We want to be part of the revitalization of downtown.
Beer journeys, like life journeys, take guts. In 2006, Nathan Poulos and Allen Korenstein biked the medieval European pilgrimage route Camino de Santiago for 15 days. “We almost killed each other a few times,” they said laughing. “Just as with our dream of opening a brewing company, we would meet people, our communal angels, who would appear and help us,” Allen reminisced. “One woman told us of her own life’s transformation, ‘It didn’t take a lot of courage, it just took the first step.’”
A couple of years after biking the Camino, Nathan began homebrewing. The two of them talked of beer and food and of wine’s place in thriving, intimate social centers where Europeans gathered every day. Beer has played that part too in human history. “Beer is the sacrament of human connection,” Allen observed.
In 2009, they decided to bike 2,000 miles, with no set route. Sometimes you follow a challenging path, and other times you must blaze your own. “At one point the Italian coastline stopped. We had to cycle the Italian Alps. Overcoming that challenge has stuck with us,” Allen remembered. Nathan had an idea: beers that would pay homage to the Camino’s rich history and folklore. “It’s like the goal of starting a brewery. Despite the uncertainties, we had to push through,” Nathan added.
Nathan and Allen met people on their travels, and began to get a sense of their connection to something larger. “People here work and go back to their enclaves, but beer brings strangers together,” Allen said. “San Jose needs this, and we can provide it,” Nathan added. The destination was clearer. Allen and Nathan were struck by the emerging liveliness of San Jose. It reminded them of the tremendous, boisterous socializing that went on in Spain’s bars and cafes. “I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that San Jose sits on El Camino Real,” Nathan observed. And thus was born Camino Brewing Company. San Jose provided not only the path, but the communal angels. Nathan washed dishes at Good Karma Cafe in exchange for knowledge of beer from owner Ryan Summers.
“We know that we want to be part of the revitalization of downtown,” Nathan explained. “The vision is to create a 10-barrel brewery and give people the ability to bring in a growler and take beer back with them,” Nathan explained.
They also hope to have local food trucks work in conjunction with the brewery. Camino has partnerships with local businesses such as Chromatic Coffee, whose espresso they use for their cafe con leche stout—an homage to the milk stout with espresso that the Spaniards drink daily. “No matter how many breweries you have, you have to make yourself a part of the fabric of the community,” Nathan told us.
Their beer was put on tap at the Whole Foods Mission Creek Brewing Company on December 9, 2014, and it sold out in three weeks. Nuberu, named after the Galician god of storms, is fresh and bright, a hoppy pale ale. That same year, with the support of Sam Liccardo, they formed the Downtown Craft Beer Alliance.
In Spain, Allen and Nathan found themselves biking against brutal, hot headwinds. They were so fed up that they threw their clothes away and bought cold Spanish lager in its place. They drank and pedaled. “We want to pay homage to that with our own India pale lager, the Cierzo. We want it to be a refreshing American lager, without the hop-bitterness of a traditional IPA,” Nathan explained.
We’ve all been there. Sweat (or tears) burn our eyes. There is torturous inner self-doubt. Every cell screams for us to give up. But we keep on. Whether it is a beer, a person, or a goal to edge us, we take that next step. “Sometimes I think, are we doing the Camino or is the Camino doing us?” Allen asks smiling. Either way, it seems the stars have aligned for Nathan and Allen to make their mark in San Jose’s bubbling craft beer scene. Nathan and Allen who, with a little faith, some plain hard work, and a few friends, have found that any of life’s challenges are surmountable. Without guts, after all, there is no glory.
Written by Anna Bagirova
Images by Scott MacDonald
Article originally appeared in Issue 7.1 “Sight and Sound”