Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trojak-Knier: A Half Moon Bay Winery

Aerial View of Princeton-by-the-Sea Half Moon Bay
Aerial view of Princeton-by-the-Sea on Half Moon Bay.
Have you ever heard of a fly-in destination?  I was recently introduced to an entirely new type of travel.  Pilots with access to small planes also have access to numerous small airports which can’t be reached by commercial airlines.  This opens up a whole world of daytrip destinations.  One of these fly-in destinations is Princeton-by-the-Sea along Half Moon Bay in Northern California.  This tiny coastal town has ocean views, seafood, and a single winery.  If you don’t have an airplane, or a friend that has one, never fear.  Princeton-by-the-Sea and its Half Moon Bay winery are also accessible by car a short drive from San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

When we chose our fly-in destination we had no idea it would include a winery.  We chose to fly in to Princeton-by-the-Sea for a seafood lunch and then fly over the Golden Gate Bridge.  After hearing about the unprecedented number of whales and other sea mammals in Monterey Bay, we added a flyover of Monterey Bay to the trip.

Mini Fishtrap Tempura Barbara's Seafood Parlor Princeton-by-the-Sea Half Moon Bay
Mini fishtrap tempura from Barbara's Seafood Parlor.
After a successful flight along the coast, where we saw a few whales spouting and showing their flukes, we landed at Half Moon Bay Airport and made the short walk into town for lunch.  Not long after walking off the tarmac we saw a sign advertising wine tasting at Trojak-Knier Winery down the street to the right.  We made a mental note and continued along Capistrano Road to Barbara’s Fishtrap, which has been serving seafood since 1971.  Since we had our new aviator dogs with us we couldn’t eat at the restaurant, but we joined the long line for the walk up counter of Barbara’s Seafood Parlor.  When you go, do yourself a favor and order the mini fishtrap tempura, a mix of prawns, scallops, fish, and calamari.  Barbara’s secret recipe clam chowder is also something special.

Trojak-Knier Winery Princeton-by-the-Sea Half Moon Bay
Trojak-Knier Winery.
With our bellies full of fried seafood, we decided to find out what this Half Moon Bay winery was all about.  We walked for almost a half a mile west on Harvard Avenue until we came upon Trojak-Knier Winery.  The winery is in a small warehouse, but it feels more like you’re entering someone’s garage.  One of the founders of Trojak-Knier Winery, Jim Knier, was sitting at the table pouring tastings.  We walked in and waited for spots to open up at the table while we peeked around at the compact winery.  Wine barrels lined the walls, wine boxes filled the rafters, bins of crushed grapes fermented out in the open, and an antique wooden canoe hung from the ceiling.

Wine Making in Progress Trojak-Knier Winery Princeton-by-the-Sea Half Moon Bay
Wine in progress.
Owners and winemakers Eric Trojak and Jim Knier started making wine together in Jim’s garage in 1993.  After 10 years, they moved to the current space along Half Moon Bay.  In 2009 they were licensed and bonded and created their first commercial vintage.  They are the only winery in Princeton-by-the-Bay and the only winery in the Half Moon Bay area that makes wine on site.

Bottle Labeling Device Trojak-Knier Winery Princeton-by-the-Sea Half Moon Bay
The labeling operation.
The difficulty of having the only winery in a tiny town like Princeton-by-the-Sea is gaining access to high quality wine grapes.  Trojak-Knier Winery doesn’t have its own vineyard, so it has to source its grapes from other vineyards.  Most of their wines are made with grapes from the Antinori family estate, Antica in Napa Valley, except for their Zinfandel which comes from Teldeschi

