Rambles: Hermitage Calypso Single Hop IPA, Grace Under Pressure, and the Latest with Lance

The latest news bits with a more autistic emphasis than times past…….

The folks at Hermitage Brewing have once again delved into the endless world of hops with another single hop IPA release, Calypso.  The name Calypso evokes gentle Caribbean breezes, but this hop packs a wallop of a distinctly different character.  It’s resiny, peppery and there’s this undertone of some type of fruit.   I think it’s cherry even if my wife doesn’t think so.  And I enjoyed just inhaling of those wonderfully fresh piney aromas. It’s decidedly unlike any hop I’ve ever tasted although Calypso hops have been used commercially before, including Hanger 24’s excellent Spring Beer and a few beers from Stone Brewing, including their 16th Anniversary IPA.  One of the best things about Hermitage’s single hop IPA series is that each beer is its own unique tasty surprise.

Grace, Under Pressure: A Girl with Asperger’s and Her Marathon Mom is a new book by international journalist and runner Sophie Walker chronicles the highs and lows of raising a child with Asperger’s Syndrome and the physical challenge of training for a marathon.  As the father of an autistic child, I’ve found running has helped find the strength and patience to raise my son, so can relate to this message.  In addition to her book, Sophie Walker keeps a blog of her experiences, and you can also watch her in this interview.

Like Sophie Walker, you can fight autism by pushing your body and mind to their ultimate limits while challenging yourself in a marathon.  Or you fight autism by simply going to a bunch of breweries.  But of course, for Lance Rice, the simple act of visiting a brewery is a lot like running a marathon.  Yes, I’ve mentioned Lance’s Brewery Tour many times, but it’s still remarkable how a simple thing like beer has helped Lance engage with the world in ways that didn’t seem possible. The latest on the inspiring journey of Lance who travels to breweries who accept him on his own autistic terms is here.

San Jose now has a tap room at Hermitage Brewing

Within a gritty industrial district south of downtown San Jose, a tap room has emerged at Hermitage Brewing this past weekend.  Coils of barbed sitting atop the chain link fence around the brewery create an imposing look. It’s a place one would expect to find construction supplies or a good auto body shop, not one where some of the finest beers of Northern California flow.

In addition brewing Hermitage Beers, a number of other beers are brewed under contract at the brewery.  This includes the beers of Strike Brewing, Santa Clara Valley Brewing, and a couple others I’m probably not supposed to name.  Almanac Brewing, who tout their heirloom Sonoma County ingredients and farm to bottle ethic also brew most of their beers at this industrial park location.  The new tap room is a place to drop by and enjoy the Hermitage beers on tap, bringing people to the brewery where it all happens.

Of course, getting beer to the masses is a lot easier than getting the masses to the beer.  How does Hermitage plan to draw people to a place where even Hermitage Brand Manager Carolyn Hopkins-Vasquez admits is “not in a area where people would normally pass through”?  With San Jose State University’s football stadium and the San Jose Giant’s Municipal Stadium a short walk away, one way is to coordinate tap room events with football and baseball games.  Another plan in the works is tap take-over events for the different contract brewers.

Investing in a tap room in the middle of an unglamorous industrial zone may seem like a risky proposition, but it’s actually a tried and true formula.  Lagunitas, Devil’s Canyon, and Drake’s are three nearby breweries that created vibrant social scenes within similarly drab industrial locations.  As Carolyn Hopkins-Vasquez puts it, “The area needs this.” Beer has the power to connect people to places they otherwise wouldn’t connect to.  I’m eager to see what Hermitage will accomplish with their new tap room. 

Hermitage Tap Room
1627 South 7th Street
San Jose, CA 95112 

Hours: 4-7 pm Thursday and Friday, noon-5 pm on Saturdays

Brewmaster Greg Filippi on Hermitage Brewing’s Single Hop IPA Series and the release of "El Dorado"

Bottling El Dorado Single Hop at Hermitage Brewing
(Photo from Hermitage Brewing)

Leave it to Hermitage Brewing to turn an esoteric brewing experiment into a series of great tasting beers.

Virtually all IPA’s are brewed with a blend of different hop varietals.  Each hop varietal has its own unique flavor profile, and when blended together, create a deep and unique flavor profile one appreciates in a good IPA.  Brewers sometimes brew test batches of beers using a single hop to better understand what flavor components it brings to the overall blend.  But rarely are these experimental beers intended for general consumption.

