Rambling Reviews 1.4.2017: Brews from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Hermitage, and Discretion Brewing

Tasting flight of SCVB’s Loma Prieta Oatmeal
Rye Imperial Stout at the SCVB taproom

Let’s start off 2017 by rambling on about beers from some local breweries in and around San Jose.

We’ll start with Loma Prieta Oatmeal Rye Imperial Stout from Santa Clara Valley Brewing (SCVB). The tallest mountain in the Santa Cruz mountain range, Loma Prieta is most associated with the legendary 1989 Northern California earthquake. Loma Prieta means “dark hill” in Spanish. As for the beer, it’s a subdued, smokey, smooth, and slightly peppery stout, with the complex roastiness forming a nice substrate for the Bourbon and Rye barrel-aged infusions the folks at SCVB introduced into a couple version of the brew. My early beer blogging inspiration and SCVB Marketing Manager Peter Estaniel invited me over to the brewery for a four-sample tasting flight of Loma Prieta on nitroro, all by itself, and aged for ten months in Rye and Bourbon barrels. I would love to give you detailed tasting notes on all the different nuances and subtleties of Loma Prieta, but after a few sips of Loma Prieta, Peter and I started chatting away on sports and beery subjects that taking tasting notes seemed pointless. Loma Prieta facilitating all that engaging discussion is perhaps the best endorsement I could give.

Next up, Topaz Single Hop IPA from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing. Hermitage’s single hop IPA series has long been a great way to experience new hops to understand the unique characteristics they impart into beers. That sounds like something only a hard core homebrewer could love, but strangely enough, hops like Topaz prove many hops work quite well all on their own without the usual blending brewers obsess over.  The high alpha acid content of Topaz makes this a rather straightforwardly bitter IPA, but its light tropical fruit and apricot notes save the day. Nice IPA.

Finally, we end with Uncle Dave’s Rye IPA from Discretion Brewing, just over the hill from San Jose in Soquel. I enjoyed one of these last week on a family drive up the Pacific Coast when we stopped at the small seaside town of Davenport for lunch. Having many an IPA chock full of as much dankness, piney-ness, and grapefruity bitterness as the brewer could cram into the beer, it was rather refreshing to enjoy an IPA with some flavor and balance to it. It’s light rye peppery flavors work well with the stone fruit flavors in this well composed IPA. There’s probably a reason this brew has won a bunch of awards for Discretion including a Bronze medal in Rye Beer Category in the 2016 World Beer Cup. Instead of my usual blurry, out of focus beer picture, I’ll leave you with a nice shot from Bonny Doon Beach just south of Davenport.

Beer of the Month: Second Conversation Belgian Stout from Discretion Brewing

I swiped this photo of Second Conversation off the
Discretion website, since the picture I tool of my
glass of it was so bad



A light crisp stout?  Well, not exactly but our Beer of the Month nearly attains this oxymoronic achievement in a good way.  I found Second Conversation Belgian Stout from Soquel’s Discretion Brewing is both excellent for was it is, and for what is isn’t.  It’s this great dry, crisp tasting stout with a light dose of bitter chocolate from Ecuadorian cocao nibs, Belgian Saison yeast aromatics and a little bit of dried fruit.  There’s a well balanced and unique combination of flavors working together, unlike some stouts which can be heavy, syrupy sweet or full of harsh roastiness.  Second Conversation is very drinkable yet interestingly complex.  I’d almost say it’s sessionable, except at 7.7% abv, it certainly isn’t.

Discretion Brewing is a new comer to the vibrant Santa Cruz brewing scene, which is quietly producing some of the more innovative beers in Northern California.  And there seems to be plenty of good conversations down at Discretion.  Discretion’s First Conversation Saison won Silver Medal at this year’s California State Fair, and their Third Conversation is a nifty session amber Saison (4.3% abv) you should also check out if you make to their tap room in Soquel.

I’ve gotten rather tired of all the attention hogging beers, you know, the one’s that scream “Look at me!  I have 179 ibu’s and I’m aged in used oaken soy sauce barrels!”  Beer is a social lubricant and you got to like beers such as those from Discretion which seem designed to facilitate just that.

Discretion’s Tap Room and Brewery (I took this picture
myself rather than steal it from someplace)

Discretion the better part of valor at Wharf to Wharf

Finishers at the 2013 Wharf to Whaft

On a cool, overcast morning on the Santa Cruz coast watching the long parade of runners finishing the Wharf to Wharf race, I was glad to be on the sidelines.  Despite the festive atmosphere, I’ve always found Wharf to Wharf to be an intense race.  A loud canon “boom!” releases the runners from the starting line and a clawing mass of 15,000 runners wind through six miles over the streets of Santa Cruz to the music of the punk, classic rock, folk and heavy metal bands assembled along the course.  I’m coming back from a heel injury and taking a bit of running layoff, and just didn’t feel ready to take on that challenge. But my wife and her friend had a different point of view, which is why I was there to cheer them on at the finish.

I watched the leaders gliding to the finish line, followed by the next hundred or so stern looking athletes chugging home.  Every so often, a runner would give a thumbs up sign to the photographers taking race pictures.  More and more runners begin mugging for the cameras until virtually every runner passing by raised their arms in victory before bringing it home for the last 200 meters.  It made me realize for the overwhelming majority of runners, Wharf to Wharf is a celebration, not necessarily a challenge.  So while I’m glad I sat this one out, I’m planning to run Wharf to Wharf next year.  I may not be up for the challenge of pushing myself hard for six miles, but I’d like to join the celebration again

And what better way to celebrate a race than with a beer.  Discretion Brewing is the newest brewery in Santa Cruz’s burgeoning brewing scene and their Soquel tap room is only 2-3 miles from the Wharf to Wharf finish line.  Their First Conversation Sesion won Silver at the California State Fair, so I figured they must be doing something right.

Yours truly and my wife about to enjoy a sample flight
at Discretion Brewing

My wife and I enjoyed a sample flight of five beers and enjoyed one well crafted selection after another.  Discretion uses only organic ingredients, so the yeast and malt tends to do more of the talking in their beers.  I like the way Discretion creates beers that a complex and flavorful without hitting you over the head with strong flavors.  Among the four of us, I’d have to say the favorite was their Third Conversation, an amber session where the lightly toasty malt combines wonderfully with a light touch of orange and coriander.  At 4.3% abv, it’s a session beer that makes you briefly say “wow” before getting back to the conversation at hand.   All I can say is you’re going to read more about Discretion here.

Discretion is further proof that beer, just like running, can be enjoyed in many forms.