I swear some of the best things in life came out of the 1980s (but I’m not partial at all, right?)…
Rewind to 1987. I guess in those days you had to actually wait until the VHS tape was physically rewound to re-watch a movie… huh… Also in those days, there were only a couple brewpubs in the entire Bay Area. Lou Jeminson opened the first Tied House brewpub in Mountain View, making it the third brewpub in the Bay and the first in the South Bay. A few years later, Tied House opened its doors in Alameda and San Pedro Square in San Jose. Both of those locations are now closed, but they made way for a much bigger facility known as Hermitage Brewing Co.
Being Belgian and all, I think Hermitage is a pretty cool name for a brewery. Peter Licht, brewmaster at Hermitage and former English Literature student, named the brewery after a hermitage in the Don Quixote novel. Peter moved to California in 1989 after college when the craft beer industry was just getting started. He decided to attend the Master Brewers Program at UC Davis and graduated in 1994. Before becoming a brewer at the San Pedro Square Tied House, Peter brewed for Coast Range Brewing Co. in Gilroy until it closed in 2007.
“I always loved beer since I was a little boy sipping on my dad’s beer,” Peter said. In 2009, Peter became the brewmaster of Hermitage, where he helped with the setup and opening.
Allyson Bajor, National Sales and Marketing Manager, told me Hermitage was originally just a contract brewery for local brewing companies. They then realized they also made pretty good beer themselves and decided to open a taproom to share their own brews. Hermitage is now about 25% in-house brew and 75% contract brew, making beer for about 20 different breweries on a 25-barrel system. That’s about 18,000 barrels a year!
Not sure if you’ve already done the math, but Hermitage is celebrating their 10th anniversary this year in November. Fittingly, they recently started rebranding some of their brews and switching from bottle to can packaging. It make sense since they acquired their very own canning equipment last year. “We’ve changed some of the beer names,” Allyson said. “We are going for a more trendy, modern look.” Since switching to cans and coming up with cool new graphics, Allyson said sales have picked up tremendously. Way to go, Hermitage! They still bottle some of their beer, mostly sours, in awesome-looking embossed glass bottles imported from Italy.
Allyson said they make a lot of IPAs but they are really known for their sours with what she called the “best sour lineup in San Jose.” In any event, they have a pretty incredible barrel-aging program with two different bases and about 800 barrels. Peter said they use the Solera method. This means they keep some of the beer in the foeders for the next batch every time they empty them out, making the base older and older as they go. Hermitage opted for fresh wood for their foeders. This allowed them to pick exactly what they wanted. They went for a light toast, medium steam for the golden base and a medium toast for the dark base. Cellar Master Alex Christensen, who has been with Hermitage for about two years, is now in charge of the program. “He has a real affinity for sour beers,” Peter said. “He also has passion and a good palate.” While the total amount of beer brewed at Hermitage is mostly made for other breweries, Peter said they make about 80% of their sours for their own brand.
Remember when I said in an earlier post that asking a brewer what their favorite beer is is like asking who is their favorite child? Well, that’s exactly it. However, Peter seemed pretty pleased with their latest brew called Por Adentro, a Mexican lager that came out for Cinco de Mayo. As for my favorites? Well, I really enjoy their sours. Always. I tried Solera Golden Ale and it did not disappoint one bit!
More photos from Hermitage Brewing Co.: