We weren’t there as do-gooders, though. The music, the cooking competitions (with celebrity chef Duff Goldman), the silent auction—none of these held the least attraction. We were there for the beer, and enough food to keep us more or less upright.
We were welcomed with a glass of sparkling white wine with blueberries in it and a delicious beef tartare bruschetta from Mastro’s Steakhouse (http://www.mastrosrestaurants.com/). Having declined the wine and devoured the tartare, we made our way across the Cal State Channel Islands campus to the festival proper.
Events like this present a quandary, an embarrassment of choice—so much beer, so little time. Of the thirty-odd breweries represented at the festival, there were some familiar names and some new ones. So much has been happening on the Central Coast brewing scene, especially in Ventura County, that, while the day might have suited a Stella Artois or an Anchor Steam, these summer standbys would have to wait for another day.
2015 may be the year when Central Coast craft brewing comes into its own. New breweries are opening every month, it seems, and the established breweries are upping their game in response. The breweries who participated had apparently read the weather forecast, as there was a prevalence of lighter beer styles on offer from most of the local brewers.
Our first stop was at Enegren Brewing Company’s booth. Enegren, located in Moorpark, Ca., brews mainly German- and Belgian-style ales, and has recently expanded their operation from a 3-barrel to a 15-barrel setup. They were pouring their Lagertha Pilsner, a clean, refreshing, slightly wheaten pils with just a bit of funk. The beer’s name might make you think it’s lagered, but in fact it’s named after their brewery, which is named after a Viking shieldmaiden. Also on tap was their flagship German-style altbier, Valkyrie.
Another brewery in the midst of an expansion, in this case also a relocation, is Camarillo’s Institution Ale Company. Brewmaster Ryan Smith has been leading the charge for creative craft in Ventura County since Institution’s opening in 2013. With a new 15-barrel system and increased space in the tasting room, great things should be forthcoming. Institution was pouring their White Walls White IPA, a wheat IPA with 100% Citra hops reminiscent of Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ and perfect for summer drinking. Also pouring was their Progress Pale: Belma. The Progress Pale is a series of pale ales that keeps the same base beer, changing only the hops. Not on tap was their Delusions of Grandeur barleywine, which placed third in the Best in Fest beer competition.
Local stalwarts Surf Brewery, the first craft brewer to open in Ventura County (as late as 2011, if you can believe it), had their Strawberry Wahine Wheat and County Line Rye Pale Ale on tap, continuing the theme of lighter styles in the summer heat. The most exciting news coming from Surf is their Scientific Series of barrel-aged beers, of which the first release, a porter aged with brett in merlot barrels, has already won gold at the 2014 Los Angeles International Beer Competition.
Best in Fest winners LAB Brewing Company were naturally on hand, although instead of their winning Barrel-Aged Oatmeal Stout they were pouring taste of their dense but eminently drinkable Hop Solution double IPA. Second-place finishers Pure Order, one of the Central Coast’s newest breweries, having opened only in March 2015, were pouring their Santa Barbara Pale Ale, an engaging beer with a grainy, peachy nose and a slightly dry floral body that we returned to several times.
Apparently, Ladyface Ale Companie didn’t get the memo about bringing lighter beers to the festival, because instead of wheat and pale ales, they were pouring their barrel-aged Trébuchet (a farmhouse golden ale aged in sauvignon blanc barrels) and Derailleur (a biere de garde aged in mourvedre barrels), along with their 11% ABV Russian Lullaby imperial Russian stout. Ladyface have been brewing Belgian-focused styles at their Agoura brewery restaurant since opening in 2010 (but just this side of the Ventura County/Los Angeles County border).
Returning to the script, Carpinteria brewers Island Brewing Company brought their Island Blonde and Paradise Pale Ales, while Paso Robles legends Firestone Walker were pouring their Pivo Hoppy Pils and Opal saison. Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company offered their light take on the West Coast IPA, Hoppy Poppy IPA, alongside the not-even-listed-on-their-website Mike’s Grumpy Old Ale. Rounding out the Central Coast cast of brewers were Tap It Brewing, who were showing off their Snafu Double IPA, which drinks light for a double, and their Citra Sour IPA, brewed in collaboration with the soon-to-be-renamed Cambria Beer Company, which is a hoppy take on a wild ale that shows how complementary Citra hops can be to a light sour ale.
Having completed a fairly comprehensive survey of the local craft brew scene, we decamped to check out its newest member, Topa Topa Brewing Company, which just happened to be celebrating its grand opening on the same day. They were pouring five beers to open their downtown Ventura location, including Weekender, one of the better-balanced session IPAs around, with a very distinct Mosaic hop nose and bitterness, and Gadabout, a very roasted-tasting stout perfected in its coffee stout incarnation.
This was the first year that the former Casa Pacifica Wine and Food Festival formally acknowledged the presence of beer in its name. With the incredible recent growth in craft brewing in Ventura County and on the Central Coast in general, we can certainly expect more local beers from more local breweries at next year’s event.
Enegren Brewing Company
Institution Ale Company
Ladyface Ale Companie
LAB Brewing Company
Pure Order Brewing Company
Island Brewing Company
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company
Tap It Brewing Company
Topa Topa Brewing Company