It is perfectly appropriate that the Brewhouse is going to serve a mug from its 1,000th batch of beer for the first time this St. Valentine’s Day. After all, is there any doubt that Pete Johnson, the once-upon-a-time NASA rocket scientist turned affable Don Mega of the Brewhouse’s beer brewing operation, took one of Cupid’s arrows straight to the heart while quaffing a frosty one?
Never mind the fact that he has spent the past decade brewing award winning ales at the Brewhouse or that, before “going pro,” he was a home brewer with decades of experience under his belt, but get the man talking about beer (ideally, when he has a fresh and tall one in-hand) and the passion-peppered knowledge — be it about the time-honored tradition of bridal ales or hops mix ratios or the modern movement toward bigger and badder IPAs — flows like a wide-open tap of the Brewhouse’s signature Condor Pilsner.
“Yeah, it all started as a hobby, and eventually it took over my life,” mused Johnson last week with his sleeves rolled up in his brewing room, the nose-grabbing scent of cooking hops and barley heavy in the air. “I guess you could say I’ve spent an awful lot of time staring at liquid boil.”
But the poetic alignment on Valentine’s Day doesn’t just end with Pete’s love of beer. The most sanguine of Hallmark holidays is also the Brewhouse’s 10th anniversary of pouring its own suds. That’s right, its 1,000th batch of beer is being cracked open for public consumption exactly 10 years to the day after it served its first pint. Running the numbers on this feat is intoxicating enough even before you account for the Brewhouse’s penchant to produce strong libations like Saint Barbs Trippel or the Imperial Red.
Consider this: With roughly 124 pints in a keg and around 12 kegs in a “batch,” the Brewhouse has poured nearly 1.5 million individual examples of what Ben Franklin so famously described as exhibit number 1 of God loving mankind and wanting us to be happy. (Actually, Franklin’s long-touted quote has since been discovered by historians to have been about grapes and wine rather than beer, but that is a story for another day).
Along the way, Johnson’s brews have been regular ribbon winners at the annual California Craft Brewing Competition at the California State Fair and, more importantly, have become a critical and beloved part of the end-of-the-day routine for many a work-weary Santa Barbaran. “There have been quite a few pints going down the old gullet over the years,” summed up Johnson before adding with a laugh, “and no, I haven’t drank all of them myself, though I’ve had my share.”
To commemorate the dovetailing of its millennium batch and its 10th beer-brewing birthday (the restaurant and bar have been around for 14 years but early stumbling blocks prevented them from being able to brew in-house right from the get-go), Johnson and brew assistant Casey Smith have prepared a special barley wine style of ale that, weighing in with a heady 10.4 percent alcohol rating, is a malt- and grain-heavy nod to some of the oldest beers in the world. Or, as Johnson puts it, “It is a big beer for a big occasion.”
As an added bonus, the new beer is joined on the menu by three other brews all over the 10 percent alcohol level to help mark the festivities. And, for those lucky enough to get a sample, Johnson also has a select stash of his 500th batch still kicking around. Also a specially made barley wine, this brew, which was a first place winner at the aforementioned California Craft Brewing Competition when it was released some three years ago as well as a crowd-pleaser during its tenure on the Brewhouses beer board, has been aging in an old bourbon cask in quiet anticipation of the 10th anniversary.
“It will be fun to compare the two and see if we have learned anything in the 500 batches since,” said Johnson, no doubt channeling his aerospace engineering roots. “Everything is an experiment around here; that’s the beauty of it. I always tell people brewing beer is one part science, one part art, and one part magic. I really enjoy that there are things I don’t understand about doing this. … We’ve done it a thousand times already, and we still haven’t figured out what we like yet.”