IT WAS IN 1988 that the Tied House Cafe & Brewery opened its first location in Mountain View, paying homage to the romantic image of the English tied house system.
The brewery lived up to its historical roots — serving up 79-cent mini-pints on Thursday nights, selling beer by the gallon and giving customers a full view of the beer tanks. It wasn't just a pub, it was more like a giant beer hall.
Historically, the concept of tied means the brewery owns the pubs (or bars) that sell its beer, thus ensuring a steady market to sell their beer. And that's the way it worked at The Tied House.
After the Tied House's first location opened, more were opened in downtown San Jose and then in Alameda, although the Alameda location didn't last too long. But the other two have been South Bay institutions for 20 years, serving both good pub fare and tasty ales.
But the challenges of San Jose's downtown economy made life difficult for the brewpub on San Pedro Street. When the Sharks were playing hockey in town, the place was filled to overflowing. Most other nights, the 11,000-square-foot cavernous cafe seemed almost empty, making it difficult to staff and remain profitable. Something had to be done.
South Bay beer shuffle
Another South Bay brewery, Coast Range, filed for bankruptcy last year after 13 years making some great beers, yet constantly struggling to find customers. Its original brewer, Peter Licht, had been there since the beginning. Licht found a new home brewing at the San Jose Tied House — and even introduced a new cask beer every Friday, dubbing those days as Firkin Fridays. Despite the infusion of new passion brought by Licht, it wasn't enough.
Last month, the San Jose location sold its last pint, a sad day for San Jose and for me personally. Thirteen years ago, my wife and I held our wedding reception at the Tied House where I ran up the biggest bar tab of my life.
But that's not the end of the story. The brewing equipment has been moved to a former bakery warehouse at First and Phelan, near Spartan Stadium. The Tied House bought a bottling line from the Three Floyds Brewery in Indiana and it's on its way to San Jose right now. Licht is busy reinstalling the brewery apparatus to use as a production brewery, with plans to be up and brewing again by August.
Once open, the Tied House production brewery will be only the second such brewery in San Jose and only the third in the county.
Working in a joint venture with former Coast Range general manager Jeff Moses, several bottled beer projects will start flowing soon, including Boxer Brews CruiserWeight Ales, the Coastal Fog line of beers for BevMo, and a new black IPA beer dubbed Ménage a Singe, which means "a house full of monkeys."
According to co-founder and brewmaster Ron Manabe, by fall we can expect to see the Tied House's own beer in bottles, most likely their amber ale and possibly some of their seasonal offerings. Moses, who'll be spearheading the efforts of the production brewery, says the goal is to "take a contract brewery and make it a great brewery, too." He doesn't want to compete with the big regional microbreweries, but instead hopes to create "unique beer brands under different brand names with interesting flavors (and) packaging that are personality driven."
Moses believes the "beer business is now attracting smart, creative people that 20 years ago might have done something else, but now that craft beer is a first-class beverage we're getting first-class brewers and first-class consumers. This is different from the big breweries, who are all about market share. Craft brewers are anarchists; they want different, they want chaos, they want great beer."
Homebrewing is the ultimate "do it yourself" project for beer lovers. The entire homebrewing world will descend Thursday through Saturday on Oakland for the annual National Homebrewers Convention at the Marriott City Center in downtown Oakland. The convention, sponsored by the American Homebrewers Association, will include seminars, talks and panel discussions for both beginners and seasoned homebrewers. If you have ever considered taking up brewing your own beer, this is the place for you to come and learn more about it. You can find out more at their Web site: www.beertown.org/events/hbc/.