Note: This column originally appeared in the January 1 issue of the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Drink more beer. That’s my New Year’s resolution, what’s yours?
OK, to clarify, my New Year’s resolution is to drink more beer from more places. You would be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of Santa Barbara’s beer and brewing scene than myself, and I’m always excited to see what’s next on the local horizon.
For instance, I’m very interested to see what home brewer-turned pro Josh Ellis can do in Goleta with his brewery opening this year called M. Special. And I’m equally curious about what Third Window Brewing Co. will look like when it opens this year at the corner of Haley and Laguna streets.
But sometimes, to better appreciate what we have here in town, it’s worth it to get out and hit the road (with a designated driver) and see what other areas have to offer.
I recently took such a trip with two people whom I know needed to get out and stretch their legs – Pure Order’s co-founders James and David Burge. The cousins have spent most of the past year either in the brewery or out on sales calls, and every time I’d ask them if they’d had a beer from here or there, it was always the same response: “Haven’t had a chance yet.”
So we got a car and driver for the day and headed south. The first stop was to Carpinteria and the brewLAB.
The nano-brewery wasn’t open, but they didn’t mind letting in some fellow brewers to talk shop and taste a few beers. It helped that James and Dave brought a small growler of their own beer to share.
The brewLAB is insanely small for a production brewery, and right now co-owners Steve Jarvie, Rob Peed and Peter Goldammer are barely making enough beer to supply their own taproom – but my oh my is it amazing beer.
We could have spent the whole night cleaning out their supply of beer, but our goal was to broaden our horizons further, so we kept pushing farther south. We didn’t go too far, though, as the next stop was just down the road at the newly opened Rincon Brewery brewpub in downtown Carp.
We managed to steal away brewer Shaun Crowley to talk about the beer, and we traded another growler for some pretty nice Rincon Brewery hats. After a few beers – the Warrior Pride Red and Indicator IPA were favorites – and more than a few orders of the pretzel bites with bacon and cheddar dipping sauce, we were back on the road.
Every time I drive south to Los Angeles, I try to make a pit stop at Institution Ale Co. in Camarillo. James and Dave had never been, and that needed to be rectified.
The small brewery, located in an industrial park not far from the Lewis Road exit off the 101, has been turning out some of Southern California’s best beer since it opened and recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
We got in just before the taproom opened for the evening, which was nice because Institution tends to fill up quickly. The three of us shared a bottle of the First Anniversary beer, a barrel-aged strong ale with lots of complexity and nuance that was almost too much for our palates at that point.
Our next and last stop was even farther south in Agoura at Ladyface Alehouse and Brasserie. I’m not sure what I expected, but the actual pub was nicer than I imagined.
Most brewpubs have a certain feel – often an industrial one – that is hard to appreciate. Ladyface felt more like a nice restaurant. The beer and food were lovely, but even nicer was a chance to chat with and meet one of the pub’s managing partners, Cyrena Nouzille.
If I had to, I could probably settle on any one of those breweries as the only brewery for me for the rest of my life – but I don’t have to, and that’s the point. Santa Barbara is great, but we have a tendency here in the American Riviera to become a bit insulated.
For 2015, I encourage you to get out of the bubble and provide your palate with a little outside context. You’ll be glad you did.
Sean Lewis is a beer drinker, beer maker and the author of “We Make Beer: Inside the Spirit and Artistry of America’s Craft Brewers” (St. Martin’s Press). His column appears the first Thursday of the month. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_M_Lewis.