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
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
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
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
Come along, we head further north next week.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush