Silicon Valley Bars and Clubs 2016

Better Know a Brewmaster

Craft Beers that Kick Ass in Silicon Valley

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Good Karma's Ryan Summers says Northern California beers have finally come into their own. Photo by Jessica Perez

A decade ago in downtown San Jose, nobody gave a damn about craft beer. Watering holes offered "Heineken, Bud Light, Coors Light, PBR, Guinness" and water, says Ryan Summers, owner of Good Karma Artisan Ales & Cafe. Things done changed.

After moving locations, revamping his menu and securing a beer and wine license, Summers started introducing downtown San Jose to the joys of well-crafted brews.

"It was a completely different scene," he says. "Nobody knew what the hell I was pouring. It was really challenging. But you do it sip by sip, beer by beer, slowly but surely you raise the overall palate. And the people who were ready for it were totally hooked. Good people want to get together and drink good beer and talk about it. That's food. That's beer. That's wine. That's anything."

Summers hooked up with breweries like Fort Bragg's North Coast, then became one of the first to pour Russian River Brewery beer, including their rare and famed Pliny the Elder IPA. And after five years, he helped grow a solid community of restaurateurs, distributors and customers willing to spread the gospel of good beer.

"We're scrappy. We're hungry. And we're young," he says. "San Jose has always got something to prove. And we're not trying to prove it anybody. We're just trying to stand on our own two feet. And it may take us a minute, but damn we're good at it when we get going."

San Jose sits in the crux of what Summers thinks is the most innovative brewing region in the world: Northern California.

He name-drops Cellarmaker in San Francisco, Alvarado Street in Monterey, Alpha Acid in Belmont, Temescal in Oakland and the Rare Barrel in Berkeley as the area's best. Plus, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola makes the award-winning Saison Bernice, a "top-10 Saison in the world," according to Summers.

"Northern California has always kind of sucked on the tit of Southern California for beer," he admits. "But in the last four years, [local breweries] have really come into their own. They're doing some of the most important beers in the world right now. It's like what San Diego was. We've got traction. And the rest of the beer world is looking to us to see what's going to come next. It's the locals that don't quite realize what they're sitting on."

Keeping track of all these brews requires near-constant diligence, especially when most tap houses completely restock what's pouring on a weekly basis. But Summers urges potential connoisseurs to get chatty and trust whoever is filling their glass.

"Know your local bartender," he says. "Have a conversation. Embrace that relationship. Go in blindly like, 'Hey man, what do you like? What are you drinking?' My job as someone who runs a pub is to make my guests happy. You could go find shit on the internet, but you get the most information, the most passion, out of the person right across the bar from you."

Good Karma

37 S. First St., San Jose

Craft Beer

Original Gravity

This downtown pub goes through about 50 kegs in a weekend, so it has a constantly rotating array of taps to choose from. General manager Rob Monroe says they're most excited about the stuff coming out of Fieldworks Brewery in Berkeley, particularly their Mystic Stream IPA and Monsoon Double IPA. He says, "Instead of big, bitter bombs with piney, resiny flavor that people are accustomed to, they go with a lighter balanced body with grassy, tropical and juicy hops." 66 S 1st St, San Jose.

ISO Beers

This minimalist stainless steel bar serves a dizzying array of brews from their gleaming taps. Their selections switch out every couple of days, but as of June 2 they had upscale beers including the Alpha Acid Hella Nutella Oatmeal Stout, the Alvaro Street Dank Sauce IPA that comes with tropical and tangelo notes, and Evil Twin's Even More Jesus—made in tiny quantities and has a fudge-thick body that tastes of coffee, dark fruits and muscovado sugar. 75 E Santa Clara St, Ste 120, San Jose.

Liquid Bread

This Michelin-recommended gastropub pairs its international-quality grub with craft beers. Chef/owner John Burke recommends the UINTA brewery cucumber farmhouse aged in gin barrels alongside his braised rabbit, lemon thyme pasta. And Palo Alto Brewing Company's Tart Deco sour Belgian blonde "cuts through" his fried jumbo soft-shell crabs shipped seasonally from Maryland and served with white grits, black-eyed peas and red-eye gravy. 379 E Campbell Ave, Campbell.

Taplands subscribes to the idea that beer drinkers can't be monogomous.


Matt Hartenstein started Santa Clara's go-to spot for bougie wheat soda hoping to become a growler hotspot. Due to California's stingy laws, he opted to put other top-notch local varieties alongside his homemade brews on his 24 taps. Coming soon from his humble brewery, there's an IPA that he describes as "deceptively dark, hoppy and bitter" and a Summertime blonde ale delicately accented with rose petals and vanilla. 1171 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara.


