Drive just 50 miles north of Los Angeles, you’ll not only find sprawling farmland, beautiful beaches and gorgeous oak trees, but a county experiencing its craft beer hockey stick moment. Four to five years ago, you wouldn’t find many craft beer breweries in Ventura County. It’s now a full-fledged beer destination.
In May, Joby M. Yobe and the rest of the Barrelhouse 101 team will be celebrating their 6th Anniversary. The “OG” Ventura beer bar and restaurant has been educating Ventura on craft beer through their 107 taps. They rotate twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. When they opened, Surf Brewing, Island Brewing and Anacapa Brewing were the only local breweries.
“Forever, this was known as Corona, Coors Light territory. When we got rid of any Corona, Coors Light macro, people were pissed.”
Jobe even got flack for serving beers in the proper glassware.
“I’m not drinking beer out of a fucking tulip!”
Ojai Beverage Company opened in 2007, back when the available beers were Red Hook, Pyramid and Firestone DBA, to name a few. Jobe and his cousin, Jorge Alem, own OBC and often work together to offer great craft beers. And they typically will host classes or small brewery specific events monthly.
Casa Agria Specialty Ales is a boutique brewery, focusing on mixed fermentation farmhouse style ales, barrel aged wild ales, and Northeast style India pale ales. Their beers uses fruit direct from the local farms and is expressive of the Ventura County culture. Try their outstanding American Wild Ale, Pinot de la Casa, which ages their Saison de la Casa in freshly dumped Pinot Noir wine barrels from Casa Baranca Organic Winery in Ojai, CA.
Concrete Jungle Brewing Project is a brewery and tasting room in Ventura on Market Street. The grand opening was October 14, 2017. Concrete Jungle bought the Surf Brewery facility. Surf Brewery was the first packaging craft microbrewery in Ventura County CA, when opened June 2011. Formerly located in Los Angeles, Concrete Jungle moved into the former Surf Brewery location and have expanded their beer style offerings.
Darryl Levi is a friend of mine that I asked to write an article for me in my blog, www.TheBeerGoddess.com. I sent him to the Orange County Beer Festival in 2010 and he got the bug for craft, which led him to homebrewing, then buying a bar in Camarillo. “Darryl’s Couch” was born.
Darryl’s Couch was the first craft beer pub in the county, having opened in Sept of 2012. Levi offers 11 taps including one nitro, focusing on designated craft as determined by the Brewers Association, which includes breweries like Firestone, Five Threads, Made West and Three Weavers. He’s currently holding an IPA competition every Wednesday with three single IPAs from local Ventura County breweries.
Enegren Brewing is not out to chase beer trends. Since 2011, the Moorpark brewery has been focusing on German style lagers. They were the second packaging brewery in Ventura County by just a month. Chris loves the style because of their versatility and complexity.
“I want to push the boundaries in craft beer and not just offer the same thing everyone else is doing.”
Enegren started homebrewing in 2014, as an engineering major at Loyala Marymont. Enegren took his knowledge about control systems and programming and built his own automated 15-barrel, European style homebrew system. Chris has installed brewing systems at Garage Project in New Zealand, Fremont Brewing in Seattle and Fall Brewing in San Diego, to name just a few. And he’s applied the best of his engineering and brewing knowledge in his own brewery. Their tanks are named after the breweries moms, wives and daughters. And their custom brewing system is named after a Viking shieldmaiden and ruler from what is now Norway. This ”Lagertha” will have produced a Maibock and single hop pilsner by the time this article is published. And all of their beers are brewed with natural carbonation. The smart brewery gets 100% of their carbonation through spunding. Enegren produced 2,000 barrels last year and will be installing a canning machine in mid-April.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.'s Westlake Village taproom features a rotating list of specialty and cask beers and an artisanal menu featuring fresh gastropub fare. Try their Agua Santa Negra, a 5.1% ABV Mexican-Style Dark Lager, their Deisui Suru, an 8.0% ABV Japanese Imperial Lager or their English style India Pale Ale, a 2017 GABF silver medal winner, Hoppy Poppy IPA.
