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

Santa Clara Valley Brewing in Edible Silicon Valley

Tom Clark (left) and Steve Donohue (right) of Santa Clara Valley Brewing

It’s a short piece, but now Silicon Valley foodies have been introduced to Santa Clara Valley Brewing in Edible Silicon Valley magazine. Both Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s Tom Clark and Steve Donohue were fun and engaging to work with for the article.  You can read the online version here.

Rambling Reviews 6.30.2015: Summer Beers from Anchor, Gordon Biersch and Santa Clara Valley

Summer is now officially upon us, so time to ramble about some of the lighter brews especially great for this time of year.  Good summer beers are underrated, possessing enough complexity and depth to draw you in if you care to, which can be easily ignored if all you want to do is cool off.

First up, Anchor Brewing Summer Wheat.  In the past, I was never a fan of this beer. That’s changed now that Anchor’s tweaked the recipe. The earlier version was a little bland for my taste, a pretty one-note wheat beer with nothing particularly to recommend about it. Anchor’s now jazzed it up with some subtle hop additions, including dry-hopping it with Simcoe. The result is a crisp, dry beer with some tartness from the wheat and citrus, lemony character from the additional hops giving the beer some extra depth. Now I’m a fan.

Next up is Gordon Biersch Sommerbrau, a Kolsch.  Their are plenty of Kolch’s out there, some rather light and ordinary.  As Gordon Biersch brewmaster says in a press release, “Kolsch is such a unique style and is so challenging to brew.” No place to hide any off flavors in a Kolsch.  The surprisingly sturdy underlying malt with some wheat tanginess finishes a little earthy.  Lot’s of subtle things going on here, and I like the little extra malt omph you don’t always see in this style.

Finally, when Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s tap room opened, I high-tailed it down there the first chance I got and tried, among other things, their Little Orchard Saison.  Lot’s of spice gives it some zip with some yeasty undertones for balance.  Not a deep review, but I liked it so much, I was just enjoying it rather than scribbling down a bunch of tasting notes, OK?

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Tap Room Opens

It’s a development that’s starting to get routine, yet hardly anyone is tired of.  Another South Bay brewery, Santa Clara Valley Brewing  has opened a tap room in the same South San Jose industrial region where Strike Brewing and Hermitage Brewing have theres, and Clandestine Brewing came and went.  (We all hope Clandestine re-opens in San Jose, but that is another story.)  Does this mean San Jose has reached “tap room critical mass” to become a beer destination?  Perhaps.  At any rate, there’s another place to go in the city for good local beer in the South Bay, and that’s good enough for me.

First look at Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s new brewery

It’s big news for South San Francisco Bay beer aficionados that Santa Clara Valley Brewing (SCVB) recently completed their brewery in South San Jose and has even started brewing a few batches. I got a chance to check the place out for myself and spent few minutes chatting with Brewmaster Steve Donohue.   As you might expect, Steve doesn’t have a heck of a lot of time to chat with anyone while he’s getting the brewery up and running.  Steve tells me to expect a couple new brews from SCVB, a Pale Ale, and a Session IPA.  For those expecting the Session IPA to be a dialed down version of their popular flagship Electric Tower IPA, Steve enthusiastically assured me the Session IPA would have its own unique character unlike Electric Tower.  The tap room in the front is still under construction and could likely open in as soon as a couple weeks, but the actual date will depend on when the necessary permit approvals and completed. As for getting the whole place up and running, Steve shook his head as he told me “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but it’s been fun so far.”
I’ll leave you with some pictures of the brewery.  The tap room was still under construction so I won’t post pictures of it, but when finished, I think it’s going to look pretty sharp.

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.