Midnight Cellars is a small production, award-winning winery on the west end of Paso Robles. The boutique winery produces sustainably farmed Bordeaux grapes on its 28 acres of hilly and limestone-rich soil. Midnight is known as making some of the best blends and big Merlots (don’t mention “Sideways” to them!). Most Merlots are know as the gateway to wines and likewise, so are Pale Ales to the beer world. But Midnight’s 2010 Estate Merlot is big, bold and rich with dark fruit flavors.
And maybe not so coincidentally, Shelby at Midnight told me how much she loves Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale may be one of the first, but it’s still known as one of the biggest pale ales in the industry. There’s a nice balance in both styles.
Just around the corner from Midnight is a gorgeous, upscale tasting room, serving old world varietal wines. Sextant Winery serves powerful Zinfandel and Petite Sirah blends. They are also the only winery in North America to cross-pollinate Grenanche and Cabernet Sauvignon, producing a big and bold Caladoc. Bright Bing cherries and ripe blackberries are layered with dark fig, cinnamon and spicy cardamom notes. It’s delicious and poetically one-of-a-kind. Just don’t call it a blend.
Enthusiastic and knowledgeable server, Kate Keller, is a fan of local breweries like Central Coast Brewing, Libertine and Barrelhouse Brewing Company. BHBC is a must see when visiting the Central Coast, not just for their beer, but also for their beautiful views and inviting patio. They typically have at least a couple fantastic sours on tap.
Monica from Villicana Winery not only runs a boutique winery in Paso Robles, but she and her husband Alex, were the first in the area to distill spirits from their used grapes. Winemakers bleed a percentage of the free-run juice from red wine grapes before fermentation to enhance the quality of their red wines. Saignée is this French term meaning literally "to bleed" - it’s often discarded. By fermenting this bleed and then triple distilling it, Re:Find Distillery has found a new use for saignée.
No surprise here. Her choice of libations starts with wine. Then she’ll reach for liquors such as brandy, vodka or whiskey. While she’s not a big beer fan, she recently found one that she enjoys and can drink for a longer period of time.
Located in downtown San Luis Obispo, Central Coast Brewing has been brewing since 1998. Monica’s favoritebeer at the moment is their Original Chai Ale. The spiced blonde ale comes in at a very manageable 4.9% ABV and has flavorful notes ofvanilla, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.
Her husband, Alex will grab Firestone Walker Double Barrel Ale when he’s not enjoying his own Cabernet Sauvignons, Zinfandels, Merlots or Syrahs. This American take on a British style beer has sweet malt flavors overlaying a slightly woody aroma. Villicana’s vintner likely enjoys the earthiness notes that highlight roasted bread, caramel and oak. Wine and beer connections are alive and well at Firestone Walker Brewing and with the expansion and success of their Barrelworks program in Buellton, this is more prevalent than ever.
Traveling north on Hwy 46, I stopped in Cambria, a lovely seaside village that oozes quaint, artistic expression. Here, you’ll find several wineries and what used to be called Cambria Beer Company. After a trademark dispute, the local brewery is now thriving as 927 Beer Company. Head brewer and President, Aaron Wharton doesn’t have a taste for wine. But in true collaborative craft beer industry fashion, his patrons and friends bring him bottles and growlers to exchange with his own brews. Some of his favorites include Modern Times, Noble AleWorks, Rare Barrel and Alpine Brewing. In January, Aaron will start offering barrel-aged beers on a monthly basis.
Down the street is tasting room, Moonstone Cellars. Server and wineaux Ron Panna tends to favor chardonnays for whites and appreciates red varietals like petite syrah. Young petite syrah wines may show dark berry and plum fruit characteristics. Their 2013 Petite Sirah is a club exclusive and it’s fantastic. This wine is full of spice and dark fruit and demands a meal befitting its robust and full-flavored nature - like rosemary leg of lamb.
When not sipping on the grapes, he seeks out beers like Lagunitas Sucks and Lagunitas Brown Shugga. Syrahs are known for their bold dark fruit flavors. Brown Shugga is a whopping 10% ABV American Strong Ale that carries flavors of malt, dark fruit and brown sugar together beautifully. Many Strong Ales also have prominent notes of spice, just like Syrahs.
Heading up Hwy 1, in Big Sur Village, I came upon a cozy pub serving some of the best wings I’ve had in a long time. Maiden Publick House is a bit of a transcendental intersection, where locals, hippie campers and tourists enjoy brews among surrounding lush forests.
Their menu also lists nice beer pairings for the appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers and traditional favorites like Shepherd’s Pie or the Monterey Chicken. Choose beers from 12 taps or 70 bottles. Parish Pub in Santa Cruz owns Maiden Pub, giving them access to the nice beer selection.
Continuing north to Monterey, I stopped by brewpub, Alvarado Street Brewery & Grill. The first thing I noticed were the delicious smells wafting from the main bar and kitchen. Along with access to pristine, local ingredients, the brewery has started a barrel-aging program utilizing barrels from Joullian Vineyards in Carmel Valley. Now aging is their Kriek Lambic with brettanomyces and 40 lbs of cherries. The barrels were previously used for Joullian Zinfandel.
Their approach to artisan craft beer nabbed them a gold at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. Mai Tai PA was recognized in the international-style pale ale beer-style category. The remaining beer lineup includes Saboteur Saison, Super Rad! Sour and Double Cone double IPA. The Super Rad! was, well, super rad. And their bacon and egg flatbread was positively scrumptious.
I also picked up a bottle of Pinot Noir from my dear friend Cathy (I’ve known her since the 5th grade!). She and her husband, Chris Weidemann started Pelerin, a small artisan winery in Carmel Valley. Their wines are hand-harvested, gently tended, and bottled without filtration. When not sipping on Pinot Noir or Rhone style Syrah, Chris and Cathy enjoy beers from the Monterey Coast Brewing Co in Salinas. Chris enjoys mid-weight, moderately hoppy ales and like most, enjoys craft beers from his local community.
While there are some recommendations on what beer styles to try if you like a specific wine varietal, nothing beats your own palate. Here’s a quick guide:
Enjoy Chardonnay? Try Wheat beers.
Like Carménère? Try West Coast IPAs.
Drink Syrahs or Chianti? Try a Porter.
If you enjoy Merlot, pick up a Pale Ale.
Like Riesling? You may also like Czech Pilsners.
Shiraz or Grenache blend aficionado? Try a Belgium Ale.
Is your go-to Pinot Noir? You should also try Lambic or Sour.
With that said, there are a plethora of variables that go into brewing: what ingredients are added (chocolate, bananas, honey, cannabis – yes, cannabis – agave, molasses, coriander, cardamom – the list can go on), what hops, malt and yeast are used and if it’s aged in barrels. Some experts are saying oak is the new hoppy. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two industries are lovingly colliding.
Wine may be known to be gorgeous, mysterious and sophisticated. And craft beer can portray a sense of worldly history, anarchy and fun. With both, you can have it all.