Is the South Bay Beer Scene Shedding its Inferiority Complex?

Maybe the South Bay is no longer the beer desert it once was

One event I made sure to attend during SF Beer Week was the Hermitage Brewing Beer Dinner at Scott’s Seafood in Mountain View. When I finished the dinner, pushing aside my dessert plate I sat there struggling to figure out just what I should write about it.  Writing about beer dinners seems like an almost pointless task to me.  I just sort of wing it when it comes to food criticism and since few, if any of my readers attended, and the dinner was over, never to be repeated.  The food was good, the Hermitage Beer was definitely good, and my wife and I enjoyed it.  What more is there to say?

Hermitage’s Ale of the 2 Tun Imperial Stout and
Scott’s Seafood’s Molten Lava Cake 

That didn’t stop me from thinking.  Clearly San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing, the featured brewery of the night is putting out plenty of strong beers on the strong side of the ale spectrum after only three years in existence.  The smooth, malty complexity of their Maltopia, the bright tropical flavors of their single hop  Galaxy IPA, and their dry, bitter chocolate bomb of 2 Tun Imperial Stout are as good as any beers you’ll find from the Bay Area.

And Hermitage isn’t the only notable brewery to emerge from the South Bay recently.  While Hermitage strives to make the big beers, Strike Brewing, barely over a year old has gone in the opposite direction with their excellent Session Series.   And of course, in recent years, Steve Donohue won no less than four GABF medals at Sunnyvale’s Firehouse Brewing before leaving late last year to start his own brewery, Santa Clara Valley Brewing which hopefully will come on line before the end of the year. 

With these South Bay breweries come a number of great new venues to enjoy craft beer.  There are gastropubs Liquid Bread in Campbell and Original Gravity in Downtown San Jose, both less than a year old.  In the last three years, California Cafe at both its Palo Alto and Los Gatos locations has established their brewmaster’s dinner series, featuring inspired pairings of food with beer from some of of the finest breweries in California.  Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose, an old school German buffet restaurant is an unlikely place to find a great tap selection and it has been hosting a number special events devoted to craft breweries, a development that’s started there about a year ago.  The Yardhouse the opened a couple years ago in San Jose’s swanky Santana Row Mall, and yes, it’s slick and corporate, but you can get some mighty fine beer there.  And we even have an honest to goodness independent bottle shop now with Jane’s Beer Store in Downtown Mountain that opened last summer.  There’s probably some new place I’m forgetting.

The South Bay has long been consider a weak sister to the nearby craft brewing epicenters of San Francisco, Santa Rosa, and the East Bay, but has anyone noticed this recent acceleration of craft beer culture in the South Bay? 

Well maybe. Five years ago, the  general buzz amidst beer geekdom was “The South Bay Beer Scene sucks”.  None other than the late Bay Area beer writer Bill Brand regretfully declared the South Bay “a beer desert” shortly before he passed away.    Then a couple years ago, you could find grudging admissions that a couple of good beers could be found down here. 

And today?  Maybe it’s just me but you hardly hear anyone complaining about the beer scene in the South Bay anymore. Instead, people are just enjoying it.  Isn’t that the way it should be?


There are many great looking SF Beer Week Beer Events in the South Bay.   One  that look particularly promising comes this Friday to Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose.  Check out the press release below.  A map to Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose can be found here
One of California’s most acclaimed barrel-aged beers is set to be deconstructed as Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose present “The Roots of XVI,” a one-of-a-kind tasting of the rare component beers that were blended to create Firestone Walker’s XVI Anniversary Ale.
The doors open at 6 p.m. No tickets or reservations are required. Guests can simply come and purchase samples as they wish.
This SF Beer Week event will be hosted by Jeffers Richardson, director of Firestone Walker’s new Barrelworks facility, which is dedicated to barrel-aged wild beers and strong ales.
The Chop on XVI…
XVI is the seventh release in Firestone Walker’s anniversary series, dating back to the release of the inaugural anniversary release called “Ten” in 2006.
Every year, local Paso Robles winemakers gather with the brewing team to taste through a variety of strong ales and determine the final blend. This year, the result was XVI, which was composed of 226 barrels spanning eight diverse components.
“Dozens of notebooks, hundreds of questions and countless beers have refined our approach to creating the best flavors possible through barrel aging,” says Brewmaster Brynildson. “Then we step back and let our winemaker friends help us put the final puzzle together. This year, the result is XVI—our finest achievement to date.”
At “The Roots of XVI,” the puzzle will be pulled back apart, and guests will savor these rare component pieces and learn about the art of blending. The featured component ales are:
Velvet Merkin / Aged in Bourbon Barrels
-Traditional Oatmeal Stout
Double DBA / Aged in retired Firestone Union Barrels
-Double strength English Pale Ale
Parabola / Aged in Bourbon Barrels
-Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout
Helldorado / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels
-Blonde Barley Wine
Bravo / Aged in Bourbon and Brandy Barrels
-Imperial Brown Ale
Wookey Jack / 100% Stainless Steel
-Black Rye India Pale Ale