Category Archives: Homebrew

Home Brew 101 Workshop at Whole Foods Market Cupertino

Brewing an Imperial IPA at a past Home Brew 101 workshop at Whole Foods Market Cupertino
Brewing an Imperial IPA at a past Home Brew 101 workshop at Whole Foods Market Cupertino

The Whole Foods Market Cupertino location (20955 Stevens Creek Blvd.) hosts a Home Brew 101 workshop on Saturday, March 1 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The workshop will be facilitated by beer specialist Keegan, a craft beer enthusiast and knowledgeable homebrewer. From past workshops, Keegan has been a patient instructor and an effective communicator who puts his dry humor to great use. There are tastings of select beers, and it is always great to take home a growler of soon-to-be tasty beer at the end of the workshop.

Here is more from the event description:

Join our Beer Specialist Keegan for a lesson in beer brewing. Keegan, Whole Foods Market Cupertino Beer Specialist, will teach the sanitation, preparation and technology of craft brewing. Take a tour of our beer brewing department and learn about buying bulk grains and participate in hands-on brewing techniques. All registrants will take home one growler of beer brewed for home fermentation and will enjoy a selection of microbrews to taste with food pairings by our Culinary Center Director, Mariel.

On the menu:

  • Beer Battered Avocado with Chipotle Sauce
  • Cheddar Beer Dip with Pretzel Bites
  • Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Location: Culinary Center

Instructor: Keegan, Beer Specialist

Tickets: $30. Sign up at

All participants must be 21 or over. A 5 person minimum must be met. Registration ends 24 hours prior to the event. We reserve the right to cancel/reschedule any classes 24 hours prior to the event if minimum registration has not been met. Registration will be credited. All registered participants will be notified via email/phone.

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Homebrew Clubs

BREW PATROL - Silicon Valley Sudzers members Derek Wolfgram (left), Keith McKay (center) and Tom Eastman met recently at Harry's Hofbrau in San Jose
BREW PATROL – Silicon Valley Sudzers members Derek Wolfgram (left), Keith McKay (center) and Tom Eastman met recently at Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose

More folks seem to be taking up homebrewing as a hobby based on feedback from local homebrew stores. The next step for some is exploring the possibility of joining a homebrew club. The American Homebrewers Association has a database of more than 1,000 registered homebrew clubs, including San Jose’s Almaden Brewers, Affinity Home Brewing Club, the Grain Trust and the longstanding Worts of Wisdom Homebrewers and Silicon Valley Sudzers, as well as Santa Clara’s the HeadQuarters and Santa Clara Valley Brewers. There are also smaller, informal brewing clubs throughout the South Bay—think of friends and acquaintances getting together every few months and making a day out of making beer.

Homebrew clubs are a diverse bunch, just like their members, yet each homebrew club has its own mission and philosophy reflecting its members’ passions for good beer. Derek Wolfgram, communications co-chair of Silicon Valley Sudzers, says, “Homebrew clubs have their own personalities: some are really technical or competition oriented; others are very social, basically beer drinking clubs—not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Wolfgram gravitated to the Sudzers after arriving in the South Bay in 2009: “I’ve always appreciated the way the Sudzers have balanced the educational aspect of learning about beer and brewing with the social activities.” Formed in 1997, the Sudzers are an active South Bay homebrew club, holding monthly meetings to share and receive feedback on homemade brews.

One such event is based on an idea from beer-industry pioneer Pete Slosberg in partnership with the East Bay’s Slow Hand BBQ restaurant. Several months ago, Slosberg and Slow Hand owner Dan Frengs invited Sudzers members to use Slow Hand’s smoker to create smoked malts but with a twist—malts were smoked with wood smoke and the aromas from a variety of smoking meats, like barbecue ribs, brisket and chicken. The resulting beers can be tasted Sunday at Slow Hand BBQ.

A $35 ticket covers various barbecue meats and sides, and the opportunity to sample the six Sudzers-brewed beers made with the barbecue-smoked malts: Abbey Wit’ Smoke Witbier (with chicken- and bacon-smoked malt), Angry Leprechaun Irish Red Ale (with brisket-smoked malt), Lunch Meat Altbier (with rib-smoked malt), McSwinerson’s Scotch Ale (with rib-smoked malt), Smoke & Mirrors Porter (with brisket-smoked malt) and Smokin’ Wheat American Wheat (with chicken- and bacon-smoked malt).

