Quick take on Loma Brewing

Loma Brewmaster Warren Billips
(Loma Facebook photo)

I finally got the chance to check out Loma Brewing, which opened a few weeks ago in downtown Los Gatos. It’s at the site of the old Los Gatos Brewing Company (LGBC), and brothers Scott and Kevin Youkilis who purchased LGBC have totally changed the place. Gone is the traditional, dark wooden interior and in it’s place is a more contemporary, industrial looking place, complete with bare wood and concrete. Scott is a culinary trained restaurateur, while Kevin recently retired from a ten-year Major LEague Baseball career, which including making three All-Star teams and playing on two World Series winning teams before turning his interests towards beer.  

The Youkillis brothers hired former Heretic Brewing’s Warren Billips as their Brewmaster. There were five Loma beers on tap the night my wife and I dropped by and sampled all of them. We started with the lager, which was was fine, and the Berliner Weiss, which worked, though it lacked a little punch. It got a lot better from there. We both thought the roasty Dry Stout, the tropical Pale Ale and the flavorful IPA were all excellent. Sorry, no complex tasting notes. When I’m out with my wife, I put my notebook away. I asked our waitress what hops were used in the Pale Ale and IPA and she struggled to answer, promising she’d check with someone and get right back to us. To my astonishment, a few minutes later, none other than Brewmaster Warren Billips himself drops by our table and says, “I heard you had some questions”  So we got to chat with Warren for a few minutes about his beers.

Warren’s a young guy with a long, blond beard that puts the band members of ZZ Top top to shame. His approach to brewing is rather unique in the Bay Area. With so many area brewers trying to one-up each other with big aggressive flavors, it’s rather refreshing that Warren favors a lot of traditional styles, his favorite being Kolsch. How many West Coast Brewers would dare say “Kolsch” is their favorite style?    

But Warren uses newer, unique hops with plenty of flavor without hitting you over the head with a lot of bitterness. The Pale Ale tropical notes come from new hop varietals developed in Germany that rarely show up in the United States. His IPA uses El Dorado and Mosiac, hops that aren’t unfamiliar to beer geeks, but still are rather recent developments.  (Magnum hop are used for bittering in both beers.)   And in a time where brewers are routinely putting out IPA’s with 100+ international bitterness units (ibu), give Warren plenty of kudos for brewing an excellent IPA that checks in at only 50 ibus.  A brewer who’s isn’t trying hard to impress you with his creativity, executes well, and still creates a lot of new and interesting flavors anyway is a rare thing. It turned out the Lager and Berliner Weiss at Loma were Warren’s first commercial attempts at these difficult to brew styles, so it’s a safe bet those Loma brews will only get better.

We had dinner there and I’m not a restaurant critic, so I won’t say too much. The food was good and I’d certainly recommend it to others. Loma seemed to specialize more in shareable small plates, salads, and flat breads than traditional dinners. There were only four dinner sized “large plates” on the menu so the menu seemed a bit limited to me, but then maybe I’m just out of touch. They seem to be positioning Loma as an after work or late evening hang out place.  At least that’s my non-restaurant critic take on things

As for the beer, I’m looking forward more of what Loma’s Warren Billips has to offer. Loma will be mixing up their line-up, with an Oatmeal Stout and Oktobestfest coming online in the near future. Loma Brewing, the new kid on the South Bay brewing block is off to a really good start.

The brews of Loma in soft candle light

The Session #97: Yes, the Silicon Valley is an up and coming beer destination

There was a time in the United States one had to travel great distances to find good beer. Thankfully, those days seem to be behind us.  I’ve found plenty of examples of local and regional brewing excellence in places like Logan, UT, Modesto, CA, Las Cruces, NM, and Fort Myers, FL. None of these places would be one anyone’s list of beer destinations. Yet, the beers at these places all have their unique identity, whether brewed with local ingredients or with some unique twist.

So when Our Tasty Travels asks us to list our up-and-coming beer destinations, I’m tempted to answer by jumping up and screaming “EVERYWHERE!”  Instead, I hope you’ll forgive me as I talk up the place where I live, the Silicon Valley, as a beer destination you should check out.