Trojak-Knier Winery Wine Tasting Princeton-by-the-Sea Half Moon Bay
Wine tasting.
During our visit, Trojak-Knier Winery had four red wines available for tasting.  We started with the Pinot Noir made with grapes from Antica.  Jim told us this was how Pinot was supposed to be.  The Pinot was light in color with almost a tan tint.  The wine is not filtered and is in fact messed with as little as possible.  While Pinots are not my favorite, I enjoyed and appreciated this Pinot so much I almost bought a bottle.  The second wine we tasted was the Sangiovese.  The grapes are also from Antica but have a unique story.  The Antinori family has been making wine for centuries and the vines for this wine were originally planted in 1385 in Tuscany.  Some of these original vines were transplanted in Napa Valley in a tiny plot of land called the garden block from which Trojak-Knier Winery harvests grapes for their ruby red Sangiovese.  The Sangiovese is blended with 2% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The third wine we tasted was the Zinfandel, this time made with grapes from Teldeschi vineyards.  The Zinfandel was also a clear ruby red and slightly acidic.  The final wine was a Cabernet Sauvignon made with grapes from Antica.  A previous vintage won awards and the winemakers believe this latest 2012 vintage will be just as good.  It still tasted a little young and seemed like it would benefit from being stored for a few years. 

Whether you’re visiting Half Moon Bay as a fly-in destination or on a weekend road trip, head a few blocks off the main road and enjoy Princeton-by-the-Sea’s only winery.

Wine tasting at Trojak-Knier Winery, a Half Moon Bay winery in Princeton-by-the-Sea.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Is There Local Beer in the World's Smallest Countries?

“There is just one moon and one golden sun. And a smile means friendship to everyone. Though the mountains divide. And the oceans are wide. It's a small world after all.”
We’ve preached to anyone who would listen that breweries come in different shapes and sizes. There has been no secret sauce when it comes to the places that these breweries call home. From large cities to extremely small towns, we have examined hand crafted beer that makes an area tick. The one constant for all of these breweries though, was that they may have been in small towns, but they were still in large countries.
One of the top rated beers in the world comes from a town of 8000 people, but that town is in a state of 3 million people in a country of over 300 million. Once the word spreads in those conditions your beer can take off like wildfire. With the assistance of existing infrastructure, a pilgrimage to your beer spot – even in the town of 8000 – isn’t all too hard.
What happens in really tiny countries though? I’m not talking about countries like Switzerland that are smaller than their neighbors but when you look on a map you can still see them. I’m talking about the tiny countries that have half of their name spelled on your globe and an arrow that looks like it’s pointing to a different country because they are so small.
With the recent news that 2 of the world’s largest brewing companies are on the fast track to becoming one, can you find a local beer in any of these infrastructure limited countries or are you destined to drink a macro beer as you duty free shop? And along those lines, why do I care about these small countries beyond duty free shopping? Is there something beyond tax breaks that will make me want to have any kind of beer in a small hard to reach place?
Small countries, you’re on the clock. Tell the people what you have to offer and what kind of suds you have available for them.
The stunning beauty of Liechtenstein photo via Paul Bica
This is one of my favorite small countries. Based on square kilometers, Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world. It is nestled right in the heart of Europe, bordering Austria and Switzerland. This location gives Liechtenstein a great view of the Alps, or more generally means this country is gorgeous – which is why I loved it. Because of its tiny size, the government of Liechtenstein is very tax friendly, so all of your luxury shopping can be done much cheaper than in neighboring countries. Traveling here is relatively easy as well due to its location. There are no international rail stations in the country, but there are train stations at both the Swiss and Austrian borders. From there you can hop on Liechtenstein’s fantastic public buses which will take you anywhere in the country you need to get.
Being located in the heart of Germanic Europe, you would assume beer would be easily accessible in Liechtenstein. You would be correct now, but up until 2007 all of that beer would have been imported from neighboring countries. Don’t get me wrong, Liechtenstein’s neighbors make some great beer. But we are all about the local spin on the fantastic tradition of brewing. There are now 2 breweries in this tiny slice of heaven, the Liechtensteiner Brauhaus and the Prinzenbrau Brewery. Both brew traditional lagers and wheat beers for your enjoyment well you check out the castles of this tiny mountain hamlet. They also offer tours so you can check out how these Germanic brewers differ from their neighbors. Though the country is home to less than 40,000 residents, you can enjoy beer in Liechtenstein that is brewed by hand, locally.
San Marino
San  Marino high perch is perfect for self defense.....

