We hope for a brotherhood of breweries. We don’t only care about keeping people at our place; we want to keep people in the area.
Two and a half years ago, Tom Clark—a San Jose history buff, craft beer fanatic, and occasional home brewer—and Steve Donohue, a well-known Bay Area brewmaster with six medals to his name, met for the first time. Both family men with established careers, they shared a goal: to make quality, locally brewed beers that would celebrate and bring attention to the unique history of the Santa Clara Valley. “It occurred to me that no one ever said, ‘Hey, when you’re in San Jose, try this beer,’” Tom Clark says. “We are the tenth biggest city in the US. I saw this as a problem.”
The two formed Santa Clara Valley Brewing, with Clark as the CEO and Donohue as the brewmaster, and their dream is coming true faster than they could have ever imagined. “There are new breweries popping up every day, but we have gotten nothing but positive feedback,” head of sales Stephanie Santolo says. “We are even known in Southern California. There are tons of IPAs in San Diego, but ours is very popular.” Today, the construction of Santa Clara Valley Brewing’s brewery is underway, set to start pouring in 2015.
The company carries three flagship bottled brews, all named and labeled around Santa Clara Valley historical icons: the Electric Tower IPA , the Peralta Porter, and the New Almaden Red. Donahue also regularly creates specialty beers. Their most successful is the Electric Tower IPA, which has garnered a solid name for itself in bars and beer festivals—and is changing how many aficionados view San Jose’s craft beer abilities.
“I love it when people at festivals take a sip and then whip their heads around in surprise,” Clark says with a hearty laugh. In a way, it is fitting that the IPA is named after the famous electric tower which made San Jose the first electrified city of the “Wild West” in 1888. Its IPA namesake, distinctive for its malt backbone and smooth caramel finish, similarly establishes the Santa Clara Valley as the new beer lover’s destination. The future brewery’s taproom will have beers that are unavailable to the general public, and will be run much like the two men’s personalities: collaborative, joyful, creative, and thoroughly unpretentious.
Donohue thrives on the freedom to be spontaneous after decades of brewing for others and embraces a flexible approach to the business. “If I want to go crazy and brew twenty barrels of something and it takes off, great,” he says. “It’s great for our customers. Creating new beers never gets old. We like all styles, nothing is off limits.” Although distributed throughout California, the duo have no desire to expand nationwide. “I want people to have the opportunity to go around the corner and have a fresh beer poured for them from a keg brewed that morning,” Donohue explains.
When the brewery opens, it will be the third within a half-mile radius—alongside Hermitage and Strike—which may foretell the fulfillment of yet another dream of Clark and Donohue’s: a San Jose beer district. “We hope for a brotherhood of breweries. We don’t only care about keeping people at our place; we want to keep people in the area,” Clark stresses. “We want it to be a Sunday destination, the place to be before and after a game at the Shark Tank or Levi’s Stadium.” This reflects the business attitude that is vastly different from the intensely secretive and competitive tech industry that the Valley is known for. The beer industry here runs on camaraderie, openness, and a genuine desire to help one another.
Donohue and Clark feel they understand local craft beer drinkers: diverse, knowledgeable about beer, and eager to try new things. Their goal is to listen to their customers, absorb ideas, and use those thoughts to create new brews. “People come with their own expectations of beer, and we want to make sure we fit into their understanding of what we are doing. We want people to talk to the brewmaster about what they want and like, right over the counter.”
The two are not just business partners, but are humble, hardworking friends who intensely love what they do. They are passionate about bringing attention to the history of the Santa Clara Valley—and want their community to come along for the hoppy ride. As we sip on SCV Brewing’s tasty offerings, we are not only enjoying a little part of Santa Clara Valley’s local history, but we are collectively drinking to an exciting new future.
Cheers to that.
Article by Anna Bagirov
Photography by Daniel Garcia
This article originally appeared in Issue 6.4 Retro.