There’s a mantra at Camino Brewing that says, “Beer brings strangers together.” In a sprawling area of over 1 million residents, the city of San Jose has a surprisingly low number of craft breweries — ten, to be exact. The majority of locals spend their days on tech campuses, in their cars battling the notorious South Bay traffic, or in their homes in the suburbs. With the wave of new craft breweries around the country beginning to resemble community centers more than the bars they are classified as, a new community centric brewery is exactly what the people of San Jose both needed and deserved.
Camino Brewing opened its doors to the San Jose public for the first time just a few weeks ago, with the simple intent to provide a space for the community to gather and engage.
“All Roads Lead to Beer”
Founders Allen Korenstein and Nathan Poulos conceptualized the idea of opening up their own brewery back in 2009 while they were cycling together on the famous pilgrimage called El Camino de Santiago (known in English as “The Way of Saint James.”) The journey, which spanned a total of 1,900 miles, took them through different monasteries and villages as they biked from the French Pyrenees to the beautiful mesas of Spain. Thousands of people come together on the trail every year to make the trek either by bicycle or on foot, and the collective experience gives rise to a remarkable exchange of cultures and conversations. It was here that Poulos, who had been passionate about homebrewing for about a decade, got the inspiration for his own beer label and realized that his dream of opening up a craft brewery could become a reality.
Thus, the brand of Camino Brewing Company was born, and it truly embodies the essence of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage: bringing like-minded people together. Together, Korenstein and Poulos seek to create a space where people can meet, talk, and enjoy a moment with no other worries.
“We’re all on a journey, right?” says Korenstein. “We’re all coming from some place and going someplace else. Maybe something happened to you and you have a story to tell — and there’s no better way to do that than when you’re sitting around having a beer.”
Before the opening on April 7, the two were distributing Camino bottles through dozens of different retailers such as Costco and Whole Foods in addition to local restaurants and markets, all the while keeping up with their full-time jobs and families. Their original dream of opening a taproom finally came true after years of planning, after they converted an old auto body shop into the beautiful taproom it is now. The space is teeming with natural light that illuminates the stunning woodwork of the tables, benches and bar stools. Long, glass lights hang over the bar, adding to the trendy but minimal atmosphere of the place. Their branding symbol of choice is a seashell, which lends to the laid-back, beachy tone of the inside. Not only is the entire vibe of the place guaranteed to inspire your inner traveler, but so will the stories you’ll hear from the people inside.
Serendipity From the Start
The construction of the taproom was met with a number of fortuitous coincidences. The property stands on the original El Camino Real trail, which was the historic path connecting the Spanish missions, pueblos and presidios stretching all the way from San Diego to Solano. The footpath has since been paved over and renamed by major roads, including 1st Street in San Jose: the very street that Camino Brewing now sits on.
Another feature that gives an unexpected nod to the brewery is the yard bordering one side of the taproom. The yard, which is slated to become a courtyard and beer garden shared with the future business next door, is currently connected to the old Victorian that once housed Faber’s Cyclery, a famous bicycle shop that stood for over one hundred years. The original mural from the bike shop can still be viewed on the side of the Camino building — a serendipitous feature that pays homage to the cycling journey to which Camino Brewing owes its inception.
The community response to Camino’s presence has been extremely positive. During the grand opening, hundreds of curious guests came together to celebrate San Jose’s newest craft brewery, as well as a large number of cyclists from the American Pilgrims on the Camino — an organization dedicated to supporting the pilgrimage — who stopped in to bring gifts from the Camino de Santiago that are now displayed in the brewery. The mayor also came by to cut the ribbon and show support for the new business.
The Path Ahead
Camino has come such a long way already — from the trails of Spain, to a widely distributed bottling program, and now to a taproom that is brimming with success in its first month of opening — but its journey is not yet complete. There is still a bit of construction left to do and more plans to be set in motion, such as getting live music consistently on the weekly calendar and setting up a food program. Korenstein also intends to convert the conjoined event space on the other side of the taproom into a storage area for their barrel aging sour program.
The brewery does not specialize in one type of beer, and instead experiments with dozens of different styles. On the current taplist alone there are ten different beers offered, all in a completely different style. While they do not emphasize one type of beer over another, they are interested in expanding their barrel aging program and offering more of those beers on draft.
“We have a passion for doing those kinds of really interesting, really delicious, high alcohol beers,” Korenstein says. “In the future, we think we’ll be doing a lot more of those.”
One of the bestsellers that put Camino on the map originally is the Cafe con Leche, a delectably creamy coffee milk stout made with Chromatic Coffee that is served everywhere from Avaya Stadium to local bars. If ordered in house, you can sample it in a flight served on a paper placemat that is covered in colorful stamps that emulate the stamps pilgrims receive on the Camino de Santiago as they carry their special passport books from town to town.
Camino Brewing truly is a place where people from all walks of life can come and have a conversation, share stories, play board games, or just enjoy the atmosphere with any type of beer to fit their mood or preference. Korenstein feels that in many places, you can go in for a drink but still feel lonely, and this is not the experience he wants the brewery to reflect.
“When you experience the Camino, it takes you someplace different,” Korenstein explains. “Those kinds of experiences in life that we really desire is where the Camino takes you — friends tasting something delicious, having good conversation — that’s what we all want.”