One of my favorite annual beer events is the Meet the Brewers festival at Hermitage Brewing Co. in San Jose.
With the brewers from each participating brewery present, the festival provides a unique opportunity to learn about some of the newest and most innovative breweries in the region. Held last month, the eighth annual festival featured a couple dozen craft beer and cider makers from around the Bay Area, including several relatively new breweries.
Following are three of my favorite beers and new breweries discovered this year.
Elkhorn Slough Brewing Co. opened as the first craft brewery in Watsonville last summer. Husband-and-wife owners Michael Enos and Julie Rienhardt have gained attention for their uniquely local brews, particularly their wild ales.
With a focus on reflecting the local terroir, they use untreated local tap water, their own local wild yeast harvested from open fermentation of estate-grown apples and homegrown fruit.
“We like to stress the ingredients just a little bit to make their character really shine through,” Rienhardt said.
Their Vierra barrel-aged Belgian blonde pale ale showcases a gently tart and vinous aroma from the combination of the indigenous wild yeast and the months the beer spent aging in Chardonnay barrels. On the palate, a delicate funkiness joins the tartness and the barrel character, along with just a hint of hop bitterness, to create a delightful wild ale.
“Elkhorn Slough is such a fabulous region, and we want to capture the local flavors,” Rienhardt said.
Another excellent small brewery from the coast region is Santa Cruz’s New Bohemia Brewing Co., scheduled to host a special event commemorating its second anniversary Tuesday.
While New Bohemia brews a wide variety of styles, it is perhaps best known for its excellent craft lagers, which is no surprise given brewmaster Dan Satterthwaite’s training at the Siebel Institute in Chicago and Munich and his local experience working for Gordon Biersch and Trumer Pils.
New Bohemia’s Light My Fire Smoked Helles lager was brewed in collaboration with San Francisco’s Headlands Brewing Co. Satterthwaite said he and Headlands brewmaster Phil Cutti had both brewed dark smoked beers before, but they thought it would be fun to create a smoked beer that was as light as possible.
The beer highlights a woody and mildly bacony aroma from the beechwood-smoked malt that made up half of the grain bill. The smoky flavor is somehow simultaneously intense and delicate, and blends with the bready sweet malt to create a smooth flavor with very subtle notes of cherry. The smooth smokiness lingers through the long, clean finish.
Brewery Twenty Five
Brewery Twenty Five is based between Hollister and San Juan Bautista. For the past two years owners Sean and Fran Fitzharris’s beers have been available only at bars and restaurants in San Benito County, though they plan to open their own tasting room in San Juan Bautista this summer.
With Coconut Moons Stout, Fran said her intention was to create an extremely well-balanced brew that highlighted coconut without being overpowering.
She was successful. The beer is smooth on multiple levels, with a rich body and mouthfeel from the addition of oats, accentuated further by being poured on a nitrogen tap.
Of the three coconut beers at the festival, Coconut Moons provided the richest aroma and flavor, with 7.5 pounds per barrel of raw and toasted coconut added during secondary fermentation. The beer features a subtle roast and a long, smooth finish that showcases the coconut even further.
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.