One of my personal highlights of San Francisco Beer Week each year is the Meet the Brewers event at Hermitage Brewing Co.
As the name suggests, the masterminds behind some of the finest craft beers in the region attend and are happy to chat with beer lovers. In its ninth year, the festival showcased more than 30 breweries from the greater Bay Area.
I have been introduced to several great new breweries at Meet the Brewers gatherings over the years, including Alvarado Street Brewery in 2015 and Elkhorn Slough Brewing Co. in 2017, among many others.
This February’s festival was no exception – many new breweries showcased creative and unique beers, alongside the now-ubiquitous hazy New England IPAs served at nearly every brewery.
Shadow Puppet Brewing
SF Beer Week featured 10 official collaboration beers this year, co-brewed by breweries in San Francisco neighborhoods or regional collaborators. The East Bay collaboration beer, Smoke & Coffee Break Imperial Porter, was brewed by Shadow Puppet Brewing, which opened in Livermore in 2016.
Clocking in at 8.1 percent alcohol by volume and featuring both pilsner malt hand-smoked over oak whiskey barrel chips and local cold-brew coffee, the beer has a lot going on, but it all integrates and balances quite well. In this deep brown beer with a medium, dense tan head, the smoke aroma and flavor are distinctive but subtle, and the coffee character is roasty and smooth – both are used in such a way that they add complexity without creating any suggestion of burnt notes. Medium notes of dark chocolate and subtle sweetness persist from the first sip through the finish, where they are joined by an extra touch of smoke.
San Jose’s South Bay (SoBA) Brewco released its first beer in December, and the brewers made it a good one. Their West Coast Saison pours a hazy golden color with a dense, long-lasting white head. The aroma showcases spicy, peppery Liberty hops and citrusy Cascade and Amarillo hops in a pleasant balance, followed by yeast esters reminiscent of Asian pears.
On the palate, the initial impression is substantial yet smooth Magnum hop bitterness, which gives way to tart, peppery saison yeast character. The hops and the yeast come together in the complex, crisp, dry, refreshing finish, which features all the lemon tartness of the French saison yeast in harmony with the orange and grapefruit notes of the West Coast hops.
While SoBA does not yet have its own taproom, its beer is available at several independent grocery stores and craft beer bars in the South Bay.
Loma Brewing Co. opened in Los Gatos in the former Los Gatos Brewing Co. space in August 2016, and in June 2017 was named Brewery of the Year at the California State Fair, so it established is reputation pretty quickly.
Brewmaster Warren Billups brews a variety of styles, including a higher percentage of lagers than most Bay Area breweries. His Middle Out Vienna lager poured a bright, clear amber color with a low white head and a clean, crisp malt aroma with notes of toast and very light caramel, along with a spicy noble Hallertau hop character. The flavor features toasted, bready malts with the faintest hint of sweetness, balanced by a firm, but not overwhelming, hop bitterness that persists into the crisp, mildly bitter finish.
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.