Clandestine Brewing: No Longer A Secret
It’s tough to keep a good secret. Such is the case with Clandestine Brewing, which doesn’t advertise and has no marketing budget. Even finding it is hard, as Clandestine is tucked in the back of a small, nondescript industrial park in South San Jose.
Despite these obstacles, through word of mouth and social media lots of people have found Clandestine Brewing, to enjoy both unique and classically brewed beers in their tap room.
Clandestine Brewing is owned and operated by Adrian and Christine Kalaveshi, Rob Conticello, Colin Kelly and dWiGhT Mulcahy. All are long-time homebrewers with the exception of Christine, who handles the brewery communications. While they all yearned to brew beer professionally, it was a trip the National Homebrewing Conference in San Diego that ignited the spark.
“We visited Hess Brewing when we were down there,” recalls Adrian, who took the trip with Rob and Colin. “They were smaller than we are now. After seeing their operation, we realized we could do that too.” In the beginning of 2013, they were joined by dWiGhT, who returned to the Bay Area from Texas to start work at a Silicon Valley start-up. Having won numerous awards in homebrewing competitions, he was looking for a place to brew professionally, so he reconnected with the group he knew from his Bay Area homebrewing days and joined the Clandestine team.
It took a year of planning, getting all the permits and finding the right location.
“We cast a wide net for brewery locations all over the Peninsula and South Bay, looking for places that were heavy industrial and we could afford,” says Adrian. “We ended up in San Jose, which we found ready for craft beer.”
The next step was building the brewery. dWiGhT brought his one-barrel (31.5 gallons) brewing system from Texas. The crew put together refrigerated rooms, jerry rigging air conditioners to achieve precise temperatures. A water purification system was built to tame San Jose’s water, notorious for its high and variable mineral content that creates off-flavors in beer.
To generate publicity prior to their opening, they debuted at San Jose’s Meet the Brewers Festival in February 2014. They arrived with no fewer than 14 different beers, an incredibly audacious plan considering established breweries usually bring only a couple beers to any beer festival.
“Yeah, we realized afterwards that was too much,” concedes Colin.
The festival was still a big success and the Clandestine tap room opened in May to large crowds.
“We had to work some bugs out at first,” says dWiGhT. “We wanted to list all the beers on a chalkboard because we liked that look. But then to bring out a ladder, climb up to erase the chalkboard is pretty difficult in a crowded tap room. So we ended up using a TV screen instead, which we tied into our website.”
Adrian, Rob, Colin and dWiGhT all have day jobs at various software firms, so all brewing at Clandestine is done on weekends. The first brewing session starts Saturday morning in the tap room, and they must finish, clean up and clear out before the taproom opens at 2pm. Two brewing sessions occur Sunday, when the tap room is closed. That means Clandestine’s annual output is 150 barrels, or roughly what Sierra Nevada brews in hour.
Ask any of Clandestine’s brewers what they like to brew and they all say “everything.” However, press them a little further and certain specialties emerge. Adrian specializes in Belgian styles and sour ales. Rob tends to experiment with hops and re-creations of historical styles that were popular centuries ago but are rarely brewed today. Colin gets a lot of his inspiration from the beers he enjoyed in his hometown of Minneapolis. dWiGhT favors traditional German styles, since he spent the first 19 years of his life in Germany.
The result of this brewing ensemble is a rotating tap list of 12 beers that’s somehow both accessible and eclectic. There are usually one or two lighter styles like a Pilsner or Kölsch on tap. Hop heads will find at least a couple of hoppy IPAs. Those interested in beer’s early roots will find historical beers like a Gratzer, a largely extinct Polish beer brewed with oak-smoked wheat, which deftly balances lightness, a smokiness and slight sour tang. There’s usually a darker, malty beer like their Milky Way Milk Stout, a smooth drinkable stout with a flavor and profile similar to the candy bar, without being cloyingly sweet. There’s always a few experimental selections that possess a certain logic and method, rather than coming across as just weird homebrewing experiments.
The tap room is furnished rather simply with wooden chairs, tables and high stools in the industrial space, giving the place a feel of hanging out in your neighbor’s garage. Visitors set up picnics or tailgate in the parking lot and food trucks often stop by. Clandestine has begun brewing nonalcoholic sodas to accommodate a more family friendly atmosphere. Unlike most places where beer is served, there’s no television, allowing for ample conversation.
“We didn’t want to do the sports bar thing,” explains dWiGhT. At the bar you’ll probably be served by one of the brewers themselves, who’ll be glad to talk to you about what he just brewed. If you ask nicely, he might even take you on the brewery tour—which lasts all of about 10 minutes.
As for the Clandestine’s future, they just started selling growlers so you can take their beer home to enjoy. A two-barrel system will be online in April, allowing Clandestine to sell kegs to a select few bars and restaurants. They’re kicking around ideas to start bottling, open an additional location and move to a larger brewing system.
Summing up the last nine months, Colin says “We didn’t know what would happen when we started. We’re pleased about what happened, but then we’re where we wanted to be when we first started.”
Tap Room Hours: Fridays 4–9pm and Saturdays 2–9pm
Derrick Peterman is a brewing enthusiast who lives in Campbell and is endlessly exploring all the great beers and breweries of Northern California. An avid runner as well, he writes a blog of his adventures of beer (mostly) and running (sometimes) at “Ramblings of a Beer Runner” (Beer-Runner.blogspot.com).