California Craft Beer is proof that good beer can overcome daunting adversity.
Located on the fringes of Fremont, California Craft Beer has to work extra hard to attract the attention of beer distributors more inclined to spend their time cultivating the already robust beer market to the north in Oakland and Berkeley, and in the south, where they pursue the wallets of thousands of affluent, underserved beer drinkers in Silicon Valley and San Jose.
Moreover, the Fremont bottle shop and 16 rotating taps taproom exudes neither boutique beer bar charm nor gritty divvy-ness—traits that typically characterize successful pubs. It seems more like a beer store with a small bar added on almost as an afterthought. Homey touches, such as Kathleen Martin’s eye-catching murals, rescue the pub from industrial sterility.
Despite those drawbacks, California Craft Beer does have a couple of things going for it: Thirsty beer lovers parched for a local pub where they can enjoy a brew among their friends and neighbors, and a hard-working beer manager on a mission to bring them the best beer possible.
Almanac Brewing, which makes its beer not far away at Hermitage in San Jose, took over the taps at California Craft Beer on Thursday, Dec. 5, and the place was packed with a mixed crowd happily enjoying four small pour tasters of some of Almanac’s recent creations: Golden Gate Gose, Bourbon Sour Porter, Smoked Chipotle Stout, Single Origin IPA, and especially the sublime Farmer’s Reserve #3 (not included among the tasters but available on tap).
Local brewery tap takeovers and small-pour tasters seem to be regular features at California Craft Beer, as beer manager Thomas Sparks gently nudges local drinkers in the direction of some of the current trends in craft beer, particularly beers aged in barrels and exposed to wild yeast.
The clear winners among Almanac’s offerings were Farmer’s Reserve #3 and Golden Gate Gose, a puckerish German style wheat beer. As in many great beers, balance is the key, and with unpredictable microbes in play, things can easily get out of whack. Which is what makes a beer like Farmer’s Reserve #3 so remarkable. It’s puckerish tart, but not overly so, and suggestive of fruit without being fruity-sweet. On the other hand, the wild yeast seemed to have hijacked the porter in the Bourbon Sour Porter, and we were hard-pressed to detect the characteristic roastiness that should have balanced the tartness.
Experimentation is the name of the game in craft beer these days, and happily Fremont’s California Craft Beer is blessed with an aggressive beer manager who is unwilling to settle for ordinary beer.