Smoked Beer
Sunday, April 14, 1-4pm, $35; Slow Hand BBQ, 1941 Oak Park Blvd., Pleasant Hill

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A Brief History of Craft Beer in the South Bay

Meet the Brewers at Hermitage Brewing Company, Feb. 19, 2011
Meet the Brewers at Hermitage Brewing Company, Feb. 19, 2011

It was the second annual Meet the Brewers beer festival held in Feb. 2011 at San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing Company that provided more than just a memorable beer experience. Truth be told, my wife and I had originally gone mainly for the food trucks, but when in Rome…

I tried a refreshing Tied House Brewery wheat beer which served as a prelude to the Campbell Brewing hefeweizen with its inviting combination of sweetness and bitterness. My wife, who is from Bavaria, heartily approved.

After talking with the pourers about their beers – many of whom were the actual brewers – I opted next for unfamiliar-to-me beer styles.

The Uncommon Brewers organic brown ale had flavors of roasted barley and pleasant, light bitterness. Seabright Brewery’s oatmeal stout poured black and smooth with flavors suggesting dark chocolate. Finally, there was the Faultine Brewery porter, a dark beer that smelled and tasted of roasted coffee beans.

The beers were tasty and paired well with our Korean tacos and burritos that we got from one of the aforementioned food trucks.

We left relatively early and did not sample any more beers from the other breweries, but thanks in large part to this beer festival, I gained a new hobby – to learn more about beer and its wide range of styles while checking out the local beer scene.

We began complementing our already existing wine rituals with beer exploration. I’d go online and learn about solid examples of various beer styles and match that information with the selections at nearby stores that sold craft beer.

I stayed up-to-date with Peter Estaniel’s BetterBeerBlog to see if there was anything new going on in the South Bay.

In April 2011, the first KraftBrew Beer Fest – organized by Naglee Park Garage – took place at the historic San Jose Woman’s Club, and we tried a larger selection of different styles of domestic and international beers.

Some beer styles we enjoyed from the first sip (IPA for my wife), while others we grew to appreciate over time (IPA for me).

Events like the Meet the Brewers beer festival and the KraftBrew Beer Fest not only provided opportunities to discover the wide variety of beer styles, but they also showed that there are plenty of folks in the area interested in good beer.

For the next year-and-a-half, our appreciation for beer and the local beer scene would continue to grow, and for me, in particular, would become a passion as I started blogging and writing about the local beer scene.

Local Craft Beer Boom

As recently as late 2008, William Brand wrote that the South Bay was a craft beer desert, but from our ventures out to local beer spots, stores and events, we learned that Brand’s observation was surely evolving.

Beer enthusiasts no longer had to routinely drive at least 45 minutes to try the latest touted, hard-to-get beer. There were establishments that made and carried great beer right here, from Morgan Hill through San Jose to Palo Alto.

We observed first hand the growing demand for – and distribution of – good beer, a relatively recent development according to a number of longer-term South Bay beer fans. The various, possible reasons for why the South Bay was such a latecomer continue to be discussed (and might perhaps be a topic in a future write-up).

Fortunately, such discussions these days often end on a positive note; many beer drinkers throughout the South Bay are enjoying the current craft beer boom and imagining the potential for the local area.

Craft Beer Movement and the South Bay

“Craft beer” – as defined by the Brewers Association – refers to beer made by a “small, independent, and traditional” brewing company. Such definitions illustrate the contrast between local and regional craft beer brewing companies and the giant, macro brewing companies that still dominate the overall beer market.

But according to recent numbers released by the Brewers Association in March, overall beer volume sales are down while the U.S. craft brewing industry continues to grow in volume and dollar sales. More beer drinkers are trying craft beer and learning about the various aspects that make craft beer more compelling compared to macro beer.

This nationwide growth within the craft beer segment reflects the growing interest and demand for craft beer here locally. A number of recent developments highlight the increasing popularity of craft beer within our region – from the popular and successful beer festivals to the growth of local brewing companies like Hermitage and Strike, as well as a new San Jose brewery that is in the works.

Greg Filippi - Lead Brewer at Hermitage Brewing Company, May 18, 2012
Greg Filippi – Lead Brewer at Hermitage Brewing Company, May 18, 2012

The Bay Brewers Guild, a collective of brewers representing the South Bay and nearby Santa Cruz and Monterey areas, continues to take shape, while the spotlight on the beers made at our local brewpubs – and the brewers who make them – grows bigger and brighter.

More establishments are offering craft beer in the South Bay and taking care to ensure that their staff are knowledgeable enough about beer to be able to make just the right recommendation to both beer enthusiasts and newbies alike.

Restaurant James Randall in Los Gatos has joined California Café (both the Palo Alto and Los Gatos locations) in hosting a growing number of beer-and-food-pairing events.

