Day Two stretches from way up north (of LA) in Santa Ynez/Buellton all the way down to Carlsbad. We hit up Figueroa Mountain Brewery in Buellton, tried to hit up Firestone Walker (also in Buellton) and after driving 3/4 hours south on the 405 on the eve of "Carmageddon" made our way to Pizza Port in Carlsbad. Southern California has not only been a bastion of palm trees, sandy beaches and surfers but also of delicious craft beer. Figueroa Mountain Brewery, Buellton, California
It was pure happenstance that we stumbled upon this brewery and I'm glad we did. The topic of craft beer in America happened to come up and the friends we were with suggested their new favorite, hometown craft brewery - Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company.
On an off chance we decided to stop by the next day. We pulled up to an unassuming office park and walked up to a door with the Figueroa Mountain logo on the window. After walking through another door we came to the bar/restaurant area, bumped right into one of the owners and unfortunately they were closed until 4. Oops. However they were more than happy to sell us some beer to go and allow us to take some photos.
The bar/restaurant area shares the same larger warehouse space as the brewing floor and looks right onto the brewing vessels - giving you a real feeling that you're in the midst of the brewing action of the beer you're enjoying! It's not the biggest area, but they fit in 7-10 tables, which is big enough to get a rowdy crowd going for the many different forms of entertainment they fill the space that include live musical performances and trivia nights.
The bar itself is dark wood with a centrally placed slate of tap-handles. The sides of the bar are lined with personalized, stein-mugs that belong to the members of the "Mug Club." If you're a member of the "Mug Club" then you get to fill your stein for the same price as a regular pint. At the bar they'll fill growlers, sell pints, give tastings and chat you up about anything regarding their beer.
We picked up a growler of their Hurricane IPA and a bomber of their Davy Brown Ale for drinking after our long journey to San Diego. Unfortunately on the ride home the growler suffered a strange injury that left it a casualty of craft brew. We salvaged as much of the IPA as we possibly could and drank the reclaimed brew on the spot. Here's what we thought -
Graham - Hurricane IPA - You can taste that it is a little bit stronger than their regular IPA right off the bat. The malts are present but not overwhelming. The hops, again much like the many other Cali-IPA's, fit beautifully into that West-Coast IPA style. The kind of IPA that is right up my alley. If the growler hadn't broken in the car, we would've loved to share it with our friends in San Diego and they would've loved to try it. I'm glad I got to have it and cannot wait until the next time I visit Central California - I'll definitely be making a stop into the Figueroa Mountain Brewery for more than just a take-home growler.
Thanks Figueroa Mountain for letting us in early! We can't wait to come back and enjoy your brew and excitement during regular business hours!
Firestone Walker, Buellton, California
After having the opportunity to drink pints of Firestone Walker in NYC and the West Coast, I thought that it just made sense that if we were right around the corner we'd stop in a try some brew right from the source. Unfortunately, they also did not open until 4 and, unlike Figueroa Mountain, they were not opening their doors. We did however drink some Double Barrel Ale the night before at a restaurant down the road in Santa Ynez so I'm considering this a jury-rigged brewery tour.
The brewery itself is a pretty large warehouse with a large "Firestone Walker" sign on the outside. The entrance to the bar (that we couldn't get into) was a large, welcoming wooden entrance. Firestone Walker, on a side note, was one of the first wineries to start outside of the Santa Barbara area and only made wine for many years. In the past decade or so they began brewing beer that became pretty successful, especially on the West Coast. Then, more recently, they sold the winery to a Japanese company and now only brew beer. I think they made the correct career choice.
Graham - Double Barrel Ale - Double Barrel tastes like it's name - big. It's mostly malt, with a very slight hop flavor, but it might only be slight in comparison to the that huge malt presence. It tastes like malt, feels like malt, smells like malt - and it's delicious. I'd compare it closely to the feel of a brown ale but with the taste of an amber. Definitely a good find wherever you can pick one up.
Pizza Port, Carlsbad, California
Pizza Port is a famous brewpub chain in the San Diego area that specializes in beer and pizza - exceptionally delicious pizza and pretty decent beer. We popped in a little later in the evening - around 9:30 (on a Thursday) - and the place was packed. When I say packed I don't mean a small bar - I mean a huge room with one counter, running the length, completely devoted to beer and one counter, running the width, completely devoted to pizza. You order in separate lines, the ladies handled the pizza and we went over to take care of the beer situation.
We returned to the table with a pitcher of their WipeOut IPA and California Honey Ale. The reception to the IPA was all around pretty favorable. In the same California IPA style that we're becoming familiar with, but a little bit hoppier than some of the other recently imbibed IPA's. The California Honey was not as well received. It bordered a light ale with a sweeter flavor to it - coming from real California honey. I found there to be something just slightly off about the flavor, but could understand why some people would really flock to it.
Look forward to Day 3 of the Southern California (mini) Brewery Tour - San Deigo! (Stone, Green Flash and Ballast Point!)