Gordon Biersch will celebrate its inaugural Oktoberfest this Sat., Oct. 10 directly outside its brewing facilities in San Jose’s Japantown (357 E. Taylor St.). The event takes place from 12pm to 9pm and includes a selection of the brewery’s signature German-style beers, traditional and contemporary food options, live music, stein-holding contest, free brewery tours and a five-story tall Ferris wheel.
Gordon Biersch will feature three of its traditional, unfiltered German-style beers – Märzen, Czech Style Pilsner and Festbier. Märzen, Gordon Biersch’s original Oktoberfest beer, highlights the flavors of imported German, dark-roasted Munich and caramelized Munich malts. The Czech-style Pilsner utilizes Bavarian Hallertau and Tettnang aroma hops to produce fine bitterness and a floral aroma. The unique flavor and bouquet combine for a crisp, highly drinkable beer. Festbier emphasizes rich malty undertones with a moderately hoppy finish. The maltiness is created via a combination of dark-roasted Munich style malt, Pilsner malt and both light-roasted and dark-roasted caramel malt.
Look for WildCide Hard Cider – the first offering from Gordon Biersch’s new cider venture – to make its public debut after the stealthily creative “No Name Cider” social media marketing campaign held earlier this year.
Gordon Biersch’s signature garlic fries will be available in addition to offerings from Capelo’s Barbecue, German-style soft pretzels from Wolfgang’s Bavarian Pretzels, Bratwurst, other sausages and roasted pig and chicken. Seating will be housed under a sperry tent with hall-style seating for 500.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is scheduled to make a special appearance at 2pm to take part in the traditional tapping of the keg with Gordon Biersch brewmaster Dan Gordon.
Free brewery tours will be held at intervals throughout the day. Live music will include Santa Cruz soul band Pawn Shop Soul and San Francisco collective Jazz Mafia. Both groups focus on contemporary funk, soul and jazz.
12 and under free
$15 13+ or designated driver
$20 entrance and 1 drink ticket
$25 entrance, 1 drink ticket, and .4 Litre (13oz) Gordon Biersch Willibecher glass
$30 entrance, 2 drink tickets, and 1 Litre (33oz) Gordon Biersch stein mug
$50 entrance, 4 drink tickets, and Gordon Biersch stein mug
1 ticket fills a Willibecher or half a Stein
2 tickets fills a Stein
Additional drink tickets = $5
Given the past Gordon Biersch events I’ve been to, I expect this one to quickly become a local favorite. More information is below for those unfamiliar with the history of Gordon Biersch.
Beers from Gordon Biersch
All of Gordon Biersch’s beer is brewed in strict adherence to the German Purity Law, a traditional German brewing philosophy that dates to 1487. In the declaration issued by Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria, it was stated that the only ingredients used in the production of beer should be water, barley, and hops. This traditional approach has been a cornerstone of Gordon Biersch’s brewing philosophy since brewmaster Dan Gordon established the company’s first brewery restaurant with restauranteur Dean Biersch in Palo Alto in 1988. Gordon was the first American in 40 years to graduate from the five-year brewing program at Technical University of Munich, the most prestigious brewing program in the world.
About Gordon Biersch
Dan Gordon first met Dean Biersch in 1987 through a mutual friend. Gordon was one of the most sought-after brewers in the country, while restaurateur and beer lover Biersch was looking for a partner to open a brewery restaurant.
Their mutual vision was clear from the start: a monument to beer, where people could come drink freshly-brewed beer and have a great meal. They would serve authentic, German-style beers in the tradition of the blends Gordon brewed while attending the Technical University of Munich, considered the world’s most renowned brewing school. Their beer has always been brewed according to the age-old German Purity Law of beer known as Reinheitsgebot, utilizing only the finest ingredients: Hallertauer hops, two-row malted barley, and a special yeast strain imported directly from Germany.
In 1988, they opened their first brewery restaurant in Palo Alto. Since then, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants have opened across the United States and world to include locations from California to Florida and even Taiwan.
The organization took its next major step in 1997 when it opened a state-of-the-art brewery and bottling facility in San Jose’s Japantown neighborhood.
Since 1998, Gordon Biersch Brewing Company has more than doubled its production, increasing its capacity to 3.1 million gallons of beer annually, making the company the largest brewery in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch founded Gordon Biersch in 1988 with the goal of making the most authentic German-style lagers outside of Germany.
Twenty-five years later, Gordon reflects, “I can’t believe it, actually. When Dean and I started, we never thought 25 years. Being here, having the brewery in San Jose where I was born in an area where I had my college job working in the canneries located around it, it’s so hard to believe that this actually happened.”
