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Courtesy of Derek Wolfgram Ghostwood brewmaster Tommy Domingo, right, hands the mash paddle to Stanford University biochemist Ouma Onguka as they collaborate on brewing Old Forgotten Words West Coast IPA.

Ghostwood Beer Co.’s taproom opened on Brewster Avenue in Redwood City in September 2018 and quickly established itself as a favorite among Peninsula beer drinkers.

After overcoming the logistical challenges of a new business and a taproom that was not in the same facility as the brewery, Ghostwood really hit its stride in early 2020, capturing a bronze medal at the Bistro Double/Triple IPA Festival, where brewmaster Tommy Domingo’s Clearly Dangerous Triple IPA bested perennial favorite Pliny the Younger.

Ghostwood co-owner Jason Simpson described what happened next: “The real kicker was that in the months before the pandemic, things were really turning around for us. We had just won a medal at the Bistro Fest during SF Beer Week. We were starting to get regular food service from local pop-ups into the space. The taproom was finally settling into a groove that was sustainable. And then – bam.”

Simpson explained the impact of public health restrictions on the viability of a taproom: “The math on the taproom required a relatively high occupancy in order to even pay for itself. Breweries, unlike wineries, were forced to only serve outdoors with a ‘bona fide meal.’… Like many breweries, we did not operate a kitchen. On top of that, our outdoor options were very limited, especially when you need to account for proper social distancing.”

With all the factors stacked up against the taproom, Ghostwood decided to close its doors, but not close the brewery facility on East Bayshore Road. Simpson and his crew continued to make their beers available to local restaurants and bars as restrictions allowed, and they have been selling crowlers to-go from the brewery on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Since the transition, Simpson said, “business has been OK.”

“The issue with an industrial brewery site is that it is a bit out of the way for many people,” he noted. “But that being said, we are very thankful for everyone who makes the trek out to the brewery to pick up the beer.”

Simpson said Ghostwood will reassess whether to reopen a taproom once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available and people are allowed to safely gather again.

Premier beers

Domingo has been spending more time at the brewery because Ghostwood currently doesn’t have dedicated employees to staff the to-go operation. He said he’s only been brewing about half as frequently as pre-pandemic because sales volumes have dropped. Ghostwood has continued to produce a diverse array of beers, including a wide variety of IPAs, a style that Domingo clearly knows his way around, whether he’s making single, double or triple IPAs that are West Coast, hazy or milkshake in style.

A few recent selections from Ghostwood have included:

• Citranicity unfiltered West Coast session IPA (cited by Simpson as one of his favorites the brewery has produced so far) weighed in at the high end for a session brew at 5.7% alcohol by volume (ABV). With a light golden color, fluffy white head, medium body and moderate haze, it showcased classic light, sweet, fruity Citra hop aroma notes of orange, peach and pineapple. Malt character was subdued in flavor and aroma to let the hops shine, and the flavor profile included moderate clean hop bitterness with flavors of fresh pine and slightly underripe pineapple and cantaloupe leading into a crisp, pleasant bitter finish.

• All the Almonds was a variant of Ghostwood’s Hayley Jane Imperial Stout, with the addition of TCHO chocolate and Blue Diamond almonds. It featured a deep black color, low tan head and a rich, thick pour into the glass. The aroma was reminiscent of freshly made hot chocolate, and the flavor was pure brownie batter, with fudgy cocoa, moderate sweetness and a touch of nuttiness. The almond flavor came through cleanly on the finish, along with additional cocoa character and just a hint of alcohol heat. It’s dangerously smooth at 13.4% ABV, and a prime candidate for making beer floats with vanilla ice cream.

• Oktober Surprise Festbier poured a brightly clear orange gold color with a low white head. Showcasing lightly sweet bready malt and spicy noble hops on aroma, the brew revealed a hint of malty sweetness mid-palate, but finished nice and dry with a crisp, lightly bitter finish. Medium-bodied with a 5.5% ABV, this brew paired well with a variety of foods – I enjoyed it with a Thanksgiving feast, and the maltiness complemented some of the caramelized notes of turkey and stuffing, while the crispness cut through the richness of gravy and the butteriness of mashed potatoes.

• Old Forgotten Words West Coast IPA (6.7% ABV) was brewed with a 100% pilsner malt base, producing a brightly clear golden ale with a fluffy white head and forming a neutral malt backdrop to let the hops shine through. Featuring Strata hops in the boil and dry-hopped with a new South African hop varietal called Southern Star, the hop aroma included sweet tropical notes of very ripe fruits, including cantaloupe, pineapple and guava. On the palate there was a firm, piney bitterness up front, which returned for the long-lasting bitter finish, with hints of sweet grapefruit flavor popping up in between.

Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge through the Beer Judge Certification Program and an officer of the Silicon Valley Sudzers homebrew club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.