If you’re in the Carpinteria area this Sunday, come to Island Brewing at 1:30 with a couple items of canned food and begin the Volksmarch with me and the Carpinteria beer community. We’ll be walking from Island to Rincon to the brewLAB — it’s a 2.1-mile trek and you’ll get to try the two new breweries in town — Rincon and brewLAB.
But before you do that, let me tell you a little bit about these new breweries.
First, let’s start with Rincon.
Rincon is the new spot for former Island Brewing head brewer Shaun Crowley. Located at the corner of Linden St. and Carpinteria Ave, it’s a warm, bright brewpub with a couple televisions for games and a sandbox on the patio for young kids. The atmosphere is one of the coziest and warmest for a brewpub I’ve seen — certainly a nice departure from the industrial metal shop vibe some breweries project.
The food is fantastic, although I’d have to take points off the burger for having a pretty small meat-to-bun ratio. Flavor-wise, it’s dynamite though.
The beer is well-made. I believe that most of the beers I’ve had are early batches, and I’m sure Crowley is in the process of refining recipes and getting to know his shiny new 15-bbl Premier Stainless system. For me, that showed in the IPA, which was fine and clean — and relatively clear for an unfiltered beer (which all of RIncon’s beers are) — but didn’t blow me away with hop aroma or bitterness. Don’t get me wrong, I could probably drink it all day and be happy, but it wasn’t the star of the show for me.
I did love the Warrior Red Ale, however. If it were me, I’d call it a Red IPA, because this beer did have the bright hop aroma I hoped for in the IPA. It was bold and flavorful in all the ways I wanted.
I also liked the Saison, which was honestly a touch sweeter and stronger than I prefer, but super flavorful with that beautiful peppery smell of a classic saison. Similarly, I enjoyed the Blonde, which is a Belgian-style Blonde and not a Kolsch or light lager or super pale ale that you might get at other breweries. A real nice touch by Crowley and Rincon.
But the real star for me was the Oatmeal Stout, served on nitrogen.
Holy cow, this is a fine beer. Roasty, smooth, sweet in the smallest way. I don’t want to ruin it with too much description. It’s good. Drink it.
Look, I love Island Brewing. I love the atmosphere, the vibe and I love the beer. In fact, I’ll take a growler of Jubilee Ale right now please. Blackbird porter, Starry Night Stout? Give me more. Thanks.
And clearly, I like Rincon too.
But the brewLAB? They’re making the best beer in Carpinteria. And there’s no way in hell that that should be the case.
Let me elaborate, the boys at brewLAB — Rob Peed, Steve Jarmie and Peter Goldammer are home brewers with no experience running and operating a brewery. They’re still brewing 10 gallons at a time (at least at the time of my visit — it’s possible they’ve begun operating on their home-made 55-gallon system by now) and there’s essentially no temperature control for their fermentation vessels (glass carboys).
You’d expect off-flavored messes from a setup like this. I know I expected, cloudy, murky, green-apple-y, generally bad beer. How could they expect to compete against gold-medal-winning breweries like Island and Island’s former brewer at Rincon with their ramshackle equipment?
I don’t know, and I don’t care. Whatever they’re doing is working.
First, these guys are smart. Not only do they understand the concepts of beer-making and recipe formulation that go into a good beer, but they understand how to work within their limitations. Peed is a fan of throwing brettanomyces in as many beers as possible, and they’re all adept at brewing saisons, a beer that doesn’t necessarily need the strict temperature control of a pale ale or a lager. But even the Belgian IPA I tasted and a Rye Pale Ale were delightfully (and surprisingly) clean and error-free.
I’d like to give recommendations for beers to try, but their small system necessitates that the tap list changes drastically. So instead I’ll just give brewLAB a general thumbs up all around. If there’s a saison or a beer fermented with brett on the menu, drink it. Same thing if you see something with rye… or ginger or green tee. Shit, drink whatever they put in front of you — it’s going to be good.
Oh — and the space, in an industrial park just off the 101 freeway on Carp Ave., has a real garage-brewery feel and is chock-full of home-made touches that Peed, Goldammer and Jarmie crafted to adorn the brewery. They’re open Fridays and Sundays for now, but will likely extend those hours once their production levels pick up.
Captain Fatty’s, located at Calle Real and Los Carneros Rd. in Goleta, won’t be on the Volksmarch, but it’s also a new member of our beer community here and I’d be remiss not to mention it.
Brewer Preston Angell and his partners, Jon Wadell and Bryan Anderson, have a cool space in the business park there with a great little kids corner for the little ones to play with toys, draw on the chalkboard walls and watch kids movies on the TV.
Like at brewLAB, Angell is working on a small system, although his is a step up in the professional scale. It’s a 1-barrel MoreBeer HERMS system and the beers are fermented in stainless steel conical fermenters inside a temperature-controlled shipping container (kind of a cool touch. The brewery’s cold-storage is also inside a shipping container with the bar’s tap handles drilled into the side).
I really enjoyed Angell’s brown ale, which was a hit all around. Slightly nutty, slightly roasty and sweet with just the right amount of hop profile — it was my favorite of the eight beers on tap when I visited for the Grand Opening on Nov. 1. also enjoyed the blonde and IPA (when I went back to do interviews with Angell for a SB News-Press story, I went back to that IPA and brown ale).
Unfortunately, there were some real duds on the list. The Extra Pale Ale, which was described as something like a session IPA, had the signs of a fermentation that went out of control with some fusel acohols present, a little bit of green apples and an unpleasant bitterness. A good IPA (or Pale Ale, or Extra Pale Ale) needs a strong malt backbone to stand up to that level of hopping, and I just didn’t get that from this beer.
The Double IPA was big, bold and had an incredible aroma. As far as the recipe is concerned, this beer was dynamite. However, as it warmed up, some underlying off flavors (again, green apples) and a very strong alcohol heat (not surprising for a double IPA, but a little harsher than the best examples of the style) started to come through. I wouldn’t put this in the same category as the Extra Pale, but a few tweaks could probably make this beer one of the best Double IPAs in town alongside the Fig Mountain beers.
Similarly, the Saison was a little disappointing. It didn’t have any of those pepper and lemon notes that stand out in the style (and made Rincon’s so good), and I found out why when I spoke with Angell. It was fermented at the same temperature as the rest of his beers. Saison yeast loves warm temperatures, and I doubt Angell puts it in the cold box again next time. I look forward to revisiting this one to see how he improves it.
I think Angell is a very promising brewer. At 27, he’s the youngest brewer in town and with just three years under his belt he’s clearly still learning. True, there were some letdowns, but the beers that were good were very good. He reminds me of a skilled writer missing a skilled editor to help him out (if that sounds familiar, take a look through the archives here and start noticing the errors in these blog posts.). When he gets it down, Captain Fatty’s is going to be a great destination in Goleta.