Darren Siple was raised atop Rincon Mountain, where views stretch from the inland peaks above Lake Casitas all the way to the Santa Barbara Harbor up the coast. He spent his childhood amid the avocado, Meyer lemon, and macadamia nut trees planted by his rather legendary Renaissance man of a dad, Randy Siple, who Darren still plays banjo with in a monthly Dixieland jazz band concert in the family’s New Orleans–style saloon. It’s the type of life smart people don’t leave, which is why Darren studied wine from 2006-2011 at Cal Poly, acquiring the relevant skills to come home again and start a winery next door to the small house where he now lives with his wife, Jill Siple.
But while waiting for the grapes — which are grown at another property they own in Creston, east of Paso Robles, that they planted in 2013 and will be bottled as Rincon Mountain Winery — Darren and Jill decided during their European honeymoon to start making beer right away. The result is Smoke Mountain Brewery, which is currently a delivery-only beer club — the first shipments were in September and December, with another one coming in March — but will soon expand into a seven-barrel system with presence in restaurants, bars, and retailers as soon as this summer.
Though people are struggling to grasp the beer club concept right now, more than 55 customers already subscribe. “That’s not a bad starting point for no one knowing we even exist,” said Jill recently, as we tasted their lemon-black-pepper saison, honey-lavender blonde, smoked-peat porter, estate-grown hops IPA, and more. “We’re selling everything we’re making.”
Darren is a mad scientist when it comes to obscure ingredients (the macadamia nut coconut milk stout on nitro was a hit at the Carpinteria beer fest), but he’s also a perfectionist — so the bay leaf brew he’s crafting for this weekend’s Botanic Garden event required a number of batches to get right. The long-term goal is to be one of the first boutique-sized, all-estate breweries anywhere, and he’s well on the way, using hops grown on the Creston ranch, and is expecting to harvest that property’s first batch of barley this spring. There’s talk of cider, liquor, cheese, butchered Highlands cattle fed by spent grains, and more, so Darren is starting to sound a little like Randy, who’s been a lawyer, developer, farmer, organic farm certifier, and so forth in his 82 years.
Darren still seems most excited about the wine he finally has in barrel, including some promising barbera and zinfandel, but Smoke Mountain is starting to quench the dream. “That’s why I got into beer,” he said, “because there are so many possibilities.”
Smoke Mountain Brewing is one of 10 breweries pouring at the Botanic Garden’s sold-out Santa Barbara Beer Garden event this Saturday. See smokemtn.com to subscribe and learn about the April dinner on the property.