What it Means to be a Community Brewery

pure order board

Recently, I had the opportunity to give a short speech at Blue Box 2015 — a conference hosted by First Beverage Group in Boulder, Colorado. It was a great opportunity to mingle with some movers and shakers in the beverage world, but I took it as a chance to talk about what it means to be part of a brewing community, and a collaborator within that community.

I believe video from that conference will be up soon, and I’ll post a link when that happens. But rather than laboring through a video of me nervously addressing strangers, you need look no further than one of our own local breweries to see what it means to be part of a brewing community.

Pure Order Brewing Company on 410 Quarantina Street is the epitome of the neighborhood brewery. They, along with Telegraph Brewing on Salsipuedes Street, are where the locals go for a drink when the crowds of visitors in the Funk Zone get a bit outside of comfort range. And for good reason — both breweries are making incredible beer.

Pure Order was recently among the winners at the Casa Pacifica in Ventura along with Institution Ales from Camarillo and The LAB in Agoura. While those other two are both great breweries, Pure Order was the only one in the winner list with a beer off its standard and regular production line — the Santa Barbara Pale. That beer will also be part of the upcoming Cost Plus World Market Summer Seasonal Variety Pack, which will be available nationwide. That’s a pretty big deal.

And yet, it’s Pure Order’s ability to keep things small and local that sets them apart. Recently, they’ve been helping me out by loaning their time, space and some equipment to help me brew 60 gallons of beer for a friend’s upcoming June wedding (and yes, full disclosure, this help is greatly appreciated and I’m sure impacts my favorable bias toward them. They also carry my book, We Make Beer, so I’m sure that doesn’t hurt either. I’m only human, but I like to believe that my opinions can remain relatively objective). This isn’t just because I write a beer column in the local newspaper or because I run this blog. James Burge and Pure Order are willing to help me out because I’m part of the local brewing community — the same way I’ve seen them help out home brewers who come in looking for advice and perhaps experience.

10 gallons of Strawberry Solstice, a collaboration beer I've brewed with Pure Order Brewing Company for an upcoming wedding.

10 gallons of Strawberry Solstice, a collaboration beer I’ve brewed with Pure Order Brewing Company for an upcoming wedding.

More and more often I hear locals tell me that Pure Order is their favorite brewery in town. I don’t think that’s a knock on any of the other breweries, as just about every brewery from Buellton to Carpinteria is producing high-quality beer right now (and one need look no further than the recent Dia de Los Obscuras to see how the beer community has embraced Telegraph). I think what that represents is how Pure Order has managed to capture Santa Barbara’s essence. Not just in the beer, but in the entire atmosphere provided at the brewery and its beer garden.

Beer isn’t just a business, at least it shouldn’t be. The best breweries aren’t just the ones pumping out the best liquid, they’re also the ones that represent and collaborate within the community (along those lines — there was a recent Instagram post from Kevin Ashford from Fig Mountain’s SB brewery showing a collaboration effort with Island Brewing’s Ryan Morrill, as well as both breweries’ brewing teams). Pure Order, certainly isn’t the only local brewery to embrace the community, but it’s embraced me, and I’m grateful.

edit: a previous version of this post misidentified Ryan Morrill as a brewer for Telegraph — he is the head brewer for Island Brewing in Carpinteria.

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Pure Order Has First Brewday

Congratulations are in order to James and Dave Burge of Pure Order Brewing Company, as they completed their first brewday today. So much has been said about them already that I will leave my excitement regarding their opening (it looks like the taproom will be open in mid-March) to your imagination. In the meantime, enjoy a few photos of the crew at work along with Kevin Pratt, who has been acting as a consultant for Santa Barbara’s newcomers over the past several months.

Once the dirty work is done, this is the look of a functioning brewery. Apologies to Dave Burge (left) whom I caught off guard with this photo.

Once the dirty work is done, this is the look of a functioning brewery. Apologies to Dave Burge (left) whom I caught off guard with this photo.

A kettle full of wort that will eventually be Pure Order Brewing Company's Crooked Neck Hefeweizen

A kettle full of wort that will eventually be Pure Order Brewing Company’s Crooked Neck Hefeweizen

A look inside the mash tun at Pure Order Brewing Company after the extract has been removed.

A look inside the mash tun at Pure Order Brewing Company after the extract has been removed.

The control panel to the Pure Order brewhouse

The control panel to the Pure Order brewhouse

Pure Order's James Burge (left) and SB Brewing Company's Kevin Pratt at the steps of the brewhouse

Pure Order’s James Burge (left) and SB Brewing Company’s Kevin Pratt at the steps of the brewhouse

Give Yourself Lots of Time When Opening Brewery

Note – This story originally appeared in the January 4 edition of the Santa Barbara News Press.