San Marino takes pride in being the world’s oldest republic. It should also take pride in its stunning location resting above the Italian countryside with sweeping views of the Adriatic coastline. San Marino is the 5th smallest country in the world. In land area it is about one tenth the size of New York City. Like Liechtenstein, San Marino is home to less than 40,000 residents. Because of its size, San Marino’s main economical driver is tourism, and though there is no train service to San Marino you can hop on a bus or take a car from the Italian coastal city of Rimini. With shops galore and the stunning views mentioned above, San Marino is a great stop on your Italian adventure.
...and for great views of the countryside

Though the Italian Peninsula is more synonymous with the production of wine and spirits like limoncello, beer has always had an important role in Italy as well. Though you won’t find breweries in every town like you will in countries that border Italy to the north, you will have no problem finding a beer. Luckily for all travelers to San Marino, 2010 marked the year that the beer served there became local. Titanbrau opened its doors and began producing 4 distinct lagers – from blonde to red – and added to the reasons to seek out this tiny republic surrounded by another country. If you’d like to check out their operation – or even have your wedding reception at the brewery – stop in the town of Serravalle, San Marino on your way up or back from the city of San Marino.
Come to Andorra for the shopping and mountains, stay for a local beer? photo courtesy Alessandro Grussu
Nestled high in the Pyrenees Mountains bordering Spain and France is the small country of Andorra. Like the previous 2 spots, Andorra ranks among the world’s smallest in terms of land size. Andorra is a little larger than the previous two entries, coming in as the 16th smallest country on the list. Andorra, like the other small countries, sustains its economy through tourism. Like other small countries, Andorra draws people in with duty free shopping and a banking tax haven. What Andorra has that is unique is a wonderful backdrop for skiing. Andorra’s capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in Europe and is a short trek to the ski resorts. Similar to other small countries, Andorra is not serviced by any rail networks, nor does it have an airport. It is accessible by car and bus, with a bus that runs from a train station near the French border.
So is this the country that you have to drink a large brewery beer from Spain if you want some suds? I mean, like San Marino, it’s smack dab in the middle of 2 largely wine producing nations and really doesn’t seem to have any cultural ties to beer. Well, thanks to the beer revolution worldwide, Andorra does have a local brewery. It is a small – which seems to fit with the theme – brewery with a tap room. The brewery is Cerveses Alpha Andorra and unlike the more traditional lager breweries from above, Alpha is more in line with the craft breweries in America that brew many styles. You’ll be able to snag a stout or pale ale from Alpha – mostly in bottles as their tap line is usually reserved for their pilsner. The brewery is located outside the capital in La Cortinada, perfect for a beer run on your way to the slopes.
Come to Luxembourg for the money....

Of the small countries in Europe, Luxembourg is probably the most recognizable. From its history as one of the major battlegrounds of World War 2, to its role as one of the major finance centers of Europe, Luxembourg is more frequented than it’s small country cousins. That doesn’t make it any larger than it is though. Coming in at 30th smallest country in the world, Luxembourg packs a lot of history – and money – in a small area. Luxembourg City is a wealth on display powerhouse that does actually have rail and air hubs due to financiers and diplomats arriving daily. The country is also a must stop for war history buffs with battlefields and memorials throughout the countryside.
...stay for the history and beer.

With Luxembourg’s location in the Belgium, Germany and Holland neighborhood, beer is an important drink in Luxembourg. When I traveled there though, I was expecting a more Belgian ale flavor. What I was met with though, was a menu of local German style lagers – and a few Belgian ales. There are 8 breweries in Luxembourg ranging from commercial breweries to microbreweries. They range in age for breweries goes from 1762 (Bofferding Brewery) to 2015 (Capital City Brewing) and for a small country, the beer is easy to find. When touring the low countries for beer stops, Luxembourg is a must stop to see how folks with the highest GDP in the world live, and what kind of local beer they are drinking.
Vatican City
Is the pope brewing beer under the Vatican Obelisk?

Haha, no there is no brewery in the Vatican – that we know about. There is an official brewery for the Holy See though in a monastery outside of Rome – though we’ll never be able to get our hands on or probably ever see the brew from there. Beer is – or at least was – available in the Vatican Museum cafeteria,and although it’s a pretty straight forward Peroni, it’s still pretty cool to have a drink with the Pope. Plus it’s the smallest country on Earth so I had to toss it in.