San Jose's lauded in-city brewery has solidified its reputation on the back of its two flagship beers. The Maltopia Scotch Ale is a "wee heavy," toasty and contains notes of plum behind its strong malt flavor. And the Hoptopia IPA blends "citrusy, piney, and floral hop notes" together for an assertive, but drinkable experience. Both have snagged gold in the Craft Brewing Competition at the State Fair. 1627 S 7th St, San Jose.


These brewers offer tastings in their warehouse and taproom in San Jose. One of their rarest brews is a partnership with Santa Cruz skateboards: the Classic Dot Blonde Ale. The limited quantity brew can be purchased online or at their downtown location. The easy-drinking brew comes in a stylishly customized can that pairs nicely with sand and waves. 2099 S 10th St, San Jose.

Santa Clara Valley Brewing

These Silicon Valley craft beer-makers have been prolific with their varieties. Their New Almaden Imperial Red Ale packs a punch at 10 percent, but balances it nicely with a forward malt flavor and crisp hops. Taking inspiration from the area, the beer is named for the New Almaden Mercury Mines, established in 1847 and one of the most profitable quicksilver mines in North America—producing 46 million pounds of the liquid metal from 1850 to 1875. 101 E Alma Ave, San Jose.

Golden State Brewing

Located in a big, friendly warehouse, these brewers package their specialty brewskis in bottles emblazoned with their barrel-toting, Grizzly bear logo. They harnessed the smooth flavor spawned by the cold brew craze for their coffee stout that gets a heavy sprinkling of coconut sugar to combine into a full bodied, sip-slow choice. 1252 Memorex Dr, Santa Clara.

CB Hannegan's

208 Bachman Ave, Los Gatos

A "friendly" Irish pub, which is wonderful and kind of redundant.

Duke of Edinburgh

10801 N. Wolfe Rd, Cupertino

Nothing like drinking a frosty pint while sitting on Downton Abbey furniture.

Fibbar Magees

156 S. Murphy Ave, Sunnyvale

Likely to find a few ales, ciders and stouts you've never seen.

Firehouse No. 1

69 N. San Pedro St, San Jose

Perhaps no bar has cleaned up its act more over the last decade to become a premiere gastropub in the heart of downtown.

Gordon Biersch

640 Emerson St., Palo Alto; 33 E. San Fernando St., San Jose

A staple that runs in the bloodlines like teal and orange sauce.

Harry's Hofbrau

390 Saratoga Ave, San Jose

Germans know beer better than anybody, so why not pick from a dizzying list to wash down a massive bone-in leg of turkey?

Jack's Brewing Company

39176 Argonaut Way, Fremont

One of the first brewpubs in the 'Mont, the Boys of Summer Wheat on a hot day is good for a few, or fifteen.

Katie Blooms

369 E. Campbell Ave,Campbell

Mellow by day, a mad scene by midnight.


25 N. San Pedro St, San Jose

O'Flaherty's, like its neighbor Firehouse, has stepped up its game substantially to become a top-notch bar beyond the limiting genre of Irish pub.

The Rose & Crown

547 Emerson St, Palo Alto

A beer menu that goes heavy on Belgian and English ales, be careful with those darts.

Relish GastroLounge

14583 Big Basin Way, Saratoga

With a couple dozen craft beers on tap and Chef Josiah Slone's artisanal tasting menu, this cozy reinvented Saratoga getaway is a nice addition to the valley's tasting options.

Sandwiches aren't the only offerings stealing the show at Spread.


This Campbell speciality shop brings together indulgent subs with high-quality suds. A couple of their best pairings include the crisp, floral Butte Creek Organic Pilsner with the Duchess that combines oven-roasted turkey with pastrami, sharp cheddar and black garlic/chipotle aioli; and the malty Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale with their Unkosher—a reuben that's been spiced up and infused with bacon. 193 E Campbell Ave, Campbell.

Steins Beer Garden

895 Villa St, Mountain View

So, so many beers—but don't sleep on the food.

Tied House Cafe & Brewery

954 Villa St, Mountain View

Excellent beer selection and a beer garden to match.

Teske's Germania Restaurant and Beer Garden

255 N. First St, San Jose

Good selection of German brews and Jager tea to chase.


265 N. First St.,San Jose

The bar that nobody talks about because it never changes and that's what makes it great.

Yard House

300 Santana Row, #101, San Jose

Try the popular Young's Double Chocolate.

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