Update: Pure Order’s electrical system is up and running and the brewhouse is fully functional. This article’s suggestion that the brewery could be up and serving beer sometime in February is still viable.

So, you want to open your own brewery? If you’re a home brewer like James Burge was, the thought probably crossed your mind more than once. Your friends probably tell you how great your beer is and that you could totally sell this stuff, man.

Back in August, this space proudly proclaimed that the Santa Barbara beer community was getting a new member in Pure Order Brewing Company. James, along with his cousin and business partner David Burge, were hoping to open their brewery in the coming months. Six months later, and the Burges are still in the process of opening their doors.

“I think we’re outside of what we hoped, but inside of what we realistically planned upon,” Dave said. “We hoped that it would be a smooth, straightforward process. But we’ve both done enough work in construction to have planned on running into a lot of different snags – and we ran into just about every one we planned for. At least we planned for it though.”

So the first lesson in building your own brewery – give yourself lots of time. James and David founded their company as an LLC in 2011, and instantly ran into snags. The first problem was the most obvious: where would they open? The one thing working in their favor was that Santa Barbara already allowed breweries in M1, or light manufacturing, zones. But finding the right building in an M1 zone took some patience.

“We needed a certain amount of square feet, we needed a certain height of the building, and so on and so forth,” James said. “That narrowed it down to about 10 buildings in the area – zero of which were for sale or for lease.”

The Burges finally found a location at 410 N. Quarantina St. that fit their needs, and they signed a lease in December 2012 – 18 months after forming the company. The next step was to get brewing permits. That meant a Brewing Notice from the federal Tax and Trade Bureau. That took a couple of months for James and Dave, who were then able to get their Type 23 brewing license from the California Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

This permit allows Pure Order to brew beer, sell it wholesale and serve it on site in their beer garden and tap room. But, there’s a catch. Remember – the first lesson is to give yourself plenty of time. In order for the brewing license to be finalized, the location must be capable of brewing. But Pure Order can’t brew yet, because it has no power.

While all you need to brew at home is a stove and a pot, a professional brewhouse requires upgraded plumbing and electrical services. Upgrading those systems would be easy enough, but it also takes approval from the city’s department of building and safety – approval that has been hard to come by.

“At no point did we consciously choose actions that would have ramifications, but they did,” Dave said. “We never tried to sneak anything by anybody. Everything we did was done out in the open, it just turned out that some things that were done were things they didn’t like.”

The technicalities and bureaucracies slowed Pure Order down, but James and Dave are much nearer opening now than they were in August. Their cautious estimate is now sometime in February.

The second lesson in building your own brewery – don’t forget why you’re going through it all.

James and David could have widened their search outside of Santa Barbara – they could have signed a lease in Goleta (they seriously considered doing exactly that). But ultimately, it was too important to stick with their plan of brewing in the American Riviera.

“It’s always been my belief, and continues to be even despite the time lost with working inside the Santa Barbara city limits rather than the Goleta city limits, that in the long run being within the Santa Barbara city limits will be better for our brand,” Dave said.

It’s important to remember that the first couple of years may be trying and difficult, but a business should be planned out a lot further in the future than a couple years. The final lesson in building your own brewery – keep practicing your craft. Pure Order’s brewhouse may not run on the 110-volt outlets already in the brewery, but their pilot system does (along with plenty of propane).

James and Dave have spent much of their time working on that system fine-tuning recipes. They’ve brewed on full-sized systems to get a feel for professional brewing, and they’ve done a good deal of research at other Santa Barbara breweries.

Ultimately, whether Pure Order opens this month, next month or sometime in 2020, it won’t matter much if James can’t brew a decent beer. He knows this as well as anybody, and if you plan on opening your own brewery, then you should, too.

Sean Lewis is a beer drinker, beer maker and beer writer. His column appears the first Thursday of the month in the Food section. Follow him on twitter @Sean_M_Lewis to see where he’s drinking in Santa Barbara County.

Rumors? Rumors! …oh and new beer

I’ve had the fortunate displeasure of being busy with work lately, which has distracted me from the free enterprise of blogging. Without further ado, I’d like to spread some news that I’ve heard. I’d like to stress that these are only rumors and are subject to change.

Brewco

First up, I tasted a couple of new beers at Santa Barbara Brewing Company. The first was a new American Brown Ale, I believe it was dubbed Haley’s Brown (I should have taken notes). It was far hoppier than I expected, and for the first sip the bitterness took me aback. It brought out some of the roasted notes and gave a suggestion of coffee. But, emboldened by that first sip, I went on and tried a little more and as I became accustomed to the flavors I really liked it.

