Beer Snob: The Ocean is on the Wrong Side Edition – Part 2
We don’t love all the breweries from the west coast.
Santa Barbara Brewing Company
If you are looking for a place that is crowded, has lots of beer-related decoration (I’m not sure if those tanks were real), and poor service by unknowledgeable waitresses than this is the place for you. Santa Barbara Brewing Company is located right on the popular State Street surrounded by lots of good looking restaurants and shopping. Santa Barbara Brewing Company tried to fit in by making the bar and restaurant look good. Unfortunately, the appearance is all the brewery has going for it.
Rizzo and I stood at the front door by the sign that clearly stated that we should wait to be seated for a good 8 minutes before our presence was even acknowledged. I should note that there was a sign on the door advertising to come on in because the air-conditioning is on (it was hotter than hell in Santa Barbara) but I couldn’t tell since it seemed to be cooler outside than inside. When we finally got to sit down we were momentarily happy to see a nice beer selection on the wall and a five-beer flight advertised on the menu. Our waitress came over a few minutes later so Rizzo and I started to order the five beers we wanted on our flight. I waitress, confused, stopped us and told us that usually the bartender creates the flights. “So, we don’t get to pick our own flight,” we asked. “No, usually the bartender prepares the sample. She does a pretty good job giving out variety.” That seemed odd especially since I wanted to avoid the three IPAs listed but ok, we went with it.
Our flights arrived in a reasonable amount of time. Our waitress indicated that we had the same flight with the exception of the third beer, which Rizzo had what was described as the Pacific Ale and I had an IPA. That didn’t seem like much variety based upon the listing on the board but we had the beers so we decided to give them a try. We would soon discover that we had more of a variety than the waitress new. Here is how the tasting shook out for me:
- Santa Barbara Blonde – This was the first beer on my flight and is supposed to be the signature beer of the brewery. It wasn’t a terrible beer but was very plain. I can’t even write much on this beer it was so ordinary. If a craft beer could produce a slightly fuller Coors Light, it would taste like this. 2.5 out of 5.
- Pomegranate Blonde – This was the first beer on Rizzo’s flight. According to the waitress this was the Santa Barbara Blonde. As we tasted, Rizzo really liked her beer and I thought mine was average at best so we traded beers. Instantly we both knew that we were not drinking the same beer. You can clearly taste the pomegranate in this beer, which is an improvement over the Santa Barbara Blonde, but it also tasted as if the pomegranate juice was added to the beer and not part of the brewing process. A slight improvement over the Santa Barbara Blonde simply by having some sort of flavor. 2.75 out of 5.
- Witbeir – This beer is a perfect example of what I had previously found wrong with California beers. This witbeir is pounded full of hoppy flavor. The combination results in some sort of wit-pale ale hybrid that doesn’t work for either style. 1.5 out of 5.
- India Pale Ale – Our waitress told me that this sample was an IPA. I asked which one and she didn’t know. The beer board listed beers named India Pale Ale, Double IPA, and Sin-Sessional IPA. The waitress couldn’t tell me which one this beer was and didn’t find out from the bartender. It didn’t really matter at the end of the day. This beer was the stereotype California IPA, so full of hops that you can’t taste anything else. .25 out of 5.
- Rincon Red – According to the waitress and Untappd this is an American amber ale. But the name has red in it so I was thinking that maybe this was a red ale. I could never determine if this was an amber ale or a red ale. I do know that it wasn’t good. 1.5 out of 5.
- Old Town Nut Brown – This beer was the fourth offering in Rizzo’s flight and the waitress told us that it was the Rincon Red. The beers were clearly different colors and based upon the previous beers I was assuming this wasn’t the Rincon Red. Rizzo took a taste and hated it so she handed it to me. I knew instantly that this had to be the Old Town Nut Brown on the board as this was a decent example of a brown ale. It was malty and bitter in the right ways but after experiencing the previous beers I’m afraid I was biased on the flavor. I gave this a 3 out of 5 but it was probably better than that but at the time I was just frustrated with the beers and the service.
- State Street Stout – Are you a smoker? Do you enjoy the smell of stale smoke that is evident in the car of a person with a 3-pack-a-day habit? Do you visit the smoking section of your local bar and lick all the ashtrays? Well then you would love the State Street Stout. The brewer was trying to give this stout some smoke flavors and he succeeded just not in the way it was intended. I love dark beers so I was really disappointed with this beer. 1 out of 5.
We will leave Santa Barbara Brewing Company with these two thoughts. (1) The french fries were not good. They were cold and tasted a little bit like old tires. (2) It appeared that they were trying to pull off a Coyote Ugly/Hooters/Tilted Kilt type-bit without being obvious about it. You may have noticed that I kept saying waitress instead of server. That is because there wasn’t a single male server in the bar. All of the waitresses were wearing extremely tight black shirts (some of them lower cut than others) and tight black pants. I suppose they needed to do something to distract for the lackluster beers and food. If you want my advice (I’m sure you don’t), avoid Santa Barbara Brewing and head over to Telegraph to get your beers and a food truck burrito. You’ll be much happier.
Island Brewing Company
Rizzo and I refused to let your night end on the disappointment of Santa Barbara Brewing Company, so Rizzo did some quick research and found Island Brewing Company in Carpinteria, CA. Island Brewing Company was in an industrial section of town and was very Swingers (like the movie) to find. We parked on one street then had to follow the very small sign down an alley to the railroad tracks to locate the tasting room. I’m glad we did.
One downside (and this is no fault of the brewing company) was that there were plumbing issues. As a result, there was no water to wash glasses and therefore no glasses to serve flights. There were even portable toilets set up outside the brewery because the on-site bathrooms were out of service. That didn’t keep the brewery from serving full pours of its beers on-tap in plastic mugs.
