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On the Road to SLO

May, 2001

By Bobby Bush

If a cliché was ever true, it certainly is about Los Angeles. This over-populated traffic jam of a metropolis is a nice place to visit, but I would never want to live there again. I learned that lesson years ago.

So, using the Memorial Day holiday as an excuse, we airplaned to LA and stayed just long enough to visit friends, then headed northward toward San Luis Obispo, where a beer festival (reported earlier) and more brewpub adventures awaited.

First stop, less than a hour up the coast (with good traffic), was in Ventura. Anacapa Brewing Company opened for business on June 5, 2000. Housed in a city street store front, it’s an elongated brick-walled room, on a busy downtown street. Modern art provided sparse decoration. A long, 18-seat convex bar, with a cool concrete counter top, served well as we started into our first beer of the waning morning. From an indented sampler paddle, the miniature mug of Hurricane Hefeweizen, with a thin slice of lemon on its rim, was smooth, surprisingly American in style. Somewhat sweet at the start, this best selling summer seasonal brew slowly allowed faint hoppiness to enter its taste profile before giving way to a nice hop bite at the end. The most popular beer year-round, Seaward Golden Ale was somewhat thin, as most tricycle beers are. Wafting a grassy nose, its body was honey-rich with a fruity finish, leaving a somewhat winey aftertaste.

Pierpoint Pale Ale was an extremely satisfying American Pale, fruity with lingering bitter finish, while Offshore Amber Ale, introduced by citrus scent, played with brief caramel flavor chased by a long bitter finish and aftertaste. Chestnut brown in hue, Empire Dark Mild brimmed with roasty, toasty malt taste. Its deep color was deceiving for its flavor was milder than its in-your-face appearance forebode.

Anacapa brewer Guy Bartmess, who previously brewed for Steelhead, works right behind the bar. Mash tun, brew kettle, fermenters and double stacked serving tanks line the wall. There’s no glass partition between brewery and bartender, though Bartmess usually begins his brewing days around 4:00 AM so interference is non-existent.

Just six blocks from the ocean, Anacapa was named for one of the smallest of the Channel Islands which seemingly float just off the coast. An interesting menu, which includes fish tacos, quesadillas de Margarito (du jur), gourmet brewhouse sausages and grilled fresh vegetable panini, Anacapa Brewing was a great spot to start this eight brewpub weekend. Check ‘em out at www.anacapabrewing.com.

Continuing north on Highway 101, we careened through the Ojai Valley. Horses were almost as plentiful as cars along the narrow, winding road to the town of Ojai, where our target resided. Open barely one year, Ojai Brew Pub occupied a corner of a non-descript shopping strip. While the missus slept in the car, I paid this friendly brewpub a visit, smiling at a sign on the door which established a cell phone-free environment inside.

An old Dead tune provided background to the bartender’s insistence that there was no taster tray to be had. Only three beers on tap this day - Dr. Finster’s Oatmeal Stout and East End IPA were out - I began with a pint of Chief Peak Pale Ale, which proffered a berry-esque mouthfeel and slightly sour finish. Golden Road Ale was lighter and smoother, golden with a hint of chocolate. Very, very traditional El Jefe’s Hefe Weizen was unfiltered and silky. Wish I’d had a chance to taste the out-of-stock beers.

Brewer/owners Paul McCaw and Alex Kopf, a New Jersey-born Clemson graduate, were slammed. The seven barrel brewhouse was being pushed to the maximum, partly due to off-premises keg sales to the populous of Ojai Valley, which number around 20,000 people and lord knows how much livestock. Ojai Brewing’s menu looked interesting, though I would wait to eat lunch later, with black bean nachos, artichoke and green chili dip, Nicoise Salad, Quattro Formaggi pizza, Polenta pizza and crunchy fish tacos. Once they warmed up to my inquisitive Southern face, the waitstaff and brewers were extremely friendly. Ojai Brewing would be an easy place to lose an afternoon or two in. But it was time to wake the lil’ lady and move on.

She was wide awake for a stop in Ojai Valley wine country. We visited Firestone Walker winery just before it closed. Along with a few bottles of wine, we purchased beer produced at their microbrewery in Buellton, just a few miles away. From 22 ounce bottles, Firestone Double Barrel Ale was amber, medium-bodied and malty complex, while Firestone Lager, the only other Firestone brew, was a crisp, litling lager. Not bad for a wine maker.

Follow along next week as we venture to San Luis Obispo and beyond.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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