Next up was brewmaster Kevin Pratt’s second iteration of the popular Pacific Pale Ale. I was sad to see the previous recipe go, as it was typically my favorite beer there, but my palate is fickle and quickly warmed up to the new version. The beer wasn’t quite ready to be served yet, but the aroma was inviting enough to make me want to dive in it and maybe just live there for a while. It reminded me of Firestone-Walker Pale 31, which I’ve often said is the one beer I would live on if I had to live on only one beer.

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 8.59.16 PM

The same day as the SB Brewco tasting, Kevin Pratt and I had lunch with James and David Burge. Things continue to move slowly for the Burges, but at least they are slowly moving. Still no word on an exact opening, but it appears to be about a month or so away. In the meantime, they gave us a pretty picture to look at via their twitter feed:

(I’m not sure what the issue is with embedding tweets on this blog. I will have to figure that out and fix it).

Telegraph

Telegraph gave locals a sneak peak at their new tasting room during a recent Edible Santa Barbara event. I missed out on the event, but heard it went well. I also heard their new tasting room will be up and running in about a month. This will require more investigation and further reporting, and I will get back on this.

Fattys

Lastly, these guys. I don’t know much about these guys except that they are one of two or three new breweries opening in the area. I hear they’re small (batch sizes measured in gallons, not barrels) and I hear they’re new. That’s about it. Rumors have them located in Goleta, but I’m not positive on that. Again, there will be updates on Captain Fatty’s soon to come.

That’s it for rumors. If you know of more, feel free to share it with me here:

Rumors and New Beer

John Palmer

Yesterday I was up at Valley Brewers to buy ingredients to get ingredients for a couple batches I’ll be brewing for their upcoming competition* and Sandy Harrison, the proprietor, mentioned that John Palmer, the author of How to Brew and the guy who essentially first taught me how to make beer (through his book, not in person) will be in the store on September 14. I must stress that this is not completely official, so I don’t want to give out specific times that could very likely change. This is also the same day as Firestone-Walker’s release of Velvet Merkin, so there may be some sort of tie-in or there could be a conflict. Right now it’s basically just a rumor, but it’s kind of a juicy one so I wanted to get it out there.

Yet another rumor – There will be a new brewery opening in Goleta. That’s basically all I have right now, but trust there will be more info on that once I get it.

Brewco

Yesterday was essentially a free day for me, so I spent it doing what I do best – drinking beer. After Valley Brewers (where another brewer shared a couple of Belgian Strong Ales with me that were much appreciated), it was back down to Santa Barbara proper for the new SIPA at Santa Barbara Brewing Company. The new beer isn’t quite a Pale Ale, and not quite an IPA. It’s something interesting. Made with 100% Munich Malt for the grist and with a healthy dose of Nelson Sauvign aroma hops (but no dry hops), it’s a beer that is simultaneously straightforward and complex. As always, it’s Kevin Pratt demonstrating that he clearly knows how to make the most out of his ingredients. I tasted it earlier in the week before it had been carbonated and filtered, and the grassy bitterness really took me by surprise. I had been expecting something with a ton of aroma but not a ton of bitterness, but it was almost the opposite (granted, the Nelson hops still stood out in the nose). On tap, it was just right. The bubbles lifted the bitterness off the tongue and took the harsh edge off it while helping the aroma pop out some more as well. It’s a one-off and might not be around for long, so get it while you can.

fig moutnain

Next it was over to Fig. Mountain’s Funk Zone location. I wanted to chat with brewer A.J. Stoll about Figtoberfest and get some quotes for my column, so Kevin Pratt and I went on over to see what was new. There were 16 beers on tap, the most I’ve seen at that location, including a Dunkel and a Bock. The Bock was called Sisquoc Bock – and I can’t remember the name of the Dunkel. Both are excellent dark lagers. These beers can have a tendency to get overpowered by plum flavors in the hands of less-skilled brewers, but A.J. is quite adept at making lagers and these are clean beers that allow the beautiful malt to really take the stage and shine.

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 8.59.16 PM

Because Santa Barbara is essentially a fishbowl, the boys from Pure Order brewing stopped by as well. James and David Burge said it was their first time at the Funk Zone spot (presumably they were the last Santa Barbarans to make it in there – but considering how busy they’ve been getting their own place up and running it’s understandable), and they wanted to meet A.J. and see what his brewery was like as well as taste his beers. In the meantime, we all wanted to know how things were going and they gave a little update. I had to leave before we could ply them with enough beer to spill all the details, but it sounded as though complications with their new power plant and the city of Santa Barbara have presented yet another hurdle in their opening. They still hope to open soon, and the beer community is anxious to see what they can do, but as always there’s a bit of red tape to get out of the way first.

