As a kid growing up in Los Olivos, Jaime Dietenhofer would look out of his bathroom window every morning to see the meandering peaks of Figueroa Mountain. So when the 33-year-old Santa Ynez High grad — who founded a successful Pasadena-based garage-remodeling business only after completing college in Washington, getting a graduate degree at UCSB’s Bren School, and working briefly as a planner for the City of Santa Barbara — decided to act on a long-held family dream of starting a brewery in the Santa Ynez Valley, he immediately had his muse.
“I love the idea of a regional brewery,” said Dietenhofer, who opened the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company inside of a Buellton warehouse over the Thanksgiving Day weekend. The people do too, it seems, as he explained recently, “We’re getting great feedback and a better-than-expected response.” Today, the brewery’s rustically designed barn-like tasting room — where you can currently quaff the Paradise Road Pilsner, Wrangler Wheat, Hoppy Poppy IPA, Danish Red Lager, and Davy Brown Ale as well as some flatbread pizzas, sausages, pretzels, and other small bites — is open Thursday through Monday. “It’s a great environment,” said Dietenhofer, who also said that the beers are starting to appear on taps at other restaurants, that more styles are on the way, and that, come February, there will be 22-ounce bottles of the beer available at retailers.
Of course, despite a great name and catchy throwback branding, a brewery’s true worth depends on the brewmaster, a fact Dietenhofer took to heart. “I was going to be back in my hometown — I wanted to do it right,” he said of his nearly two-year search for the perfect brewer, which included in-person interviews with 45 candidates. “Not many brewers wanted to be involved in a start-up,” said Dietenhofer, who wanted to line up a brewer even before picking a location. “We wanted the brewery to be exactly set to our brewer’s specifications — no ‘wish-we-did-it-another-way’.”
If the early praise means anything, Dietenhofer made the right choice in award-winning brewmaster Jason Courtney, an Austin, Texas-native who made a name for himself running a homebrew/brewpub operation near Texas Tech — where he was honored by the Great American Beer Festival as small brewpub brewer of the year in 2002 — before working sudsy jobs in Montana, Colorado, and Nevada. “He’s a scientist at heart,” said Dietenhofer. “And he’ll be able to push the envelope a little bit.” Courtney, who considers himself a very “hands-on” brewer, is excited to work on the “killer system” that’s now the backbone of Figueroa Mountain Brewing. “It’s really a big homebrewing setup,” the brewmaster said modestly a few feet away from the shiny metal Premier Stainless tanks that can brew four beers at a time, “just a little bit fancier.”
Right now, the Figueroa Mountain team is focused on growing their offerings, enlisting more establishments and retailers, and then serving those customers well. But the brewery was built with expansion in mind. “This is not a Frankenstein system. It fits Jason’s style and needs with room to grow,” said Dietenhofer, who hopes to one day serve all of Central and Southern California. “Being able to have an influence on the larger area is definitely intriguing.”
With the growing success of the Firestone, Hollister, Island, and Telegraph breweries — not to mention the recent opening of the Solvang Brewing Company, which is run by Dietenhofer’s relatives — it’s clear that a wave of beer is finally starting to wash over Santa Barbara’s wine country. And Dietenhofer thinks it’s about time, explaining, “This place is ripe for a beer culture.”
Visit the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company Thursday through Monday at 45 Industrial Way in Buellton. Call 805-694-2252 or check out figmtnbrew.com for more info.