Felipe Bravo and Wendy Neff are on the verge of opening their first brewery in downtown San Jose, Fox Tale Fermentation Project, a specialty nanobrewery on E. Santa Clara Street.
“We’re going to have a rotating selection of small batch beers, but the six that we’re going to launch with, those are beers that we’ve been working on for years,” Bravo explains.
Brewing professionally since 2014, Bravo started as a cellar technician, cleaning tanks and packaging beer. Eventually he became an R&D manager at Four Point Beer Company in San Francisco, where he was involved in the process of developing new recipes. “The next logical step for my career would be to open up my own brewery,” he says.
For both its owners, Fox Tale started as something of a side project. They’d work on recipes and share with friends, but it stayed within the territory of home brewing. There are restrictive laws on the books about selling alcohol that the couple weren’t prepared to contend with. “As someone who’s never run a business before, we started off slowly, gathering all the information that we could about how this would look,” Bravo says.
When the pandemic arrived, they suddenly had the energy to turn their side project into an actual brewery.
“We were stuck at home realizing that everything we thought we were going to be able to do was either put on hold or just done,” Neff recalls.
They had started experimenting with home brews in 2017. With more time on their hands, they came to a conclusion. They really cared about the project; why not put more work into it and have something to show?
Before going all in on Fox Tale, Neff used to work as a chef for Facebook. “I was running a superfoods program, and it was something that I thought was a long-term position,” she says. But she began to feel uncomfortable there and unhappy in her role. “I knew it wasn’t going to be the place I wanted it to be so I walked away from it to try a new path.”
Their first beer together featured an unlikely ingredient—beets. Bravo notes that it was a perfect marriage of both of their life experiences and passions. With Wendy’s background as a chef, she’d had experience making dishes with smoked and cured beets.
“There are a lot of sugars in beets, so we thought it would be a cool ingredient,” Bravo says.
They researched how best to incorporate the ingredient, and when the first batch came out they were impressed with its taste and presentation.
“The next logical thing we asked was, ‘What other weird ingredients can we use?’” Bravo recalls.
They decided to pursue a more culinary route, focusing largely on fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“There’s certainly a set of rules and steps you take in making a beer—you can’t really get too far out with your processes—so we stuck to the basic rules and experimented with the ingredients,” he says.
Some vegetables didn’t work but they learned to adjust the amount of hops or chang the grain to better complement their new flavors.
“We’re still developing different ideas on how to incorporate new ingredients, so that’s going to be a never-ending challenge,” he added.
As a fermentation project, Neff explains Fox Tale isn’t limited to beer. In addition to house-made kombucha and herb-infused mocktails, the chef will be pairing drinks with fermented food items.
“As someone who loves french fries and greasy pub food, I don’t love when it’s the only option available in the brew scene,” she says. “I’m excited about being able to share items that are really rich and helpful. You’re going to walk out feeling like, oh, wow. That was exhilarating to eat and I also still feel great.”
But rather than full meals, Fox Tale plans on serving small bites in the taproom.
“We’ll be showcasing the ferments we have to pair alongside the beers and put them next to things like fresh baked bread,” Neff says, “or a fresh salad with a house-made dressing. It’s really just a small showcase and a sampling menu of the products I make.”
Some of the lacto-fermented foods planned for Fox Tale’s menu include sauerkraut, kimchi, hot sauces and miso paste. Neff says that she’ll be making “really anything for you to come in and grab and take home to use in your own kitchen.”
Once they’ve settled in their space, she hopes Fox Tale will become a hub for recipes and cooking ideas—in addition to complex microbrews—a place where it’s possible to find ways to “incorporate these types of super healthy, amazingly complex flavors and ingredients into your everyday life at home, to add some good stuff to support your health.”
However, Neff admits that not everybody is used to eating fermented foods, and that it can be intimidating to the uninitiated.
“I do intend to start a conversation with people,” she says. “They’ll have a jar in their hand and ask, ‘What do I do with this?’ And I’ll throw some ideas to them.”
Bravo and Neff found the space on Santa Clara Street through a friend who works as a general contractor. They brought samples of Fox Tale beers to the owner of several downtown properties. He loved their product. They started to look at different spaces in July 2020.
“There was never really a rush,” Bravo says, though he adds that the process of looking forced them to consider many of the practical aspects of opening a business. Some of the spaces they considered didn’t have an adequate power source or baseboards strong enough to hold the weight of the brewing machinery. But they were committed, and signed a lease on their place in March of last year.
The goal is to be a truly sustainable fermenter, using as many local ingredients as possible by sourcing goods from nearby farms and in California generally. In all ways, Fox Tale hopes to stay fresh.
“Every time you come in, you might find something new and different that you haven’t tried yet,” Bravo says, adding, “We really want to have this cool pairing between the fermented food items and the beers that we have.”
Fox Tale Fermentation Project. Hours are pending the open date, which is still TBD. 30 E. Santa Clara St., Suite 120, San Jose. 408.216.0158. foxtalefermentationproject.com