This piece is part of our SJtoday Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.
Drink Up Week is chugging along wonderfully, and today we sat down with Allen Korenstein, Camino Brewing Co.’s co-founder and CEO. Camino is one of several local breweries creating a buzz in the San Jose beverage scene.
Keep reading to find out how he + co-founder Nathan Poulos got their start in craft brewing, the history of Camino’s location, and what he thinks San Jose will look like in 10 years.
These answers have been condensed for formatting purposes.
Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue the craft beer business?
A: It really all started in 2009, Nathan and I did a trip together [and] cycled all the way across Italy, France, and finished on the Camino Santiago pilgrimage trail up in the north of Spain. It was on that journey that Nathan and I started dreaming up a craft brewery, because he was a home brewer and [...] he kind of had this dream of turning it into a brewery that everybody could enjoy.
We sort of talked about it and dreamed about it while we were cycling around + sleeping in farmhouses, and eating + drinking at various bars and cafes along the way. When we got back about a year later, we started seriously talking about it, and then we started learning more about the craft beer industry. Things were really happening, and it just seemed possible that we could take that idea and his product and sort of use our adventures on the Camino as kind of a culture brand.
Q: What inspired you to open Camino Brewing Co. in San Jose?
A: There was a guy running for mayor back then — his name was Sam Liccardo. He hadn’t been elected, but he was putting on an event, so he invited the craft beer coalition to basically show up and do beer for this event. At that event, I met a local developer.
Not long after that, Nathan and I went over to our existing location and we kind of fell in love with it. We were into the aesthetic of a modern warehouse kind of vibe [...] but even more than that, there was this whole courtyard [...] and the story there was just like remarkable for us, because it was this bicycle shop, Faber’s Cyclery [...] which we just loved because of our bicycle journey — it just made a lot of brand sense to us.
But before it was a bicycle shop, it was a bar called Benjamin’s Saloon in the 1800s. So, you know, we kind of liked that idea of a wine bar, maybe some high-end cocktails — but basically preserving the character of the buildings [...] throw some of the bicycles back on the wall, put the original photographs up, and just have a good time.
Q: What do you wish San Joseans knew about the local beer industry?
A: I’m not sure that they know that there really is a local beer industry, right. There’s only a dozen or so breweries in this city of a million people, and so I think that number one, the awareness that we’re there and working hard everyday to make this great product.
There’s beer that has been manufactured all over the United States or the world. But the thing is, our beer is going to be the freshest beer that you’re going to find. So, we want the people of San Jose to be selective about their beer. If you’re a craft beer drinker, why are you really drinking anything else?
Then number two, all of these small breweries are the heart and soul of what this country is about. The journey of life — to actually follow a dream and make it happen against all odds — even through a pandemic. There are a dozen small businesses that are making craft beer that did not go under, and are really in need of support.
Q: In your own words, what is unique about Camino Brewing Co.?
A: I think the way that Camino goes about its creative process is very lively. You know, all of us are in communication together — we’re on this journey together, we’re on a path, we’re going somewhere, even if we don’t know exactly where we’re going. That brand story, that culture, is actually at the heart of our organization.
And so I feel good about the fact that we’ve got three gold medals now. The beer is really Nathan’s vision, and has roots to that same authenticity — it doesn’t taste that different from when we first brewed it 10 years ago. I think the authenticity of the flavors combined with the kind of unique sort of brand story that kind of echoes our journey — that liveliness is what makes us just totally different.
Q: Could you speak on the importance of Camino’s involvement with boosting local artists + makers?
A: One of the mottos of Camino is ‘beer brings strangers together,’ so we’ve always viewed what we do as being a community center. So we’ve opened up our beer garden to different artists and musicians, DIY makers, and others to be able to utilize the space in order to have a little bit of a way to maybe have a voice heard, to maybe have their work seen, when it’s really challenging to find venues.
I just think it’s important to be a part of the community to make opportunities available whenever we can. We do a beer donation, we’ve got a bunch of them. This year, we did one for ALS and one for Pink Boots Society to advance the careers of women in our industry.
Q: What is your favorite brew of Camino’s?
A: Follow the Arrow Bohemian Pils is my go-to.
Q: What was the last local business you stopped by?
A: I think the last local business I stopped by was probably Academic Coffee. I like their donuts, so [I got] a donut and just a black cup of coffee.
Q: We’re moving to Mars. You can only choose one other local business to bring with you — which one is it and why?
A: That’s a tough question. I think I’d have to say Chromatic Coffee, because we’re partners with them, you know? I mean, we’re gonna want to offer our coffee milk stout on the Martian continent. We’ve been friends with Chromatic for a long time. We’ve won a “Best in Class” gold medal for coffee milk stout for the entire Western United States in 2018.
Q: What do you think San Jose will be known for in 10 years?
A: My vision is that there’ll be some areas of San Jose, including my little neck of the woods down there off S. First Street, that really becomes sort of enclaves for food, beverage, music, fashion makers. You know, one of the things that doesn’t really exist in San Jose, particularly in the Downtown area, is that sense that makers, young creatives, people with entrepreneurial spirits can get some really interesting things going like you might find in Downtown Los Angeles.
So, I would love to see San Jose find its own sort of niche, of being able to support those kinds of creative environments that people just love.
Q: How can San Jose residents learn more about your history + support your business?
A: “Well, we would love to have you over at the brewery, first of all. We’re open six days a week, and on the weekends, we’re open from noon until 11 [p.m.] at 718 S. First St. By visiting our website, you can get a lot of information about the history of Camino, the brand, and community and private events.
You can make orders for either local delivery or pickup, which is our preference because me and Nathan are the ones doing the local delivery. When people come in and pick up beer, it gives them an opportunity to become a part of our community. So we like to see people’s faces when they come in.
If you’re interested in learning more about Allen or Camino Brewing Co., he encourages you to email him at email@example.com.