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Central Coast

May, 2001

By Bobby Bush

Sunday morning coming down. A beer fest behind us and a blues fest ahead, we paid a call on Central Coast Brewing Company near downtown San Luis Obispo at the crack of noon. Open since 1998 as Central Coast, this single story, glass front brewery is a microbrewery and brew-on-premises (BOP) facility. Brewer Eric Larson was already busy helping a pair of fledgling brewers prepare their summer houseboat beer when we walked through the door. In addition to six half-barrel brew kettles designed for the brew-here-take-home crowd, Central Coast has a mini-mash tun, a four barrel brew kettle and three six-barrel fermenters/conditioning tanks.

Central Coast supplies six different kegged beers to eight or so local commercial accounts. That’s what Eric let us sample. Honey Wheat started smooth and malty, hit slightly sour in mid-taste, then departed with a tart finish. Hoppy, well balanced and also medium bodied, deep golden Pale Ale went down easily, while ESB, copper with signs of roasted malt, had a tannin woody effect. Thick, grainy Obispo Stout, which had not had a chance to age properly, appeared opaque black with a surly brown head. Harsh with mocha-coffee reports, Obispo left a warming aftertaste. Imperial Stout was lowly hopped but had a pronounced bitterness. Brusque coffee and grainy flavor with a dry finish, I preferred the unfinished Obispo to the Imperial. A heavy cloudy gold, Belgian Brown played out sweet with citrusy finish.

With thanks to Eric, we purchased a t-shirt and headed to join friends at the blues concert to hear Roy Gaines, E.C. Scott and Johnny Lang. Beer drinkers at the show had a choice of two draft beers: Coors and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. If you have to guess which one I had, please don’t read this column anymore.

Headed back to Los Angeles the next day, Memorial Day Monday, we worked the cell phone hard trying to find an open brewpub. It was about 40 miles out of our way, but Mallzee’s Stuft Pizza & Brewing Company in Santa Clarita was well worth the diversion. It was time for late lunch and with a menu that included Calzones, twelve different salads, pastas, shrimp and chicken variations, pizza and The Original Stuft Pizza, we found plenty to choose from.

After choosing the small Stuft Pizza (we took half of it with us in a box), we began a beer tasting journey. California Gold, a 2000 GABF gold medalist, was light with tangy malt taste. Noble hops provided a slight bitter finish. Not bad for a tricycle brew. Hefeweizen (pronounced by the bartendress with the “w” sound rather than the German “v”) was thin, murky and American style, though a slice of lemon was served as a sidecar. A “light American style Pale,” Paradise Pale Ale was clean, smooth and pretty darn close to Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. An English bitter, Sunset Amber Ale turned bitter mid-taste. Perhaps too bitter for style, it would make a nice evening-long session beer. “Hopped 7X,” the guide read, Torrey Pines IPA was indeed strongly hopped with linger bitterness and little evidence of malt. Dark brown McGarvey’s Scottish Ale was heavy with roasted barley sensation yet had no obvious taste from molasses added to the boil. Its acrid, dry finish gave this beer more of a Stout profile than that of a Scottish Ale. Last up was Black Magic Stout. Harsh, thick and grainy, something was out-of-balance here, though it was flavorful nonetheless.

This free-standing shopping center brewpub is a sports fan’s paradise. TVs are everywhere, large and small, even in the bathrooms. Louisville Slugger baseball bats decorate the long straight bar picket fence-like. Mike Wissell’s brewhouse can be viewed through a behind-the-bar picture window. Wyder’s Pear Cider was also on tap. Budmillercoors came from bottles only. High ceiling, well lighted and plenty of parking. Mallzee’s Stuft Pizza (www.StuftPizzaAndBrewingCo.com) makes big beer and bigger pizza. Definitely a place we’d return to, given the chance.

Early flight the next morning, we chose a comfy hotel near LAX. The Sheraton Four Seasons Hotel, not coincidentally, serves as home for T.H. Brewster’s, a fairly new but famed beer bar. They’ve been written up in numerous publications, including the Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report and USA Today, primarily for one reason: Beer Sommelier Carlos Soli. Most fancy restaurants have a wine steward to provide patrons with recommendations of wine and vintage. Soli does the same for beer at the hotel’s Palm Grill.

The Brewster’s bar, small and dark, only had six beers on tap, from Craftsman Heavenly Hefeweizen to North Coast’s Old Rasputin Russian Stout, and 28 bottled selections, too many of them Belgian. Sorry, but I was not impressed. I expected more draft brew choices and more bottle variety.

We were too tired and dirty to dine at Palm Grill. Soli’s credentials and talent will have to rest, for us, on his favorable press coverage for now. And I’d really like to reserved judgment on T.H. Brewster’s until I’ve had a chance to attend one of the monthly Beer Appreciation Nights, which always draws a big crowd. Even local brewers attend. We missed Smoked Beer Night, with special guest Alaskan Brewing’s Geoff Larson, by three weeks. Stay tuned.

This ends our California fling. It’s nice to be home.

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

© Bobby Bush

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