Perhaps Tom Robbins was thinking of Santa Barbara when he wrote, “Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.” We should all know where to get tacos in town (La Colmena!), but the exciting thing is that the places where one can get the beer (if not a bottle, yet), keep growing, seemingly by a new brewery per month.
In true Santa Barbara fashion, we’re talking companies concerned about sustainability and regionality, establishments based on family and friendships, brewers branching out to other businesses — and, perhaps most surprisingly, artisans who are turning away from the typical SoCal (especially San Diegan) style hop-bombs, even when brewing IPAs.
(4191-8 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria; brewlabcraft.com)
Steve Jarmie, Peter Goldammer, and Rob Peed take the LAB part of their brewery’s name very seriously, brewing more than 45 different beers since opening in September. “If I had to brew the same thing all the time like places with flagship beers, I’d get bored,” said Jarmie, who’s only sold a couple of beers, such as the Green Tea IPA and Rye Session, more than once. They’re even planning “a gluten-free that’s good,” said Goldammer. “That would be awesome.”
The nano-brewery cooks up both 50-gallon and 10-gallon batches at a time in a Carpinteria warehouse that’s outfitted with rolling casters, a setup which fits a handful of extra people in the room when they are open. The cozy space showcases the trio’s handiwork on salvaged items, like light fixtures made of old keg tops. “Pretty much everything but the plumbing and electrical lines we did ourselves,” said Jarmie.
They’re hyper-local in sourcing ingredients: The fruit in the Bath Street Orange Ale came from Goldammer’s girlfriend’s backyard; the beans for the Llama Saison (a surprisingly lovely mix of coffee and farmhouse ale), from Lucky Llama down the street. The environmental reach extends to their spent grain, which they send to UCSB’s Bren School, where it is fed to crickets that they eventually plan to pulverize and use as flour for bar snacks.
BrewLAB is now open on weekends with 11 beers available and a pizza truck outside on Fridays. They’ve been aging sour beers and a Russian imperial stout since September, but you do have to enjoy the brews there, for now. “We’d love to fill growlers,” said Goldammer, who hopes to do so soon. “We want to get our beers to lots of people.”
(6483 Calle Real, Unit D, Goleta; captainfattys.com)
When we last checked in on Captain Fatty’s in October 2013, they were just about to open a tasting room near Storke and Hollister. Instead, they moved to a second Goleta location, right next to the CHP on Calle Real, but brewer Preston Angell and his partners Jon Wadell and Bryan Anderson still use the intimate one-barrel system. “All we brew goes really quickly, which is stressful,” admitted Angell, “but it allows me to be as creative as I like.”
Favorites include the Vortex IPA (“more East Coast style, more malty”) and the Double IPA Hop Pun. “We couldn’t come up with a decent hop pun for the name,” he explained. “They’d all been taken, so ….” With the store open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the beer can run out by weekend’s end, especially if a food truck pulls up or Rodrigo Gimenez Cocinero is selling his delicious Argentinean barbecue. So they hope to boost production and offer both cans and 22-oz. bottles by year’s end.
“Everybody loves having a new brewery around,” said Angell, giving special thanks to home brewers for their support. “The outcome has exceeded our expectations. … and we’re definitely firing on all cylinders.” As for their Highway Patrol neighbors? “It hasn’t been an issue,” said Angell. “We haven’t heard from them, for good or bad.”
(410 N. Quarantina St.; pureorderbrewing.com)
The two words required to understand Pure Order are family and Reinheitsgebot, the first because the Burge family makes the place run (namely brewmaster James and cousin David in marketing/sales), and the second is the German beer-purity law (thou shalt use only water, hops, malt, and yeast) that Pure Order upholds. Though James admits the law is a tough one to say and spell, he was drawn to Reinheitsgebot because “I always like to start from scratch. I’ve been a builder — tables, bread — anything I can make from scratch I’ve done at least once.”
The Eastside brewery, which celebrates its first anniversary this April, is still happy with its slightly hard-to-find Quarantina Street digs. “We want to be the Santa Barbara brewery, not the Funk Zone brewery,” said David. “By being outside the Funk Zone, we were able to connect with locals and sort of went from there.”
Favorites include the Crooked Neck Hefeweizen (named after the late S.B. Zoo giraffe) and a Santa Barbara Common Ale. “You don’t need a bunch of fruits and vegetables to make a brilliant beer,” asserted James, who’s been brewing for 14 years yet is only 30. “Starting with the raw essentials and making something unique for each beer has been my challenge to myself and a showcase to the world of ancient tradition meets new flavor.”
He even prefers the oft-maligned Santa Barbara water, claiming its profile is similar to famed brewing hubs like Burton-on-Trent. “It’s surprisingly great beer water,” he said. “It has a lot of minerals in it, but the flavonoids attach to these minerals and produce some great beers.”
In addition to the tasting room and being on tap all over town, Pure Order is starting to make six-packs. “At first, Lucille Ball would have been proud,” David said about their tests with a new bottling line. “But after three days, I think we have it working smoothly.”
(5065 Carpinteria Ave., Carpinteria; rinconbrewery.com)
Though “just” a brewpub, Rincon Brewery looks a lot larger than the other breweries in this article, partly because it also serves food. “What we’re trying to do is use as much organic produce as we can, whenever we can,” said brewer Shaun Crowley, who formerly worked nearby at Island Brewing and is trying to get Rincon certified by the City of Carpinteria as a green business. Among other practices, Rincon sends their spent grain to a farm off Highway 150, where it is fed to pigs that the brewery then turns into bratwurst. Those brats get beer-braised when cooking, getting beer-ed both inside and out.
Despite their 15-barrel system (that’s 465 gallons), Rincon struggled to keep their flagship Indicator IPA in stock when they opened in October. “We didn’t want to run out, but at least people are loving it,” said Crowley, who wants to see how a busy Carp summer works before considering expansion into bottles or cans. “I’m drawn to cans as a brewer, as it’s better for the beer and better for the environment,” he said. “But the problem with cans is people still have a stigma it means bad beer. Luckily, there are now some awesome can beers coming down.”
In the meantime, Crowley and his three partners — Alma Billgren (also formerly at Island), Mark Hyatt (from Santa Barbara Outfitters), and Kevin Clarks (Corktree Cellars) — are building on early success, including the chance to cosponsor the Rincon Classic in January, which united all sorts of suds. Said Crowley, “This was always our dream location, and the city was really receptive, too.”