In a country awash in craft brews of all styles, why aren’t there many microbrewed American lagers to drink?
That’s the question filmmaking cousins Emmett and Brendan Malloy posed a year or so ago for their cousin Chris Miller, probably in between cans of Coors Light and Pabst Blue Ribbon, the Malloys’ usual beers of choice. Miller is a Pacific Palisades‒raised, UCSB-educated, Los Olivos‒residing beer distributor who helped build Figueroa Mountain Brewing’s sales network before launching his own company, and he posed the same question to his friend Joshua Ellis, another UCSB grad who works as a stockbroker but was winning awards for his home brews.
The answer is complex. Though an American lager’s ingredients, which are mandated to include adjuncts like rice, corn, or sugar, might be less expensive than the roasted malts required of a rich ale, they need much more fermenting and settling time in the tank, thereby occupying valuable brewing space for weeks. Lagers are also extremely difficult to do well, because any brewing missteps — too many hops, too few, etc. — are quickly apparent. Said Ellis, “There’s no place to hide in that beer.” On top of all that, the consumer expects to pay less for lagers than other beers, despite their more cumbersome process. After all, said Ellis, “They’re supposed to be beers you can crush.”
But rather than be daunted, Ellis and Miller rose to the challenge, partnering with the Malloys to tackle lager and countless other brews, based on those award-winning home brews. They spent the past nine months building M. Special Brewing Company, which occupies a sleekly redesigned manufacturing warehouse amid the acres of office buildings tucked between Hollister Avenue, the 101, and Los Carneros and Storke roads.
Upon opening in September, M. Special quickly became a casual hangout for all sorts, from beer geeks and lager seekers to nearby office workers on lunch breaks and weekending families whose kids play the various patio games. In addition to occasional food trucks, the team hatched a partnership with Woodstock’s Pizza in Isla Vista, so slices and salads are on-hand while delivery orders are streamlined. Thanks in part to the Malloys — Emmett also manages Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records — there’s an ample music scene, with regular performances listed on the brewery’s website.
Beer-wise, M. Special’s offerings are expertly flavored and professionally clean from the get-go, without the sort of home-brew taint that can affect new brewhouses. Thanks in part to winning home-brew awards from the Santa Barbeerians, including Brewer of the Year in 2013, Ellis got to experience working with the commercial brewing setups of both Figueroa Mountain and The Brewhouse. “I took those opportunities to really analyze their systems,” said Ellis. “I think it paid off. The brewery is working really smoothly.”
Their portfolio includes the M. Special Lager as well as Pablo’s Pale Ale, Greenland IPA, Lazy Eye DIPA, and All-Time Farmhouse Saison, but there are plenty of one-off beers that cover the rest of the craft-brew spectrum. “I’ve brewed every one of these beers before, and I’ve won some award with virtually all of these recipes,” said Ellis. “So it’s pretty well-evolved at this point.” That said, Ellis admits that adapting his home brews to a much larger format is a learning process. “Every brew is an adventure,” he said. “You really have to be ready for whatever a beer throws at you. There’s a lot of things to break in here.”
M. Special Brewing Company is located at 6860 Cortona Drive, Suite C, in Goleta. See mspecialbrewco.com.