Did you know that a “thread” is a term sometimes used when blending two or more beers together? Located on Via Colinas in Westlake Village, Five Threads Brewing Company has been brewing since October 2015. You’ll find various styles like Heidi, their Bavarian Hefeweizen, Red, a Nelson Red Rye IPA and High Gear, their Mocha Oatmeal Stout.
Fluid State is already making waves with their awesome selection of craft beer and craft, organic pizzas. Since May of 2017, the restaurant/beer bar has impressed locals and beach town visitors alike with their authentic offerings.
“We feel like there’s something to be said for having a business that’s based on friendships and relationships, not based on what is trendy. A lot of the beer that we have here tends to be – it just so happens to be breweries that are on the cutting edge – but that’s not the main reason we have them on tap. The main reason we have them on tap is because we have relationships with these guys. We’ve known them for years.”
Aaron Duncan and Jen Schwertman want to support those authentic breweries in the industry.
Some of the beers offered are the smaller, independent breweries that don’t yet distribute. Jen has been in the beer and bar world since the fall of 1992, having started at Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver. Aaron started homebrewing about 15 years ago in Santa Cruz and then opened a craft centric restaurant in 2007. He then started working for Ninkasi Brewing, helping to launch Ninkasi down the coast from Santa Cruz to north Los Angeles, which eventually brought him to Santa Barbara. Jen and Aaron met at the Great American Beer Festival in 2010, and eventually joined forces to create Fluid State.
The redwood bar, Chicago made steakhouse barstools and the big horseshoe bar help make Fluid State casual, social and meaningful. You won’t find tv’s, but you’ll find a fantastic deck and 24 taps.
14 Cannons is a production brewery and showroom, which opened in October 2017. Located in Westlake Village, the brewery features nine taps with beers like Spice Island Chai Tea Brown Ale and Slippery Deck Imperial IPA.
Institution Ale Company opened in 2014 and is producing excellent, clean beers like their 7.5% ABV West Coast IPA, Institution IPA. Or, try their new Double Dry Hopped Institution IPA, their flagship IPA double dry hopped with Columbus, Mosaic, Simcoe and Centennial hops. Restraint is a 6.0% ABV Maple Brown Ale with notes of nuttiness, chocolate, roasted coffee, maple sweetness and woodsy dryness. Institution recently expanded from 12,800 sq./ft to nearly 29,000 sq. ft. proving the quality of their brews.
Ladyface Alehouse is the first microbrewery in the Conejo Valley and produces award-winning Belgian, French and American style ales, on site. Since late 2009, they’ve been serving beautiful Biere de Garde’s like their 7.5% ABV Dérailleur®.
Try their divine Golden Farmhouse ale, Trébuchet®, which was created with Ladyface’s Chaparral Saison brewed with honey from bees foraging on the local mountain sage scrub habitat and then ages in California Sauvignon Blanc barrels with Lactobacillus for over a year. Their seasonally-inspired European bistro-style menu - featuring its ales in many recipes - is also not to be missed.
Leashless Brewing is an eight month old certified organic brewery located on Thompson Blvd. in a 1930s-era building. Their V-Town IPA shines with navel orange and mangos. Their Tri-Fin Tripel is a classic Trappist with hints of black pepper and fruity yeast giving off notes of citrus and apricot.
MadeWest Brewing Co. is run by Ventura natives, which shows through their community involvement and mindedness. Founded in 2014, in the heart of Ventura, you may find some exceptional beers like their On The Juice, a hazy double IPA loaded with Galaxy, Citra and Ekuanot hops or Prospect, a Vanilla Coffee Porter, dosed with whole Madagascar Vanilla beans and 100 lbs. of single origin coffee beans roasted by Prospect Coffee Roasters, also in Ventura.
Head over to Davy Jones' Locker where Brian Oliver has been serving quality beers since 2014. Poseidon Brewing Company has been serving tasty DIPA’s, Brown and Cascadian dark ales and Imperial Chocolate Oatmeal Stouts since 2014. They quickly lived up to their mantra, “Ales With Depth.”
