I’ll admit it, I wasn’t always sold on Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company.
My first experience with the brewery coincided with my first weekend back in Santa Barbara. It was October, 2010, and this upstart brewery had a booth at the annual Santa Barbara Beer Festival at Elings Park. With their Hoppy Poppy IPA and Hurricane Deck Double IPA available, they seemed to me like every new brewery out there — coming in with big, boozy offerings but maybe not with the expertise to make truly impressive beer.
Four years later, I stand corrected.
Fig celebrated its Fourth Anniversary in Buellton on Nov. 27, and over that time span the brewery has emerged as not just one of the better breweries on the Central Coast, but in the country.
With the addition of a couple new tanks recently, Fig is producing beer at a rate of 20,000 barrels per year (big for a local brewery, but still small when you consider that Firestone Walker brews 10 times that amount — and three times that amount of its 805 alone).
“(The growth) was expected, but years from now,” Figueroa Mountain founder and CEO Jaime Dietenhofer said. “I’d be lying to tell you on the business plan — it wasn’t there. The hockey stick growth came sooner than expected.”
It’s hard to separate the growth and success of Fig from its former brewmaster, A.J. Stoll. Stoll was brought in very soon after the brewery opened, and helped develop an award-winning beer portfolio — including 11 medals at the Great American Beer Festival under his watch.
But Stoll is gone, or at least mostly gone as he will still be a part of the brewery’s development in Germany, where it plans to open a taproom. So what exactly does the future look like for Fig?
For one, Fig recently opened a taproom in Santa Maria to go with its satellite brewery in Santa Barbara, taproom in Los Olivos and of course the main facility in Buellton. There will also be satellite breweries capable of producing unique beers in Arroyo Grande, Westlake Village and San Luis Obispo in the near future as well.
“A taproom on the moon,” Dietenhofer said. “No, the big thing with the taprooms is a regional goal to be able to have a footprint from Paso Robles to Westlake. That was our focus. Our goal is to not continue on the taproom gig. Our goal is to reach a capacity where we can come up with new, compelling beers. There was a time during our growing pains that we couldn’t come up with new beers because we had to focus on our core beers. We want to keep making new beers to stay on the cutting edge.”
As for the brewing side of things, former head brewer Mike Hastings was bumped up to director of brewing operations, and he will oversee a team of brewers that will meet today (Dec. 4) for Fig’s first-ever Brewer’s Round Table — a collaborative session designed to get a mixed range of voices into the brewing process.
“Before A.J. left, the good thing was that we were able to have a lot of good hires,” Dietenhofer said. “Knowing that we were having growth we were able to bring on four or five head brewers that were head brewers at other locations. We built a team rather than having just one person at the top.
“We built a collaborative, and we called it the Brewers’ Round Table. December 4 is our first Brewers’ Round Table where it’s everyone has the ability to add something — whether it’s an anniversary beer, a taproom beer or even taking something to package. Its like we were talking about before taking the best people available like an NBA draft and getting them into our team and seeing what we can do with a team. Two heads are better than one and five heads are better than one. I think that’s going to take us to the next level. A.J. was an amazing part of the team and now we have some guys who can shine now and are ready to.”
As for the 4th Anniversary beer itself, I’ll let Hastings explain it.
“This beer had an excellent start,” he said. “It was a great, great beer. The whole idea of our fourth anniversary and all the years of the hard work to bring it up to a high level, why not do a Belgian Quad?”
Get it? Four years… Quad — clever.
The beer is a barrel-aged Quad with a slight hint of figs from a locally-produced natural fig extract. It’s a beautiful dark brown with ruby highlights when held up to the light.
To be honest, I’d have liked to see a little more from the beer. Compared to the bourbon-barrel-aged Imperial Oatmeal Stout that was the 3rd Anniversary, this beer is a little pedestrian — if a well-made Quad can be considered such. It’s not that it’s a bad beer, very far from it, but perhaps not as exciting as you might expect for a once-a-year offering. In fact, I enjoyed the cask version available during the anniversary party that was aged on smoked poplar wood, figs and anise better.
Still, I’ve got a bottle in my fridge and I’ll be looking forward to seeing how it stands up to the test of time. I wouldn’t mind seeing a version of it, perhaps not barrel-aged for production reasons, available on a more regular basis at Figs’ numerous tap rooms.
It’s been a strong four years for Figueroa Mountain, and I know they’ve won over many of their doubters like myself. I look forward to seeing what the next four (and hopefully more) years bring.