With craft beer’s growing popularity, it’s no surprise that more folks are interested in homebrewing and joining homebrew clubs. “We receive several inquiries a month from new homebrewers… where even just a year ago inquiries were much more infrequent,” says Derek Wolfgram, president of the homebrew club Silicon Valley Sudzers.

And there is a growing list of craft beer-centric businesses that have just opened or are set to open this year.

In downtown San Jose, the list includes craft beer bars Original Gravity Public House and ISO: Beers, and restaurant Blackbird Tavern.

In Campbell, there is Liquid Bread beer bar. In Mountain View, there are Jane’s Beer Store, South Bay’s first specialty beer store, and Steins Beer Garden + Restaurant.

History and Emergence of the South Bay Beer Scene: Breweries

Even hardcore South Bay beer fans might be surprised to learn that the valley had its share of early breweries, as cited in the 1992 book The Bars of Santa Clara County: A Beer Drinker’s Guide to Silicon Valley co-written by Bay Area beer scribe Jay Brooks and Karen Knezevich.

These breweries produced predominantly German-style beers and included Eagle Brewery (San Jose, 1853), Fredericksburg Brewery (San Jose, 1856), and other San Jose breweries opening between 1875 and 1905, including San Jose Brewery, Louis Krumb’s Brewery, and the St. Claire Brewing Company. After breweries such as these closed, there were no local South Bay breweries until the mid-1980s.

Breweries like Winchester Brewery and Palo Alto Brewing Company would come and go, but not before making their impact.

In 1986, Pete Slosberg launched Pete’s Wicked Ales in Mountain View thanks to Palo Alto Brewing Company and Bob Stoddard, of whom Slosberg refers to as “one of the first, true pioneers” in craft brewing.

Stoddard would later open his eponymous Brewhouse & Eatery in Sunnyvale in 1993 (now FireHouse Grill & Brewery) and in Campbell in 2002 (now Campbell Brewing Company/Sonoma Chicken Coop).

Mountain View’s Tied House Brewery opened in 1988, and later in the same year Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch opened the first Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant in Palo Alto.

The second Gordon Biersch opened in downtown San Jose in 1990, replacing a brewpub that had closed in four months, proving in part that South Bay native Gordon – “Born in San Jose. Grew up in Los Altos,” he shares – had a strong case of South Bay pride. Gordon would go on to open a brewery and bottling facility in San Jose in 1997.

Dan Gordon, June 26, 2012
Dan Gordon, June 26, 2012

Los Gatos Brewing Company opened in 1991 with their downtown San Jose location opening in 2010.

El Toro Brewing Company started in 1992 with the opening of their Morgan Hill brewpub in 2006.

Additional breweries and restaurants would open, including Sunnyvale’s Faultline Brewing Company in 1994.

“We have breweries here in the South Bay that have been around for a while, and it’s nice to see people appreciating beer more,” states Campbell Brewing’s brewmaster Jim Turturici.

Steve Donohue, currently brewing at Hermitage while working on the initial stages of opening Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company in San Jose, asks that people give South Bay breweries a chance: “I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

Steve Donohue and Peter Licht (Brewmaster at Hermitage Brewing Company), June 22, 2012
Steve Donohue and Peter Licht (Brewmaster at Hermitage Brewing Company), June 22, 2012

San Jose – and South Bay – Craft Beer Bars and More

Moving along the local craft beer landscape, every beer region has its share of go-to hangouts for good beer. Since last year, Harry’s Hofbrau in San Jose has become a destination for the South Bay craft beer community.

General manager Kevin Olcese has earned a solid reputation for his beer knowledge and passion, for bringing in hard-to-get beers on tap, and for informing customers via Facebook of the latest beer arrivals.

Kevin Olcese, June 26, 2012
Kevin Olcese, June 26, 2012

Olcese, however, is quick to give credit to Palo Alto’s Rose & Crown Pub and San Jose’s Wine Affairs – “They’re huge,” he simply says – for helping to pave the way in the beer scene, contributing greatly to the American and micro/craft beer knowledge base among local beer drinkers.

Kasim Syed took over the Rose & Crown in 2006 with an immediate goal to bring better quality beers along with beers that other places didn’t have. His second goal was to get people to try these different beers and get his customers to change their tastes. On a moment’s notice, he would drive to Santa Rosa to pick up a single keg of the latest Russian River Brewing Company offering – all to get more people to try different styles of beer.

As for the growing number of local beer spots, Syed says, “It’s not a competition. It’s about giving people choices; there’s more fun with more choices. These are happy times right now.”