Perk up beer fans. No matter the size of the country, someone is producing local beer for you to try. No more skipping past countries that are just dots on the map. There are things to see, shops to be, well, shopped at and beer to be drunk in countries you may have never heard of or considered stopping in. It is a small world after all!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

5 Fun Downtown Denver Bars

Denver is known for its craft beer, but Denver also has a fun bar scene with craft cocktails.  During our explorations, we found five fun downtown Denver bars serving trendy beer cocktails, cocktails with unusual ingredients like prickly pear and root beer, and cocktails paired with pie.

Green Russell

GuanabanaCabana Green Russell Downtown Denver Bars

Green Russell is a cool downtown Denver bar that describes itself as a chef-driven cocktail joint.  Turn into a courtyard off of Larimer Square and follow a flight of steps down into a building basement where you’ll be greeted by a host in a bright waiting room area.  Tables can be hard to come by without a reservation.  We gave our phone number to the hostess and entered the dark, exposed stone and brick-walled Bar 1, the standing room only waiting area, and ordered a drink. 

Pie Cocktail Pairing Green Russell Downtown Denver Bars

Green Russell feels like a speakeasy and we half expected to be asked for the secret password before entering.  We didn’t have to wait long before getting a text that a table was available.  From our table we were able to witness cocktails being mixed and random flames shooting through the air.  My first cocktail was the GuanabanaCabana made with Rhum JM, Huana Liqueur, lime, grapefruit, cinnamon, and stomach bitters.  The cocktail was delightfully sour and had a mild punch of cinnamon.  I have no idea what my second cocktail was.  Green Russell is known for their pie (an odd thing for a bar to be known for), so I ordered a pie cocktail pairing.  The pie was key lime and when I asked our server what cocktail went with it, he said, “a good one.”  Good it was.

Terminal Bar

Union Station Downtown Denver Bars

Terminal Bar is located in downtown Denver’s Union Station.  Union Station is more than just a train station.  Union Station is downtown Denver’s living room.  Drinks can be ordered at walk-up ticket windows and enjoyed in Union Station's common area, or guests can sit at one of the tables or long bar inside where it feels almost like a train’s dining car. 

LoDo Funk Cup Terminal Bar Union Station Downtown Denver Bars

Terminal Bar serves cocktail standards like gimlets and Manhattans, but has a very original cocktail list as well, including drinks like Greek Economy and India Pale Whiskey Punch.  I went for the LoDo Funk Cup which is apparently not very popular because people are intimidated by the ingredients (but somehow the Chile Vodka Avocado doesn’t scare them).  The LoDo Funk Cup is a play on the Pimm’s Cup and part of the beer cocktail trend.  The cocktail contains Bombay Sapphire, Pimm’s #1, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and Funkwerks Saison.  I found it to be delicious and refreshing, not intimidating at all.

FIRE Lounge

FIRE Lounge the ART, a hotel Downtown Denver Bars

FIRE Lounge is located in downtown Denver’s the ART, a hotel.  Guests can enjoy a cocktail inside, surrounded by some of the art that gives the hotel its name, or on the outdoor terrace.  FIRE serves inventive cocktails created with fresh and unusual garnishes like ginger root and red peppers. 

The American Painter in Rome and Brazilian Baroque FIRE Lounge the ART, a hotel Downtown Denver Bars

Rome had The American Painter in Rome, made with Bulleit Rye, Carpano Antica, Cynar, sea salt, and lemon peel.  These ingredients combined together are quite strong.  Our bartender explained part of the art of the cocktail is stirring it with ice until it reaches its optimal flavor, chilled and slightly watered down to mellow the bitterness.  I had the Brazilian Baroque, an electric pink cocktail made with Pitu 51 Cachaca, prickly pear, fresh ginger, lime, and ginger beer.  While the bright pink color makes it look like the cocktail will be very sweet, it is actually quite refreshing, and the lime and ginger keep it from being sweet.

