Scenes from the 9th Annual Meet the Brewers Festival in San Jose

As someone who writes about beer in my spare time, beer festivals like the “Meet the Brewers” festival held yesterday at San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing is basically research. Seriously. Where else are you going to find a bunch of brewers gathered together you can talk to? And with so many breweries popping up everywhere, beer festivals are a quick way to find out who is new and whether or not they’re any good. True, walking around drinking beer and chatting with people isn’t exactly like spending an afternoon in the library pouring over dusty tomes, but there’s always a pursuit of information element whenever I go to a beer festival. And besides, there’s a reason I write about beer and instead of something like tax policy.

So what did I learn? A few nuggets and opinions.

Freewheel Brewing has a new Head Brewer: Orion Lakota is his name, and he served up a stellar Brown Ale fortified with Chestnuts.

South Bay Brewco (SOBA) is looking to open up a brewery/tap room in Campbell or Los Gatos this year: These guys were pouring a dynamite hoppy Saison, which they call “West Coast Saison” which they contract brew at Hermitage. As a resident of Campbell, I can only hop they find a location as close to my house as possible.

Hermitage Brewing doesn’t get enough respect for their sours: All right, so that’s my South Bay-biased opinion but you never hear Hermitage’s name in the discussion of breweries earning cult-like status for their Sour Ales. Hermitage was pouring two Sour Ales yesterday which were among the finest I’ve ever tasted.  A Cherry Rocinante Flemish-Red style where the flavors really popped and a Peach-Cranberry Sour, where two fruits you wouldn’t think could play nice with each other harmonized perfectly.

Clandestine Brewing had a real hit with Milky Way Stout: OK, so maybe that’s not news but Clandestine was pouring a few different versions of their flagship Milky Way Stout yesterday. I had the Vanilla and Hazelnut versions, and they both took what was already a really good Stout to higher level. The Barrel-aged Brett Tripel they poured was one of those rare beers that made me think “Wow” when it touched my tongue.

Around here, Sours seem to be up and IPAs seem to be down: Quite a number of breweries poured some version of a sour ale, certainly more than last year. Surprisingly and refreshingly, many breweries were not pouring an IPA. I like a good IPA but it gets a bit tiresome going to beer festivals dominated by IPAs. I cannot remember a beer festival I’ve been to featuring a greater diversity of styles and flavors, and that’s an encouraging development. I’ll leave you with some photos of that Saturday afternoon.

Highwater Meet the BrewersFreewheel Meet the Brewers

Nubo Meet the BrewersLoma Meet the BrewersClandestine Meet the BrewersBeard Meet the BrewersBeer King Meet the Brewers

Hermitage Meet the BrewersCherry Sour Meet the Brewers

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.

Rambling Reviews: Summer Brews from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Hermitage, and Sudwerk

Alviso Mills Hefeweizen

It’s hot. Some days with the sun a-blazin’, I don’t even want to look at an IPA, and instead reach for the lighter summery beer styles. These styles get no respect. They’re technically harder to brew than IPA’s, Imperial Stouts and other styles that get beer geeks raving, yet the best of them barely earn a ho-hum among the self appointed beer cognoscenti. I’ve been seeking out more of the lighter, summery thirst quenching brews these days and here are three I particularly liked.

First up, Alviso Mills Hefeweizen which San Jose’s Santa Clara Valley Brewing just released June 23rd. I find American brewers either hit or miss with this quintessential German style. Some capture all that wonderful yeasty estery goodness in their Hefe, others produce a rather so-so wheat beer. Santa Clara Valley Brewing gets it right.  Fruity esters dominate the flavor profile, with maybe a little banana and very slight clove-like aromatics, and it finishes with a satisfying wheat tang. Well done.

Hermitage Pilsner

Just down the road from Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Hermitage Brewing is pouring a mighty fine dry hoped Pilsner in their tap room. While Hermitage is best known for their ales, it’s nice to see them getting notice in the cold fermented act. Their Pilsner is crisp, with some spicy floral bitterness and a decent malt heft. Simple and clean like a Pilsner should be. Hermitage Brewmaster Peter Licht spends a minute to describe the new Pilsner release in this video.

We now turn to California Dry Hopped Lager from Davis, CA lager specialists, Sudwerk. The guy at the Sudwerk stand at any Bay Area beer festival I’ve been too is always the loneliest guy in the room. Unfortunately, not a lot of people check out lagers at a beer festival, and so basically the poor Sudwerk guy is there with no nothing to do and no one to talk to. I’ve even seen tipsy beer hipsters laugh at the Sudwerk stand. Not cool. Those wishing to expand their beer horizons to possibilities of lagers will be rewarded here. There’s a light of nice herbal aromas as it pours. This brew has a sturdy malt base, with a snappy grassy and herbal hop finish.  A real “stick to your ribs” kind of lager. So Sudwerk, just ignore the douchebag beer hipsters and keep the lager faith.