Kasim Syed, June 27, 2012
Kasim Syed, June 27, 2012

Owner Diane Chang-Laurent remembers opening Wine Affairs in November 2007 with only five Belgian beers in bottles. But the customers, including mostly homebrewers at the beginning, would constantly request various beers from particular breweries. The beer focus really took shape in 2009.

Chang-Laurent says, “All the credit goes to the customers. They pushed me, and I listened.” As for the growing number of beer spots opening up in the South Bay, she says, “The more, the better. Plus, competition is always good.”

Diane Chang-Laurent, June 28, 2012
Diane Chang-Laurent, June 28, 2012

In downtown San Jose, Ryan Summers opened Good Karma Vegan Café in 2006 and has worked quietly yet diligently on bringing and maintaining a quality rotating craft beer selection – currently 15 beers on tap – for Good Karma’s loyal following.

According to Summers, the new beer-centric establishments will “create a draw for everybody and help us take the customer experience even further as each of us continues to think about how to stand out.”

Ryan Summers, May 17, 2012
Ryan Summers, May 17, 2012

The craft beer focus began in 2008 for Bobby’s Liquors in Santa Clara thanks to Sukhjeev Singh, better known as Dee to his customers. Among the varied bottled craft beers in stock, Bobby’s offers a well-regarded collection of hard-to-get bottled sour ales.

Look for Dee and his wife to open ISO: Beers in downtown San Jose later this fall, which he says is “a beer bar and tasting lounge that will offer about 2,000 refrigerated, bottled craft beers and feature 50 to 60 craft beers on tap starting out.”

San Jose’s Naglee Park Garage and Jack’s Bar & Lounge, while providing respectable craft beer offerings, are coordinating large-scale South Bay beer events, like the Garage’s upcoming Summer KraftBrew Beer Fest (their third KraftBrew installment), taking place in downtown San Jose on Saturday, July 21. Event goers will get to enjoy a variety of beer styles along with great food and music in a festive atmosphere.

The next South Bay Beerwalk hosted by Jack’s (their third beerwalk) takes place in Campbell on Saturday, August 11, providing the opportunity to check out downtown Campbell while sampling beers from Northern California.

South Bay Craft Beer Scene Going Forward

Having been born and raised in San Jose (and still living here), I have seen various communities spring up over the years, communities bonded by a myriad of cultural facets, like art, music, food, sports and technology.

We can now include the craft beer community.

Co-owner Dan Phan of Original Gravity Public House notes, “Beer is the universal beverage that has been bringing people together on common ground for thousands of years.”

Dan Phan and Johnny Wang, April 9, 2012
Dan Phan and Johnny Wang, April 9, 2012
Dan Phan and Johnny Wang, June 28, 2012
Dan Phan and Johnny Wang, June 28, 2012

The late esteemed English writer and journalist Michael Jackson wrote in his 1997 book The New World Guide to Beer, “The world always knew that beer was a noble and complex drink, but, for a moment in history, that was forgotten. Now it is being remembered.”

Indeed, many folks, including Dan Gordon, have felt the momentum for good beer building in the South Bay ever since the 80s and 90s.

Fast forward to today, and there is no doubting the momentum.

Notable Bay Area beer editor and writer Mike Pitsker agrees that the South Bay beer scene is on the up-and-up.

And brewer Steve Donohue adds the capstone comment, “We’re just scratching the surface.”

[An abridged version of this post was shared as the cover story in the annual Metro Silicon Valley beer issue.]

IPA/DIPA Tasting, Plus Holiday Beer Tasting with BetterBeerBlog’s Peter Estaniel

Wifey and I really like IPAs and DIPAs. Even my brother likes them now. A couple months ago, we did a tasting of some solid if not renowned examples of both.

We took short, collective tasting notes; it appears that we all are at similar, beginning points when it comes to describing beer.

Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA (American IPA, 7% ABV):

The Sculpin IPA had a clear pour with a citrus aroma. Clean, crisp, pleasant, and balanced taste. A very good, smooth mouthfeel. A very pleasant beer to have year round.

Stone Brewing’s Ruination IPA (American Double/Imperial IPA, 7.7% ABV):

Ruination’s pour was cloudy and with more head than the Sculpin. It had a milder nose than the Sculpin. After an initial sugary taste, there was a lingering bitterness.

Firestone Walker’s Double Jack DIPA (American Double/Imperial IPA, 9.5% ABV).

Double Jack poured clearer than Sculpin with a sweet nose of ripened citrus and maple syrup. There was a bitterness but at a lesser level than Ruination. Pleasant mouthfeel.

Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Elder (American Double/Imperial IPA, 8% ABV).

