After spending seven weeks in a Chicago hostel to study brewing science at the Siebel Institute of Technology, then additional time learning abroad at Doemens Academy in Munich, Germany, Ross Kelly returned to South County determined to make his own mark.
“I knew I wanted to open my own brewery,” said the 2006 Live Oak High School alumnus. “I knew by the time I was 20, 21 years old that I wanted to do this. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for the last 10 years.”
Kelly knew exactly where to turn and, with a soft opening in November 2018 followed by a grand opening in March 2019, he opened the doors of his very own Kelly Brewing Company at 70 E. Fourth Street in Morgan Hill.
“It was great. We were packed,” said the 30-year-old brewmaster and local business owner who grew up in San Martin. “It’s really cool to see people’s reactions to the beer we make.”
The 5,000 square foot brewery and taphouse—completely remodeled with the help of his father Dave Kelly and contractor Brandon Kuskie—also has an additional 1,400-square-foot outdoor patio area for live music and additional seating.
“I like Morgan Hill. I like this community and I thought Morgan HIll could use a place like this,” Kelly said. “I found this building and just took a leap of faith and went for it.”
The sleek main bar top is made of Ponderosa Pine, and the tables and chairs are all refurbished and topped with maps of Ross Kelly and his fiancee/front house manager Sophie Snook’s favorite hiking and travel spots. It’s truly a family affair, with Kelly’s grandfather having donated a shuffleboard table to the business. There’s also a pool table inside.
“I finally feel like I can breathe now,” said Kelly, who worked every day for a year to complete all the renovations and be able to introduce Kelly Brewing to the public. “I took one weekend off in the whole process. It feels good to be able to breathe.”
Three days a week, Kelly is in the back, brewing a unique style of beer that takes a meticulous purveyor to complete successfully. He uses an open fermentation process, similar to San Francisco-based Anchor Steam but on a smaller scale. Kelly uses a seven-barrel system to produce 200 gallons of beer per day and 600 gallons per week.
“I think it makes a better tasting beer,” said Kelly of why he chose the challenging open fermentation process where he can reuse the yeast strain because of the healthy environment that must be kept at all times. “We’re unique in our brewing process. It’s more labor intensive.”
With a higher risk of infection, Kelly hand cleans every single tank by climbing inside. “That’s why most people don’t do it,” he explained. He was sold on open fermentation after visiting and training with Alan Pugsley at Shipyard Brewing in Maine.
“I wanted to see with my own eyes, see how to do it,” said Kelly, who previously worked at Clandestine Brewing and Strike Brewing, both in San Jose, to learn the ins and outs of the business.
Kelly Brewing has 12 beers on tap that flow straight from the barrels in the cooler in the back of the brewery. Patrons are allowed to bring in their own food to enjoy with the beer. Ricky’s BBQ is on the grounds serving up grub Wednesday through Sunday.
“Brewing beer is both science-y and artsy at the same time. It’s a labor and I like to labor,” Kelly said. “I also like to be at the computer where I design recipes and then see how they come out.”
Who: Owner Ross Kelly (2006 Live Oak HS grad)
What: Kelly Brewing Company (12 ale-style beers on tap)
Where: 70 E. Fourth Street, Morgan Hill (kellybrewco.com)
When: noon-10am M-Th, noon-12am Fri-Sat
What’s on tap?
Captain Ahab/Cream Ale/5%ABV
China Wall/Double IPA/8%
Palomino Pale/Extra Pale Ale/6.2%
One Way Ticket/Irish Stout/4.6%
Right Turn Clyde/British Brown/4.7%
Rumble Seat/Wheat Beer/4.7%
Dr. Chinook/Single Hop IPA/6.7%
Pruneridge Manor/Winter Special/7.7%
The Raven/Amber Ale/5.8%
Simple Jack/Ordinary Bitter/3.9%
Pony Ride/American IPA/6.6%