When Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company opened in Buellton on Thanksgiving weekend five years ago, the Santa Ynez Valley-raised founder Jaime Dietenhofer had no idea how much the craft brew industry would explode in the years to come. Today, riding that fast-rising wave of sudsy success as deftly as any California brewery, Figueroa Mountain — which Dietenhofer started with his dad, Jim — is about to open its sixth tap house (Westlake Village) in the tri-county region, offering more than 30 different beers at any given time if you combine locations, and will soon quintuple potential capacity with a new system that’s being shipped from Germany as you read this.
To celebrate the five-year milestone, last week the brewery released its 5th Anniversary Doppelbock, a high-alcohol lager aged in rum and vanilla extract barrels that you can find on tap and in 22-ounce bottles. On Monday, still buzzed about the doppelbock’s strong reception over the Thanksgiving weekend, Dietenhofer answered some questions about that brew, as well as about his company’s growth and trajectory into the future.
Did you ever expect to have taprooms and breweries from Arroyo Grande to Westlake Village when you opened five years ago?
I’d be lying if I said that my business plan had a trajectory at this rate, but no one expected the industry to grow at this hockey stick model. It’s been a roller coaster ride for everyone who got in at that time. It’s been a wild five years, but it’s been amazing.
The consumers have embraced it, and consumers are so much more educated on beer. Their palates have improved, their expectations have risen, and I think they are driving the market in a correct way, as opposed to just drinking craft beer. They are very discerning now, and it’s making the good guys better.
But I didn’t think it would go like this. It has been very rewarding and smooth. Sometimes it feels like it’s been two years, but when I look in the mirror, it looks like it’s been 20. I have a lot more gray hair now.
Tell me about the anniversary beer.
It’s a traditional Bavarian doppelbock. It finished at about 10 percent, and that was before the Caribbean rum barrels, where it picked up another two percent. But it’s a really smooth 12 percent.
Doppelbock by nature has more of a cola taste to it, and the idea was to put it into rum barrels and get that Cuba Libre, that rum & coke taste. And with the vanilla extract barrels, it’s almost like a vanilla coke too. It’s the best anniversary beer we’ve brewed by far. People who are not even beer drinkers think it’s approachable.
Aren’t rum barrels hard to get? I’ve heard that’s the case.
That’s why we started planning almost a year and six months ago. The barrels are not only hard to come by, but they’re also not the best barrels. They can be contaminated or gnarled up, much different than the American whiskey or wine barrels that come in pristine. Out of the 60 barrels we got, we only filled 38 of them. The rest didn’t make the cut.
Why the vanilla extract barrels as well?
Rum has vanilla in it anyway, but the beer from the vanilla extract barrels had a gooey molasses consistency. We only needed a small amount to get those extra vanilla notes.
What do you look forward to in this next year?
The fifth year is an important milestone for a lot of small businesses, regardless of the industry. To be self-sustaining and off the training wheels, that’s a big deal for us.
This year, we have a 60-barrel Braukon system that was just finished in Germany. We basically bought that whole block in Buellton, and will be putting the brewhouse in an adjacent building and expanding production from 20,000 barrels to a capacity of 110,000 barrels. That won’t be overnight, but we’re running out of beer. People say that’s a great problem to have, but it’s not good to have with the market growing so fast and being so competitive. That’s why we did this expansion, but it’s an expensive one.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company has taprooms in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, Buellton, Los Olivos, Santa Maria, Arroyo Grande, and, soon, Westlake Village. See figmtnbrew.com.