While Funk Zone watering holes can fill any glass with regionally made wine and beer, there’s always been a blank spot when it comes to European brews. Enter S.B. Biergarten, a sprawling playground with draft beers from around the world created by Aaron Running, who developed a similar formula at the well-loved Copenhagen Sausage Garden in Solvang. Even the pickiest palate can find something to like from S.B. Biergarten’s 20-beer list.
“I select a ‘best in breed’ of each style of beer,” explained Running, whose menu is about 60 to 70 percent Euro. “So that’s our niche.” The remainder of taps flow with American craft stars. For those IPAs and other brews, Running said, “We go hyperlocal. You want those fresh.”
When my friend and I started to sample one of their massive, sleigh-like flights brimming with effervescent tasters from near and far, I was immediately bowled over by the perfectly crisp Weihenstephaner lager, a highly rated Helles-style beer from Germany. Then came the juicy Societe Pupil IPA from San Diego, the dark and malty Dunkel from Thousand Oaks’ Enegren Brewing Company, and the light and bright Gaffel Kölsch from Germany, which all delighted our palates in different ways.
But it’s not just beer. There’s a rotating selection of hard kombucha and hard seltzers as well as a wine list full of heavy hitters like Brave & Maiden cab and delicious spritzes from Lo-Fi. Whatever you’re sipping, the convivial atmosphere invites revelers to sit and stay awhile with plenty of spacious indoor-outdoor seating, cozy fire pits, and high ceilings that the Biergarten team carved out of a former warehouse. Explained Running, “The design was kind of a mix of modern industrial and traditional German beer garden.”
S.B. Biergarten’s food menu spans the world a bit too, starring that range of sausages that made its Solvang sister famous. They’re made by a family friend of Running up in Washington, and his restaurants are the only places in California to serve them. Start with the sausage sampler to taste three of these creations, which go from traditional brats to more unique, such as my favorite, the Italian with goat-milk cheddar.
“I eat the currywurst, traditional style,” said Running of his favorite. “You grill it and put curry ketchup and curry powder on the top.”
Beyond links, the menu includes charcuterie, grass-fed Angus burgers, fresh salads, and wood-fired pizzas. The Fig, Buck, Goat pizza combines molasses-infused pork-shoulder bacon, salty goat cheese, scallions, and sweet figs into a heavenly bite. “We have a 10-year-old sourdough starter that we use,” Running said of the freshly made crust.
Of course, no beer garden experience would be complete without a warm, buttery, lightly salted, and extremely large Bavarian pretzel. It was the best pretzel I’ve ever had, and it didn’t even need the addictive cheese sauce that I gleefully slathered on each bite.
Running was inspired to open beer-garden-style restaurants when selling MRI scanners in Germany as part of his former job for Siemens Healthineers and fell in love with the country’s culture. “Do I want to sell medical equipment for my whole life,” he asked himself, “or do I want to do something on my own?”
He began with Copenhagen Sausage Garden and now also handles food for Enegren Brewing’s Fire and Vice in Moorpark. He’s getting ready to open another Fire and Vice in Santa Maria, which will be a gourmand drive-through. He had to wait four years for the approval to open S.B. Biergarten, but he is now reaping the rewards, with lines frequently flowing down the street. He hopes to host an Oktoberfest party next year when pandemic fears abate.
15 Anacapa St.; (805) 324-4334; @sbbiergarten
Credit: Carl Perry