Sudwerk California Dry Hop Lager
on my new gas grill

Rambling Reviews 3.30.2016: Golden State’s Heritage Honey Ale, New Belgium’s Citradelic Tangerine IPA and Hermitage’s Villa Street Red Ale

Time again to ramble about the new and interesting beers discovered in my various travels.

I’ll start with Golden State Brewing’s Heritage Honey Ale. Golden State Brewing recently opened up shop in a low key, industrial park in Santa Clara just west of San Jose Airport. Heritage Honey Ale is their flagship brew, and I understand why. This light ale has nice, subtle floral characteristics, presumably from the honey and earthy finish. The honey doesn’t add any sweetness, but gives the malt a little backbone in this unique brew, which has more going on in it than you might expect. Beers like this are underrated, and I’m a fan of this one.

Next, we come to Citradelic Tangerine IPA from New Belgium.  My first glass of this was rather underwhelming. Oh, it was tangeriney to be sure with lots of nice citrus aromas but the hops in this brew seemed dialed down and I missed their bitter punch. Then a couple days later, I had another one and began to get the idea. The tangerine fruit works well with the Citra hops, the malt serving as a sufficient counter-balance but mostly staying out of the way, the emphasis being more on flavor than bitterness. The citrus flavors don’t really pop, but maybe that’s a good thing as this is a rather pleasant, unobtrusive, sessional type IPA’s at 6.0% abv. Hop heads will likely search elsewhere for their lupulin fix, but I can see this being a really popular IPA for the other 98% of the population.

We’ll end with Villa Street American Red Ale from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing. It’s named after the street in downtown Mountain View where Hermitage’s sister brewery, Tied House has been located since 1987. Now that we have that out of the way, this red ale has a rather thin malt base, checking in at only 5.0% abv. The caramel or toasty character from the roasted malts are simply blown away by all the piney, fruity (do I taste mango?) hop flavors, resulting in a rather unbalanced, one-dimensional brew. It’s got some nice piney and citrus aromas from the dry hopping which I liked, and the hop flavors work at a certain level, but just completely overwhelm this brew. This didn’t bother my wife, who loved this beer for the exact same reason.

Rambling Reviews 1.4.2016: South Bay Brews from Red Branch Cider, Hermitage and Mission Creek Brewing

Once again, time to ramble on about a three brews that recently crossed my path. For this installment, I’m keeping it local as all of them are from the Silicon Valley.

First brew up isn’t a brew but a wonderful cider from a gem of a place I recently discovered, even though it’s been around for a couple decades. It’s Red Branch Cider, brewing mead since 1995, and making cider starting in 1999. I recently stopped in on a cold night to sample a number of their wide ranging fermented creations from mead to ciders to beers to even an excellent port. One of the high lights was their Peach Cider.  The first thing that hit me was all sorts of wonderfully peachy aromas. As for the flavors, wonderfully clean, vibrant peach flavors dominate the underlying base of crisp apples. Delving a little deeper beyond the lightly sweet fruit flavors reveals a light floral character from the honey and a slight tannic finish.  This cider has lots of stuff going on and it all works together exceedingly well.

Next up is the latest from the folks at Hermitage who regularly explore the wild world of hops with their Single Hop IPA series.  The latest brew in the series features the Green Bullet hop from New Zealand. It’s a new hop finding plenty of work these days, most notably featured in a major Green Flash release. As for the Hermitage version, this brew is full of fresh pine and grassy flavors, with some lemon and pear throw in for good measure. I get the “Green” part from all the pine and grassiness, but found this hop to be more on the soft and gentle side than the word “Bullet” suggests. Once again, Hermitage takes us on another successful little hop excursion.

Finally, there is Punch List Pale Ale from Mission Creek Brewing, located at the Whole Foods Market in San Jose on The Alameda. It was a cool overcast day when I ventured into their upstairs outdoor patio to finally check this place out. This brew pours a cloudy orange, with a nice biscuit malt character embraced by light floral and slightly citrus hop flavors and aroma. I’m tempted to consider such a flavorful, yet unassumingly drinkable brew a session beer, but at 5.7% abv, an evening of putting a few of these away would be a pretty hard core session. I also have to salute a California Pale Ale that is exactly what it says it is, rather than a piney, slightly dialed-down IPA in disguise. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Really nice.

