A taproom tour reveals yet another reason
to celebrate our local craft brew explosion
Craft culture: clockwise from upper right, hops plant; Merideth Canham-Nelson in Discretion Brewing’s garden;
bottled options at Beer Thirty; Peter B’s brewer, Kevin Clark.
Photo at upper left by Patrick Tregenza; others by Camilla Mann.
Moments into my pub crawl with self-professed “beer geeks,” Chris Nelson and Merideth Canham-Nelson, Merideth used the term “beer people.” Scribbling the words on my notepad, I paused, saying, “Define ‘beer people.’”
I was embarking on a beer adventure with true beer people—a couple that has visited nearly 900 breweries around the globe, maintain a beer blog, www.thebeergeek.com, and co-host KRML’s weekly Pub Talk. In 2008 Merideth, a social worker, and Chris, the Central Coast rep for Drake’s Brewing Co., travelled around the globe, experiencing the world through beer culture. Each month they visited a major beer event or destination. Teachings From The Tap: Life Lessons From Our Year in Beer (Beer Trekker Press, 2012), Merideth’s account of the experience, is part travelogue, part guidebook and part personal story— all aimed at conveying the excitement of beer travel. It’s also the first beer travel book penned by a woman. (To the uninitiated, yes, there is a whole genre of beer travel literature.)
While I enjoy beer, I’m not a beer connoisseur. I’m certainly not a beer geek. But after hearing their definition of a beer person, I realized I could become one. Beer people, they say, appreciate well-crafted beer. They’re excited about trying new beers. And they like to share the beer experience with other beer people.
The timing on our beer tasting tour was impeccable. Many of the brewers we visited were just returning from Denver’s World Beer Cup, the Olympics of beer competitions. Brewers from all over the globe seek recognition for their creativity and brewing ability at this event, but just one gold, one silver and one bronze medal are awarded in each category. Earning accolades at the World Beer Cup allows a brewer to boast that theirs is the best of its style on earth.
Discretion Brewing of Soquel had just brought home gold for its Song In Your Heart. So there may have been a bit more levity than usual in the breweries we visited. Then again, perhaps not—beer people are a gregarious group.
There are more than 40 breweries and taprooms in our region (see our map of them between pages 32 and 33), and we chose to start at one of the newest, Alvarado Street Brewery in downtown Monterey, where owner J.C. Hill showed his progress on transforming the old Regency Theatre into a brewpub. Aaron Haas, formerly the sous chef at Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar, is the restaurant’s chef, and Hill is the brewer. Alvarado Street was set to open just before this issue of EMB was scheduled to come out, but on the spring morning we arrived, it was still a work in progress. Lifting cardboard, Hill exposed the intricate tilework on the floor and even poured a bit of suds off the fermenter and gave us a whiff. It smelled bright and fruity. Merideth mentioned pineapple, which I wouldn’t have discerned on my own but agreed. From there we headed to neighboring Peter B’s, which has earned its place on the craft brew map under the leadership of brewer Kevin Clark. Chris ordered a tasting tray of five beers that ran from light to dark, including Peter B’s Belly Up Blonde Ale, Fort Ord Wheat and Stout Resistance. Most surprisingly, I enjoyed the Legend of Laguna IPA. Typically I avoid IPAs. Merideth admitted about herself, “I’m not a hop-head.” But Peter B’s was hugely floral, crisp and, shockingly, my favorite of the bunch.
What made this and the other beers we’d try that day so unusual and delicious? Meredith and Chris, it turned out, were not only deeply knowledgeable guides—they were also gracious and patient teachers, and it was at Peter B’s that they began to fill me in on the secrets to great craft brews.
The building blocks of beer are grain, water, yeast and hops, they explained. The grain is cracked and steeped in water, altering starches into sugars. That mash is boiled and hops are added to create bitterness, balancing out the residual sweetness from the grains. After cooling, yeast is added to kick off fermentation, converting sugar to alcohol. Those are the brewing basics. Each stage impacts the beer. Grains produce sweet, roasted flavors; hops lend bitter, herbaceous characteristics. Yeast adds the earthiness and bready flavors.
But the possibilities become infinite as brewers use single hops, blended hops, single-strain yeast, wild yeast and more. Honestly, when Chris talked about brewers matching mineral content of water in different places, my beer-neophyte brain began to spin. But his explanation painted a clearer picture of what it means to craft beer—the flavor profile depends on how the brewer manipulates the ingredients. Crafting beer is an art.
Pointing at the tasting cards Peter B’s provides, I inquired about IBUs.
IBU refers to the International Bitterness Unit scale, which measures the amount of hops in a beer, starting at 0—and going to infinity, Chris and Merideth joked. But it’s only discernible to 100 IBUs. For example, the IPA was 80 but the wheat beer—more malty, less hoppy—only had 20 IBUs.
