Before kids, we used to go to the Tied House Brewery, both in Mountain View and San Jose, as well as at the Shark Tank (go Sharks!). We thought we'd give it a try again (about 20 years later?), and see if it held up to the level of our memories of it...
The ambiance was much as I remembered, except there were a lot of somewhat obnoxious Google employees at a big table near the entrance. It was still family friendly, and welcoming. The service was, just as we remembered it, super slow. The location really is quite nice, with the brewery showcased behind glass walls, in close proximity to the kitchen, and a very open feeling to the whole place.
For dinner, I ordered the salmon fish and chips. Seabright Brewery has the best salmon fish and chips I've ever had, beer-battered panko breading, with a wonderful thai-inspired peanut slaw, and wasabi tartar sauce; this is my staple when I go there. So it's no surprise that I wanted to see how the Tied House version stacked up. Turns out: not so much... The breading was mushy, and with clearly just a flour-based breading, rather than panko. Plain tartar sauce and a limp, uninspiring cole slaw. My wife's salad wasn't anything to write home about either. I should have gone with the pub burger - it's hard to mess up a pub burger...
But of course Tied House are all about the beer, so I did a 6-piece sample paddle. They give you 6-ounce glasses, which is way too much, but you get what you get. At first, the server thought they were out of the pale ale, so the picture below does not include that one; later he discovered they had some, so brought me one.
Here are my thoughts as transcribed that evening during sampling (some, erm, more coherent than others), in the order from left to right in the picture:
Hermitage 408 session IPA - quite like, wonderful fruity floral citrusy nose, sharp hop taste with lingering aftertaste, lacking in malt flavour, but light and refreshing and very drinkable
Hermitage Hoptopia ipa - hoppy, slightly grassy. no nose to speak of, but nicely carbonated and refreshing
Hermitage Citra IPA - ick! Smells like cat pee and tastes like too much citra
Tied House Oatmeal stout - slight coffee taste, but creosote aftertaste
Tied House Cascade amber - quite like, probably best of the original paddle; good malt to hop balance with definite cascade shining through
Tied House Villa Street Pale Ale (Not pictured, as it came late) - favourite, similar in taste to Sierra Nevada, but a wee bit of citrus undertaste. mildly hoppy, balanced overall
Apparently Hermitage is their expansion brewery, where they do more experimental stuff, and also where they brew most of their IPAs. Not sure why they needed a separate brewery brand for that. In days gone by, Tied House tended more towards the malty, rather than the hoppy, so I suspect it was essentially a difference of opinion or approach that led to having two breweries. I think I get that, as over-hopping can often be a way to hide lack of malt complexity, so IPAs and stronger-hopped brews can be seen as a cop-out, even though I know personally that a good IPA can be quite challenging to brew. But this is all speculation, and from a consumer's perspective, it's just confusing. There would be no harm in branding the IPAs as Tied House, even if they are not brewed on-site (as long as this is explained on the menu).
Overall, it was a mixed experience, with some highs and some lows. The Cascade Amber was a very drinkable, approachable beer, and I recall it being my favourite from tied House long ago; I would not hesitate to recommend this brew to anyone going to Tied House.