In the past, it would not have occurred to me to go beer tasting at 8:30 in the morning. But Fran and Sean Fitzharris, owners of Brewery Twenty Five in Hollister, had that time slot open, it was a beautiful morning, and it seemed like an interesting way to start the day.
We met at their home, high on a hill outside of Hollister. Their brewery, founded in 2014, is directly behind their house; a large red shed filled with stainless steel tanks. Work and home are next to inseparable for the Fitzharrises and that’s the way they like it.
“We both shared a love for craft beers and loved the stories of the small breweries in Santa Cruz,” Fran said. “We traveled a lot and always looked for breweries to visit. And we home brewed for a while. It was a case of trying to find your passion in life and for us, this was our passion.”
They dug deep into the business side of beer making before opening their own place, talking to successful brewers and seeking out the owners of breweries that had failed.
“We wanted to get the good, the bad, and the ugly about brewing before we did anything,” Sean said. “We combined what we saw that was successful and we took in all the warnings of what could go wrong.”
They learned the processes gradually, starting with home brewing five to 15 gallons of beer at a time, using high-end home brewing equipment that mimicked the more professional equipment they use today.
“There are certain things you learn as you scale up,” Sean said. “But it is mostly a question of just dialing it into where you want things to be on the equipment you have. One challenge is to remove the things that cities put into the water, so there is nothing that will add any wrong flavors to your beers.”
It takes about three to four weeks to brew the beer they sell. With the demand they have locally for their beers, they work to keep all their tanks full with ever-changing varieties and styles of beer depending on the seasons.
There are 1,400 gallons of beer in the tanks at any given time. Each of their seven tanks hold beer at different stages of maturity. Beer is brewed in 200-gallon batches two to five times a week.
They named the brewery after Highway 25 as a way of identifying themselves as a local beer maker. They opened a tasting room in San Juan Bautista in 2018, as much to serve the public as to learn what their customers wanted in a beer. It also gives them a chance to teach visitors something about the beers they create.
“It was a way to tell our story,” Fran said. “I have been to beer bars where you look at the menu and there are a hundred different beers, with half the names impossible to pronounce. It is too intimidating. We wanted to be able to answer questions people may have about our beer and we hope it will help them find something new they will enjoy.”
Current selections from Brewery Twenty Five
Fuzzy Jules (5.0% ABV, $7.00). It takes 480 pounds of pureed B&R Farms apricots to produce seven barrels (or 217 gallons) of this wheat beer. “We use a neutral pale yeast that lets the other flavors in the beer come through,” Sean said. “There are not a lot of hops in this beer, so it really is all about the apricot.”
It’s a refreshing, light-bodied beer with an apricot tang and color. Sipping it mirrors the experience of biting into a fresh apricot. The slight foam gives you the sensation of an apricot’s fuzzy peel, followed quickly by a rush of apricot flavor that tapers off smoothly.
It’s a perfect summertime beer that would pair well with fresh fruit and Mascarpone cheese or a salad with grilled chicken and a fruity vinaigrette.
Buck Up Kölsch (4.7% ABV, $7.00). “Kölsch is an ale yeast,” Sean said, “but it expresses flavor closer to a lager, without the lagering process. It is not hoppy, intentionally, and is kind of a gateway beer for people who like American light lagers.”
The first thing I noticed with this beer was the aroma, which reminded me of a sauvignon blanc wine. But the taste is nowhere near what that aroma presents. It is bright and smooth from the first sip, with none of the sharp attack you can get from heavier beers. And it stays light and easy, with no lingering aftertaste.
It’s a beer you would enjoy while relaxing with friends. Fran refers to it as a “mowing your lawn beer.” If you were planning a get-together and wanted just one beer that everyone would enjoy, regardless of their devotion to either mass-produced beer or curated micro-breweries, this would be an excellent choice.
Lime in D’ Coconut Kettle Sour (3.3% ABV, $7.00). “This beer is a departure from the others we are tasting,” Sean said. “It’s a Kettle Sour, so think a tart beer with key lime and toasted coconut. Kind of like the piña colada of beers.”
Traditional sour beer can take years to make but kettle brewing can reach the right acidity level within two days. The result is more one-dimensional than traditional sour beer, but it lends itself to being blended with other flavors to create complexity.
This beer was the ringer in the tasting. There is a strong coconut aroma that hides the smell of the lime, but the two flavors show up clearly when you taste it. It is a slightly dense beer, with the consistency of a dark beer, but it’s brighter and easier to drink. The lime and coconut mingle perfectly with the beer’s primary flavor, with the three running alongside each other, more in cooperation than in competition for your taste buds. This is not a tiki drink—though you might get hints of piña colada. But it is an absolute joy to imbibe and would go well with salted, roasted almonds or your favorite cocktail snack.
No One Puts Porter in the Corner Porter (6.5% ABV, $7.00). “I don’t like to use the word ‘lighter’ for beer,” Sean said, “because people have so many different connotations when it comes to saying beer is ‘light.’ but this is not as heavy and viscous as a stout would be.”
This porter is a beer that immediately grabs your taste buds with a deep and complex chocolaty coffee flavor that comes from the roasted barley and the three malts used in making it. From the first sip, you get a sense it is saying, “If you are going to be drinking me, you are going to be paying attention to me.”
Fran enjoys this as a dessert beer, as she has a fondness for porter ice cream floats or drinking this with cheesecake. I am not big on beer for dessert, but I could see having this one with a warm slice of Dutch apple pie. It would go well with flavors that would challenge it, like chili con carne or grilled hot dogs as a lunch or dinner beer.
“This” West Coast IPA (6.8% ABV, $7.00). This beer is a collaboration with fellow beermaker Steve Donohue, who until recently owned Santa Clara Valley Brewing.
It’s another neutral yeast beer that puts the hops front and center, with a slight woody aroma with a lingering scent of pineapple. The hops are the source of the slight citrus flavor, and there is a low bitter note at the end that does not linger. The beer is intentionally brewed to be bitter, but it is very restrained and the flavor comes through clearly.
This would be a great beer to have with barbecued ribs but would also pair well with deep-fried foods, like fish and chips. It would also complement spicy Mexican food—tacos al pastor would be perfect.
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