Beer brings people together
Suds and community spirit abound at Jane's Beer Store in Mountain View
A pristine Harley-Davidson motorcycle glimmers in the front window of Jane's Beer Store in Mountain View while rows of bottled beers, ciders and meads rise behind it like sentinels.
The store's founder, Jane Thipphavong, used the Harley in a promotional video she posted on Indiegogo, an online funding platform that helped her drum up the financial support she needed to get the shop afloat. Now the bike serves as a symbolic reminder of how public support allowed the beer connoisseur's entrepreneurial dream to become a reality.
"I wanted to build a community beer store," she said. "To give people the opportunity to feel like they were part of the store."
The store itself is something of a beer-lover's paradise, modest in size but well stocked. Shelves stacked with a variety of single-bottle beers make up the store's centerpiece, flanked by two large refrigerated cases on each side. Patrons eager for a diverse selection of brews can create their own six packs or buy single bottles.
Quirky quotes written in chalk adorn the tops of the refrigerated cases, such as W.C. Fields' tongue-in-cheek comment, "A woman drove me to drink and I didn't even have the decency to thank her." Another quote from an anonymous author exclaims, "I don't get drunk, I get awesome."
A display highlighting holiday brews, such as the Bad Elf Winter's Ale (capped with a tiny Santa hat), dwells near the Harley. Meads and ciders are at the rear of the store, as are other beer-related goodies — glassware, coasters and handcrafted items such as beer soap and bottle-cap earrings.
"Eventually I want to start selling more beer schwag," Thipphavong said. "Right now we're just brimming with beers."
Brimming indeed — Jane's Beer Store carries hundreds of different brews, both domestic and imported. Thipphavong said about half of the domestic brews are from California-based breweries. A sampling of some of the beers available at the store on a recent Wednesday come from as diverse locales as their names might suggest: Dogfish Head from Maryland, Hopageddon from Napa, Three Philosophers from New York and Yeastie Boys from New Zealand, to name a few.
Familiar beers like Spaten and Anchor Steam are available, but don't expect to find Coors Light or Budweiser. Fans of non-alcoholic beers will also be disappointed — the store doesn't carry any. The store specializes in craft-style, artisan beers. And while Thipphavong herself favors darker beers, she knows everyone's preference is a little different.
"Beer is all personal taste," she said.
That personal taste might lean more toward lighter, pilsner-style brews like Spaten; medium-colored ales and IPAs (India pale ale); or the darker stouts, a la Guinness. Belgian ales and hop-heavy beers with high alcohol content — such as the Sierra Nevada-produced Hoptimum or Hop Stoopid from Lagunitas Brewing Co. — are also gaining popularity.
There is a warm, comfortable demeanor about the soft-spoken Thipphavong. She was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and went to school in New York before moving to the Bay Area nearly 10 years ago. She said that initially she wanted to start a beer-oriented, speakeasy-style bar that she and her friends could enjoy. But funding challenges forced her to take a different route, and soon the idea for Jane's Beer Store was percolating. Thipphavong, who said she has done a fair amount of home-brewing with a friend, is consistently expanding her knowledge of the craft and enjoys sampling various beers when venturing outside of the Bay Area.
"I've always made it a point in my travels to visit different breweries," she said.
Her store opened in June but she said it is still "in open house mode," with an official grand opening expected in the coming months. Thipphavong, who also works at NASA, is discovering new difficulties and benefits in owning the store, such hiring the right staff. She still considers her affection for beer a hobby, albeit a hobby that has evolved.
"There are many hats you wear being a small business owner," she said. "When you're young you 'play store.' This is the adult version."
The personal touch Thipphavong brings to the store is evident as she talks to customers about different ales and stouts they might find enticing. And the community undertone is clear as she points out wooden coasters made by a staff member's father and beer glasses etched by Thipphavong herself. Back by the Harley, a plaque hangs on the wall as a thank you to those whose contributions were paramount to the store's opening.
"(Community) embodies the spirit of the store I was trying to create," she said.
Jane's Beer Store
720 Villa St., Mountain View