll leave you with a few pictures from my phone from that afternoon diversion.

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“Almanac Beer Brings a California Terroir to Alameda” in Edible East Bay

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Almanac co-founders Damian Fagan (l) and Jesse Friedman

What a couple of interviews I had with Almanac Beer co-founders Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan!  In March, Jesse showed me around the brewery and gave me a clinic on brewing beer the Almanac way. Of course, that mean he spent a lot of time talking about the crafting of sour ales and infusing them with local fruit. I spoke with Damian a couple months later on the phone, who filled me more on the business end and Almanac’s central mission to bring a sense of community to their California tap room and support local farmers who provide the fruit they showcase in their ales.

The article was a few months in the making, and it all came together nicely in the Fall Harvest Issue of Edible East Bay.  You can check it out here:

Almanac Brings Brings a California Terroir to Alameda

Talking with Brewmaster Joe Casey on the Gluten Reduced Beers of Omission Brewing

Some brewers strive to make the next killer IPA or to wow the world with all their culinary creativity.  For Omission Brewing’s Joe Casey, it was about simply giving people a chance to enjoy beer who otherwise couldn’t.

Omission Brewing was founded in 2012 as part of the Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) with a portfolio of gluten-reduced beers. Joe Casey, has been acutely aware of gluten-intolerance since 2005 when his wife was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. “Being a Brewmaster and knowing she wasn’t going to drink beer anymore, having something to fit that niche in her life became an interest to me”, explains Casey. “Prior to that, our company CEO at the time had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease. So I had both a personal and professional interest to see what we could do in terms of coming up with a beer they could both enjoy.”

Their first attempt started in 2007 using traditional gluten-free fermentables like sorghum, honey, and corn sugar.  “The beer was fine for what it what was, but it didn’t taste like the beer we were used to, the beer we wanted it to taste like,” recalls Casey.  The effort was put on hold until 2010 when Casey became aware of an enzyme called Brewers Clarex™ which breaks down gluten chains when added to the fermentation tank.

Brewers Clarex was released commercially in the mid-2000’s to reduce beer haze. “These haze proteins happened to be the gluten proteins found in barley, wheat and rye,” explains Casey. “As a side effect, they found it was digesting these gluten proteins to the point these beers could be labelled gluten reduced.” This gluten reduction process didn’t have any effect on the flavor, aroma, color or head retention.  After test batches and trials using the enzyme to create gluten reduced beer brewed with barley malt, CBA management green-lighted the project, and Omission Brewing launched in March of 2012, becoming the first large scale commercial brewery of its kind in the United States.

The initial reaction to Omission was immense. All sorts of people fighting gluten intolerance thanked them for allowing them to enjoy beer again. Joe Casey could once again share a beer with his wife.

OM_PALE_12ozBottle_040617_previewOmission’s line-up is rather straightforward and accessible, consisting of a Lager, Pale Ale, IPA, and recently released Ultimate Light, a low calorie, low carbohydrate Golden Ale.  Could Omission brew a high gravity beer like an Imperial Stout, or would that push their gluten removal process too hard?  “We haven’t really tried to push the boundaries on that. In theory, it’s possible,” explains Casey.  “We don’t have any desire to make a gluten removed Wheat Beer for example, that just doesn’t sound right. For us, that’s just pushing the boundaries just a little too far. We got the portfolio we have right now and it’s a very solid craft portfolio and we haven’t seen the need to go outside of that yet.”

I found the Omission beers surprisingly familiar. I expected them to be watery or have off-flavors, but detected none of that in the Pale Ale, Lager, and Ultimate Light brews I sampled. The Pale Ale was well balanced, with an orange citrus note, light sweetness, and tannic bitterness. Definitely a Pale Ale I’d reach for again. Lagers are a test for any brewery and Omission’s has a pleasant bready character with a background floral note.  It rates well among the new breed of lagers out there. As for the Ultimate Light, it’s clear, with a discernible cracker-like malt without any off-flavors and fizzy carbonation.

Ultimate Light was just released in response to changing consumer trends that occurred since 2012.  As Casey explains “When the brand first launched, we were really heavily targeted towards people that had medical necessities to avoid gluten and that’s still the foundation of the brand. But over time we’ve found there’s a large number of people who drink Omission just because they’ve decided to reduce gluten in their diet for reasons of choice. And that’s a much bigger market and there’s advantages to tap into that. It made sense to have a beer to fit into that healthy life-style category as well.”

