Bill's and Jack's
By Bobby Bush
Buffalo Bills Brew Pub started business in 1983 and is the nation’s second oldest
operating brewpub, after Grant’s Yakima Brewing in Washington State. I first visited
this Hayward, California - 15 miles south of Oakland - establishment in 1990. It was
rough, to be nice, but the iconoclastic beers brewed by founded Bill Owens, an even more
irreverent, opinionated and unusual (read: straight-laced) man, made it the singular place
to drink great beer in the pioneer days of California microbreweries. A victim of his own
success, Bill sold the brewpub around 1994 to pursue other interests in the field of craft
Even though the new owners have given Buffalo Bills a thorough cleansing and
redecorating, not to mention a full menu, the small bar on B Street cannot deny its
heritage. The collapsed tank is gone but the big woolly buffalo head still peers from
above. And the beers remain true to form, upholding the legacy. White Buffalo was the
requisite beginner’s drink with Buffalo Brew the next step up to a pale ale. Nearly
full-bodied, Buffalo Special Bitter had a warm fruity flavor with bitterness only in the
aftertaste. At 6.5% abv, Tasmanian Devil, also served on cask, was a strong, cloudy gold
ale punctuated with sour/bitter finish and aftertaste. Almost black in hue, Belle Hop
Porter was topped by a brown frothy head. Taste sensation began with chocolate, chased
by roasted malt middle with a faint hint of cinnamon and a dry, short hop finish. Very
nice. Unfortunately, Alimony Ale - “the bitterest beer in America” - was not on tap. In
addition to their own beers, Buffalo Bills also provided a good selection of guest beers,
including Sierra Nevada’s Summerfest, Lind’s Zatez and Moonlight’s IPA.
The facelift, complete with tented beer garden, did not change history or
memories. Buffalo Bills is still the mecca for California beer aficionados.
We had time for one more Bay Area brewpub, this one about ten miles south
toward San Jose. The town of Fremont once sported a unique brewery called
Brewpub-On-the-Green. It fact, it bordered a golf course. Beers were mediocre until,
sometime in the early 90s, Bill Owens (yes him) was brought in as a consultant. The beer
improved. New owners changed the name to Fremont Brewing Company, but eventually
sold the establishment to land developers around 1995. It happens all the time in
California- the property was worth more than the business would ever make in profits.
But Fremont, I learned, now hosts another brewpub. Jack’s Brewing Company
Sports Pub & Grill opened for business in January 2000 in a former Bob’s Big Boy
building. Their shopping center locale fits the sports theme well. As do the beers. A tart,
no-lemon Hefe and a nice, somewhat estery Wheat started the line-up, which was quite
extensive for such a young brewery. Raspberry Wheat was oily, slightly sweet.
Copper-colored Amber offered a caramel taste and short finish, while Pale Ale was very
fruity with punctual hops near the end and a bitter follow-up. IPA had slick mouthfeel and
sweetly fruity flavor rushed by floral hops and almost enough bitterness.
Brewer Mike Peasley worked for a “San Jose microbrewery” (Gordon Biersch?)
before joining the Fremont team. Jack’s owners, Erica and Kurt Steadman, definitely have
a Gordon Biersch background. They’re joined by partners Krisy and Greg Wallace.
They’ve turned this pedestrian building into an engaging establishment. C-shaped, dark
stained bar welcomes guests. Tile floor, outside dinning in a wrought iron fenced
courtyard, the smell of delicious garlic fries, one of many selections from an exhaustive
appetizer list and plenty of televised sports. Jack’s may be on to something big.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush