As I shopped for my last column in 2017, ending up with beers from three breweries that have been bought out in the past two years, it really struck me just how far the large corporate ownership of craft breweries has advanced.
For the past four and a half years, this column has focused on California-brewed craft beers. In the spirit of showcasing unique, local, independent breweries, my New Year’s resolution for 2018 and beyond is that future columns will include only beers produced by breweries that meet the Brewers Association’s definition of craft brewers.
The key components of their definition: breweries with annual production of 6 million barrels or less, and less than 25 percent ownership or control by a beverage industry company that is not itself a craft brewer.
Based on this definition, craft brewers include Sierra Nevada (1.25 million barrels), Firestone Walker (owned by Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat, which is itself small enough to meet the definition of craft brewing), Angel City (owned by Alchemy & Science, a subsidiary of Samuel Adams), Stone Brewing, Gordon Biersch, 21st Amendment, Green Flash/Alpine and hundreds of other smaller independent breweries.
This is not to say that Lagunitas (Heineken), Golden Road (Anheuser-Busch InBev), Saint Archer (MillerCoors), Ballast Point (Constellation Brands), Anchor (Sapporo) and other breweries that are part of large conglomerates are not making some phenomenal beers. With just a few exceptions, I have not noticed a decline in quality or creativity since these breweries became part of larger entities. But the independent, local craft breweries are the true drivers of innovation in the industry, and I look forward to delving deeper into their offerings.
Speaking of great local independent breweries, I’m excited that Clandestine Brewing (“Secret no more: Word spreads about Clandestine Brewery,” Town Crier, July 9, 2014) has opened in its new location at 980 S. First St. in San Jose after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus. The new brewery features a much larger tap room, a three-barrel brewing system and some new creative brews as well as some old favorites.
On a recent visit, I was happy to enjoy some old favorites: the malty goodness of the Codename: VW Helles Weizenbock, the chocolaty sweetness of the Milky Way Milk Stout and the return of the single-hop IPA series Hopothetical, with this version highlighting the dank and tropical intensity of Vic Secret hops from Australia.
Wicked Brick was a strong, hoppy red ale with bracing bitterness, citrusy hop flavor and a rich amber malt character. Another old favorite was the Murph’s Shenanigans Brown Ale with coffee, vanilla and cacao, as perfectly balanced as ever.
New offerings included Bamberg Kolsch, a classic light, crisp Kolsch with just a hint of smoked malt to add some interesting complexity. The Toppled Hipster was an amped-up version of the Tipsy Hipster IPA, coming in at a hefty 9 percent alcohol by volume with intense bitterness.
Hours for the tap room are 4-9 p.m. Fridays and noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays, with expanded hours in the works. I also have it on good authority that one of the upcoming beers on tap will be M-Rations IPA (a play on Clandestine’s C-Rations IPA highlighting Cascade, Columbus, Citra and Calypso hops) featuring Mosaic, Motueka and Meridian hops. I know that I really look forward to trying M-Rations on a future visit to the newest (sort of) independent craft brewery/tap room in the Bay Area.
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.