July 26, 2016 – Husband and wife team Michael Enos and Julie Rienhardt have been pressing apples from their small home orchard for years, mostly to give to their kids as juice. Those two kids are now all grown up, which is perhaps what provided the time and inclination to tinker with a fermented version of the juice. “We are great partners,” says Julie, explaining that the couple’s first batch of cider, “really ignited in us a passion, the idea to create your own and experiment and play, and to get to do something together.”
The couple have been brewing beer as Elkhorn Slough Brewing in a warehouse space in Watsonville for less than a year now, and are the first and only brewery in the city at this point. “We could only go so big in terms of home production,” says Reinhardt, not to mention the complicated process of getting a home operation certified for a commercial product. Since their property is in North Monterey County and their kids went to school in Watsonville, it was a natural choice to launch there.
Enos is a veteran home brewer, having gotten into it in the 80’s when he moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC. The unfortunate result was that “I developed a craft beer taste on a Budweiser budget,” he says, realizing that he could make better beer for much less money than what was available at the time in the craft market. He started brewing again over ten years ago, this time with Julie on board, and they finally decided to turn hobby into business in 2014 after seeing how much people were enjoying their brews. “We started getting some great recognition for the beers and people were encouraging us to make more,” he says.
So finally, after a slow and steady re-entry into the huge beer scene here in the Monterey Bay, the couple have opened their doors to the public with a grand opening on Friday, July 22nd. The tasting room in the Watsonville facility features five beers on tap to start, and will rotate every week depending what’s brewing next.
“We started putting beers into barrels right when we got in here,” says Enos, “we wanted to make sure we had some of the stuff we are known for, which is the wild, barrel-fermented beers.” And while those beers are aging for the next month or so, we can sample their table beers on offer, including my favorite, the “Moro Cojo” a juicy sour wheat saison.
The wild ales are made possible by using the native yeasts from their apples. “The apples are really the base for our wild beer, our apple orchard is sort of a yeast manufacturing factory,” explains Enos. After that first batch of cider, which kind of “spontaneously fermented” they recognized that the reason the fermentation process was so “fast and furious without any work at all really” indicated how much yeast there was. They decided to apply the same yeast to a batch of beer and were very happy. So happy, in fact, that they decided to have the strain analyzed and it turns out it’s a unique yeast strain called Bilardi. “We are one of the first breweries to use it for beer, since you usually find it in nutritional supplements, says Enos, which means “it’s good for you!”
One of those ales that we can expect to sample soon is a rare, estate project that the two can’t wait to present. “We recently harvested all of the olallieberries off our property to go into our June Bug, like 20-30 pounds, which we dumped into this barrel. We are really excited about that when it comes out,” Michael says. They are also experimenting with prickly pear fruit and tequila barrels, ”We have all kinds of exciting plans for the future!” adds Reinhardt.
For now, the tasting room will be open with very limited hours, Fridays and Saturdays from 1pm to 6pm. Elkhart Slough Brewing is pouring 4-ounce tastes, 12-ounce glasses and full pint-sized mason jars, and don’t forget your growlers, as they are filling those as well.
And you can also find their beer in a variety of taprooms around the area; Alvarado Street Brewery in Monterey; The Cremer House in Felton; and Lúpulo, Pour Taproom, and burger in Santa Cruz.
When asked about how other beermakers might view another brewing operation starting up in this seemingly oversaturated scene, Reinhardt explained, “We did a soft opening just for the brewing community a couple weeks ago and everyone has been so nice and helpful…we feel really lifted up by everyone and are super grateful.”
Amber Turpin is a food writer and baker who homesteads in Ben Lomond.