A New Beer Destination – California’s Central Coast

We took the opportunity on Thanksgiving weekend to make another road trip to the southern portion of California’s Central Coast [see SLO Saturday and What is a Beer Geek?]. Quickly, our brethren to the south are building quite a beer community, something that makes us both happy and jealous. Early Saturday morning we were heading south on Highway 101 for the almost three hour drive to our first stop.

The dog friendly patio at Orcutt Brewing
The dog friendly outside seating at Orcutt Brewing

Our first destination was the newest brewery addition to the beer scene, Orcutt Brewing in a town of the same name. Ten minutes off of Highway 101, Orcutt was formerly a bar, the Loading Dock, that recently added a small brewhouse. On a beautiful late November day, we found a nice spot on their expansive, dog-friendly deck to try some beer.

The one house beer
The one house beer

Typical of a new brewpub, Orcutt is trying to match production with demand. At this point, demand is winning. While the plans are to have three or four house beers plus a seasonal on at all times, there was only one beer available on our visit: Frick N’ IPA. We were thankful they had the one beer; otherwise we couldn’t have counted Orcutt on The List.

Some of the taps at Orcutt Brewing
Some of the taps at Orcutt Brewing

Complimenting the house beer was a nice selection of guest taps. Among the 13 handles was Sierra Nevada Celebration, and a couple of Firestone Walker beers including the Robust Porter, which we don’t see here in our beer backwater.

All in all, quite a pleasant experience. Enjoying the sun out on the deck, we had a tasty lunch and beer. We look forward to our next visit when there will be yet another brewpub opening up next door.

Two of lifes pleasures; my pups and beer
Two of life’s pleasures; my pups and beer

Heading back up the highway, a short 15 minute drive had us at another dog-friendly establishment, Santa Maria Brewing in Nipomo. This was our second visit to Santa Maria Brewing, our first being St. Patrick’s Day 2001.

What struck us then was that Santa Maria was basically a clubhouse, complete with all manner of memorabilia, where friends gathered over a few beers. And it was no different the second time around. While we seemed to be the first customers of the day, soon a steady trickle of people arrived. They all knew each other and soon were chatting over beers.

Relaxing over a beer, Blonde Ale for Merideth and Belgian Brown for myself, we talked about how some places just have that vibe that transcends the beer. The brews are good, not great, but there is much more to Santa Maria Brewing. If we ever had a beer place, Santa Maria would be one of the places we would want to emulate.

The beer selection at Spikes
The beer selection at Spike’s

Back on the highway, our next destination was Spike’s in San Luis Obispo. Spike’s was one of the original beer bars in California. Mentioned in the 1988 version of Michael Jackson’s Pocket Guide to Beer, Spike’s has been around for 25 years. Despite its long history, this was only my second visit, Merideth’s first, to this California beer institution. A return visit/first visit was long overdue.

Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head Life & Limb at Spikes
Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head Life & Limb at Spike’s

However, the main reason to stop at Spike’s was my search for Sierra Nevada/Dogfish Head Life & Limb on draft.

I had the bottled version on Thanksgiving Day and loved it. It was rich, malty and I really enjoyed the extra sweetness added by the maple syrup. It was a nice beer to sip in front of a fire on Thanksgiving evening watching Blazing Saddles. But I wanted to compare it to the draft version. Since we probably weren’t going to get draft Life & Limb in the backwater, I needed to go find it. I was pretty confident Spike’s would have it.

They did. The draft version had a thinner mouth-feel than the bottled version which made room for much more of the alcohol taste to come through. Not a fan of the hot alcohol taste, I preferred the bottle. Chalk one up for bottle conditioning!

World class beer at Firestone Walker tasting room
World class beer at Firestone Walker tasting room

If there is a center to this growing beer scene, it would have to be Paso Robles. San Luis Obispo has more beer establishments, but Paso has Firestone Walker. With its world class beers, and location on a main San Francisco/Los Angeles thoroughfare, the Firestone Walker tasting room is a magnet for travelers heading both north and south.

The chocately goodness that is Black Xanthus
The chocolaty goodness that is Black Xanthus

And on this Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, the tasting room was doing  a pretty brisk business. We even met several friends returning from their trips further south.

I was looking forward to a pint of the repeat GABF gold medal winner, Union Jack IPA but there was something special  in store. Those, like us, who stopped in this holiday weekend were in for a treat, Black Xantus on draft. Produced under their second label Nectar Ales, I had tried it at the BevMo Holiday Beer Festival in San Francisco. It was nice to revisit the chocolate-bomb Imperial Stout at its source.

We also took the opportunity to pick up a few bottles of Firestone 13.

New on the Paso beer scene: the Pour House
New on the Paso beer scene: the Pour House

Our final stop of the day, the Pour House, was a hundred yards down the street from the Firestone Walker tasting room. Only open since July, the Pour House sports a dozen taps and 80 some odd beers in the bottle.

Housed in one of those  office/warehouse type buildings, the Pour House was very reminiscent of Ol’ Factory Cafe. We found a cozy spot on the couches in the front corner with some friends.

Unfortunately, we hit the Pour House at the end of a long day. One beer and some delivered pizza was it for us before we headed home. We need to get back down to Paso Robles soon to give the Pour House a real visit.