Five years ago this month, Third Window Brewing Company opened in The Mill on East Haley Street to much fanfare, powered by proprietor Kristopher Parker’s firm vision to craft Belgian-style beers with seasonal and vintage variation.
“All my beer ideas are essentially developed from wine — I don’t know how to think any other way,” Parker told me back then, referring to what he’d learned while growing up around the winery founded by his grandfather, the late actor Fess Parker, and still run by his family. “We will be totally uncompromising in terms of quality — growth be damned.”
By and large, Parker held to his word, for better — when considering his ever-changing, high-quality beers — and worse, when it comes to keeping your original partners and sticking to the business model. His family bought out those other partners a couple years ago, and they’ve used their wine industry acumen to push Third Window deeper into retail, among other efficiency-minded changes. They also helped The Mill spread an alcohol permit across the entire property, allowing beer to be served to guests at Potek Winery and vice versa; for years, you couldn’t cross the breezeway between the two, which created useless confusion.
“We’ve sorted out so many structural things,” said Parker, though he readily admits that the year-to-year consistency required by broader distribution and the many different IPAs that he’s made to satisfy consumer demand were not his original intent. “It’s been nothing like my business plan, nothing like I expected, but it’s been an amazing journey,” he said. “I don’t know that I would do it again, but I’m glad I did.”
Those moves proved prescient, as the pandemic forced breweries worldwide to focus on off-site sales when visitors could no longer come to taprooms. Third Window was also better positioned than many breweries in other ways. Their small kitchen meant that they could make the food that public health rules required to be served alongside any alcohol. And the Parkers’ Wagyu beef herd — which feed on spent brewing grains and grape pomace in the Santa Ynez Valley — needed a new home following the family’s late 2019 decision to close The Bear and Star restaurant in their Los Olivos hotel. Third Window’s “smashed burgers” were born, and the high-brow Wagyu/low-brow American cheese formula became an instant hit.
“The whole reason we did this is that COVID hit and we had 48 hours to figure it out,” Parker explained of the menu, which he developed with his wife, Michelline Parker, and chefs Adam Shoebridge and Nicholas Priedite, who’d been using the kitchen for their own projects. Michelline and Kris frequently work the cast-iron griddle themselves from Thursday to Sunday, churning out four burgers every 90 seconds. “We’re outpacing the supply of Wagyu,” said Parker, whose burgers sport that satisfying seared crunch and can be accompanied by fries, sides, and sauces.
But he’s not interested in cooking forever. “I don’t want to be a hamburger chef,” he said. “I’m here to make beer.”
In that vein, and to celebrate Third Window’s fifth anniversary, Parker is releasing a five-year-old Flemish Red called “Batch One.” It is indeed the first batch that Parker brewed with Tyler King, formerly of The Bruery, back in 2016, and it is being served both on tap and in 500 mL bottles reignited by champagne yeast. Much like I recall from those original beers five years ago, the sour ale is tart but very full in mouthfeel, and it deftly stands up to the smashed burgers, especially the one with avocado and jalapeño. (I’ve yet to try the peanut butter and jelly version.)
Though he’s producing steadier lines of beer and more crown-pleasing IPA than he planned five years in, Parker remains committed to exploring all of the experiments and Belgian-borne variations that he envisioned for Third Window. “There are so many beers that I want to make that only my family could make, because of what’s grown at the ranch,” said Parker, who’ll run through 20 to 30 iterations of a beer before perfecting the style. “We still view every batch as a vintage. That’s how I think of beverages.”
406 E. Haley St., Ste. 3; (805) 979-5090; thirdwindowbrewing.com