When asked about his proudest achievement, Gordon says, “I think it’s our dedication to authenticity and not compromising on how we brew our beer. … Our focal point has always been to brew authentic German-style beers and make them balanced and drinkable, and to maintain the highest levels of standards for brewing according to German purity law. It’s going to be how we continue to brew our beers, and we’re hoping people continue to accept that.”
To celebrate its silver anniversary, Gordon Biersch will host a “Big Bands, Brews & BBQ” event this Saturday, 2-7pm, at its state-of-the-art brewing and bottling facility in San Jose’s Japantown. The theme represents Gordon’s two passions—jazz and, of course, making beer. Tickets are $10 and available online at gbanniversary.brownpapertickets.com or payable by cash at the door.
Two glasses or six tastes of Gordon Biersch beers as well as a commemorative glass are included. Additional glasses and tastes can be purchased, along with food designed to pair with the beers, including 18-hour Texas smoked-beef brisket, pulled-pork sliders and other fare. Gordon Biersch will also serve its trademark garlic fries.
The musical lineup features the San Jose Jazz Festival All-Star Big Band, Pacific Mambo Orchestra, and Carlos Reyes and his Super Group. The beer lineup includes the Czech Style Pilsner, SommerBrau, Marzen, Blonde Bock, Hefeweizen and the limited release Weizen Eisbock, a recent medal winner in the German-style wheat-beer category at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival. There will be guided tours of the brewery—and look for Gordon to play his trombone. Folks can watch him literally tooting his own horn (his joke, not mine).
What are Gordon’s hopes for the next 25 years? “It would be nice to be around, you know. I don’t plan on going anywhere. We want to be San Jose’s brewery representing the amazing San Jose brand, expanding throughout the country, and hopefully exporting abroad, too. We’re not going to stop.”
He adds, “I hope everyone comes out on Saturday. It would be nice to have a full house of people enjoying beer, the bands and the BBQ. It’s all affordable, too. … The event is for the community, to let people know what we’re all about.”
Gordon Biersch 25th Anniversary
Saturday, May 18; 2-7pm; $10 357 E. Taylor St., San Jose.
Gordon Biersch Brewing Company—not the brewpub but the brewing and bottling facility located on Taylor Street in San Jose—has started offering limited-release, big-bottle beers with special flip-tops as part of the Braumeister Selekt series. The first issue is the Imperial Pilsner Brau, which was released last summer and has garnered much acclaim, enchanting those who’ve been curious to taste a hoppy Gordon Biersch beer.
The Weizen Eisbock, a dark wheat beer released this past fall, has already proven just as popular and well made; in October, it won a bronze medal in the German-style wheat ale category at the Great American Beer Festival. This particular kind of beer is based on a technique accidentally developed by a brewer in Kulmbach, Germany. Water molecules are frozen out of the brew and removed, resulting in a higher alcohol content with a stronger flavor.
“The idea of the big-bottle series was to produce some old school and one-of-a-kind, hard-to-get German beers that were unfiltered and dedicated to authenticity,” shares founder Dan Gordon, a South Bay native—“Born in San Jose. Raised in Los Altos. Went to Homestead High.”
After graduating from UC-Berkeley, Gordon moved to Germany to study at the Technical University of Munich’s prestigious beer-brewing program in Weihenstephan. He learned to brew according to the Reinheitsgebot, a purity law dating back to 1516 that states that beer can only be made with four ingredients: water, hops, malted barley and yeast. Returning home, Dan brought back this beer-making tradition.
Gordon and Dean Biersch opened their first brewery restaurant in Palo Alto in 1988, with the downtown San Jose location opening a couple years later. The brewery and bottling facility opened in 1997. The restaurant side has since been sold, but the two businesses remain “tied at the hip.”
Gordon Biersch’s regular and seasonal lineup of beer styles includes Hefeweizen, Marzen, Blonde Bock, Czech Style Pilsner, Maibock, SommerBrau, WinterBock and FestBier. There is also a special Ÿberbier series, featuring Zwickel Bock, an unfiltered blonde bock, and Zwickel Pils, an unfiltered pilsner to be released in the spring.
The next Braumeister Selekt beer will be the 25th Anniversary Dunkles. Dan says, “It’s the one and only style we brewed at the opening of the original Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Palo Alto.” A special celebration to commemorate Gordon Biersch’s 25th anniversary is scheduled for May 18 at the Taylor Street brewery. As for the current Braumeister Selekt offerings, they are available in local beer stores, but I’ve noticed that they’re disappearing quickly from the shops that I go to.
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 pleasant 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.]