It’s fitting that a place known for its giraffes might stick its neck out for a fundraiser, and that’s exactly what the Santa Barbara Zoo is doing with its first Zoo Brew on Saturday, June 5. “The notion of a Zoo Brew and ‘Saving Wildlife’ is something a number of zoos across the nation have done before,” explained Rich Block, the zoo’s CEO. “In the zoo community, we don’t treat things as proprietary; good ideas are treated as good ideas and pretty much shared. Certainly a wine tasting is nothing new in this area, but we thought a beer tasting just might be.”
The beer people are certainly lining up. “Right now we have 20 breweries participating, but a few more seem to come on board every week,” said Dean Noble, the zoo’s marketing director, happy to say that it all benefits his employer. “We’ve got virtually every local brewery participating.” The list includes Anacapa Brewing Company, The Brewhouse, Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Island Brewing Company, Santa Barbara Brewing Company, Telegraph Brewing Company, and even the C.A.R.P. Homebrewers. Breweries from other regions range from Speakeasy to Stone, Wyder’s to Widmer.
The Brewhouse has even created a special sudsy treat for the event. “It’s a Fox Tail Pale Ale, named after the cute little charmer island fox at the zoo,” explained Pete Johnson from the Brewhouse. “I think Santa Barbarans have a lot of reasons to feel lucky we live here, but part of that is the zoo, so we picked a local boy who was endangered to name the beer after. Plus, I just like drinking beer with foxes.” Johnson describes the beer as “a classic American pale ale, somewhat citrusy with a strong hop character but a fair amount of English malt for balance and sweetness.”
The Brewhouse will also be featuring its Habanero Pilsner, which Johnson says is “flavored with hot chili peppers. It’s not that often you get to taste something that’s cold and wet and hot.” He’ll also bring along a third beer, but he’s not sure which one, yet. “Perhaps it will be the Condor Pilsner,” he suggested, “technically named after the whale-watching boat, but I’m sure that was named after the bird, so there you go.”
The zoo-brew connection isn’t just merely about playful names. “Guests will stroll the zoo grounds, too,” said Noble. “The hilltop [the site for the tasting area] is adjacent to the new California Trails section of the zoo that features condors, foxes, the Pacific rattlesnake. I hope people go visit their ‘neighbors’ they rarely get a chance to see in the wild.”
Food choices, which, unlike the beer, must be purchased separately, aren’t quite as wild. Explained food services director Chris Gambler, “The zoo will be serving up some sure-to-please, pub-friendly favorites, such as beer-basted bratwurst and grilled sausages, along with Buffalo wings, beer-battered onion rings, and wedge cut fries.” Added Noble, “We hope the aroma of the grills will be irresistible. Our people are always looking for things that can be eaten with one hand or with little dexterity.”
That free hand might get a chance to pet one of the zoo’s animal ambassadors, who will also be taken into the event. “Their work is really voluntary,” is how Block put it, tongue-in-cheek. “We can’t always count on them being willing to be taken into groups. But the Channel Island Fox, he’s really the top dog, so to speak. He’s the epitome of animal magnetism and terribly photogenic. Plus the beer is named after him, so we hope he’ll make an appearance.”
Of course, even if attendees don’t see the fox, they will enjoy brews made from Oregon to San Diego. “I think ambience will improve even the finest beer,” said Noble. “I don’t know how many beer festivals have a hilltop 360-degree view of the Pacific, the mountains, the towering palm trees.” Or there’s Johnson’s way of looking at it: “The lure of great beers is always enough to get me anywhere, but helping out the zoo? It’s a great place we’ve got. I spent a lot of time over there when my son was five or six years old.”
Get slightly animal during Zoo Brew at the Santa Barbara Zoo, 500 Niños Drive, Saturday, June 5, 2-6 p.m. Tickets are $40 per person for unlimited tasting; tickets may be available at the door at $50. See sbzoo.org.