Cruise Room

Cruise Room Oxford Hotel Downtown Denver Bars

The Cruise Room, located in the Oxford Hotel, opened in 1933 the day after the repeal of prohibition and is Denver’s first post-prohibition bar.  The art deco style replicates the lounge on the Queen Mary ocean liner.  The walls are covered in symbols representative of toasts from countries around the world.  There used to be a swastika on the wall for Germany before America realized Hitler was a really, really bad guy.  That symbol was quickly removed.  The Cruise Room’s cocktail menu includes cocktails like The Other Woman, made with Wisconsin’s Death’s Door Gin, La Marca Prosecco, and Solerno and Bittermans Hellfire Habanero Shrub.

Avanti Food and Beverage

Avanti Food and Beverage Downtown Denver Bars

Avanti Food and Beverage is technically just outside of downtown Denver, but it makes this list because it provides an awesome view of downtown Denver.  Avanti F&B is Denver’s new hotspot serving both food and drinks.  Avanti F&B is a building made with shipping containers containing seven different food options and two full bars.  Guests order food from one of the vendors, take a seat until they are paged their food is ready, and in the meantime order cocktails from the wait staff.  There are some fun cocktails on Avanti’s menu.  I ordered a Scout’s Honor, made with Bulleit Bourbon, Leopold’s Cherry Tart Liqueur, lemon, and Rocky Mountain Soda Root Beer.  There are also cocktails served in coconuts.

When spending a weekend or longer in downtown Denver, be sure to visit one or more of these fun downtown Denver bars. 

Five fun downtown Denver bars serving trendy beer cocktails, cocktails with unusual ingredients like prickly pear and root beer, and cocktails paired with pie.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Tribute, Life Lessons and A Drink Recommendation

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for days. Every time I open my computer and begin to type, the words are a big mess of nothing. Outwardly I have gone through the daily motion lately without much change in my behavior – not sure if that is good or bad – but inside it’s a different story. So in the context of “writing is cathartic” I’d like to give a tribute, discover a few life lessons and even give a drink recommendation this week.
As I’ve mentioned before, my childhood was spent in a small town in Wisconsin. I had a great childhood with parents who loved me and grandparents literally 5 minutes away. Grandparents are always the great equalizer to those sticky rules attached to life by parents. Candy is always available when you make the trip to grandma’s house. With grandma’s house so close to home, my belly was always sufficiently full of Starburst and Peanut M&M’s.
Her house meant much more to me than swiping – it was out in a dish so it really was more just grabbing – candy from the dish and going home. She was also more than a person to keep that dish full. My scalp can still feel the beating it received when grandma would scrub my hair. I can still hear her cheer – yup I’ll stick with the word cheer – from the stands of any sporting event we were involved in. I can still smell the bacon after waking up at her house and seeing the burnt toast waiting for us – just the way we liked it. I remember her smiling face when my grade school class came out to visit the apple orchard she worked at – knowing that a big part of that smile was because I was there.
We moved 40 minutes down the road when I was in school and once I moved out of the nest I was off on wild adventures moving around the country and visiting far off lands. This is not a regretful lost all contact with my grandma story. I still visited when I came home, but those visits were not the same as the nostalgic childhood stories –they never are really. She heard all my stories and saw all of our photos and enjoyed the stories of our family’s homeland – but I knew there was a “phew” moment every time we landed safely. See my grandma never once stepped on a plane. It was unnatural to her and there was no cocktail or drug combination that could get her on a plane. But she didn’t regret it either.
No matter how old I was, I was always “Stever” to my grandma. That never changed and I never protested because I knew I was with my grandma when I heard it. It was the same for all of her kids and grandkids. The internet is full of quotes about ditching material things and using your money for travel etc… these days. But when I take a real look at as an adult back at all of those years with my grandparents, they lived without the material things that whole time. The difference between them and those quotes is that they chose to use what little money they had on family. I think the more appropriate quote to use would be “Family: The best things in life aren’t things”.
As a man with his head on a swivel at all times it’s hard to fathom how in tune my grandma was to everything going on with her family. Not only that, she was proud of us in all of our endeavors. She took the time mention us to everyone. At my grandma’s wake last week I had a number of people come up to me and let me know that my kids were adorable and made my grandma so happy. They talked to me about my recent goings on like I lived down the street from them when in retrospect I live 8 hours away. They knew all of this because even at the end, family was the most important thing to my grandma. Say what you will about our “busy” lives and how “this is a different time”, but a lesson that all of us –myself 100% included – need to learn is that family is so much more important than anything else we have going on.
I am now left with memories, check that, very clear fantastic memories. I will always remember the summer nights on my grandparents front porch with the Milwaukee Brewers on the radio anytime I tune in to a game. I will never forget to obey - somewhat - the speed limit as my grandma was the one who told me I had a lead foot the morning before I received my first speeding ticket. And I hope that I’ll always keep my family first before anything else, just like she always did. I’m going to miss having a reason to travel to my childhood home and I’m really going to miss my grandma.
As a true Wisconsinite, my grandma’s drink of choice was none other than the Brandy Old Fashioned. Give it a try and raise one to the sky the next time you’re out. And if you’re ever traveling to the Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin -either to see the migrating geese or just checking out this National Wildlife Refuge - stop in to the Goose Shot in Waupun for one of the finest Old Fashioneds around. Now it’s time to spend some better quality time with my family.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

