Features & Columns

Rising Tide

The growing taste for craft beer isn't a surprise to Peter Licht of Hermitage Brewing Co.
Hermitage Brewing Co Peter Licht has been brewing beer in Silicon Valley for more than 20 years. He now brews for the Tied House and Hermitage Brewing Co.

Peter Licht is a brewer and a patient one at that. The San Jose resident has been making beer for Mountain View's Tied House since 2008; before that, he made beer for Gilroy's Coast Range Brewing Co. starting in 1995.

Licht has seen the rise of America's beer scene from microbreweries to the second wave of craft breweries now washing hoppy waves of foam across the land. While Silicon Valley developed a beer scene of its own, it was a late bloomer. But now the craft beer tsunami is lapping at the shores of Silicon Valley. Finally.

"I've been waiting 20 years for this to happen," says Licht, putting down the shovel he was using to scoop up malt in San Jose's Hermitage Brewing Co. "For a long time, it seemed like San Jose didn't get it."

It does now.

Greg Sonick, craft brew brand manager for DBI Beverage, Silicon Valley's main craft brew distributor, jokes that there used to be a "force field" around the South Bay that seemed to keep good beer out. No longer. Sales of craft brew in Santa Clara County have grown 72 percent in the first six months of 2012 over last year.

"This is a great time to be in the 408," Sonick says.

Hermitage Brewing Co. makes bottled beer for the Tied House, the Coastal Fog brand for Beverages and More as well as other contract brews. But for me, it's Hermitage's own line of beer that is the most exciting.

It's a little-known fact that Mountain View's Tied House Brewery opened six months before the better-known Gordon Biersch Brewery in 1987. Gordon Biersch grew into a national brand while the Tied House has remained focused on the local beer market.

In fact, the Tied House, which until three years ago had a location in downtown San Jose, is California's third oldest brewpub and a pioneer in America's good beer revolution.

That revolution led to the evolution of the beer industry as more players entered—and left—the field. While the Tied House is the granddaddy of Silicon Valley's beer scene, the company has continued to innovate and is now riding the wave of beer's second wave: craft brew.

When San Jose's Tied House closed in 2009, the company moved its brewing tanks and other equipment into an anonymous industrial space near Spartan Stadium on S. Seventh Street. While the Mountain View location makes all its keg beer, the Hermitage makes all the Tied House's bottled beer as well as an ever-changing lineup of intriguing brews under the Hermitage label.

Until recently, Licht said, the local market wasn't ready for the kind of beers he makes at the Hermitage, big, hoppy beers like the Hoptopia Double IPA, Biere de Dieux, a delicate and complex strong ale, and the wonderfully delicious Ale of the Imp, an imperial IPA with a crushing 99.9 international bitterness units (IBUs).

Now, Licht says younger beer drinkers are demanding these handmade, artisanal brews and turning their back on watery mass-produced macro brews.

"To them it's not an expensive luxury," Licht adds.

The 2-1/2-year-old Hermitage Brewing Co. makes about 217,000 gallons of beer a year and with plans to expand into the space next door. The brewery is adding 12,000 square feet to make its total area more than 20,000 square feet.

"Suddenly we're going to have a lot of room," Licht says.

And more room means more beer.