Smoke Mountain is a boutique farm brewery located on top of Rincon Mountain, bordering Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The hops, barley, produce and herbs are all grown locally, on their farm. While they have no taproom, the beer club is popular among locals – which can be mailed or enjoyed at their “Pick Up Parties.” You may also find some distributed locally, by visiting their social media pages.
Founder & CEO, Ali Zia is bringing is beer background and expertise from Newbury Park’s Bottle & Pint to the future Thousand Oaks brewery, Tarantula Hill Brewery. Bottle & Pint is a craft beer exclusive bottle shop, taproom and retail shop that opened in Newbury Park three years ago.
Tarantula Hill Brewery will be opening likely in two phases, with the brew-side of the building opening first – around October. They will start with festivals and select tastings. Around December, they will start serving not just the beer, but artisan pizzas and small batch ice-cream. Speaking of deliciousness, keep a look out for guest chef beer dinners, beer & ice-cream pairings and artisan coffee, all with the idea of pairing and enjoying together.
John Edney will be managing the restaurant, including the super-premium ice-cream. The first brewery in Thousand Oaks will appropriately be located on Thousand Oaks Blvd., exact location to be announced March 1st. The Thousand Oaks High School, class of ’91 natives want to incorporate the town as much as possible, using local ingredients and naming beers after local landmarks. The brewer – who’s yet to be revealed – has a over a decade of experience at one of the biggest breweries in the country. Ali and the team at Tarantula Hill know what craft beers the locals are gravitating to from serving them at Bottle & Pint, and so you likely see some IPAs, big stouts and some crisp lagers – among other styles.
Twisted Oak Tavern has made some awesome contributions to the VC beer scene since 2015, featuring beer from their in-house brewery, The LAB Brewing Co. Located in Agoura Hills, it was even voted best beer bar in California in 2016 by CraftBeer.com. Brewmaster, Roger Bott has been brewing beer for over 20 years and has taken the gold in two Casa Pacifica Beer Festivals. With a heavier focus on IPAs and Belgian ales, Twisted Oak features 32 taps showcasing around six of their own award-winning beer.
Topa Topa opened in June 2015 and has built their brewery on three core values; quality, craftsmanship and community spirit. They make beer that they like to drink. Jack is CEO & cofounder of Topa Topa, Kyle Thomson is CFO/COO and cofounder and cofounder Casey Harris brews their delicious brews. They typically have about 12-18 beers on tap, where 70% of production is Chief Peak IPA. Look for double IPAs, barrel aged beers and their “Solitude Series,” their single hop series, which is a taproom special that showcases a new hop every two months. And they’re doing so well, they opened their second taproom in Santa Barbara in October 2017. And look out for a third location in Ojai, adding a food element to the mix.
“As new breweries open, I think it’s human nature for people to think, ‘oh man, is that going to hurt your business?’ and we’ve just gotten busier and busier with every single brewery that’s opened. We love it…we think that spirit kinda’ sets us up for success.”
Jack also credits the newer craft beer drinkers in the area and their culinary curiosity.
“People just sort of skipped over Ventura and Santa Barbara area, and I think that’s changed now. We hope to change it with such a diverse, stylistically group of breweries.”
Their goals for 2018 are expanding, to simply make more beer and increase efficiency.
Many of the breweries in the county – including Topa Topa – have recently joined the Central Coast Brewers Guild, where Dyer sits on the board. The guild has expanded to include Ventura County, now with over 50 members. There is a Southcoast Chapter and the Northcoast Chapter.
Ventura Coast Brewing Company is proving that a taproom model with approachable beer, a nice patio in a great downtown location just works. They opened October 2016 and is selling a good number of lagers, hoppy pilsner and increasingly their new sours. Kyle thinks the beer culture has changed and grown even in just the past two-three years.
“I don’t think anyone really directly looks at anybody as a direct competitor. Even in distribution, where handles are getting a little bit tighter, it’s all culture growth at this point…the more the merrier,” said Kyle Thille, founder of VCBC.
