Posted in Breweries

California’s first co-op brewery: a “resting place” worthy of the local community

…Or at the very least that’s what Umunhum Brewing is striving to create. 

Before you read further I have to let you in on a little secret: I am a member-owner of Umunhum Brewing and I have recently taken on the management of the Instagram account for the brewery (among other things), which may mean I’m not entirely objective. However, I promise I’ll do my best… 😉 But you know what? It’s hard to keep featuring all those great craft-beer businesses without talking about the ones I’m directly involved with.

The History

Umunhum Brewing
Brew Day with the Brew Crew with (from left to right in the foreground): Kregg Kemper, Tobi Ilchmann and Board Member Jeff Gale

In August 2012, a group of home brewers decided to take their hobby to the next level and create what would become California’s very first co-op brewery. The San Jose Cooperative Brewery and Pub, Inc. was born in February 2013. But where is the brewpub? Well, it never opened. It seems the finances didn’t quite catch up with the ambition, and the co-op never actually got to open the brewpub. Instead, they decided to rebrand as Umunhum Brewing in November 2014. You know what? I think that was a very good move! It’s catchy and the name is embedded in the area’s history. But we’ll get to that later…

It’s not until July of 2015 that Umunhum came out with their first commercially distributed brew called Hismen Sii. But I want to dive a little more into the history of the co-op and let you browse the timeline below to see what Umunhum’s been up to. What do you say?

Umunhum Brewing Timeline

The beer

Umunhum Brewing
OSS, PHP and Kryptö Kölsch

So what’s happened since March of 2016? Still no taproom… but quite a few great brews! Umunhum has released a total of seven beers with a few more to come by the end of the year. The current lineup is made up of Hismen Sii Pale Ale, OSS Open-Source Stout, IPO IPA, PHP Honey Pale Ale, Kryptö Kölsch, SaaS Stout as a Service and Binary B10ndle. What’s coming to the taprooms next? Something we are super excited about! We are in the midst of brewing a collaboration Hazy IPA with Clandestine Brewing. Let me just say we are very proud and honored to be collaborating with another San Jose-based brewery and that we can’t wait to share the fruit of our labor with all of you! The release party will be held at Clandestine Brewing on August 11 from 2 to 4pm. What can you look forward to this year? A Red Ale and a Belgian Ale, both of which are still in the works (and maybe another kölsch).

A word from Jeff Gale, board member and beer recipe liaison, regarding the beer in the works: “Red Ale – A mild ale with a beautiful red hue.  Bready malty flavors predominate, with some interesting hop aroma and low bitterness.  Brewed with several specialty malts, citrus/honey-like aroma hops, and Scottish ale yeast. Belgian Ale – A Dubbel that pushes the boundaries of the style.  Sweet malty flavors blend with low hop bitterness, and esters from the yeast.  Brewed with a variety of malts, honey, Belgian candi sugar, and Abbey ale yeast.”

The name

Umunhum Brewing
Umunhum Brewing swag. Get yours on the website!

I want to backtrack a little and talk more about Umunhum and its name. The brewery was named after Mt. Umunhum located in the Santa Cruz Mountains (you know, the one with the big building on top). The word “Umunhum” comes from the Ohlone language and means “resting place of the hummingbird,” thus the hummingbird on the logo. The Ohlone Tribe welcomed the idea with open arms and approved of the name for the brewery without hesitation. It’s something that really mattered to the organization because it pays tribute to the area’s heritage.

Present and future

Umunhum Brewing
President David Brothers is getting the new kegs ready for distribution

What’s next for Umunhum? Well, I sat down with current President David Brothers and brew crew member Tobias Ilchmann to learn more about where we are going. In short, the taproom is still on the horizon and new beers are still being brewed. But how do we get there?

Let’s hear it from David. Shall we? “When I first became president I wanted two things: become profitable and get more people involved,” he said. Although things aren’t exactly perfect yet, we’ve noticed a definite improvement. “We want to have a good lineup of beer and get beers out over the rest of this year,” he said. “We want to grow the lineup but also focus our attention on growing membership so we can open a taproom and grow it into a brewpub.” It seems like we may still be at least a year away from opening the taproom. David said people who joined the organization during its early stages are probably a little disenchanted due to the fact that the taproom project never happened. He said he wants to get back to the taproom idea and not lose focus.

In the meantime, though, Umunhum has a lot to be proud of and continues to produce and sell great, staple-type beers to local taprooms and restaurants. You can find the list of all locations on our website.

Umunhum Brewing
Euchre and Beer held every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month by David

The co-op members almost all have full-time jobs outside of Umunhum. The brewery currently has around 600 member-owners, but it is absolutely crucial that Umunhum finds a few more people who have the time and knowledge to get involved in the operation and growth of the organization. Here is where I’ll plug something in for my own/Umunhum’s interest: If you have any type of skills and time, join us and contribute! We’d love to have you! It only costs $150 (for now) for you to own a piece of a brewery in California. Nothing beats that. Period.

At the end of the day, we don’t all need to know how to brew, run the accounting department, do marketing, organize events, sell, etc. We just need to all contribute a bit of what we know. “It’s a hobby that needs to be looked at as a business,” David said. “When people do this part-time, it’s hard to change their mindset.” This is real-life example of how beer brings people together… for real! Join us and be part of one of the many committees based on what you like to do and what your skills are.

Want to learn more? Go to our website and get acquainted with what we do. Still have more questions? Please feel free to contact us via our Facebook page or Instagram. Also, you can easily get to know the team (or get involved) by attending one of our events. Members-only events: beer tastings, beer serving at local events, bottle and can releases/purchases. Events for all: Euchre and Beer, Trivia Night, board meetings, etc. A lot of those events are promoted on Instagram and listed on Meetup.

Spend 5 hours in a few minutes with the brew crew by watching the video below:

More photos from Umunhum Brewing: