Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery
By Lisa Crawford Watson
Sandwiched between the Subway and Little Caesars Pizza franchises in a Hollister strip mall is a new gastropub that has brought a whole different kind of spirit to the neighborhood. Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery was dreamed up by local residents and offers artisanal beer brewed on site and fresh, simple organic food.
The weathered green 1949 Chevy pickup parked out front, bearing distressed Hollister Hills lettering, and the already iconic “road sign” logo at the door are the only giveaways that something special awaits inside.
A bar, made of reclaimed timber and surfaced in stainless steel, wraps around steel-skin walls fitted with 39 draft beer handles, which always pour three or four of the brewery’s own craft beers. A side bar rests on off-road vehicle jacks, in keeping with the road-tested theme and a nod to the nearby Hollister Hills off-road recreation area. A creative collection of signs and photographs, logos and old taps fills side walls; in back, a sign says “GOOD BEER” in bold metal letter- ing. The beer menu sits on a repurposed apricot drying rack, a reference to the heirloom orchards the region is known for.
Owners Chuck and Joanne Frowein and Sean and Fran Fitzharris met over a beer, and their mutual love of craft beer inspired the couples to start brewing it together. As their exploration evolved into a passion, it became a lifestyle. The Froweins already owned a popular Hollister barbeque restaurant, Relax! Grillin & Chillin, and after others began asking for the beer, they began work on the taproom. At 9pm on Sept. 21, they called a few friends to get the party started, and they’ve been entertaining ever since.
“Having lived near Napa, we were big wine drinkers,” says Joanne. “Once we moved to Hollister, we discovered craft beer and found ourselves exposed to a whole different arena. Fran converted us from wine and spirits to craft beer; under her careful guidance we are now 100% craft beer drinkers.
“When people come in with a friend and say they’re not into beer, we ask them what character of wine they prefer or if they drink coffee or another beverage. We can usually craft the same character in beer.”
It is particularly fun, says Sean, to introduce people used to drinking grocery store brands to craft beer. “They don’t have to go crazy and start with a stout; there are plenty of pilsners to try.” And plenty of people do. At 12:15pm on a recent Sunday afternoon, just minutes after opening, the seats are filling with friends, and strangers just wait- ing to become friends, as their hosts start introducing their latest brew.
“They’re great at recommending beers and challenging us to try something new,” says regular Rock Young. “This is my favorite place. I don’t come here to drink a beer; I come here to experience a beer.”
Whereas microbreweries produce no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per year, Hollister Hills is a nanobrewery, using just three kettles and brewing 15 to 30 barrels a month. By making small batches, they have all kinds of flexibility to experiment with new and different spices and flavors from locally grown produce.
In October, the brewers went out to Pinnacle Organics in San Juan Bautista to gather pumpkins for their “Drunken Pumpkin,” a pumpkin spice beer made of organic ale, pumpkins and seasonal spices. They went through a keg the first day. Their other unusual brews, such as a light “Easy Like Sunday Morning” beer, Monk’s Café sour beer, Chili Mango Pineapple Wheat beer and a pale ale with just a hint of garlic and rosemary, have also gone down easy among customers.
They also brew an exceptional old draft root beer, using local clover honey and cane sugar, from an original recipe, a favorite among adults and the kids who come with them.
Chef Joanne Frowein delights in pairing their more unusual beers with artisanal foods created to bring out the flavors in both. Favorites include her “French Pig,” a panini sandwich of prosciutto, brie and paper-thin green apples in a ciabatta roll; also popular are her Mediterranean Carving Boards. “You can walk into this craft beer bar by yourself,” Joanne says, “and walk out with new friends. We create a gathering at the bar with these selections of fruit and nuts and cheeses to get everyone sharing their food and socializing. We’re having fun.”
Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery
401 McCray St., Hollister • 831.637.2337
EXPLORE: Rock climbers and hikers who have not been to Pinnacles National Monument yet are in for a treat. And Hollister Hills Taproom and Brewery is a thirst-quenching stop on the way back.