Pliny the Elder had a clear pour with a pleasant nose and a good balance of sweetness and bitterness.

Though wifey and I enjoy all these beers, on this particular day, we all seemed to prefer Sculpin with Pliny the Elder a close second. I wonder what we would each prefer these days if we did a similar tasting.

Switching gears, I had the privilege of helping Peter of BetterBeerBlog taste and review some holiday beer also about two months ago. Besides Peter and me, there were Mrs. BetterBeerBlog and Jason, assistant brewer at Firehouse Brewery.

I began the evening tasting Peter’s homemade holiday apple cider, which was delicious – hard to believe the ABV on that one. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the apple cider.

And then we got straight to the tasting and note-taking of some holiday beers.

1. 4 Calling Birds (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 11% ABV) from The Bruery.

My notes: Pours dark brown with a thin tan head. Aroma of spices (anise, allspice) with eventual notes of roast and ginger. As beer warms, sweeter notes with coffee come through, and this is also the case with the taste. Slight, alcoholic heat. Very interesting and enjoyable.

2. Snowball Saison Ale (Saison/Farmhouse Ale, 8% ABV) from To Øl (Proef Brouweriz Lochristi-Hijfte).

My notes: Pours a golden hue with an off-white head. Aroma of happy hoppiness – orange, grapefruit, rose petals. Taste echoes the aroma with a more pronounced floral accent. Can feel a high carbonation, yet it is balanced with a refreshing taste that can certainly be greatly enjoyed year round.

For the rest of the tasting notes on the 4 Calling Birds and the Snowball Saison Ale, please check out this BetterBeerBlog post.

3. Old Stock Ale 2011 (Old Ale, 11.9%) from North Coast Brewing Company.

My notes: Pours amber/red with tan head. Aromas become stronger as beer warms: caramel, dates, butterscotch. Reminds me of notes of a Madeira wine. Initial alcohol taste, perhaps as expected, but pleasant. A very enjoyable, sipping beer.

4. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale (Belgian Strong Dark Ale, 10%) from Brouwerij St. Bernardus.

My notes: Pours amber/reddish color with an off-white head and tight bubbles. Nice lacing and long lasting head. Very pleasant, smooth, familiar Belgian ale style aroma leading to a similar taste after an initial feel of high carbonation and alcohol. Very, very nice.

For the rest of the tasting notes of the Old Stock Ale 2011 and the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale, please click on this BetterBeerBlog post.

5. Aventinus Weizen Eisbock (Eisbock, 12% ABV) from Schneider-Weisse.

Click here for Peter’s tasting notes on the Aventinus Weizen Eisbock.

Peter is the preeminent San Jose area beer blogger, having begun his BetterBeerBlog five years ago. He recently left his day job in the high-tech world to work on opening his own craft beer bar in San Jose, which I can’t wait for.

They’re admiring the appearance of their beer, using a technique named after yours truly (towards the bottom of the post) – hilarious!

Last but not least, Peter shared a Hops on Rye (American IPA, 7.5%) from Firehouse, which got me excited.

Because the Hops on Rye was tasty with a peppery/spicy note that I would soon come to thoroughly enjoy. As well, I now knew the cool brewer who assists in making this very fine beer.

Thanks, Mr. and Mrs. BetterBeerBlog for your hospitality. I really enjoyed my time hanging out and tasting beer with these folks. In addition to having just a great time, my beer knowledge increased a great deal that night.

Always Grateful,


Our Friend Stef Makes Home Brew

A highlight from this past summer was getting the chance to drink our friend Stef’s home-brewed beer.

This IPA, so crisp and refreshing, especially on that warm, summer day back in late May, was the first home-brewed beer that wifey and I ever had.

And with our growing interest in craft beers really taking off since the beginning of this year, we were very happy to see the home beer brewing process in person about a week after drinking this delicious IPA, thanks to the kind invitation from Stef, his lovely wife, and their charming kid.

Steeping the grains.


Beer recipe and instructions.


Main ingredients.


Mixing in malt to make wort and then adding hops.


Cleaning and sterilizing.


Wort ice bath.

The homebrewer.


Transferring and then pitching yeast.


Waiting for fermentation and then the transfer to secondary fermentation (which would take 10-14 days) before bottling.


Watching the beer brewing process was completely interesting and inspiring. It’s a labor of love and something I hope to try one of these days soon.

Meanwhile, the kids had a great time playing.

Then, it was time for dinner.


To go along with some beers.

Thanks very much for an awesome time!

As cool as viewing the home brewing process was, it’s much cooler to be able to call you our friends.

Always Grateful,