PHOTOGRAPHY BY PATRICK TREGENZA
Opening a brewery of their own has been quite a journey for these Watsonville entrepreneurs
Tallula Preston and David Purgason was on the verge of realizing a long-held dream of opening their own brewery when tragedy seemed to change everything. On a quiet day in July 2017, Purgason, a brewer/ distiller for Venus Spirits, suffered a terrible accident when a freak explosion occurred during production. He was airlifted to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center to be treated for burns that covered nearly 75% of his body, inside and out.
Purgason and Preston—true champions of the Santa Cruz County beer community—had been developing the vision that would become Fruition Brewing since first meeting in 2013. Just before the accident, it felt like everything was falling into place and, after a two-year search for Fruition’s home, the young couple was about to sign a lease on a location off Hangar Way in Watsonville.
On the day of the accident, Preston—who had been the general manager for the organic homebrew supply store Seven Bridges Cooperative until its permanent closure a month earlier—was at home enjoying the freedom of developing Fruition as her full-time job. She was blindsided when Venus Spirits owner Sean Venus showed up at her door to tell her of Purgason’s injury and whisk her to the hospital.
“Right away David was asking when he could get back to work,” Preston recalls. Meanwhile, she was figuring out how to temper his expectations. Doctors were saying he could be hospitalized for up to six months and the long-term effects of his injuries were still unknown. “I really didn’t know if he was going to be able to brew again—I mean his hands were so damaged—and he’s asking me about our beer for the upcoming Hop N’ Barley festival. He just wasn’t going to falter.”
Astonishingly, Purgason was discharged in a little over five weeks, but his road to complete recovery was still long. He had lost 30 pounds and his mouth and throat had been so badly burned that his taste buds were in ruin. “I had been only drinking Gatorade for months, and by the time I was able to have alcohol again, I didn’t even like the taste of beer,” Purgason laments. “Pilsners, pale ales—all my favorite styles— they were way too bitter for me!” Fortunately, a couple months later, his palate was restored. And within a year, he was back to brewing.
News of the tragedy shook the Santa Cruz beer community, and there were immediate campaigns of support with hopes of easing the trauma of the event. Chris Wilder of the Valley Medical Center Foundation spearheaded a fund for Purgason’s recovery, and Brittany Crass of Shanty Shack helped organize the “Brew for David” project, which included several breweries in the Monterey Bay area brewing a session IPA (a favorite of Purgason) and one 10-brewery collaboration brew called “Brewers Unite for David.”
Preston feels that it was the palpable support of the community after Purgason’s accident that was a leading factor in getting their initial loan from the Small Business Administration. “If it wasn’t for our community, we would not be here at all,” Preston says. “We’ve really looked up to and relied on these people and these businesses, and they have only ever been an endless source of support, information and guidance.” With encouragement from his community, and especially Preston, Purgason came out of the hospital with more drive than ever to open the brewery.
Building a brewery and taproom in Watsonville—an epicenter of coastal farming—also helps underscore the Fruition philosophy that beer is agriculture
In the years since the seed of Fruition was first planted in Purgason and Preston’s brains, they have seen the Monterey Bay area grow into a mecca of craft beer—with many of their close friends and peers at the helm. Although they were anxious to be a part of the burgeoning scene and mildly concerned that the craft beer quota had potentially been met, they found value in getting to witness the trials, tribulations and great successes of their colleagues. “It was frustrating at times that it was taking so long to find a space,” Preston says, “but because we had seen our friends go through the opening process so many times, we really knew what we were looking for.”
The location they thought was a secure deal fell through in the wake of the accident, leading to an additional year of searching. Eventually, Fruition found the ideal home in Watsonville at the newly revitalized East Lake Village Shopping Center. The 4,400-square-foot location had all the things they had patiently waited for—high ceilings, ample parking, an outdoor patio and proper zoning. But what they weren’t expecting was to be a harbinger of welcomed growth and community building in South County. “We are so stoked to be here,” Preston exclaims. “And we’re really proud to be so directly serving the Watsonville community!”
