The South Bay Brews Up Fun and Hoppiness Along the Bay Area’s Newest Craft Beer Trail
by Heather Cassell
Nothing satisfies escaping the summer sun like a nice cold beer. Now beer nerds escaping Silicon Valley’s sizzling heat this summer have an opportunity to find crafty watering holes to cool down with the Bay Area’s latest craft beer tour, the Bay Area Ale Trail.
Since November, Kerri Carder-McCoy and her wife, Erin Carder-McCoy, have been helping guests discover San Jose, Calif.’s emerging craft beer scene with monthly beer tours.
The San Francisco 35-year old event planning and hospitality industry professional has been taking groups of 10 to 25 people on an adventure to industrial San Jose to sample the South Bay’s craft brews since last fall. She also customizes tours. Recently Kerri guided a private tour for two guests to some of Santa Cruz’s breweries.
Guests meet Kerri and her driver at San Jose’s Diridon Caltrain Station where they take them to the city’s industrial area where breweries Clandestine (1805 Little Orchard Street, #124; 408-520-0220; ClandestineBrewing.com), Hermitage (1627 South 7th Street; 408-291-0966; HermitageBrewing.com), and Strike (2099 South 10th Street, #30; 877-855-8620; StrikeBrewingCo.com) have set up shop within a mile of each other. The tours include a gourmet lunch and fun factoids about the breweries and Bay Area to California brewing history for a chance to win some swag.
“Everybody leaves happy and not just because they’ve been drinking,” says Erin, a former event planner, who tags along and helps out on the tours. She loves that each tour is creative and unique in spite of currently going to the same breweries.
“They’ve all been very different,” says Kerri, talking about the tours that have taken on themes such as “The Ugly Holiday Sweater” tour in December.
For Father’s Day Weekend, the Bay Area Ale Trail will be all about the dads – gay and straight – as Kerri has a special tour planned for the papas June 20.
Sipping a beer on a sandy beach in Thailand at the turn of the New Year in 2013, Kerri began day dreaming with Erin what every vacationer at least once fantasizes about: How can I quit my job and live here?
The couple easily came up with an employment solution for Erin, a 40-year old elementary school teacher, but for Kerri her options were wide, but limited. She had no interest in working at a hotel. She had already been there and done that. Beer in hand and a little soul searching, the beer aficionado turned her attention to beer tours, but in Thailand, it’s “Chang, Chang, and Chang. That’s all they have. There’s not a lot of beer,” she said.
Since one brewery doesn’t make a profitable beer tour and vacation was over, the couple wasn’t quite ready to quit their day jobs and run off to paradise just yet. They returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area, but a little bit of hops and yeast was brewing within Kerri.
Getting To Hoppiness
Soon after, Kerri started blogging about local breweries, reviewing them, and profiling brewmisters, and checking out beer tours, such as the North Bay Brewery Tours, as a part of her research as she created the Bay Area Ale Trails.
In the process she discovered that she didn’t have to venture far from home to create her beer tours. The craft beer movement is spreading throughout the Bay Area with more than 100 breweries and brew pubs currently operating and dozens more coming on tap this summer.
One of the untapped areas bustling with breweries is the Peninsula down into the South Bay, particularly in San Jose. This year, two more breweries are opening up in the area: the Santa Clara Valley Brewing Company (101 East Alma Avenue; 408-288-5181; SCVBrewing.com), being launched by veteran Bay Area brewmister Steve Donohue, and Mission Creek Brewery (777 The Alameda; 408-207-1126; MissionCreekBrewingCo.com), Whole Foods’ first California craft brewery located at its new store close to Diridon Station. All five breweries are all located within a mile and a half of each other.
Quench That Thirst
The couple appreciate that they aren’t the only ones who are discovering San Jose’s coolness.
Nearly a year after her beach fantasy, Kerri’s Silicon Valley beer tour has been a hit among guests, many who are local who had no clue that breweries were being “home brewed” by South Bay natives in their own back, Erin and she noted.
“We drink a good amount of craft beer and know a decent amount about it, [but] I wouldn’t go as far as connoisseur,” laughs Megan Kolbe, 33, a physical therapist, and her girlfriend Emily Baust, a 31-year old occupational therapist, laughed. “We’ve traveled a good amount of places around the country and everywhere we go we try to find the local brewery or more of a well known brewery.”
The couple was in California from Maryland for about four months for work. The Bay Area Ale Trail, a Christmas gift from Megan’s sister, was a parting adventure before they hit the road on their cross-country trip home.
The two women loved their experience on the Bay Area Ale Trail talking excitedly about Kerri and Erin knowledge of beers and getting to meet the brewers and get a peek at the behind the scenes at each brewery.
“I didn’t expect to be on a beer tour and go into a barrel room,” says Emily, who was fascinated by the different types of barrels from oak to wine and whisky being used to age the beer. “It is just always interesting to see new stuff people are doing as far as craft beers.”
Megan enjoyed the company with the other four guests on the tour.
“It was just a really nice group,” says Megan, praising Kerri and Erin. “Erin and Kerri themselves are wonderful people. Everybody was having a great time.”
It was also refreshing for them to have two women leading the tour.
“It was nice to have two women period to be leading something that deals with beer,” says Megan. “It’s usually a very male dominated domain. It was refreshing that two younger women were heading up this endeavor.”
Emily agrees adding, “If you are a beer person and you live in San Jose,” this is the beer tour for you.
“I think that people should be willing to jump out of their 7×7 comfort zone sometimes and check out what is going on in other places in the Bay Area, especially, if they like craft beer because there is some really, really delicious craft beer happening in San Jose,” Erin says.
Finding beer nirvana in the Bay Area, Kerri plans to eventually grow her tour company beyond the once a month tour and private tours in San Jose. She’s looking at eventually venturing into Santa Cruz, exploring the Peninsula and the East Bay, and of course San Francisco. She also has her eye on the emerging cider and mead movement and plans to add cideries and meaderies into the mix down the road, she says.
Kerri is also co-launching The Brew Pass. The pass will be an annual membership to a group of breweries where members show their card to receive perks from free beer, discounts, and more, that should be available within the coming months, she says.
But for now she’s happy introducing people to San Jose’s craft breweries.
Group and private tours are available on the Bay Area Ale Trail. Tours are cost $125 per person. A tour won’t be available in May. For more information, contact Kerri at or visit http://bayareaaletrails.com.
To learn more about the Brew Pass, visit www.brewerypass.com.
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