Food & Wine

Local brewmaster describes his inspirations

Courtesy of Derek Wolfgram
Santa Clara Valley Brewing Co. brewmaster Steve Donohue, right, and Jake McCluskey of Market Beer Co., center, listen at a July 9 release party as former San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery discusses the history of the Peralta Adobe, the oldest building in San Jose and namesake of Donohue’s Peralta Porter.

Santa Clara Valley Brewing Co. introduced its first beer, Electric Tower IPA (India Pale Ale), on local taps and in bottle shops throughout the Bay Area in mid-May. The brewery has generated significant buzz – no pun intended – among beer lovers in the area.

The company has a unique branding approach tied into the history of Santa Clara Valley. Brewmaster Steve Donohue has an excellent reputation, earning medals at the Great American Beer Festival every year from 2008 to 2011 while he was brewmaster at the FireHouse Grill & Brewery in Sunnyvale.

I recently conducted an interview with Donohue, who describes his inspirations and his products.

What inspired your brewery’s focus on the history of San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley in your names and labels?

My business partner, Tom Clark, and I have a great appreciation for the rich history of the Santa Clara Valley. We also felt that the South Bay needed a brewery that showcased this history. All of our beers will be named after something from the history of the Valley.

What initially got you into brewing beer? What’s the favorite

brew you’ve ever created?

I started brewing completely on a whim while in college at Chico State. A friend and I were bored one day and decided to make some beer. We went to the local homebrew shop, bought everything we needed and brewed. As for the favorite beer I’ve created? That’s a tough one. I’m proud of all of them, but the Belgian IPA I brewed at another establishment was quite good, in my opinion. Although, I’ve really been enjoying our new Electric Tower IPA lately.

With all of the IPAs available these days, what makes Electric Tower distinctive?

True, there are tons of IPAs on the market at the moment. I think what makes ours stand out is the balance that our beer has – it’s not just hop juice. It has a definite malt backbone that balances the bitterness and the extreme hoppiness.

Following the successful launch of the Electric Tower IPA and Peralta Porter, what beer do you expect to release next?

We released our draught-only Little Orchard Saison in late August. After that, we’ll have a rotating seasonal draught-only selection. I’m just not sure yet what will be after the Saison.

When you became the brewmaster at Stoddard’s Brewhouse & Eatery in 2000, could you have imagined a Silicon Valley Beer Week?

Man, the year 2000 seems like it was a whole lifetime ago. The craft-brewing industry has changed a lot since then. Fortunately, so have the consumers. They’re more educated about beer now. And thank God for that. So, no, I don’t think I could have fathomed a Silicon Valley Beer Week back then. I’m really glad there’s one now, though.

What has been the most challenging part of starting a new brewery?

It’s been relatively easy so far. Because we are currently brewing under contract, we haven’t had to deal with the process of building out a brewery yet. That should be forthcoming within the next year or so. I’m sure I’ll have much more to add once we start building our brewery and taproom. Hopefully, we’ll be up and running by late 2014.

Derek Wolfgram is chief communications officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, which meets the first Friday of each month at a home in Los Altos Hills and welcomes both new and experienced brewers and beer enthusiasts. For more information, visit

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