Rambling Reviews 6.2.2015: Hermitage Equinox, Boulevard’s The Dark Truth and Alpine’s Hoppy Birthday Pale Ale

Equinox Single Hop IPA in all its glory in
the Hermitage Brewing tap room

Once again, time to ramble on about some beers I’ve tried lately.

Let’s start with Hermitage Brewing’s Equinox Single Hop IPA.  And just like 072770, the last hop featured in Hermitage’s single hop IPA series, Equinox hop delivers plenty depth and complexity all by itself.   It starts off with flavors of lemon peel with some other light fruity flavors I found pleasing but hard to identify, then finishing rather resiny.  I’ve said before the Hermitage Single Hop Series showcase hops that generate interesting flavors but don’t always work all by themselves, but if Hermitage keeps finding hops like 07270 and Equinox, I’m going to have to stop saying that.

Next up is The Dark Truth Imperial Stout from one of my favorite breweries from the Midwest, Boulevard Brewing Company. The dark truth about the Dark Truth is that its got some good things going on but all the different component never quite click together. There’s lots of good bitter chocolate flavors, a little raisin and a very light sweetness but the graininess and a slight alcohol burn make this beer a bit rough around the edges.  It works as a sipping beer, but left me longing for something a bit smoother and coherent.

Finally, there’s Alpine Beer Company’s Hoppy Birthday Pale Ale that I enjoyed in the recently revamped Campbell Brewing Company in downtown Campbell.  And yes, big surprise, it’s really hoppy.  The fresh, pungent piney hops dominate with a little resin thrown in for good measure really work in this very straightforward, direct brew.  This really is an IPA, not a Pale Ale, but I’m not going to get too distracted by stuff like his. One of the more arresting, “Wow!” factor beers I’ve had in a while.

Alpine’s Hoppy Birthday Pale Ale at
Campbell Brewing Company

Rambling Reviews 5.7.2015: Hermitage 07270 Single Hop IPA, Sierra Nevada’s Idaho 7 Single Hop IPA, and Gordon Biersch Zwickel Pils

Time once more to delve into some new brews, this time the theme is beers brewed with only one or two different hops.

Let’s start with Hermitage Brewing’s  07270 Single Hop IPA.  The beers in the Hermitage single hop IPA series are great way to learn a lot about all the different hops and their flavor characteristics.  But truth be told, after trying a lot of them, I’m left thinking “Hmmm….that’s interesting” instead of “I’ll have another”.  While each beer in the series showcases each unique hop flavor profile, it also proves that brewers are wise to use blends of hops, rather than a single hop, to generate more complex and well rounded flavors.  The beers in Hermitage Single Hop IPAs certainly taste good, but often seem to be lack a certain something, coming across as tasting unbalanced or incomplete, and ultimately seem like well executed brewing experimenst.

That’s absolutely not the case with  Hermitage’s 07270 Single Hop IPA, as the 07270 hop really works well on its own here.  The strong tropical mango flavors that really pop with an earthy, resiny finish. It’s every bit as good as Hermitage’s Citra IPA, the only single hop IPA that’s made it into their year round line-up.

And what’s 07270 hop anyway?   It’s a recently bred hop variety from Hopsteiner, a hop supplier from the Pacific Northwest, which apparently hasn’t given it a more evocative, hop appropriate name like “Calypso” or “Galaxy” yet.  A name like “07270” sounds like a piece of computer equipment but whatever they want to call it, I just hope Hermitage decides to brew this year ’round.

Speaking of single hop IPAs, there’s Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Single Hop IPA – Idaho 7.  Apparently they grow more in Idaho besides potatoes, since as you might have guessed, the hop in this brew is from Idaho. It’s another hop that works pretty well all by itself.  There is a noticeable progression of taste with each sip, as the initial bright grapefruit flavors give way to a fruity apricot character that eventually subsides to a resiny finish. Another great exploration into the seemingly endless hop flavor frontier, but I’m left with the nagging feeling if just seemed if a little extra depth from some other hop was brought into this beer, it would really sing.

And finally, there’s Gorden Biesrch Zwickel Pils, an unfiltered Pilsner made with not one but two hops, Hallertau and Tettnang.  Man, did those two hops work well together.  Beers like this are a reminder that amazing things can be accomplished by “just” using top ingredients coupled technically sound brewing techniques.  This beer is just classic, with a robust clear malt with the slightest bit of sweetness driven with sharp, crisp grassy and slight spicy hops. Makes most other lager style beers seem mediocre and demonstrates a lot of great hop flavors can be achieved at just 30 ibu.