Kyle and head brewer, Dan White (former head brewer at Smog City) wants to introduce new styles to the community, on an elevated and balanced level. They’ve started a tiered barrel program, separating those entry level sours and also offering wood-aged beers.
Westlake Brewing Company serves craft beers and live music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Play on their old-school pinball machines and a regulation shuffle board table.
Topa Topa Brewing Company celebrated three years on June 9th. I spoke with owner and co-founder, Jack Dyer about their rapid growth and success.
EP: So tell me about celebrating three years. What have you done to make it such a success?
JD: It's been a very humbling and fun three years. That’s for sure. I think for us, just turning three and being able to grow with the community and really try and focus on that, supporting the community both with the craft beer community and our local nonprofits. It's just a really fun experience for us. It’s had some ups and downs. But we came to market really knowing who we are and what we, what we'd like to brew, what we like to make at the company, who we want to be. I think that's the difference. It's made us successful to just really, really, focus on making the highest quality product we can, doing things ourselves and at the end, supporting the community.
So we have three core values that we follow, to make every decision and they’re quality, craftsmanship and community spirit. So we try and instill that in everything that we do from the tap room to making beer to the projects and nonprofits that we support. I think that that's what's helped us be successful and grow to the point where now we've outgrown our facility and we're making, we're building a new, larger facility to be able to make some more beer. We have grown our company from three employees to, now we have 35. So it's a blessing. It's super fun.
EP: Go into more of who you are, you are the other founders. As far as beer trends, do you follow those?
JD: There’s three founders. It’s myself and Kyle Thompson and Casey Harris, who's our head brewer, but he also an owner in the company which, which, Kyle and I really think is important. And you know, we want him – Casey - invested financially in the success of the company. The key for us in really the three of us. I can't speak highly enough of my business partners. They truly are like two of the smartest guys I know. And you know, we've built a nice kind of family culture and that’s been really important and really key for us, having the three of them to be able to focus on. Casey handles pretty much the entirety of the beer program.
Kyle handles a lot of the finances and special projects and I'm able to do more sales and marketing. So having the three of us I think has also played into our our ability to grow somewhat quickly because we kind of all take our pieces of puzzle and just do ‘em, do what we do. So as far as beer trends and things, we almost pride ourselves on not being trendy. We make beers that we like to drink and that we think our customers will enjoy and that's always been a focus for us since we started. So it seemed to work so far. So yeah, we really focused on keeping all our beer super, super fresh, as well, which is a very important piece of the puzzle. And I think within the market, the craft market's growing so crazy.
That's probably the most fun aspect of it - is that there's so much great local fresh beer available now. So we just try to capitalize on that. In particular, our Chief Peek IPA, that’s our flagship. Just keep it as fresh as possible. So you pull up to a bar in Santa Barbara County or Ventura County, it’s probably less than three weeks old. That didn’t used to happen in the beer game. So, now that’s the reality.
EP: So what, what do you think your hardcore Topa Topa fans who've been there since the beginning would say about you guys?
JD: Well, I hope that they love us. We really appreciate our customers and we try and take the time and effort to really give them a great experience every time they have one of our beers, whether having one at an account and a retail partner or at one of our tap rooms – we really want them to feel welcomed and at home and give them a space where they can come and converse and talk about beer and really engage with their community.
I like to think that, you know, our hardcore customers, and partners don’t just like us, they love us. We love them right back. I think a lot of our customers that have heard of over the years, they value our consistency that we're consistently putting out a high quality product. We don't run out of our flagship beers, you know. So I think that's a big thing that they really enjoy. We have great customers, regulars, that that's been a fun thing that - quite frankly I didn't really expect to have as many regulars. We know them by name. They’re part of the Topa family as well. So that’s been a fun thing as well, something that I didn't really anticipate when we undertook this starting a brewery thing.
EP: Right. Awesome. What’s been the most surprising thing in the past three years?