It’s not as if there haven’t been any good breweries here. Places like the Tied House, Faultline Brewing, Los Gatos Brewing Company, and El Toro have all been cranking out good stuff for over a couple decades.  Gordon-Biersch, the ubiquitous  chain of brew pubs and beer originated Palo Alto in 1988, the same place Hewlett Parkard started from a garage in the 1930’s.   The Gordon-Biersch production brewery is located smack dab in the middle of San Jose. Other breweries like Rock Bottom Brewery, Campbell Brewing, Firehouse Grill & Brewery joined the fray a years later winning awards and a few Great American Beer Festival (GABF) medals along the way.

Still, the Silicon Valley long suffered comparisons to the thriving San Francisco and Oakland area brewing scenes.  Even as little a seven years ago, the place to go for the best beer selection in the Silicon Valley was arguably a wine bar called “Wine Affairs”.

But that’s changing.  In just the past few years plenty of bars and restaurants have emerged to serve a wide variety of brews to meet eclectic tastes.  I’m talking about places like Original Gravity, Harry’s Hofbrau, Good Karma, Liquid Bread, and Spread which have either recently emerged, or transformed themselves into places to go to find great beer. I’m sure I’ve left out a few other places.

However, the most encouraging trend is that by mid-2015, four new Silicon Valley breweries will have opened tap rooms in the last two years in the same gritty industrial section just south of downtown San Jose. All four of those breweries has it’s own to tie to the Silicon Valley’s unique culture.

Hermitage Brewing’s Tap Room

The first to build and brewery and tap room was Hermitage Brewing, a production brewing venture of Mountain View’s Tied House in the summer of 2013.  In addition to producing many fine brews of their own, Hermitage stealthily brews beers for several breweries under contract.  You might say Hermitage is the Flextronics of Northern California brewing, the contract manufacturer that builds many of the world’s fancy electronic gadgets. The most interesting Hermitage brews, at least to me, are in their single-hop IPA series.  Every two or three months, Hermitage releases a single-hop IPA, often brewed with some hard to find varietal of hops.  Each beer is brewed the same way, the only thing that changes is that hops.  It’s a great way to directly taste all the latest innovations in hop cultivation.

Strike Brewmaster Drew Erhlich and CEO Jenny Lewis

Then in early 2014, next brewery to settle in the area was Strike Brewing with their no-frills, yet well executed
brews.  Strike goes for the sessionability and drinkable side of the brewing spectrum, yet they still won awards with their Imperial Red and do a dynamite Imperial Stout.   You will not find a more ambitious business person in Silicon Valley than Strike CEO Jenny Lewis who has clear expansion plans well beyond Northern California.  Yet, Strike constantly supports the local community in various fundraisers.

Next up was Clandestine Brewing, which opened a tap room last May.   It’s always fun to see what they have on their 12 taps, because it always changes and there’s always something new. You’d expect that from a brewery founded by four homebrewers who brew only on the weekends.  That’s because their weekdays are spent writing code for various Silicon Valley software companies.

Rob Conticello and Colin Kelly of Clandestine Brewing

And in the middle of this year, Santa Clara Valley Brewing (SCVB) will open their own brewery and tap room.  Everybody knows SCVB Brewmaster Steve Donohue, who won four GABF medals during his time at Firehouse Grill and Brewery.  When Firehouse made a curious business decision de-emphasize its beer and transform itself into a Hooter’s knock-off, featuring nubile waitresses scantily dressed in tight t-shirts and short kilts for the sports bar crowd, Steve decided to leave after a couple years of that.   Soon after, he formed SCVB with Apple Computer executive Tom Clark.   SCVB quickly established their tropical Electric Tower IPA as their flagship beer, and Electric Tower tap handles started popping up all over the San Francisco Bay Area.

SCVB Brewmaster Steve Donohue

One thing the Silicon Valley is not, is San Francisco.  San Francisco is a beer destination which needs no introduction with it’s undeniable vibrant brewing culture.  Just don’t go there if you want a simple wheat beer or brown ale.  The must be some law that states any wheat beer in San Francisco must have some unusual fruit like guava or olallieberry in it. Any brewer up there who can be bothered to brew a brown ale can’t resist adding Peruvian cocoa nibs to it.  Thermo-nuclear IPA’s and Belgian-style alcohol bombs take up 85% of any given tap list.  But then, San Francisco has never been about restraint.

The Silicon Valley has long been about execution, collaboration, and innovation driven by logic. You’ll find that in our beer.