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Morro Bay

May, 2001

By Bobby Bush

Up bright and early on a Friday morning, the third day of our rushed California Central Coast tour, we drove from San Luis Obispo up the coast to San Simeon for an interesting tour of the Hearst Castle (interesting, but it’s no Biltmore House). Mansion expedition behind us, it was still too early to stop in Morro Bay where another brewpub awaited, so we headed further south to Grover Beach. We found the building, now a rundown bar, with “Covany Brewing Company” etched in the glass front door. Only one problem, seems Covany Brewing went out of business years ago. I hate brewpub lists that don’t update at least twice a year.

So with time on our hands, we headed back to Morro Bay. Open since 1999, Morro Bay Brewing Company occupies a corner of an old wooden building that’s been converted into a rustic office and shopping complex of sorts. Brewer John Gould was hard at work in the back room. Visible from the brewpub’s small bar, he was quietly brewing away. His bartending father served up my sampler tray. Wife, again, took the car snooze route. English Mild Ale, the seasonal “brewer’s choice” selection, was smooth, both hoppy and bitter middle-to-end. Copper colored, Old Town Brown Ale was light in body but not in flavor. Surprisingly thin in malt flavor, Brown had a short bitter finish. IPA entered with creamy mouthfeel, medium body and a big hop show from nose to aftertaste, while chestnut brown Sand Spit Stout, tasted darker than it looked. Roasted and caramel malts, maybe a touch of chocolate, it all ended with a dry finish and malty aftertaste. When asked about the barleywine, John’s father smiled and said that it had not been available for two months, then added that he had instituted a “one per customer” limit on the potent ale because he “got tired of driving everyone home.” ‘Nuff said.

Morro Bay is a friendly, homey family brewpub. John’s wife makes the root beer and cooks for the short menu, which includes homemade chowder and chili, sandwiches and salads. Eleven tables and ten bar stools, along with a lone pool table, fill the hardwood floored room. Definitely not fancy. Just quaint and dedicated, that’s Morro Bay Brewing.

Following the short, afternoon California Festival of Beers the next day, I headed alone up Highway 101 to Atascadero where Bonnema Brewing Company awaited. A microbrewery-turned-brewpub just two years ago, this big two-story metal barn of a brewpub was hard to miss. While locals settled down at the foot of the stage to hear a band wail, I was the only customer at the long, galvanized steel-topped bar over 50 feet away. Noting a hand-penned sign hawking martini specials, I did what comes naturally. I ordered a sampler tray.

Served by an older gentleman sporting a bowtie, I began with Whalerock Wheat, a citrusy, non-yeasty American-style clear golden ale. Tongue-tickling Red Kroeker Ale was indeed amber. Packing caramel malty flavor and low hops quotient, it was quite quaffable in an English sort of way. Seasonal Boogie Man IPA was overtly and overpoweringly hoppy, reeking of full Cascades hops effect. Regular Bonnema beers that are usually available but weren’t this particular Saturday night included Raspberry Wheat, Pozo Pale Ale and Mudhole Porter. The seasonal list looked a little more intriguing: Apricot Ale, Marzen and White Christmas Ale, a barleywine.

Stainless tanks were visible through a large picture window behind the bar. Crock stein mugs, reserved for mug club members hung over the bar. More of a steakhouse and music hall than a brewpub, Bonnema apparently still plays the role of a microbrewery, kegging and bottling for local distribution. With a little more enthusiasm in beer presentation, Bonnema could be a nice brewpub as well. See www.bonnemabrewing.com.

This brief California excursion has one more installment.

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

© Bobby Bush

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