From Peter B’s, we hopped into Chris and Merideth’s car, where I met their dachshund, Stout. He was tagging along for the ride because the next three stops were dog friendly.
On the way to Sante Adairius Rustic Ales in Capitola, Chris asked me, “Do you remember the first beer you tried?” I do. It was a Guinness, and I had just finished a grueling exam. A classmate brought over a six-pack and I cooked dinner. I vividly remember sitting cross-legged on a bean bag, balancing a plate of pasta and homemade marinara in one hand and the beer my friend had shared in the other.
One of the many things I learned on my beer crawl with the Beer Geeks: Sharing is a key part of beer culture. At Sante Adairius Rustic Ales we were joined by Fran and Sean Fitzharris, experienced craft brewers who plan to open their own Brewery Twenty Five by the end of 2014. While they are still honing in on a location, they know that their brews will showcase ingredients from local farms. Even their name pays homage to San Benito County, where they live. Highway 25, running the length of the county, is an artery that connects San Benito’s communities.
At Sante Adairius (winner of Edible Monterey Bay’s 2013 Local Heroes award for beverage artisan), owners Adair Paterno and Tim Clifford poured some of their own beers and Paterno shared a bottle she had picked up at the World Beer Cup. Paterno and Clifford’s approach to brewing is Belgian inspired, focusing on simplicity and character.
We sipped their Anaïs, Sun’s Out, Simple: Summit and others. Tim explained saisons, a loose category of beers that are dry and often spicy. Originating in Belgium, saison means “season” in French. Saisons were historically brewed during the winter and stored until summer for farm workers to drink when water wasn’t plentiful or suitable for drinking. Because saisons weren’t brewed in antiseptic environments, multistrain fermentations occurred, giving the beer complex, wild flavors. Each farmhouse had its own recipes and brewing techniques, so saisons differed vastly by farm, hence, the freeform, broadly defined style.
From Capitola, we headed up the road to newly opened Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House. Its debut in March quickly helped make Soquel something of a mecca for craft beer lovers. Olive Moredock, who owns Beer Thirty with Craig Renfroe, was inspired to open a pub and beer garden after a trip to Portland last year. “We’re all about the beer,” says Moredock. “We wanted to create a welcoming, community place where people can come with their dogs and kids and meet up with their friends.” Beer Thirty has 30 rotating taps, almost 200 bottled varieties and an off-leash area for canine friends.
Shawd DeWitt, one of their Cicerone-certified (think trained sommelier but for beer, not wine) servers, poured us the Lost Abbey Spontaneous Cheer, a tasty blended sour ale. The base beer was spontaneously fermented for six months and blended with white peach concentrate at kegging.
Drinking a beer at the brewery at which it was made is an integral part of the craft beer experience, so also in Soquel, we dropped by family- owned Discretion Brewing and chatted with Dustin Vereker, the brewery’s “chief beer ambassador.” We enjoyed sharing another tasting tray, which included the brewery’s Shimmer Pils, Uncle Dave’s Rye IPA, Anniversary 2014 Saison and, naturally, their World Beer Cupwinning Song In Your Heart.
Heading further north into downtown Santa Cruz, we stopped in at Lúpulo Craft Beer House, which was jam-packed with beer industry folks there for its long-awaited soft opening. Lúpulo—which means “hops” in Spanish—is a place for beer people to gather, drink beers at the long, community tables and share their passion for craft brewing as well as delicious tapas.
“The idea has been brewing for about a decade now. We just kept thinking that someone else would do it,” confesses Stuyvie Bearns Esteva, who owns Lúpulo with his wife, Noëlle Marie Antolin. “But it never happened. So we’re doing it.” Esteva poured us his Doble Lúpulo, a double IPA he brewed together with Sante Adairius.
That collaboration is indicative of something special about brewers. “We have felt hugely supported by the other brewers. There is no real sense of competition, says Brewery Twenty Five’s Sean Fitzharris. “It’s about camaraderie and community.”
“A rising tide raises all boats,” Chris observed.
After Lúpulo, we aimed for home with a stop by Post No Bills Craft Beer House in Sand City, which is both beer tavern and retail shop. Our conversation circled back to “beer people.”
Experiencing beer is about the beer, certainly, but more than that, it’s about creating community. Beer is only the conduit. Merideth expanded on that idea, “We may meet people over beer, but we form connections through conversations about the books we’re reading, places we’ve traveled, wiener dogs and more.” I get it. In this age of craft beer innovation, the beer is pretty great. But it also gives beer people the opportunity to forge friendships and find commonalities well beyond the brews.
Camilla M. Mann is a food writer, photographer, adventurer and passionate cook. She blogs at culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com and lives in Monterey.
EXPLORE: For an overview of our local craft beer universe and tips for taking your own local craft beer crawl, see related story by Merideth Canham-Nelson on p. 34, and our adjacent pullout brewery and taproom map. Just please remember to drink responsibly!