While other breweries like Oregon’s Ninkasi and Maryland’s Flying Dog have released single hop IPA’s, Hermitage may be the only brewery in the United States to establish a series of single hop IPA’s as part of their regular beer line-up since the series started two years ago.  Each beer in Hermitage’s Single Hop Series is made with the same composition of grains using identical steps in the brewing process.  The only thing different with each beer is the hops.

“I honestly don’t know why we’ve succeeded,” admits Hermitage Brewmaster Greg Filippi when asked how Hermitage succeeds where most breweries won’t even go.  “The first couple beers were Columbus Hops and then Amarillo Hops, and they didn’t sell too well.  But then we released Citra Hop and things really took off.”  Citra Hop IPA took gold in both the 2011 and 2012 California Craft Brew Competition and is now a year around fixture in Hermitage’s line-up.

I think Greg Filippi is a bit too modest.  Hermitage succeeds with their Single Hop Series because they choose hop varieties in the series with great floral and fruit-like qualities like Citra and Galaxy. These IPA’s are pretty dry, and brewed with a lot of late hop additions to the boil to create a wonderful aromas and a freshness to the beer so the intense hop flavors sing.

This is true of their latest addition to the Single Hop Series, El Dorado.  “I’ve been trying to get El Dorado hops since 2010,” remarked Greg Filippi.  As a newly cultivated hop strain, it was only available from a single farm in the Washington State’s Yakima until last year, when two additional farms started growing it.  Filippi visited farm where El Dorado was originally cultivated and finally got his hands on 100 lbs of the hops, enough to make a 25 barrel batch of IPA.   “El Dorado gets its name from the lost city of gold, because the flowers contain so many essential oils and resin that your hands quickly turn yellow handling them, even for a short time.   The hops have a strong tropical fruit aroma like pineapple and mango, with a noticeable underpinning of resinous pine.”

Hermitage sent me a bottle of El Dorado Single Hop IPA to try so I was able to experience it for myself.   There’s a noticeable smooth resinous undertone to the brew.   As it warmed up, an elusive fruity component emerges that tastes a bit like watermelon.  The El Dorado hops work well on their own, but I could also see this hop providing unique depth to a more traditional hop blend.

Not only will this beer let you experience the latest in the continual experimentation of brewers and hop growers, it’s pretty tasty in it’s own right!

El Dorado Single Hop, at the far left, taking its place in the Hermitage Single Hop Line-up
(Photo from Hermitage Brewing)



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?

Beer of the Month: Ale of the 2 Tun from Hermitage Brewing

Having moved last month from the San Francisco’s Peninsula to the South Bay, I’m eager to try the best beers the South Bay has to offer.  A lot has happened, beer-wise, in the 2 1/2 years since I left and I’m looking forward to catching up.  Of course, if you’re one of the few remaining loud-mouthed beer geeks from San Francisco (or elsewhere) constantly sneering at the South Bay Beer scene, you’ll dismiss this whole enterprise.  But then, that crowd proves nothing more than they like to talk a lot about stuff they know nothing about and need to get out more.

But these days even the most jaded San Francisco-phile (Is that a word?) will grudgingly admit plenty of good beer can be found from South Bay breweries.  And Exhibit A is our Beer of the Month for November, Ale of the 2 Tun Imperial Stout from Hermitage Brewing.

It’s a real roast bomb.  There’s lots of bitter chocolate and some coffee flavors, and just a slight grassy hop finish.  It’s very dry with hardly any sweetness at all, giving it a rather sophisticated taste.  But this isn’t one of those beers that’s “an acquired taste” as it goes down smooth despite all that roasted bitterness with almost a creamy consistency, and its 9.0% abv is virtually undetectable.  

Just who is Hermitage Brewing anyway? Hermitage started in San Jose in 2009 when the Tied House brewpub closed down its downtown San Jose location and move the brewing equipment to its current location just south of downtown. In addition to its own beer line up, it produces beer for the remaining Tied House location in Mountain View and contracts out its capacity for other firms in the soda and beer industry. The current brewing team includes Brewmaster Ron Manabe, Brewmaster Peter Licht, Brewer Greg Filippi. They recently picked up brewing free agent and four-time consecutive GABF winner Brewer Steve Donohue who recently left Firehouse.  

Next week, we’ll discuss why Rice-A-Roni is the San Francisco treat.  Or should we say the ‘Frisco Treat?