Xmas Trees & Beer on the Central Coast

Apparently, we have a new Thanksgiving weekend tradition. For the second year running, we journeyed down to the southern Central Coast to check out their growing beer scene. Last year, we concentrated on the San Luis Obispo/Paso Robles area [Read A New Beer Destination – California’s Central Coast]. This year, our focus was the Santa Ynez Valley.

Blue skies reigned on our Christmas tree hunt

But we had one piece of business to take care of first. With a busy schedule prior to leaving for Europe in early December, we needed to get our Christmas tree. Limited time meant that driving an hour and half north to our normal Christmas tree farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains was out of the question. After a quick internet search, I located Holloway’s Christmas Tree Farm in Nipomo, just south of Pismo Beach.

Merideth hunting for the perfect tree

Three hours after leaving our house, we were wandering the fields of Holloway’s Farm under a warm California November sun. Out of our familiar Santa Cruz Mountain Christmas tree farm environment, we struggled to pick just the right tree. After taking 45 minutes to explore the whole farm, we finally chose the very first tree Merideth had picked out as a possible candidate.

Rooney’s Irish Pub houses Shanty Irish Brewing Co.

With our Christmas tree hunt completed, it was time for a beer. We hoped to satisfy our thirst at Rooney’s Irish Pub, a short drive away in the tiny town of Orcutt. Visiting Rooney’s was a gamble because we weren’t sure they were pouring their own beers yet. Rooney’s opened last summer, but due to construction issues with the brewery, there was a delay getting Shanty Irish Brewing Co. up and running.

We’d been to Orcutt before. In fact, it was last Thanksgiving when we visited Orcutt Brewing Company. Having been to this seemingly sleepy little burg, we were somewhat surprised to discover that Rooney’s was one of those ‘upscale’ Irish pubs. Bustling early on a Friday afternoon, the pub was filled with multiple large family groups. The bar area was crowded with college football fans watching Auburn vs. Alabama. After some difficulty, Merideth  ascertained that they did have ONE house beer on tap. One beer was all we needed to count Rooney’s on The List, so we grabbed a table in the bar area.

Sausage Plate and Pork Belly Sliders at Rooney’s

The beer was a 9% ABV Amber. Admittedly, I thought that was an odd choice for a first beer. The dark amber brew had a very mild flavor with a slight amount of alcohol hotness, which became more prominent as it warmed up. Nothing in Rooney’s first beer said ‘wow’ to us. But, it was a credible first effort.

The star of the show at Rooney’s was the food. Merideth and I shared Pork Belly Sliders and a Sausage Plate with Pickled Vegetables to accompany our beer. Both were excellent.

We look forward to visiting Rooney’s again in the future when they have their full beer lineup available. When we do, I think I’ll get my own order of Pork Belly sliders.

A crowded ‘soft’ opening

With fortuitous timing, we visited Figueroa Mountain Brewing, located in an industrial park just off Hwy 101 in Buellton, during their ‘soft’ opening. However, nothing said soft as we walked through the crowded reception area into the even more crowded tasting room. A boisterous and lively crowd chatted in groups as the staff busily tried to keep the beer flowing and glasses full.

Sample set at Figueroa Mountain Brewing

Three of their five beers were available to try on opening day. All were clean and well-crafted, very impressive for a new brewery. Wrangler Wheat is a unfiltered American-style Wheat beer. Davy Brown Ale, named after a Santa Ynez Valley pioneer, was a delicious Brown Ale. Most impressive, though, was the Hoppy Poppy IPA, a 6.5% 65 IBU brew that even Merideth, a non-hophead, really liked. It’s not often we agree on the favorite beer.

While drinking our sample set of beers, Merideth and I both marveled at the swanky tasting room digs. The owners seemed to spare no expense in making an industrial building feel warm and cozy. The dark rustic wood tables and wood paneling in the tasting area were a nice contrast to the cinder block walls of the brewery.

Success is never guaranteed, but we left thinking that Figueroa Mountain Brewing is going to do very well.

The Taproom restaurant in Buellton

Still in Buellton, we finished our day across the highway at Firestone Walker’s Tap Room Restaurant. Huge fans of their beers, every visit to the Central Coast requires a stop to fill our growler. While we are frequent visitors to the tasting room in Paso Robles, this was our first visit to the restaurant. Despite being much larger than the tasting room, the restaurant had a familiar and comfortable vibe. The only difference was the addition of an open kitchen and large dining area.

My Union Jack and Fish Tacos and Merideth’s Velvet Merlin and Mac-n-Cheese were a perfect way to end a productive day on the  Central Coast.

View all the pictures from our day…