San Jose is the largest city in Northern California and the capital of Silicon Valley. It enjoys a booming economy, a rich Spanish/Mexican heritage and a vibrant social life reflected in it’s many clubs, restaurants and bars. Amongst the latter are a number of great beer bars, breweries and brewpubs, many located in the historical downtown district. This made my first visit to San Jose quite convenient as all of the places I checked out were within walking distance of my hotel.
Ground Zero seems to be San Pedro Square. Here you’ll find an entire city block of bars and restaurants all backing onto a large shared terrace. This open area also services the Public Market, where fast food, some produce and specialty stands rule, but you’ll also find the Market Beer Co.
They boast about 200 beers, all in bomber bottles, lined up in an impressive row of glass-fronted fridges. I came to buy some locals brews to pack into my luggage to take home, but many folks lined up to purchase a bottle to share right there with their fast food lunch. They have taps too, and on this day the Ballast Point Brewing Co. of San Diego had taken over all 6 taps. Sam Loeffler, the Bay area rep was on hand and he kindly walked me through their line up. The Calico Amber Ale (5.5%), a good basic ESB, their tasty flagship Pale Ale (5.2%), the roasty Black Marlin Porter (6%), but my fave was the Sculpin IPA (7%), 70 IBUs and a whole lot of flavour. Big golden ale with a hoppy nose and a nice bite, beautifully balanced with deep a malty architecture, but riddled with a swirling complexity of hops that is both inviting and captivating. Sam also told me the beer scene is fairly new here in San Jose, many places starting up only 5 years ago or so. Breweries and brewpubs are now popping up, but beer bars are still the norm right now, with a number of them close by, a couple in the Square, and a few more just short blocks away.
My next stop was the Los Gatos Brewing Co., a brewpub with 5 of their own on tap (including one cask conditioned ale), plus other amazing rotating selections including Brother Thelonious, the Belgian style abbey ale from North Coast Brewing, Goose Island IPA, Speakeasy Prohibition Ale & Hermitage Hoptopia Double IPA, the latter being a local San Jose brew. It has tropical fruit aromatics right through to the palate, floral & citric, pale amber, good hop bite, great malt balance. The Los Gatos Kolsch (5%) was a light, straw coloured, but malty brew, with some buried hop and a biscuity presence, a very sessionable brew. Their Oktoberfest Lager (5.5%) is a year round house fave, amber-hued, medium bodied, soft hops, full malt base, some caramel sweetness.
The Hefeweizen (5%) was fairly clear with only a slight haze, though with clove & banana shining through, great lacing, refreshing, soft, some sweet malt notes and hints of citrous.
Los Gatos Stout (5%) was a lovely, black, malt accented brew, featuring roasted malts, coffee, oats, chocolate and a creaminess that eluded me, though quite delicious, no head or lacing (dirty glass?). Their Cask is a British style ESB, served ‘flat and warm’, as some would say. There was no aroma or head, though slightly fruity with subtle hop characteristics, this cask conditioned ale missed the mark for me, and I love British style cask conditioned ales. Not off, but maybe it’ll be better next time. The service was excellent however, my barkeep knew her beers and they also sport an excellent and eclectic bottle selection from Belgian specialties to unique US micros (ie: Clown Shoes) as well as the regular crap of Bud & Corona.
Right next door to Los Gatos is The Farmers Union, a large restaurant and bar featuring craft beer, local cuisine and sports on large screen TVs. They have about 50 beers on tap, many great California brews, plus lots of cool US craft beers and international specialties, some great choices to be had. I tried the Heretic Shallow Grave Porter (7%) muddy, cloudy, thin tan head, roasty, malt forward, smoky nose, some chocolate nuance, well balanced and smooth all the way to the caramel dotted finish. A tip of the hat to the season, this would be an excellent brew to serve on All Hallows’ Eve. Heretic Brewing Co. is located in Fairfield, CA.
It was time for something edible, my body was now telling me. Well timed, for my next stop was the Original Gravity Public House, a place dedicated to two things: beer and sausage. Two things close to my heart too!
They serve an impressive, eclectic selection from 25 rotating taps, and their bottle menu is no slouch either, 20 interesting bottles available. They also feature 20 different sausages, all sourced from different butchers in the Bay area, done up in a variety of ways from classic to gourmet. I went for the Cheesy Andouille, pork sausage with cajun spices, and yes, the Duck Fat Fries are to die for! I spotted the Brouwerij Strubbe Lambickx (6%) right away up on their digital beer menu, by NYC blenders Vanberg & DeWulf who bring in and blend special lambic beers. This is an excellent lambic, clear, not much head, yellowish colour, fruity and tart, apples, a balanced sourness, smooth, low carbonation, funky nose, very much to style, though not a gueuze per se, still very much in that direction. The bartender then offered me up an Allagash Confluence (7.4%) described as a dry hopped golden ale, but made with a Brettanomyes yeast strain along side their house Belgian yeast. A pale straw coloured brew, served in a tulip glass, light sourness on the palate, some sour notes in the nose, long, light & lingering, good funkiness, some fruitiness and spice, yeasty and dry. It went very well with the cheesy Andouille pork sausage. Yum!
A local sitting at the bar noticed my love of sour beers, so told me about a new brewery in Capitola, CA, Sante Adairious Rustic Ales who specialize in sour lambic beer styles. Unfortunately there was none on tap the evening I was there, but I look forward to running into them perhaps on a future trip.
Now, almost right across the street is the Good Karma Vegan Cafe, not a place I would normally walk in on cold, but what a beer list! 20 amazing beers on tap, and 2 dozen more in their bottle menu. I chose the Almanac Flowering Gose (5%), a special seasonal only available on tap. Light gold colour, hints of acidity, but funky salt base, excellent, well balanced brew, low carbonation, somehow very more-ish. Very low key crowd this time of night, but everyone seemed to enjoying something different in a variety of glass styles.
San Jose seems to have a very decent cafe culture, similar to some European cities I’d say, offering small or large bars, minimal food or gourmet menu, but huge beer selections, knowledgeable and friendly staff are the common ingredients.
I wondered back to San Pedro Square area, wanting to sit outside and take in the hectic flurry of last call on this warm Saturday night. I managed a deliciously well balanced Firestone Walker Pale Ale (5%) on Vino Vino‘s small street frontpatio, then a well pointed Stone Belgian IPA (6.9%) on the shared terrace from one of the bar’s in the market area. All in a all a very pleasant visit to Silicon Valley, even if I didn’t get more than 10 blocks from my hotel, there was lots to do, much to see and lots to choose from, beer wise, that is for sure.