JD: Just been the pace at which we've been able to grow. We wrote the business plan based on kind of a set pace that we thought we'd be able to sell beer and grow our tasting room model. But the fact that we're working on our third location and that we're close to 5,000 barrels of production is, is pretty wild. But that was like year seven, eight, nine of our business plan and here we are in year three and we’re already there. So that's the most surprising thing and just the general support that we got from the community and to see the overall growth of Ventura County and Santa Barbara County and craft beer in general. That's the most surprising thing for me for sure. It's wonderful to see.
EP: And when do you guys have going on in July?
JD: Community spirit is always the forefront. We just dropped a collaboration beer with our friends at El Segundo Brewing Company. A group that, always, we just love those guys. We love their beer. They came to us. They really wanted to do something to benefit the Thomas fire. They are down in L.A. and they wanted to do something to help. So, we did a beer, it’s called Hat’s Off. We’ll probably have a few fun events. We already launched the beer down in L.A., but it's now hitting stores in the area, in Ventura and Santa Barbara County. But we're planning some fun event at Fluid State. That’s going to be one of them for sure. We don't have the date locked down yet, but we're working on that right now.
We brewed in down in El Segundo. El Segundo’s committed to a dollar of every beer going to two different nonprofits that help Thomas fire recovery efforts. Jen and Aaron have already committed that they’ll be donating some proceeds from that night…It will be in the next few weeks. Otherwise, we’re working hard, keeping our tasting rooms busy. I'm keeping up with our production. We're currently, we have two construction projects going on at Topa Topa right now. We have a third one and we're building a larger production facility so we're a little busy with that.
EP: Which leads me to my next related question, goals for the next three years?
JD: So we've always loved the taproom model, so are adding a couple more taprooms. That Ojai one should be open by late summer and that'll be a really fun project. We're partnering with a really great food provider in the region as well. So we'll have some fun food to pair with the beer there, we think it will be a nice enhancement. And the production facility is going to enable us to make beer to satisfy our network of draft accounts and also we're finally going to be able to get into the traditional packaging, cans. So that's going to be really exciting to see our beer getting into that format so that people can enjoy it, because currently right now, if you want a Chief Peak, find a draft account in Ventura or Santa Barbara County. So we're excited to do that. That'll be kind of what we focus on here for the next little bit.
We hope to have packaging by sometime before the end of the year. A lot of it has to do with timelines and permits, all the fun stuff that goes with building a new brewery. But yeah, we've already bought a canning line, so it's going to happen. We’re really excited to do it and provide some more beers out in the market as well.
Apparently we really only distribute Chief Peak, so we're excited to get a few more options out there for people. We make a lot of great beers, but a lot of people just know us for Chief Peak.
EP: Speaking of Chief Peak, congratulations on the Casa Pacifica win.
JD: Yeah, that was a fun win. We don't really measure ourselves by medals. But it’s always fun to be voted in by your peers. People tasting our beer. People get consistently surprised that Chief Peak is such a flagship beer, people are actually surprised when they're doing a blind tasting. It’s a really great beer. Casey and our team did a great job with that recipe. It's always so, so freaking fresh. It’s difference maker when you drink it, when you drink a week old IPA, that's pretty nice.
EP: What are your thoughts on the county now and how it's grown and versus three or five years ago.
JD: It's pretty amazing. I was just talking about this last night with Jason, the head brewer here at Allagash, where we're at. Just, the landscape and the diversity and the styles of beer is - in our region - is really fun and to see every business model working, I think that's the most compelling part is that whether you're a nano brewer, big production, distribution from day one. All these models are working.
That's a really fun thing to see. I find myself talking about the guys at Enegren a lot because I love that ]they're focusing on these German, real clean beer styles. You know, [you have] the guys at Casa Agria and their sour program. It's just really cool to see people succeeding and focusing on quality.
So that's the number one thing. I think that no longer is Ventura County a skip over spot when people pass through. You gotta’ stop and try the beers. There’s incredible diversity right here. And all those guys are friends of ours. They're good guys and they make good beer and they’re really committed to making the best product they can. We love it and when we decided to open in Ventura County, it was something we really focused on and really wanted to build a greater sense of community amongst the brewers and even like with our friends, with our retail accounts. Just really focusing on getting things going.