Yes, the Gold Coast, that patch of coastline northwest of Los Angeles and below California’s “elbow,” is full of new breweries. But first, the really big news: The Brewhouse is back!
The Brewhouse is the region’s second-oldest brewpub. Separated from downtown Santa Barbara by a train station, The Brewhouse built a reputation for beer experimentation. Some worked, some didn’t, but all were worth exploring.
Sadly, The Brewhouse was forced to close after a fire last spring. It could have been worse: Flames melted the draught lines, so the fire was contained by beer gushing out! Still, cleaning up the mess meant that the brewpub was out of action for almost four months.
Reopening Labor Day weekend, the place is quickly regaining its stride. At the moment, the house-made beers number “only” 16! You’ll find four different IPAs, two pilsners and several Belgian-style beers, including the wonderfully named Vow of Darkness. Nope, the beer experimentation hasn’t fully resumed, but it’s good to see The Brewhouse again. Welcome back!
Within walking distance, on the other side of that train station and past the Figueroa Mountain brewery, you’ll find the newest member of the Santa Barbara beer scene. Topa Topa Brewing, a very good brewery in Ventura, opened a satellite tasting room in the Funk Zone neighborhood. You’ll find it sharing a building with a winery, a restaurant and other businesses. There are no TVs in Topa Topa’s space, but it’s a pleasant drinking spot nonetheless.
Half a mile away is Third Window Brewing, another place that likes to get inventive with its beers. A saison flavored with locally foraged chaparral is really interesting, as are two beers named Belgian Blond 3.1 and Brown — both malty variations on the same recipe. In contrast, C3 P. Ale “is almost boring in comparison,” as one patron described it, but try it anyway. It’s a very good pale ale.
Need another reason to visit? By the end of the year, Third Window will be adding a kitchen. The menu will be brasserie-style with an emphasis on meat pies.
Down the street, Telegraph Brewing added (albeit reluctantly) an IPA to its portfolio. But the Obscura beers are the better choice. Made from the second runnings of the brewery’s Rhinoceros Barley Wine–Style Ale, the Obscura series sets the standard for low-alcohol sour beers. The latest is Obscura Magnifique, a 5.6% sour aged in red wine barrels with cherries and raspberries.
Down the 101 freeway, in Ventura, new breweries are sprouting while established ones are redefining themselves. Following an ownership change, Surf Brewery seems to be reinventing itself as the Concrete Jungle Brewing Project. For the moment, beers are being poured under both brand names. However, all the surfing memorabilia has been removed from the tasting room, and the homebrew shop by the front door is gone too.
Downtown Ventura now offers four breweries, all within a few blocks of each other.
Meanwhile, downtown Ventura now offers four breweries, all within a few blocks of each other. You can grab a meal at the Anacapa brewpub and then stroll across the parking area to the year-old Ventura Coast brewery. Next, Topa Topa is a few blocks away. Or head in the opposite direction to the newest brewery, Leashless.
Leashless was one of those breweries that seemed to be forever “fermenting.” Blame the location, a former auto repair shop that required extensive renovation. The brewing vessels sit where the service bays once were, the bar replaced the service counter, and what was once the waiting area is now both seating and a stage framed by local artwork underneath a distinctive cupola. Yes, it is a good-looking place.
The beers are “inspired by Belgium, certified organic and gluten reduced.” If you like Dupont, Duvel or Chimay, you’ll be pleased. Seasons is a lightweight saison with a nice peppery finish, while Noserider, Sunrise, Twinny and Tri-Fin are fine examples of a golden strong, a blonde, a dubbel and a tripel, respectively. (As you can probably tell from those beer names, the brewer is a hard-core surfer.)
To shred amongst Leashless Brewing’s beers yourself, exit the northbound 101 freeway at California Street and turn right at the top of the off-ramp onto Thompson Boulevard. The brewery will be on your left at the end of the next block, across from a park.
From there, head south all the way to Westlake Village. At the Lindero Canyon Road exit, you’ll find four breweries within walking distance of each other. The newest, 14 Cannons, is a must-visit for beer drinkers and would-be brewers alike.
The owner of 14 Cannons is a contractor who built several breweries and restaurants. When he decided to open his own brewery, he wanted it to be a showcase too, an example of “things done right.” The brewery, centrifuge and water treatment are all top-of-the-line equipment. Brewing veterans will note the drains, floor treatment and overall presentation.
Tucked deep in an industrial park, 14 Cannons, as you might expect from a name like that, has a nautical theme: weathered wood, a copper-topped bar and colorful murals outside with a large covered patio and an outdoor stage. (That name? The owner’s ancestor commanded a privateer during the American Revolution.)
As you also might expect, the beers are many and quite good. Start with Patient Pilsner or Marooner Märzen. If you want hoppy, there’s 14 Cannons Pale Ale, the flagship brew, and multiple IPAs. Tyrannicide is a “normal” IPA, but One Cannon is a hazy, single-hopped one — made with a centrifuge, yet. Yes, a hazy beer that’s been put through a centrifuge.
To sample it, exit the 101 freeway at Lindero Canyon Road and turn north. Turn left at the first major intersection, and then turn right into the first industrial park on your right. Westlake Brewing is at the front of that complex, and 14 Cannons is in the very back. (Five Threads, a brewery quietly becoming very good, is in the industrial park next door.)
Finally, Rincon Brewery, a brewpub in Carpinteria, opened a satellite tasting room close to the UC Santa Barbara campus in Isla Vista. Rincon quickly replaced a long-standing pizza joint, so for the moment, Rincon’s new place is effectively a pizza parlor serving Rincon beers. But give ’em time; something distinctive will soon arise.
Speaking of which, for the latest beer news near Ventura, I recommend stopping for a pint at Darryl’s Couch in Camarillo. There you’ll find a great beer selection and an equally knowledgeable staff. That place is always my first stop when I’m “field researching” the area.
229 W. Montecito St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Topa Topa Brewing
120 Santa Barbara St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
585 E. Thompson Blvd.
Ventura, CA 93001
14 Cannons Brewery + Showroom
31125 Via Colinas
Westlake Village, CA 91362
6583 Pardall Rd.
Isla Vista, CA 93117