San Jose Jumping on the California Microbrewery Bandwagon

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company Beer Flight San Jose Breweries

California’s microbrewery scene is one of the best in the country.  San Diego leads the way, but many of California’s cities and towns have microbreweries everywhere you turn.  The microbrewery bandwagon is getting full, but for beer lovers it is a case of the more the merrier.  Northern California’s San Jose is one of California’s more recent cities to join the craft beer movement.

Until recently the San Jose brewery was Gordon Biersch, which started in nearby Palo Alto in 1988.  Hermitage Brewing Company has been in San Jose since 2009 but didn’t have a taproom open to the public until as recent as 2013.  Hermitage brews their own small batch beers and is also a contract brewer.

Nowadays San Jose’s brewery options are still limited, but locals and visitors alike now have a few options if they want to visit a microbrewery, have a seat, and enjoy a few local craft beers.  During a recent trip, we visited a couple of the breweries in San Jose.

Santa Clara Valley Brewing

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Taproom San Jose Breweries
Santa Clara Valley Brewing's taproom.
Tom Clark, CEO of Santa Clara Valley Brewing, was traveling the west coast with his family and noticed that so many of the places they visited, like San Diego and Portland, had microbreweries around every corner.  He wanted the same for San Jose.  He joined with partner Steve Donohue and they started brewing beer.  In 2013, they contracted with Hermitage Brewing Company and began to create a following for Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s beer.  In April 2015, they opened their own San Jose brewery and in June 2015 they opened the doors to their tap room.

Tom Clark Santa Clara Valley Brewing San Jose Breweries
Tom Clark showing us around the brewery.
Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s flagship beer is Electric Tower IPA.  The beer is named after San Jose’s electric light tower, a replica of which can now be found in History Park.  San Jose’s electric light tower was the brainchild of the San Jose Mercury’s editor J. J. Owen.  He wanted one source of light that would illuminate all of downtown at night.  The tower was constructed in 1881.  While it didn’t completely accomplish its goal, it represented progress.  All of SCVB’s beers are named after something local.  Another example is the New Almaden Imperial Red, named after the historic town in the foothills south of San Jose where cinnabar was mined.

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Flights San Jose Breweries
SCVB beer flights.
During our visit, there were 11 choices on tap and we got to try them all.  They were all good, but there were a few standouts for me.  My first sip was of SCVB’s Saison, a porch pounder (I love my new term from our Denver brewery tour) which was lemony and refreshing.  The Saison is a collaboration beer with Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro made with coriander blossom and gingerroot.  The Dry Creek Blonde Ale had a lot of body for a pale beer and was effervescent.  The Peralta Porter had a faint aroma of coffee and a smoky taste. 

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Imperial Oatmeal Stout San Jose Breweries
Comparing the Imperial Oatmeal Stout on nitro (left) and CO2 (right).
One of my favorite beers at SCVB was the Imperial Oatmeal Stout.  They were actually pouring this one from two different taps, a CO2 tap and a nitro tap.  The difference between the two was astonishing.  The nitro pour was incredibly creamy and smoother.  The smaller bubbles not only create a different mouth feel, but also a slightly different flavor.   Something to look forward to is the holiday version of SCVB’s oatmeal stout which is currently being aged in whiskey barrels.

