Food & Wine

Meet the Brewers festival showcases both new and established breweries

Derek Wolfgram/Special to the Town Crier
Off The Rails Brewing Co. brewmaster Michael Barker and his wife, Caroline, shared their Murphy Wheat at Meet the Brewers.

The Meet the Brewers Festival, held annually at Hermitage Brewing Co. in San Jose during SF Beer Week, celebrated its 10th anniversary in February. The brewery was packed full of local brewmasters pouring their wares and attendees enjoying the variety of offerings.

Off The Rails

The newest brewery at the festival this year was Off The Rails Brewing Co. in Sunnyvale, which opened just two weeks before the festival, in the Murphy Street space formerly occupied by Stoddard’s and Firehouse Brewery.

Brewmaster Michael Barker – formerly of Sactown Union Brewery, Santa Cruz Ale Works and Rock Bottom – is a big fan of traditional German styles, so his first release was a classic hefeweizen dubbed Murphy Wheat. Barker’s second release, which should be available by the time you read this, will be a West Coast IPA. He also has plans to brew several other German styles, including a refreshing cured Meyer lemon gose once the weather warms up.

Murphy Wheat, weighing in at 5.2 percent alcohol by volume, smelled like a traditional hefeweizen, with an aroma dominated by yeasty banana esters and just a hint of clove. With a hazy straw color and a rocky white head, the beer tasted quite similar to the aroma, with added subtle hints of citrusy tartness. With a fluffy mouthfeel, moderate carbonation and a smooth finish, this brew was a great example of the style.

Uncommon Brewers

While I always love a classic example of a beer style, I also appreciate it when brewers get creative. As you might guess from its name, Santa Cruz’s Uncommon Brewers tends to get a little experimental. Its Rubidus Red Ale, brewed with candy cap mushrooms, which grow in the Santa Cruz Mountains, was no exception. Candy cap mushrooms are well known for having a pronounced maple syrup aroma and flavor when dried, and that character came through in the beer. Pouring a brightly clear reddish copper color with a low, off-white head, Rubidus featured aromas of lightly sweet caramel malts and maple syrup. With no noticeable hop character, the flavor included light, crisp caramel maltiness with just a hint of maple syrup and a slight earthiness. Medium bodied and well carbonated, the beer had a long-lasting, semi-dry finish.

Eight Bridges Brewing

Livermore’s Eight Bridges Brewing brought a unique raspberry chocolate Belgian Quadrupel called Not Your Father’s Fruit Beer to the festival. The beer was a murky copper color with a low, off-white head but spritzy carbonation, and the aroma highlighted sweet raspberry with notes of vanilla and milk chocolate, bright bubble-gummy esters and potent alcohol. The flavor mirrored the aroma, and the medium-bodied brew finished surprisingly dry for all its sweet characteristics, with the warm alcohol carrying through into the finish.

Six Rivers Brewery

One of the breweries that traveled farthest to participate in Meet the Brewers was Six Rivers Brewery, located in McKinleyville in Humboldt County. Its West Coast 151 IPA was a light golden color with a dense white head. The aroma was aggressively hoppy with notes of grass, pine, lemon rind and tropical fruits. Bracingly bitter on the palate with piney hop bitterness and flavor dominating, with hints of gooseberry and green papaya coming through, the beer showcased a highly bitter finish with hints of alcohol. With the extreme hoppiness, West Coast 151 is the style of IPA for which the term “palate wrecker” was invented. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Derek Wolfgram is a Certified Beer Judge. For more information, visit

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