WHERE TO START?
Our Experts Offer Tips To Help You Plan
Your Own Beer Tasting Tour Of The Bay
By Merideth Canham-Nelson
With the beer scene in the Monterey Bay region taking off, here are a few more suggestions to create a suds-filled summer. Some of these routes can be done on foot, but if you’re taking a car or bike, just remember to pace yourself or designate a driver!
THE MONTEREY PENINSULA: The Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail offers a great path for your all-day bike-nbeer adventure. Begin at Trailside Café for a hearty breakfast, including a sudsy beverage from their modest, yet strong, beer selection. A short distance away is Cannery Row Brewing Co. with 73 taps of craft beer. Continuing into downtown Monterey, both Peter B’s Brewpub and Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill are worth pit stops for a bite of lunch. Hit Post No Bills in Sand City in the afternoon and finish strong at English Ales Brewery in Marina for dinner. Another option is to walk this route, but be forewarned, the last two legs will be lengthy.
BIG SUR: Nothing says summer like a beautiful drive down the coast to Big Sur. Less than an hour down Highway 1 from Monterey, you’ll find tasty snacks and refreshing brews in a relaxing atmosphere at either the Maiden Publick House or Big Sur Taphouse.
CARMEL VALLEY:When it opens later this summer, Trailside Café and Beer Garden will offer a break from wine tasting in sunny Carmel Valley Village. The creative menu that draws a loyal following to its popular Monterey location will be enhanced at this new site with an expanded beer list and dinner service. Its beer garden will be Carmel Valley’s first.
DOWNTOWN SANTA CRUZ: Lúpulo joins a vibrant and well-established group of beer kids on the block, including 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, Red Restaurant and Bar and Boulder Creek Brewery’s Surfrider Café. All have excellent beer lists and food to match. If you’re feeling adventurous, head into the mountains to try Boulder Creek Brewery’s beers at the source.
WESTSIDE: Santa Cruz’s hip Westside boasts a number of opportunities to explore beer-centric establishments. Visit the Swift Street Courtyard to experience Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing (winner of Edible Monterey Bay’s 2014 Local Heroes Award for Best Beverage Artisan) and West End Tap & Kitchen. With two very different vibes and great beer selections, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for. On bustling Mission Street, you have the choice of burger. or Mission St. BBQ to fill up on burgers, BBQ and beer. (Both, incidentally, have Aptos locations you might want to try if you decide to follow the route we took with Camilla Mann in the accompanying story). Parish Publick House rounds out the Westside neighborhood’s lively beer scene.
SEABRIGHT: The quintessential neighborhood brewpub, Seabright Brewery, has been drawing locals and visitors to its large patio and award-winning beers since the late 1980s. Be sure to check its website (www.seabrightbrewery.com) for a calendar of music events.
HOLLISTER: The city boasts a large number of tap handles serving craft beer with Running Rooster, The Grove and three Grillin & Chillin locations (Roadhouse, Alehouse and downtown) leading the way. These full-service restaurants all offer a great selection of craft beer to pair with your meal. Warm San Benito County evenings set the perfect scene for bocce and a brew in The Grove’s large outdoor patio. And watch for startup craft brewer, Brewery Twenty Five, to open its own location in the coming year.
SALINAS:Make it a day of beer and books by visiting Monterey Coast Brewing, XL Public House and the National Steinbeck Center, all located in the same block in Old Town Salinas. Nearby on Market Street, Salinas City BBQ serves up delicious BBQ with brews to match.
FURTHER AFIELD: If you’re heading north out of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, don’t miss Highway 1 Brewing just across the San Mateo County line in Pescadero. Delicious food, a cold brew and ocean views await you. Try the Cauliflower Buffalo Bites with the spicy Pepper in the Rye Pale Ale.
For more than two decades, Merideth Canham-Nelson and her husband, Chris Nelson, have traveled the world together looking for the next great beer experience. Merideth has visited more than 890 different breweries in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and Oceania. Their adventures are chronicled in thebeergeek.com and can be found in her book, Teachings From The Tap: Life Lessons From Our Year in Beer (Beer Trekker Press, 2012).
Editor’s note: If a picnic with local brew is what you’re after, for the first time this summer, you can tap one of our local beers, Monterey Bay Brewing’s Mad Otter Ales, in cans as well as whole kegs. Just remember to recycle your cans!
Camilla M. Mann has crammed a lot of different jobs into four decades: florist, waitress, SCUBA divemaster, stock photo agency manager, stroller fitness teacher, writer, editor, and au pair. But, if she had to distill who she is today – tree-hugging, veggie-crunching, jewelry-designing mean mommy who loves to cook but hates to clean. Thankfully her husband and their boys clean like champs. Her current culinary goal: grow conscientious, creative kids with fearless palates! She blogs at culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com