KraftBrew Review

The culminating event of the Silicon Valley Beer Week, the KraftBrew Fest (now in its fifth year) drew the curtain on Silicon Valley Beer week with a hoppy, jubilant bang. If there was ever a question if San Jose could compete with Portland Oregon or San Francisco’s craft beer selection, quality beer food, with a little something for everyone- Saturday’s Kraft Brew Fest saw to it that there was no doubt (and with more sunshine!)

The idea behind the Kraft Beer Fest was born after Louis Silva, Kurt Belluominy, and Jon Berkland became inspired by the success of Naglee Park Garage’s annual Oktoberfest. Their vision was an event that showcased the grand history and expertise of Belgian and German beers alongside the surge of innovative domestic beers. Their vision was a beer festival featuring craft and eclectic, imported selections. They wanted to go deeper, beyond simply featuring flagship beers. They sought to showcase the imports that lended inspiration to US craft brewers. There were seasonal selections, some beers very limited in production. The highlight booth was named the Good Karma Launch Booth, which offered two new beers every hour. “In the last few years the beer scene has exploded,” Jon Berkland of Wine Warehouse said. “Whereas 8 years ago it was hard to sell in San Jose, now artisan and imported beer is in high demand. Everyone is looking for the something new and new styles that are becoming popular such a sour beers. There is a very healthy scene here and it is exciting to be a part of it.”

The event was held in Gordon Biersch Brewery and Bottling Facility’s picturesque back lot, Gordon Biersch’s six gargantuan grain silos overlooked the smiling crowds like steel beer gods. The crowd was as diverse as the craft beer selection: Couples, beer experts, and 20 something’s- all carried beautiful goblets filled with dreamy shades of amber, reds, chocolate, yellow, and mauve. It was a perfect, blue skied day the likes that only the South Bay can produce.

With an impressively large turnout, short lines, plenty of seating and bathrooms, beautiful tulip glassware, the food- corn on the cob, pickles on sticks, pulled pork sandwiches by Chef Louis Silva of Naglee Park Garage and other scrumptious delights by Chef Dawn Smith of Blackbird Tavern, specialty beef jerky, and fresh watermelon slices- was particularly fresh and high quality. “San Jose is a bit new to the beer scene. In San Diego we have over 100 breweries. But, it was really nice to see what people here enjoy and like about craft beer. The spectrum of beers here was very nice and there was a fine selection of European beers and the food was excellent,” said David Johnson of Port Brewing.

“Most beer festivals are about the local, but I wanted people to go back to brewing’s roots. It’s good to have a broad understanding. It’s better to have representation from the whole cannon of beers. There was a very optimistic, positive energy here today. People were not just interested in sucking down beers, they wanted to learn and talk about beer,” Brent Katte of Affligem Brewing said. Some of the breweries in attendance started as home breweries- which has shown that domestically there has been a wave of new experimentation and new styles in the brew world.

“There is nowhere else in Santa Clara County where so many great breweries have the chance to pour their beer in front of so many beer lovers,” Rudy Kuhn of Lagunitas Beer Company told us.  “It’s a great opportunity to connect with those people that have helped make Lagunitas the brewery we are today and say thanks to each of them face to face. It’s amazing to see new people trying craft beer and loving it not only for the liquid and the community that exists around it.”

Dark, light, domestic, sour, lambic, even a brewery that had its beginnings in 1074 (Affligem)– it was all there. In addition to over 70 beers- from the Bay Area, California, Germany, and Belgium- (many of whom use the style and techniques today that were originally created hundreds of years ago in Germany and Belgium), the festival featured activities for children (complete with a couch as a coloring book), dancing (live Brazilian music and an exceptional dj played lots of oldies fun and 80s tunes kept got crowds dancing and bobbing their heads), exceptional food (two pigs were roasted right there by the Naglee Park Garage crew who served mountain sized pulled pork sandwiches), live music, and educational panels on beer. It was clear that people not only found a place to relax, gulp, sip, and schmooze with friends- but also had a genuine interest in learning more about brewing techniques and craft beers. It was more than a festival- it was beer scene.  “Even the glassware sets this festival apart,” Jon Berkland gushed. “We really wanted to showcase the beer in a large, beautiful glass. We wanted to showcase the flavors of the beer for the palate.”

It is hard to argue that San Jose has indeed been considered a late bloomer in the craft beer scene, but the KraftBeer Fest proved that San Jose has more than caught up. If you didn’t go this year, don’t miss out next year.

If you did not make it to the festival, here are some beers from the festival we thought you should  try before you go next year: Brouwerij Bocker’s Cuvee des Jacobins; Affligem’s Blond; The Bruery’s Humulus Lager and Tart of Darkness; Port Brewing’s Board Meeting; The Lost Abbey’s Red Barn and Spontaneous Cheer; Capitola’s Sante Adairius Rustic Ales’ 831 and Little Quibble, and the Delirium Tremens (otherwise known as the Pink Elephant Beer).

We are definitely not going to leave out the brew masters from our community, who are making a name for themselves. More local beers included: the Silicon Valley Sudzers, a local home brew club, and the San Jose Brew Pub which is California’s first Co-Operative Brewpub. Keep a look out for Santa Clara Valley Brewing. Try their excellent Electric Tower IPA, which is named after the legendary, San Jose relic.  Don’t miss out on Almanac Brewery’s barrel aged sour beers and of course don’t forget about our city’s flagship beers from Faultline Brewing and Gordon Biersch.

Photos and Review by Anna Bagirov

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