While Omission chases food trends to grow their business, they continue their commitment to people with medical issues with gluten a website  where customers can download the test results from the batch of beer they’re drinking entering a code printed on the bottle. As Casey puts it, “Transparency is very important to us”. As May is Celiac Awareness month, let’s take a moment to realize simple pleasure like beer was out of reach for people with gluten intolerance. For many with that condition, that’s no longer the case thanks to breweries like Omission.

(I purchased Omission Pale Ale and Lager at local grocery stores for review.  Omission Brewing supplied samples of Ultimate Light. Joe Casey photo was taken by Sasquatch Agency. Product shot and Joe Casey photo used by permission of Omission Brewing Co.)

 

 

From Google Trends: Interest in Cult Beers Has Largely Peaked

Pliny the Younger, Russian River Brewing’s special, highly-limited Triple IPA is released with much fanfare early February each year during Pliny the Younger Day. People line-up for hours outside Russian River brewpub in downtown Santa Rosa just for a glass of this uber-hoppy, mythical brew. It’s somewhat of a polarizing event among beers geeks, some claiming Pliny the Younger is over-hyped beer, with its cult-like status artificially propped up by Russian River by intentionally making it scarce. Others swear the beer lives up to its considerable reputation, and worth camping out overnight on the sidewalk just for a taste of it.

Whatever you think about Pliny Younger, one thing is undeniable: People are searching for a it a lot less on Google these days.  The proportion of Google searches for “Pliny the Younger” to all other searches in the United States peaks each February, the month of Pliny the Younger Day, then dissipates into the noise until the next February. The beer was first released in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2010 that an unmistakable peak of “Pliny the Younger” emerged in the Google search trend data. This annual February peak grew in amplitude until 2014.  Then, in 2015, the proportion of “Pliny the Younger” searches dropped 20%.  This past February, the proportion of Google “Pliny the Younger” searches was down to 50% from its 2014 peak just four years ago.

pliny the younger trends search 5-6-2018

Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, its other rare hoppy brew with a similar cult-like following available year ’round has seen a similar fate. It’s Google search frequency peaks between 2013 and 2015, and is currently around 50% of that peak.

pliny th elder trends search 5-6-2018

 

What about Three Floyds Dark Lord, a rare Imperial Stout released each year on Dark Lord Day, which occurs each year either late April or May? The Google trends data is similar. The search term “Dark Lord” is a little problematical, since a Google search of the term will bring up not only the Three Floyds brew but plenty of links to science fiction and gaming sites. However, a  Google search of “Dark Lord Day” yields nothing but news releases and internet chatter on the beer, and a Google trends search shows strong peaks occurring each spring.

Dark Lord Day Google trends 5-6-2018

The strongest peak for “dark lord day” occurred in 2015, and currently the frequency of “dark lord day” searches is about half of the peak. Searches for “dark lord beer” and “three floyds dark lord” are less common, but show the same basic trend.  Searches for “dark lord” have a large “background” due to searches unrelated to the beer, but show these springtime peaks emerging from the background. It’s worth noting the strongest peak for “dark lord” occurred in 2016 instead of 2015, but then the yearly peaks in May largely dissipate there after.  Anyway you slice it, searches for Three Floyds’s cult Imperial Stout peaked at least two years ago, and most likely three years ago.  Three Floyds has about the same luck with their other cult brew, Zombie Dust.

three floyds zombie dust Google trends 5-6-2018

The data is a little noisy since Zombie Dust is available year around but searches are down from their April 2012 peak and there’s a noticeable drop off since 2015.

Let’s go to the East Coast, where Heady Topper, the limited release IPA from The Alchemist is all the rage. With New England Style IPAs being so hot, interest in Heady Topper ought to be going through the roof, right? Nope! In fact, interest is way down and moving further south. The Google Trends data for “heady topper” peaks in July 2015, and then steadily decline afterwards, which the current search frequency about 25% of the peak despite New England style IPAs being way more popular now than they were in 2015.