That’s it. I will update those rumors (John Palmer, Pure Order’s opening, etc.) if I hear any more about them. If you’re wondering how the rest of the day went, it ended with a Lucero concert at Velvet Jones and enough F-W Double Barrel Ales to merit a cab ride home and a hangover this morning.

*I believe I mentioned before that Figtoberfest and the Valley Brewers Pro-Am would be the subject of my October column. It will instead be the focus of my September column (wouldn’t make too much sense to write about a homebrew competition two days before it’s judged when it would be way to late for folks to brew for it). It will come out on Sept. 5 – and will be on this blog on the 19th (or 20th… sometimes I forget).

Heads Up! Something’s Brewing East of the Funk Zone

Note: This column originally appeared in the Santa Barbara News Press on August 1.

TelegraphScreen Shot 2013-07-18 at 8.59.16 PM

Heads Up! Something’s Brewing East of the Funk Zone

David Burge walked outside of the brick building and its roll-top doors to the cement path out front. He turned to face the patch of dirt and weeds on the property, and his eyes looked outward to see what wasn’t there yet.

“Here’s where we’re going to set up the beer garden, with tables and chairs and everything,” David said. “And back there closer to the fence we are thinking about planting some hops.”

The imaginary garden is all part of the plans for Santa Barbara’s newest brewery, Pure Order Brewing Co. at 410 N. Quarantina St., where David and his cousin, James Burge hope to make the leap from amateur home brewers to professionals. The duo hopes to be open in September, and looks to be on track to make their entry into the Santa Barbara beer scene with aplomb.

James will work as the owner/brewmaster, and brings along with him 12 years of home brewing experience. But moving from the kitchen into a production brewery means more than just scaling up a recipe from five gallons to 15 barrels (one barrel = 31 gallons). Fortunately, James and David seem to be on the right path.

The brewery’s indoor facility is dominated by four fermentation tanks that nearly scrape the ceiling. The brew kettle as well as the mash and lauter tun (the vessels used to extract sugar from barley) is tucked away into a corner alongside a large cold room.

In other words the Burges are doing just about everything right. A lot of home brewers make the mistake of jumping into the business with the same cost-cutting attitude that makes home brewing so appealing. However, with poor fermentation control and substandard equipment, many of those brewers are eventually washed away by a market that demands consistency.

Santa Barbara Brewing Company brewmaster Kevin Pratt was on hand for the little, behind-the-scenes peek into Pure Order Brewing, and he left the operation with a stamp of approval.

“This isn’t an amateur setup,” Kevin said. “This is a professional brewery.”

It was important to James and David to make this leap into the brewing business the right way – not just because they cared about the beer, but because they care about Santa Barbara.

The cousins searched for a location for about 18 months before settling on the North Quarantina spot. They nearly signed a lease in Goleta, but backed out at the last second.

“When it came down to signing the paperwork, we just couldn’t pull the trigger,” James said. “We wanted to be in Santa Barbara.”

“We want to be as authentic as possible,” added David, who grew up here and whose passion for his hometown is expressed in the brewery’s slogan, “The Beer of the American Riviera.”

The Burges aren’t alone in their desire to represent Santa Barbara as an emerging destination in the beer world. Telegraph Brewing Company, which has long been the only true packaging brewery in Santa Barbara, is moving one door down into a larger facility.

The old Quonset hut, which is still being renovated and is scheduled to open to the public around Labor Day, will be host to a bigger brewing system, bigger fermentation vessels and a much larger tasting room.

The expansion means that not only will Telegraph be able to brew more of the staples that have made the brewery so popular such as White Ale and California Ale, but the extra fermentation space and storage capacity means that special beers like Reserve Wheat and Petit Obscura will see increased production as well.

It also means an end to Telegraph’s wonky tasting room hours that formerly limited tasting to a few hours on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

And as for the new competition moving in just a couple blocks away, Telegraph owner Brian Thompson isn’t too worried.

“I’ve met (James and David),” Brian said. “And they’re great guys. I’m really looking forward to their opening.”

If the lines that form outside of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company’s funk zone location are any indication of the demand for locally-produced beer in Santa Barbara, then the light-industrial zone to the east should be able to sustain a larger presence from an old favorite and a couple of newcomers as well.

Ultimately, the addition of Pure Order and the expansion of Telegraph signifies a foamy, rising tide of better beer in Santa Barbara. The city may not be on quite the same level of a beer Mecca like Bend, Oregon, but these recent developments are steps in that direction.