Building a brewery and taproom in Watsonville—an epicenter of coastal farming—also helps underscore the Fruition philosophy that beer is agriculture. “That aspect of this business is in my heart,” Purgason says. All the beers are brewed with California grown and malted grain from Admiral Maltings, a small-batch maltster in Alameda that works directly with California farmers. Akiyama Hopyard in Elkhorn Slough provides whole cone hops that are used in Fruition’s lagers, saisons and barrel-aged beers. Dirty Girl Produce and JSM Organics are just some of the resources for fresh fruit going into barrels or being featured in the fan-favorite tart table beer Snack that has so far showcased renditions with cherries, apricots, hibiscus and strawberries. Fruition’s spent grain goes to the happy flock at Garden Variety Cheese. “Supporting local farmers and producers isn’t always easy,” Purgason notes, “but it’s definitely always best.”
In the years that I have known Purgason and Preston, it is that kind of firm commitment to their convictions that has always impressed me most. They have strong opinions and values on the subjects of craft, community and sustainability, and they execute their mission statement with compassion and care. In the many years that they were planning this project, they have seen the craft beer scene go through countless trends, and yet they have stayed true to their vision of making fresh and balanced beer that can satisfy a range of drinkers.
“I wanted a diverse tap list,” Purgason explains. “I’m not concerned about flagships, but want to ensure that certain styles are represented while also giving myself the opportunity to brew a broad range of brews.” A typical Fruition draft list will include crisp lagers, farmhouse table beers, IPAs and barrel-aged saisons and stouts. All the beers I’ve tasted are lessons in restraint and still so full of flavor—as if you can taste the true intention (and ingredients) behind every brew. Purgason’s beer philosophy can be understood when he waxes poetic on the lost art of the pale ale—a true test of the craft where you pack all the hop aroma and flavor of an IPA into the body of a dry, drinkable, lowalcohol brew. “I would die on the hill for the pale ale!” he says.
Since opening this summer, the duo has hosted a rotating cast of food trucks and pop-ups like Full Steam Dumpling, My Mom’s Mole and Hanloh Thai, but plan to operate a small kitchen out of the taproom this fall. Preston, an avid homecook, will create a small, seasonal, ingredient-driven menu that allows her to play with the diverse styles of cuisine that she likes to prepare at home. “I don’t know exactly what it will look like yet,” she says, “but food feels like another opportunity to work with incredible local producers and provide the Watsonville community with culinary options that they might not be currently getting.”
When I first visited the taproom on a soft-opening Sunday in early June, I was moved by seeing this dream fully realized. The brewery was open and light and filled with the warmth that Purgason and Preston so easily exude. And I know, even with the horrors of Highway 1 traffic, that their North County community will be making the trek to also revel in this accomplishment. The owners’ belief in slow, measured business growth fits their conscious approach to life, and their main goal for the future is to be able to take the support they’ve been given and pay it forward.
“Our friends and mentors, like Emily Thomas and Sean (Venus), have shown us how to be real models of success in this community,” says Purgason. For years, Venus offered tank space at his distillery as an option for Fruition to be open as a side project, and Purgason would like to do the same for someone else. Ben Ward, a talented brewer who has been working as Purgason’s assistant brewer these past few months, is the founder of Effigy Brewing—a highly anticipated, nomadic brewery in the making. “If we can find a way to share our resources with someone like Ben, if we could provide that support, then that would be the truest sign of success for us.”
IF YOU GO:
Fruition Brewing is just one of the bustling food and drink businesses helping revitalize the East Lake Village Shopping Center in Watsonville. Natural foods store Staff of Life is set to open there in early 2020, Coffeeville moved into its beautifully renovated new space last summer, Sushi Qu is gaining legions of new fans and local-favorite Carmona’s BBQ Deli recently started offering happy hour specials M–F from 3–6pm.