Heady topper google trends 5-6-2018

 

Then there’s Sam Adam’s Utopias, released at irregular intervals since 2002, sold in ornate vessels costing $200 a pop. Here, the results are a bit surprising.  If you graph the search trend data for “sam adams utopia” and “sam adams utopias“, you’ll find a few bumps and peaks over time but generally declining interest from a 2009 peak, and then pow!. Suddenly in November of last year, everyone is searching Google for them.

utopias google trends 5-6-2018

What happened last November? Well, a new Utopia was just released and then the news broke that 28% abv brew was illegal in 15 states, a story that turned out to be largely incorrect. While the 2017 release of Utopia generated a lot of buzz for Sam Adams, the 2015 release was but a small blip in the trends data, lower than peaks in prior years, with the 2009 Utopia release creating the largest spike in Google searches.

A better counter-example is Founders Brewing Canadian Breakfast Stout a rich, smooth, and highly decadent Imperial Stout aged in maple syrup barrels. (I’ve had this brew recently, it’s REALLY good.) It was first released in 2011, then there was apparently a very limited release in 2015, and another release late last year. From the trends data, the most recent release has been the one most sought after.

CBS Google trends 5-16-2018

Other rare, cult beers like “Cantillon Zwanze“, “Hair of the Dog Dave” and “The Bruery Black Tuesday” show weak Google Trends signals that are clearly petering out from previous highs three to ten years ago. The search data for these type of beers all say pretty much the same thing. People are searching for these beers on Google a lot less than they used to, with a couple exceptions.  And one of these exceptions has a pretty large asterisk.

So why the decline? One could argue these beers are as popular as ever and since they’ve been around for a while, people know exactly where to find them and no longer need to search for them on Google. Or perhaps people are using social media more to find these beers than they used to rather than Google. There may be something to these arguments, but social media was definitely around a few years ago when Google searches of these beers peaked. I’m finding it difficult to explain the 50-75% drop in searches simply because people either no longer needed to search for them, or they found out about these beers through other means.

A stronger explanation, in my opinion, is with all the new breweries and beers coming into the market, beers like Pliny the Younger/Elder, Dark Lord, or Heady Topper no longer towered over the industry. Since they are rare and hard to get, people stopped searching for them and turned to more readily available alternatives. The first time I tried Pliny the Elder about ten years ago, it was a blast of hops way beyond most any beer on the market. It was worth the effort  to find. Of course, other breweries took notice. They started investigating how to brew their own uber-hoppy brews. As a result, the industry has basically caught up and now, Pliny the Elder is just one of many excellent IPAs. No use searching for it online when plenty of comparable beers can be found with a lot less effort.

Cult beers will likely continue maintain some level of mystique, and going the tremendous lengths necessary just to drink them will remain a right of passage for certain beer geeks. But they can no longer dominate brewing like the once did, as comparable beers are far more ubiquitous. It no longer requires and extraordinary effort just to enjoy an extraordinary beer. That’s good for everyone.

 

Scenes from Camino Brewing, San Jose’s Newest Brewery

A warm spring afternoon last Saturday was an ideal time for my wife and I to ride our bikes down to Camino Brewing, the latest brewery to open in San Jose.  Camino Brewing is the fifth brewery to open in the industrial neighborhood just south of downtown San Jose. It sits in an old warehouse. I found it rather refreshing sampling a few beers in a space that was truly industrial, rather than made to look industrial.

As for the beer, it’s a great new addition to the four existing breweries in this growing San Jose beer destination. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Camino is that the brew a few hazy, New England style IPAs I actually liked. It probably helped that the beers were light on the haze. The name “Fruit Cup Imperial IPA” unfortunately evokes those artificial tasting canned fruit cups I ate as a kid, but the brew tasted for better than that with it’s burst of tropical and stone fruit. You just can’t go wrong with any of Camino’s IPAs, which is pretty impressive for a brewery taproom that opened up just a week ago.

Camino serves their beer in 4 ounce sample sizes, half pours, and full pints so you can try as little or as much as you want.  Other highlights include a complex, nutty Brown Ale and a Belgian Quad aged for a few months in wine barrels. The red wine dominated the flavor profile of the Belgian Quad, but that really worked in this arresting combination of sweet malt, light sourness, and strong red wine flavors. Easily my favorite beer of the afternoon. For those looking for something on the lighter side, I recommend their Schwarzbier, a clean brew with plenty of deep roasted flavors.

I’ll definitely be back.

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