Strike Brewing Co. just announced they will be opening a second taproom in Campbell, CA in the fall.
I sat down with co-owner Jenny Lewis who told me they have been working on the project for the past 6 months and have found a location right by downtown. Jenny said this second location will help Strike with brand recognition and continue to improve the craft beer scene in Silicon Valley. They are also hoping to help make the connection between The Pruneyard and Downtown. No kitchen, just a great taproom where people can bring food from the many restaurants in the area. Jenny has been an active member of the craft beer community and sits on the board of the Bay Area Brewers Guild, where she plans events and helps build the craft beer scene in the Bay Area. “There is a greater propose,” she said.
Let’s backtrack a bit and talk about their current location in San Jose. Jenny and her husband Ben Lewis partnered up with Drew Ehrlich. They started home brewing together and decided it was time to kick things up a notch in 2008. By 2009, Jenny stopped working her “regular” job in the food & beverage industry and got her MBA from Rice University. At the same time, Drew started getting involved in commercial brewing and learned the ropes from Steve Donohue, then-brewer at the old Firehouse Grill & Brewery (now Off The Rails) in Sunnyvale, now brewer at Santa Clara Valley Brewing. Yes! It’s a small community. Not necessarily in size… but everyone knows each other. In 2011, Strike started contract brewing at Hermitage Brewing Co. They did that for a few years and decided to (re)launch in July of 2014 by opening their own brewery and taproom. During the first few months, they brewed a lot of beer and got things set up for their grand opening on Oct. 12, 2014. Do the math… That’s five years ago! Happy anniversary to them!
But why Strike? I mean, it’s a cool name and there is nothing wrong with it… but I couldn’t find the connection with the brewery… It’s actually fairly simple. Jenny met Drew through her husband Ben. Drew and Ben were both pitchers in baseball. “Strike is a strong word that everyone can spell,” Jenny said. “It stuck with us from the beginning.” Some of their beers are also named after some baseball terms, but Jenny said it’s never really “in your face.” (I was trying to come up with something cool to write with the word “re-pitching” in reference to re-pitching yeast but didn’t quite get to something I liked enough to publish…)
Their original setup included 4 tanks and a bottling line, which was all the rage back then. They have since added 5 new tanks and a canning line in November of 2013. The canning line now runs on average about 4 days a week. Although Jenny said they’ve had bumps in the road (and who doesn’t in business?), she said their beer has always been improving. They even got quite a few medals along the way. Strike now employs 14 people and Jenny and Drew have been all-in for 10 years. Ben, on the other hand, is more of a silent partner and still has a full-time job in the tech industry.
Many breweries have a loyalty program, but I have to say I really like Strike’s Mug Club. Seeing that wall full of mugs is a constant reminder that they have great customers who form a true community. Jenny said they have over 400 members of which a good chunk comes at least once a week! The coolest part? A truly personalized mug etched just for you! There are other great perks, of course, but I’ll let you check those out on their website.
We can’t talk about a brewery without talking beer… I went to their taproom a few weeks ago and had the pleasure of trying some of their hazies. They were all delicious. When I returned to talk to Jenny and Head Brewer Ryan Bridge, there weren’t any hazies on the taplist (don’t fret, they had one on again the very next day!). I got to try some really good stuff though. Jenny poured me a great flight with the following brews: Jam The Batter Kettle Sour, Big Wall Imperial Stout, Two Seam IPA and Summer Haze Hazy IPA. Caught the couple baseball references? Now, I’m not a huge fan of American sours because I usually find them to be too… sour. Jam The Batter, brewed with blackberries, lactose and vanilla, is just delicious. The lactose really helps balance the acidity…. a home run! The other one that stood out for me was the Big Wall Imperial Stout. I’m not the only one who thinks this stout is way better than average: It took gold at the 2018 World Cup!
So who is the guy behind the beer? Drew is, of course, still involved, but most of the recipes and brewing are in the hands of Ryan. Ryan has been with Strike since the taproom opened in 2014. His first job at Strike included working behind the bar, pouring at events and working the bottling line. He became the head brewer about 6 months in when Drew had a son and could no longer brew most of the beer. He is a South Bay native who grew up in Mountain View and Sunnyvale before attending UC San Diego. When he turned 21, his dad bought him his first home-brew kit. Before becoming a brewer, Ryan worked at a resort. He also wrote for a magazine and wrote profiles about restaurants. This allowed him to attend beer tastings and pairings… and the rest is history.
Ryan gets a fair amount of help from Operation Manager Alayna Mills who makes about 30% of the beer. But how much beer does Strike brew these days anyway? Around 3,000 barrels a year! Strike grew quite a bit last year and started offering a bigger variety of brews to their taproom customers. The taproom boasts 12 taps, 8 of which are usually dedicated to their year-round selection and 4 for their smaller runs. Ryan said he is currently experimenting with different ingredients and recently acquired 20 different Belgian-style yeasts to make his Farm Team Saison Series. His go-to beer? Probably a lager but mostly whatever the brewery he is visiting is known for.
That’s all I got for now, but I can’t wait to visit their new taproom when it opens in the Fall! And Happy Anniversary to you guys!