Whole Foods Brewery on The Alameda Selects Brewmaster, Plus Q & A with Beer Manager Wesley Miller

Brewery at Whole Foods on The Alameda in San Jose (courtesy of Whole Foods Market San Jose)
Brewery at Whole Foods on The Alameda in San Jose (courtesy of Whole Foods Market San Jose)

The much-anticipated Whole Foods Market on The Alameda in San Jose created quite a buzz last month with the announcement of its Dec. 9 grand opening date. Some highlights from the news release included:

  • 42nd Whole Foods store in Northern California and the second Whole Foods in San Jose
  • 35,000 square-foot space with a whole host of environmentally efficient features
  • Estimated to bring 150 jobs to San Jose
  • First store in California to have an on-site brewery and taproom and only the second store in the company with an on-site brewery (a Houston store will have a brewery up-and-running in early November)
  • Two-story, 5,600 square-foot brewery building to also house a coffee and fresh juice venue along with a restaurant-style menu
  • An in-house brewmaster who will create signature beers for the taproom

Like many San Jose residents, I have been keeping track of the store’s status ever since plans were first announced for the site in 2005. For me, the long wait has been justified thanks to the announcement made a couple summers ago that the site would have a brewery and restaurant.

And when construction finally began late last summer, I knew that it would be just a matter of time before folks throughout the area would flock to the store to check out the brewery, the taproom and, of course, the beers.

Overseeing the beer program for the new store is Wesley Miller, specialty associate coordinator for Northern CA and Reno. I had the opportunity to speak with him yesterday, and Miller shared some of his background as well as the latest updates on the brewery front, including an introduction to the recently selected brewmaster.

Can you tell us a bit of your background?

I grew up in San Jose and attended Foothill College and a couple other colleges in Humboldt. I’ve been with Whole Foods since 1999 and have worked primarily in the beer, wine and cheese specialty areas. Most of my positions have involved craft beer, from the store level to the regional level. I’ve opened up taprooms and have trained beer staff. I’ve taught proper pouring techniques and have procured new vendors.

How did you get into craft beer? Any “Aha!” moment?

After college I started working at the Whole Foods store in Campbell, and the search was continually on for the next great beer to enjoy. The South Bay didn’t have much beer culture at the time. There weren’t many beer stores. Teske’s stood out. Rose & Crown in Palo Alto had some cool beers. There was Sierra Nevada. Lagunitas was just getting big, and I was really into Belgian beers. My first Cantillon bottle was probably the “Aha!” moment.

I was also interested in making beer and wine and became a very avid homebrewer, attending homebrew club meetings.

The local beer culture started emerging in the mid to late 2000s, and I just really enjoyed the culture of craft beer. I wanted to be a part of the community and the industry. I appreciated the history of brewing, and I could taste the artistry in the beers.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the craft beer community grow first hand, and I’ve made great connections and relationships.

Who’s the brewmaster, and can you provide a brief background on him/her?

Guy Cameron. He starts today. Guy brewed with Russian River Brewing Company the last six years and before that was an award-winning homebrewer. He also previously brewed at the Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Campbell.

He grew up in Los Gatos, so he’s a South Bay guy as well. He went to De Anza College and then to CSU, Hayward. He’s lived the last six years in Santa Rosa.

How is the buildout of the brewery coming along? When will the first beers be brewed?

We have a 7-barrel system, a couple fermenters. The tanks and equipment are in, and we’re installing a lot of it this week and next. We will start brewing in the next two weeks.

How much do you expect to brew in the first year?

500-700 barrels.

Will the brewery have a separate name?

Yes. A distinct name will help differentiate the brewery. The name will pay homage to the local region.

How many taps will the taproom have, and which beers will you make first?

The taproom has 20 taps. We will start off with two taps of our own beers, and we’ll have a third tap for our seasonal beer. The rest of the taps will be dedicated to rotating guest taps.

In collaborating with Guy, we decided that the first style will be a nice, West Coast IPA. For the second beer, we’re still deciding, but it’s going to be something more sessionable, lower octane. Perhaps a saison or red ale.

Will you carry local beers on your guest taps?

We will look for local brewers to highlight them and help them grow. Each of our stores strives to do that.

I met with Camino Brewing Company last week, and I’ll be working on getting their kegs for the opening. Camino Brewing is based in San Jose, and we will be the first place to offer their beer on draft.

We will most likely have something from Santa Clara Valley Brewing on tap as well, hopefully a special beer for our opening.

We dedicate a lot of space in the stores for beer, really focusing on craft and local. We try to ensure that we’re up on the seasonal and limited-release beers by making relationships with breweries and helping to build their brands. We want each store to have the autonomy to bring in local beers.

Can you share more details of the taproom?

The taproom can fit 70 people comfortably. We’ll have bar seating and communal table seating, and all open to the outdoor elements on the rooftop deck. We want guests to have a beer or a glass of wine – we’ll have local wines on tap – and have a relaxing, enjoyable experience.

We will serve a pub menu to pair with the craft beers on tap, and that’s a big thing for us – to have a place that the community can come out to and find something new that can pair wonderfully with beer. We want to convert beer newbies to craft beer through such pairings and elevate the customer’s experiences with beer.

Why select San Jose as one of the first Whole Foods to have a brewery and taproom?

It made sense with our growth in the craft beer scene. We’ve built craft beer bars, and building a brewery was something we’ve wanted to do for a while. Brewing was simply the next logical step in the evolution.

And San Jose has a rich history of brewing. Very close to the store is the location of Fredericksburg Brewing Company, which was built in 1869. We want to bring back some of the history to the neighborhood.

Your take on the burgeoning San Jose beer scene?

Wine Affairs. Original Gravity. Good Karma. ISObeers. There’s more, and it’s great to be a part of that community. There may be something on tap at Good Karma that you’re excited about, but then afterwards you can go to Original Gravity for a different beer and experience a different atmosphere. And then check out San Pedro Square Market after that. There’s so much variety out there, and if you’re a craft beer drinker, you’re adventurous and seek out different things.

We will highlight the other beer bars and establishments. It’s about partnerships and creating that community.

Anything else?

Our opening is on Dec. 9, and we welcome folks to come on out and visit us.

[This post was shared on Examiner.com.]