Barrel Aging Imperial Oatmeal Stout Santa Clara Valley Brewing San Jose Breweries
Imperial Oatmeal Stout aging in whiskey barrels for the holidays.
A surprising standout was the Heart’s Delight 2015 sour ale with apricots.  Sours can be an acquired taste and I wouldn’t list them in my favorites, but SCVB’s apricot sour was very sour and very good.  I’m still not sure if I could drink a full one, but I’d be willing to try.  (We’re also wanting to test how it would work in a beer batter for our fish tacos.)  SCVB ages their sours for one year in white and red wine barrels and experiments with a different fruit each year. 

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Growler Light Fixtures San Jose Breweries
Growler light fixtures.
The Santa Clara Valley Brewing tap room is a large and comfortable space in an industrial park.  What we noticed as soon as we entered was how welcoming it felt.  There are plenty of places to sit.  The room has a dark ambiance with wood paneled walls, cement floors, and light fixtures made from growlers.  The music was at a level that was pleasant and allowed customers to relax and carry on a conversation.  There was also a box of games in the corner, encouraging people to get comfortable and hang out awhile.

Strike Brewery & Warehouse Taproom

Strike Brewery & Warehouse Taproom San Jose Breweries
Strike Brewing Co.'s taproom is in the middle of the working brewery.
A few blocks away from SCVB is Strike Brewing Co., which brewed its first beer in 2011.  Strike’s taproom, which opened in 2014, has a very different feel.  The taproom is located in a warehouse amongst the stainless steel tanks, right in the middle of the working brewery.  Partitions are made with wood pallets and guests sit at picnic-style tables painted with the logo or bar-height tables.  In the back is a ping-pong table.  All of these together make the taproom feel almost like a college dorm.

Strike Brewing Co. Beer Flight San Jose Breweries
Strike's beer flight.
Strike Brewing had seven beers on tap during our visit which ran the spectrum from blonde to porter.  Within this diversity was also uniformity as Strike Brewing’s mission is to brew session beers that taste good.  Even though the beers were different colors and flavors, they were all easy drinkers.

Strike Brewing Co. Santa Cruz Classic Dot Blonde Ale San Jose Breweries
Santa Cruz Classic Dot Blonde Ale.
Strike Brewing and all of its beers have baseball-related names because one of Strike’s founders, Drew Ehrlich, was a former Stanford baseball pitcher.  My favorite of the lighter-colored beers was the Screwball Blonde Ale, a refreshing beer with a cloudy pale yellow color.  My husband’s favorite was the Santa Cruz Classic Dot Blonde Ale, which is also becoming one of Strike’s most popular beers.  This session beer was created in collaboration with Santa Cruz Skateboards.

Strike Brewing Co.'s Taps San Jose Breweries
Strike's taps.
Representing the dark beers was Strike’s Pinch-Hitter Porter.  As I raised the glass I was struck by the strong coffee aroma.  While dark, the porter is more on the brown side than the usual inky black.  Strike Brewing was also serving one of their seasonal offerings, Hunt for Oktoberfest Ale.  Rather than the usual lager, Strike decided to make its Oktoberfest beer an ale, which is thick and tastes of caramel.

Strike Brewing Co.'s Mug Club Wall San Jose Breweries
Strike's mug club wall.
To encourage repeat customers, Strike Brewing offers a mug club membership.  The mug club’s annual membership includes a personalized Strike Brewing Co. mug which gets parked on their mug wall, one free pour per visit, and a discount on additional beers and merchandise.    

We’re always excited to see cities jumping on the microbrewery bandwagon since that means more craft beer for craft beer lovers at home and on their travels.  The next time you’re in Silicon Valley, check out these breweries in San Jose.

Thank you to Santa Clara Valley Brewing and Strike Brewing Co. for hosting our visits to their San Jose breweries and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

Two San Jose breweries in Northern California.