Peter Licht is the brewmaster of Hermitage Brewing Company, a production and partner brewery located at 1627 S. 7th St. just south of downtown San Jose.
Peter originally came to the Tied House location in downtown San Jose in early 2008 as the brewmaster. The following year, the San Jose Tied House closed down, and Peter oversaw the transfer of the brewing equipment to the new Hermitage Brewing facility. Before Tied House and Hermitage, he worked at Coast Range Brewing Company in Gilroy from its start in 1995 to 2007.
Peter recently took time to answer questions about his ties to the South Bay, the current San Jose/South Bay craft beer scene, his career path, and his interests outside of making beer.
What is your personal and/or professional connection to San Jose and the South Bay?
I moved to downtown San Jose in 1995 when I was just starting my career as a brewer at Coast Range in Gilroy.
When, where, and how did your passion for beer start?
Age 4 (1970), Rochester, New York, taking a sip of Dad’s beer (Genesee Cream Ale).
What’s your take on the current craft beer scene in the San Jose area? What’s your sense of the history of the craft beer scene in San Jose and the South Bay up to today? How has it changed over the recent years? Where do you see it going?
I feel that San Jose/South Bay is finally getting with the craft beer program. We got going early on with Gordon Biersch and Tied House, then Los Gatos Brewing and Stoddard’s… Meanwhile the craft beer scene in San Francisco, Oakland, and Marin continued to grow and develop. Now we are playing catch-up. There seems to be a lot of excitement and growing sophistication on the consumer side and a lot more being offered by local breweries, other retailers, and distributors.
Where are you current favorite places to get good beer?
Just opened. California Craft Beer shop in Fremont!
There is a consistent buzz about the great camaraderie among the South Bay brewers. What accounts for all this positivity?
Two things. We recently formed an informal guild which meets monthly, which gets us out of the brewery and able to socialize with each other. Also the local bloggers and media have been paying us more attention. That really helps.
How much beer is produced at Hermitage? What beer styles are you particularly interested in brewing down the road?
We are making a LOT of beer. Sales are up at the restaurant. And Hermitage is selling a lot of bottles in addition to doing partner brewing for breweries like Strike Brewing, Palo Alto Brewing, Almanac Beer… We recently did a Biere de Garde, a strong pale ale, which is a style I have wanted to brew since 1984 when I fell in love with it on a trip to France. Look for Ale des Dieux in BevMo and on tap at Tied House in Mountain View.
What got you into brewing? How/when did you decide to pursue it as a career?
I did my undergrad on an island. And one thing you learn when living on an island is that you don’t get everything you get on the mainland. In this case the island was Manhattan, and what you didn’t get was any beer that wasn’t Bud or Heineken.
Whilst majoring in English Literature at Columbia, I did my best to seek out good beer. The campus grocery had Rolling Rock, the old beat hangout the West End had Sam Adams which I could afford to drink on Mondays when they ran a special on pitchers, and of course there was McSorley’s which I could find at McSorley’s and at the student watering hole, Cannon’s. Otherwise it was a lot of Bud and Heineken.
When I graduated and drove across country and ended up in the bay area, I discovered the great world of craft beer! Every night I was drinking Anchor Porter in SF. And Steam beer, and Sierra, and Red Tail Ale, and Triple Rock. And that was just every night.
During the day, I would seek out other great local beers (and some not so great). Didn’t take too long before I discovered homebrew and made a trip to Oak Barrel where Homer taught me to brew. I was hooked.
Seemed like breweries were opening every week in California and my liberal arts degree wasn’t providing any great career options, so I enrolled in some science classes to fill in the gaps and then went to UC Davis for the Master Brewers Program, where I graduated in 1994. Upon completion, I hooked up with a Gilroy start-up Coast Range where I was the brewmaster for 13 years. After that, on to Tied House and Hermitage where I practice my craft now.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about becoming a brewer? If you could go back in time regarding your career, is there anything you would do differently?
Now is a good time to get into brewing since so many breweries are opening and existing ones seem to all be growing.
What do you enjoy doing outside of making beer?
My current, main interest is butchering and charcuterie.
Where do you see yourself down the road? Say 5-10 years out?
Hopefully making lots of great beer.
[This post was shared on Examiner.com.]