FREMONT -- I was running late and feeling stressed one muggy evening as I stepped inside a new brewery in south Fremont. Despite its unlikely location -- a modest office park in the most industrial part of town -- the owners' hospitality put me at ease, and I hadn't even tried the beer yet.
The charms of Das Brew, a cozy microbrewery and tasting room that specializes in German beers, have that calming effect on visitors.
Its flavorful microbrews are made with loving care by Jan Schutze (pronounced "Yon Shootz-a"). His wife, Priscilla LaRocca, serves customers with a witty, welcoming manner. The couple has used that simple combination to transform the modest 240-square-foot room into a watering hole with a fast-growing, loyal following. The tasting room opened in late March, next to their environmental consulting business, in a warehouse in the city's East Industrial neighborhood.
Schutze, who grew up in Hamburg, Germany, said he likes the unusual location. "I look at a brewery like it's a laboratory. I need it to be clean and sanitized." He added with a shrug and a smile: "It might be the German in me."
I've never been a beer connoisseur. Maybe that's because I was raised in Sonoma County, where those who talked most about the area's wineries tended to know the least about them. In misguided rebellion against such self-declared experts, I embraced the Frank Sinatra philosophy of imbibing: "Don't be a hero. Pick a drink that goes down easy." The beauty of Das Brew is that both craft-beer aficionados and novices like me are equally welcomed. After a few minutes there, even a card-carrying Sinatra-ista like me was able to soak in nuances of German beer customs, which Schutze, an impassioned professor on the subject, was happy to teach.
For instance, he explained that the tasting room is not quite a "bierstube" -- a room frequently found in German hotels where beer lovers can drink in comfort, though I would argue it provides the same relaxed vibe.
Das Brew sells growlers, a bottle made in three different shapes that beer lovers can fill up and take home. Several customers trickled in throughout the night to purchase the various 64-ounce containers. One was Ed Carrillo, a Hayward resident who works nearby. While inquiring about kegs for tailgate parties, he shook his head in half-disgust, half-pity when talking about friends who buy domestic beer. "I tell them, 'Why don't you just drink water instead?'" Carrillo said.
Inside the tasting room, I noticed that the first on Das Brew's list of five craft beers is one called Buxom Blonde, a light, almost golden-colored brew. "We had this image of sailors coming into port and being greeted by a buxom blonde waitress," LaRocca said, stifling a laugh. "In fact, we're trying to hire one for the tasting room!"
For $6, visitors can sample four of the brewer's beers, which are served in 4-ounce glasses. After Buxom Blonde, I moved on to beers with nautical-themed names. I tried Monkey Fist, one of three brews with a 4.5 percent alcohol content. The name is a type of knot that sailors tie, but this Monkey Fist is a hefeweizen, a beer brewed with large amounts of wheat and carbonation. Das Brew's version is smooth and teems with banana flavor.
"We try to make sure people pronounce it right -- heff-a-vie-tsin," Schutze said. "We always tease people who call them 'Hefs.'"
Other names are more straightforward, like the Triple Blitz, which is 12 percent alcohol and laced with chocolate-coffee flavors. No nautical name for this one because "it gets you blitzed in a hurry," Schutze joked. He also was being modest. Triple Blitz had a distinct flavor and washed upon my taste buds like a wave on the beach. That kind of complex finish is rare, especially from a small brewery. But it's a sign that Schutze, who was raised by a pharmacist, fuses a scientist's precision with an artist's creativity.
Schutze and LaRocca, both 59, opened the brewery in 2010. They put in time and sweat to get their brews sold in restaurants and tasting rooms throughout the Bay Area. The couple has worked just as hard to turn their tasting room's quirks into strengths. Customers there -- the room's size limits them to 10 at a time -- can sit inside at one of two tiny tables in a smartly decorated room where LaRocca trades jokes with customers and pairs their drinks with free gourmet cheese, crackers and pretzels. Or, they can sip the brews at one of three tables outside, next to the office park's parking lot.
As my night at Das Brew was winding down, Schutze and LaRocca gave me a tour of their brewing warehouse, where they use a host of ingredients -- including grains and yeast imported from Germany.
Schutze took a sip of Triple Blitz and pointed to the lacing -- the foam remnants that cling to the sides of the glass. "It's the aesthetics, a sign that you took great care in your brewing process," he said. "Most people don't give a damn about the lacing. We do."
Out & About is a monthly column that highlights the wildly underrated entertainment scene in the Tri-City and greater Hayward areas.
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
WHAT: Das Brew
WHERE: 44356 S. Grimmer Blvd., Fremont
HOURS: 5 to 8 p.m. weekdays, noon to 8 p.m. weekends
INFO: 510-226-9944 or www.dasbrewinc.com