The Damm family’s Pinnacles Brewing Company label has been producing beer for a couple of years now, with most of their production offered at private events or for special occasions, like the San Benito County Fair’s 4-H Junior Auction.
Now, a selection of Pinnacle Beers crafted by veteran brewers Ralph Chavez and Jared Gill is available to the public every Sunday at the Damm Vineyards tasting room and event center, which opened on May 7.
“The goal is to keep six or seven beers on tap here,” Chavez said. “We don’t know what is going to happen down the road or if a bigger system is going to be needed. But right now, we’re able to keep up with the demand, and we are having fun.”
Chavez, a retired public service officer, might be better known to the community as one of Hollister High’s cross-country and track and field coaches. His love of brewing began around 10 years ago when, out on a run, he noticed a neighbor working with some unusual tanks.
“I asked him what that contraption was,” Chavez said, “and he told me he was making beer. I asked if I could join him some time and when I did, I just loved the whole process. I started reading everything I could read about the process and watched hours upon hours of YouTube just learning different styles and techniques.”
Chavez joined with his brother, Cuco Chavez, and a friend, Brian Kennedy, to form the Code 3 Brewing Company, the name being a nod to an emergency code used by firefighters and police officers—at one point, duties undertaken by the three brewers.
“Once we got comfortable with what we were making and thought we had a good product,” Chavez said, “we started sponsoring local events and donating our beer. We’ve been doing it for seven or eight years now, and it’s our way of giving back to our community. We feel very strong and passionate about that.”
Chavez grew up knowing the Damm family, but they connected together to make beer almost by chance when he installed a large water tank at his home.
“I needed good water,” he said, “and you can’t get better than what the Damm family sells. John Damm came up to look at that tank and asked me what I needed all that water for. I told him I was brewing beer, and he said, ‘Hey, we’re thinking of doing something like that!’ And the conversation started from there.”
The pandemic shut down the idea of brewing for a while, but Chavez began developing beers and sending samples to the Damms.
“Things evolved until we got where we are now,” Chavez said. “We are still trying to figure out how far we are going. We just have a one-barrel system now, which is very small for a brewery. We are not sure of what the turnover is going to be, so we are going through the motions now and getting a feel for it.”
On the day that I visited the tasting room, the Code 3 crew brewed seven of the 10 beers on the menu. The other three were brewed by another childhood friend of the Damm family, Jared Gill, a passionate home brewer who was responsible for the first Swank Farm Beers released in 2021.
“The Damms were looking for someone to help,” Gill said. “Ralph can’t brew all the time, and they needed someone to split up the duties and keep the taps full. So they reached out to me, and I told them I could help a couple of times a month.”
The first beer he brewed for the Damms was a plum cream ale made with fresh plums from his yard. “I had some in my freezer,” he said, “so I thought I might as well use them. It is an easy recipe because I wanted to be sure it was something I could not screw up.”
Unfortunately for me, the day I tasted at the winery, all three of the beers that Gill brewed, the plum cream ale as well as a mango cream ale and a German lager, were sold out. I did, however, try four of Chavez’s seven beers which have mostly names that are reflective of law enforcement.
The beers of Pinnacles Brewing Company
Ride Along Golden Ale (5.7%) – “It’s made to be refreshing and easy drinking,” Chavez said. “It is a step above a blonde ale, and it will have a little more flavor than a blonde ale.” Made with Cascade and Amarillo hops, it has a light aroma of jasmine, a nice fruitiness, a clean taste of grain and a slightly bitter burn at the end that quickly fades away. It is a relaxing beer that freshens and stimulates rather than challenges you.
Smooth Criminal West Coast IPA (6.8%) – “My go-to is a West Coast IPA,” he said. “I do like the rest of these beers, but if I’m gonna have a pint, that’s all I’m gonna have.” The aroma is inviting, and there are notes of lemon peel and pine that are enveloped but not overwhelmed by the bitter tones of the Warrior, Columbus, Citra, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops. It is a nice sipping beer, but for me, it would be splendid with a plate of barbecue or some Mexican food enjoyed outdoors on a quiet evening.
Damm Hazy Pale IPA (5.6%) – “A lot of hazy beers are brewed without bittering hops,” Chavez said. “We like to introduce them right at the end to just add a little of that flavor to it.” An inviting aroma of key lime pie gives way to an approachable and smooth beer, crisp with sweet tropical notes and a downturn of bitterness that finishes at the back of the throat. This was my favorite of the beers I tried that day.
Gunpowder Coffee Stout (6.5%) – “If it’s the end of the night,” Chavez said, “and just want something to drink sitting around a fire pit, this is a great beer to have.” I am not as big a fan of stouts, but this one does not have the burnt earth flavor or the heavy mouthfeel of a stout. It is deceptively light in tone and flavor, creamy, with just enough caramelized hops to give it a very rich darkness without making it come off as dense. The added coffee comes across more in the aroma than in the flavor, which arcs towards chocolate and toasted bread instead. Not my first choice of the four, but it had a certain charm I would be happy to revisit.
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