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Santa Barbara

May, 2001

By Bobby Bush

Iíd been in search of Santa Barbara Brewing Company once before, probably 1992 or thereabouts, only to discover that it was just a bar with a lackadaisical brewpub-wannabe bent. So I was a little dubious when Santa Barbara popped up on my brewpub radar screen nine years later. But, hey, it was on our way to San Luis Obispo so we stopped anyway. A Tom Petty tune was blasting loudly on the sound system as we stepped from the busy city sidewalk into the real Santa Barbara Brewing Company. (This vivacious brewpub did not commence business until 1995, confirming why my earlier searches were in vain). I liked the place already. Amidst a mid-Thursday afternoon late lunch/early happy hour crowd, we took our places at the long copper-topped bar. Four vertical serving tanks and an extremely busy bartender greeted us warmly.

We went straight to work on a ten beer sampler, noting brewer Larry Kreiderís 15 barrel brewhouse at the far end on the room. Five fermenters were positioned on the balcony just above. Santa Barbara Blonde was clean with immediate earthy tones that segued into malty aftertaste. Hefe Weizen was big on bananas, Bavarian all the way. Harbor Light, a classic cream ale, was textured with Czech hops which careened into a bitter snap at the end. At 7.1% abv, Aftershock Maibock presented dark chocolate amidst its complex malt bill. Though less potent, Rincon Red was just as malty-intricate with hints of roasted barley and bittersweet-to-the-tongue finish.

It was a bit odd that our small tasting glasses werenít glass but heavy, not-quite-clear plastic. Other than aesthetics there were no other effects. Thin yet malty, Old Town Nut Brown was English in style, preceded by a caramel nose. Deep golden 100% Organic IPA worked ultra-hoppy with a sour-meets-bitter finish. This 7% ale was also served cask conditioned. Warmer and less carbonated, the cask IPA, covered by a frothy white head of foam, was turn-your-mouth-inside-out bitter. Typically cask conditioning rounds out an aleís flavors a bit, while warmer serving temperature allows tastebuds to really taste. A dry stout served on nitro, State Street Stout had loads of chocolate and black patent malt. It really did have a dry, quick finish. Breakwater Belgian, our only Santa Barbara disappointment, was spritzy in mouthfeel and relatively light. Though they were listed on the chalk board, Amber Belgian and Pacific Pale Ale were not on tap. See www.sbbrewco.com.

We had a blast people watching - customers and waitstaff. Seems the brewpub was preparing to giveaway a pair of front row tickets to a Tom Petty concert scheduled for later in the week. Unfortunately, we couldnít stick around for the drawing. The road was calling.

So we hit it. Hard. Booked all the way into the quaint town of San Luis Obispo, which lies about half way between LA and San Francisco. In addition to our Holiday Inn Express hotel room, we found, tah-dah, another brewpub. It had been at least seven years since I last visited SLO Brewing Company. The circa-1988 upstairs downtown brewpub had not changed much. The street, closed for the evening, was full of kids doing absolutely nothing except for a few skateboarding. Pushing through the underage masses, out solo I trudged upstairs to find the same huge room full of kids just slightly older than those outside.

Similar story- seat at the bar, taster tray eventually ordered (service is not their strong suit) - I watched the pool players, two young men drinking from tall Yard glasses and two off-duty waitresses sitting next to me. They seemed to know more about the beer than the inattentive bartender did. Ordered up a little grub and started in on a long list of SLO brews. As chaotic as the brewpub is, brewer Steve Courier somehow manages to make some pretty decent brew. Of the 14 sampled, those most memorable were Brickhouse Extra Pale Ale (thin but strong in Cascade hops), IPA (powerfully hopped, thoroughly enjoyable), Oatmeal Stout (full bodied with mocha flavor and Hershey nose) and Sap Head (woody, whisky finish, somewhere between a Strong Ale and Russian Imperial Stout). From the SLO dance hall below, Kosmic Kolsch was cleanly golden. Bitter mid-taste, finish and aftertaste began with initial fruity mouthfeel and flavor. The companyís Paso Robles microbrewery was recently closed. See www.slobrew.com for more.

Come along, we head further north next week.

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

© Bobby Bush

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