Farewell, Santa Barbara

Word has begun to spread already, so for many of Santa Barbara Beer’s readers this may be old news, but this will be likely the last post for this blog. It’s been a fun couple of years, but I’m moving out of the area and it wouldn’t make much sense to write about Santa Barbara beer and brewing when I live and work elsewhere.

There are plenty of projects ahead in the future, and those details when come out when they do, but for the moment let’s take a look to reflect on the past and current state of beer in Santa Barbara.

When this blog began in March of 2013, beer in the American Riviera was just beginning to take roots. Telegraph Brewing Company was in the process of expanding into its new and current location, Pure Order Brewing Company was still trying to get up and running and Island Brewing Company was the only option for beer in Carpinteria. Oh yeah, and no portion of Firestone Walker was owned by Duvel.

Two years later and not only was Pure Order up and brewing, but it is doing quite well. Telegraph continued its expansion and joined the contemporary beer scene with an IPA that stands along the best examples of the style in town. Not only does Island Brewing have some company in Carpinteria now, but it brewLAB and Rincon have proved to be impressive in their own right. As far as Island goes, the competition has seemingly only made the product coming out of the local area’s oldest production brewery that much better. Goleta’s Captain Fatty’s has become a family-friendly option in the area while Hollister Brewing Company continues to churn out Eric Rose’s typically impressive beer.

But not all developments have been unicorns and rainbows. Santa Barbara Brewing Company’s reviver, Kevin Pratt, said farewell to pursue other avenues. So too did Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company’s AJ Stoll, who is now back in the United States and plying his trade in Florida’s up-and-coming Funky Buddha. Oh yeah, and Firestone Walker “combined forces” with Duvel-Moortgat.

To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what that last sentence even means. A quick text conversation with David Walker, Jeffers Richardson and Jim Crooks confirmed that Duvel didn’t “buy out” Firestone Walker, but is definitely involved. To me, this sounds as though Duvel only bought a portion of the company — and not a controlling portion. All indications point to complete autonomy for Firestone Walker, but I’m sure as a major shareholder Duvel will want to ensure that the company remains profitable. Still, Ommegang and Boulevard have thrived under Duvel ownership, and I can’t imagine that Firestone Walker will be negatively impacted from its new partnership with the Devil.

If anything, I’m curious to see what Firestone Walker does with its new influx of cash. Along with the possibility of tapping into a larger distribution network, a deal of this type will likely provide the Paso Robles-based brewery with funds to take on new projects. The canning facility at the Paso campus is already a thing of beauty, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more beer come out in cans. Or perhaps some of the funding will go toward speeding up progress at the upcoming Venice location. This is all pure speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Firestone Walker increase its national footprint the same way we have seen Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, Lagunitas, New Belgium and a handful of others open new plants in other regions of the country. Or perhaps Firestone may take a similar route as Figueroa Mountain and open up smaller tasting or tap rooms in various locations. Maybe Barrelworks will get its own wort production equipment as well. Who knows? The point is that this new partnership should only bring positives for Firestone Walker and beer fans across the country — perhaps across the world. Duvel has proven it has the ability to invest in craft brands without tainting the product or the spirit of the company with its efforts with Ommegang and Boulevard, and it seems likely that Firestone Walker and its customers will only benefit from this new partnership.

I’m sad to leave Santa Barbara with its perfect weather and its rapidly expanding beer scene. I wish that I would have the opportunity to report on the openings of M Special in Goleta and Third Window in Santa Barbara. My departure from the community won’t slow down the growth that we’ve already seen, and I imagine the small void I leave will be filled soon by someone else.

It’s been a fun journey. Thanks for coming along for the ride.


Suds don’t stop at SB Border

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.


Fest Review: Deep Fest

I’ll admit, I was skeptical about the Surf N’ Suds Deep Fest Beer Festival at Carpinteria’s Linden Park this Saturday. To me, the second annual festival featuring local breweries (and some brands from out of state as well), surfboard shapers and local vendors had all the makings of a bro-fest with little more than flagship brands and standard offerings from everybody in attendance.

Now I have to really admit, I was wrong.

The one thing that wasn’t surprising was the pleasantness of the venue itself. Linden Park could host a manure festival and as long as there was a little bit of sun and that cool Carpinteria ocean breeze it would probably be a good time. There was ample space for the breweries and 1,000-or-so guests to amble about without having to immediately jump in line for the next tasting. As for the lines themselves, they were short enough that you could chat with a brewer or brewery rep as much as you liked — which is always a bonus for he geekiest beer geeks among us.

As for the beer itself, there were a few highlights that caught my eye:

Anderson Valley’s The Kimmie, The Yink & The Holy Gose was the first beer I tried upon entering the festival, and it was spot on. There was a sharp tartness that had a hint of lemon to it and was pleasantly effervescent on the palate.

Amazingly, that wasn’t the only Gose on hand at Deep Fest. The Libertine Pub from Morro Bay was on site with its What Gose Around, a collaboration with New Belgium Brewing Company. The small Morro Bay brewpub took a keg of sea water from Morro Bay out to Colorado to brew this collaboration with America’s second largest craft brewery, and the end result was a pleasant, tart Gose that was less sour than the Holy Gose, but still tart enough to have a nice refreshing quality.

Libertine also brought its Summer Breeze, and American Wild Ale made with Apricots and Raspberry. The fruit and funk were well balanced with one another. In another setting, I’d have liked to sit down with a tulip or two of this beer until my cheeks were permanently puckered from too much sour ale.

I was also intrigued by an Imperial Stout from J.T. Schmidt’s, which was my first introduction to the brewery. It wasn’t terribly boozy tasting or loaded with raisiny melanoidins, nor was it smacking of vanilla and oak from aging in a bourbon barrel. Instead, it was a straight-up, heavy stout that smacked of roasted barley. It was the kind of brew I’d like to drink on nitro at the end of a cold night.

There were plenty of other new, or new-to-the-area breweries on hand as well. Carpinteria brewery Brewlab comes to mind, as its Green Tea IPA blended a variety of lovely flavors in with a nice floral IPA, and its Rye Saison was delightful under the warm Carpinteria sunshine. New Ventura brewery Poseidon Brewing Company was also pouring beer, with former Figueroa Mountain brewer, Reno King, serving the beer from his new brewery. I tasted the Rye Pale Ale, which had a pronounced bitterness but felt firmly entrenched in your hop-head’s ideal range.

And of course, one of my favorites, Institution Ale Company was on hand serving its Maple Brown Ale, Restraint, and a Progress Pale Ale, Citra. The Camarillo-based brewery is steadily expanding and steadily improving, which is remarkable only because it started at such a high level. The homebrewers-turned-pros at Institution are quietly making some of the best beer in Southern California, and any chance to taste some of their creations is worth it.

I had my doubts about Deep Fest, but I shouldn’t have.