Island Brewing had a great tasting room with a garage door that opened up to a patio area with ample outdoor seating. You could tell this was a local favorite as the place was packed. It is also kid-friendly which was evident by (1) lots of kids running around, and (2) the play area set up with toys and games for the kids. There was also a food truck serving grilled cheese sandwiches which, as she is a grilled cheese fanatic, Rizzo took advantage of with a delicious looking sandwich.
Since there were no tastings I decided on the Jubilee Ale. The Jubilee Ale is a nice flavored Scotch Ale at a reasonable ABV of 6.8%. The beer was heavy on the malt flavors that I thoroughly enjoyed and the ABV wasn’t so high so more than one beer could be enjoyed without getting too overserved. I was pleased with my decision. 4 out of 5.
Island Brewing Company happened to be really close to the finish line of the Avon Walk. Rizzo and I noticed this while enjoying our beverages. It was so close that we could see the finish line from the patio of the brewery. The next day as Rizzo was finishing up I happened to notice a sign for the brewery with words of encouragement and support for the walkers. Any local business that supports the Avon Walk gets bonus points for me. If you happen to be in the Santa Barbara area Island Brewing is worth the 15 minute drive.
Other Miscellaneous Beers
Not all our beers were straight from the brewery during our west coast excursion. Here are a few of the other miscellaneous beers sampled:
Firestone Walker Brewing - Firestone Walker Brewing isn’t located in Santa Barbara but is a regional brewery out of Paso Robles, CA. Based upon the menus at the various restaurants we visited in Santa Barbara I would wager that Firestone Walker is one of the more popular breweries in Central California as just about every place we went had a Firestone Walker beverage available. We got to sample this beer at the Harbor Restaurant.
We wanted to make a visit to the pier so we headed down to Stearns Warf. The original plan was to visit the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company since I know how much Rizzo loves crabs and oysters. When we got to the restaurant the menu had absolutely nothing to offer those of us who do not consume from the bounty of the sea (I hate seafood with the exception of an occasional shrimp). Rizzo was gracious to allow us to visit a different location so we walked back to the Harbor Restaurant. This is not intended to be a review of the Harbor Restaurant so I’ll simply say that I got a fairly decent steak but it was overpriced and Rizzo got some crab cakes that she says were delicious.
The only local beer offered on the Harbor Restaurant menu was the Firestone Walker 805 Blonde. Don’t hold this against the Harbor Restaurant as it is has a very extensive wine list. Both Rizzo and I got the 805 Blonde and were pleased with our choice. This is a tasty blonde that is very crisp and perfect for a hot day. It was a bit warm in the restaurant so this beer went down easy. I’m sure I’ve seen Firestone Walker back on the East Coast and if you are a fan of blondes then I’d recommend you check this one out. 3.75 out of 5.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company – After completing the grueling Avon 39 walk, Rizzo wanted and deserved a nice slice of pizza and a beer. To make that happen, we settled into Nutbelly Pizzeria & Deli in downtown Carpinteria, CA. The pizza was well made with local ingredients. Nutbelly also had a decent beer list with several local breweries on tap. I decided on the Davy Brown Ale from Figueroa. Brown ales are my favorite types of beers and I’ll almost always pick the brown ale if I haven’t had it before. Figueroa is located in Buellton, CA, a town that is notable in my mind as the setting for the movie Sideways. I don’t know anything about the actual Buellton so I can’t make any real judgments but if it is anything like the movie then I am happy to see that there is a successful brewery deep in the heart of wine country. Davy Brown Ale is a perfect example of a brown ale with just the right amount of bitterness to keep the malt from being overpowering. Don’t get me wrong, if you want malt this has all you will need but it still goes down nice and smooth. 4.25 out of 5.
Asahi Breweries – We had an early flight schedule on the day after the Avon 39 walk so we had to say goodbye to Santa Barbara and drive to LA in order to stay the night near the airport. Since we had some extra time we took a trip down to Santa Monica to check out the pier and the shopping. Santa Monica is a pretty cool area. If you are in LA but don’t want to mess with the nonsense that is downtown of the Hollywood scene I would certainly recommend hitting up 3rd street in Santa Monica. There are lots of shops and restaurants to enjoy. Rizzo and I sat down at a local sushi joint to have some dinner. As is common with sushi restaurants, there were no local beers but I was pleased with the wider options available than you typically see. I settled on Asahi Black, and black lager from the Japanese brewery Asahi. This was an incredibly smooth beer that is perfect for a meal with sushi. Crisp and light, this beer combines what is great about a lager (light and perfect for summer drinking) with the dark malty flavors of a dark beer. 4 out of 5.
Golden Road Brewing – Our adventure on the west coast was coming to an end and we made it to the Los Angeles International Airport by about 6am for our 8am flight. This gave us the perfect amount of time to sit down and enjoy a nice, leisurely breakfast at the airport. We got to our breakfast destination and, to our delight, learned that the bar was open and serving any adult beverage you may desire. We were further excited to see that local Los Angeles brewery Golden Road Brewing had two beers on the menu, and IPA (which Rizzo had) and the Get Up Offa That Brown, a brown ale. You already know about my love of brown beer and being able to enjoy one last brew at 6:15am before getting on a plane just made for a perfect ending to the trip. The beer was a decent, but average, brown ale. Not as malty or strong as I may have preferred but certainly not a beer I would ever turn away and a wonderful find at a restaurant in an airport. 3.5 out of 5.
What we can learn from this excursion is that no matter where you go in this great country that we call the United States, you can find some good beer to enjoy. Take it from me, if you are on the road and have the opportunity, go out into the community and find some local beer. You don’t like beer, try some local wine. You don’t like wine or beer, try the local restaurants. Local always tastes better.