While the Central Coast may be world-renowned for its wine, there are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy a product from another type fermentation: beer. Surrounding the city of Santa Barbara are several local breweries, each crafting their own line of year-round and seasonal beers that are distributed not only locally but throughout the county, state, and nation.
As the temperatures drop (yes, even in California) these popular breweries introduce winter blends in hopes of keeping their customers warm and festive despite the dwindling number of beach days. If you are looking for a unique tour in the Santa Barbara area, start with a homebrew lesson and tasting session in Ventura and end with a brewery tour and dinner in Paso Robles.
Beer Tasting — Photo courtesy of www.public-domain-image.com
The Surf Brewery in Ventura is a fresh face on the local brewery scene. With beers named after places and terms of the Ventura surf community, food from local food trucks, and a tasting room open six days a week, the brewery has become a city hotspot. One of their limited releases has even paired up with Ventura Limoncello to create the Lemon Wahine Wheat, boiled with fresh lemon peels from the estate.
However, Surf is not just a brewery. It also sells homebrew supplies and offers classes on making your own craft beer! Not only would this be an excellent idea to pass along to Santa, but you might want even want to send Saint Nick an Oil Piers Porter, a rich malt that would pair well with chocolate cookies, to be sure you’re on the “nice” list.
Less than a half hour up the coast is Island Brewing Company in Carpinteria, with its outdoor tasting room open seven days a week. IBC's Blackbird Porter is dark and delicious taste of chocolate and its crystal malts sure to make you feel toasty no matter the season. It will also warm your heart to know that Island Brewing donates a portion of the Blackbird proceeds to the Land Trust for Santa Barbara.
Island Brewing Company also makes a distinction with their specialty bourbon barrel-aged ales, available “when stars align.” Their Blackbird Porter, along with the Jubilee and Holiday Ale, are aged in oak bourbon barrels and is one of the most unique, sought-after tastes in the area. The brewery is also famous for their Avocado Honey Ale, a smooth and sweet beer brewed just in time for Carpinteria’s Avocado Festival in October.
Once in Santa Barbara, head to Telegraph Brewing Company. The brewery’s Winter Ale is a top contender as a seasonal favorite, inspired by Mexican hot chocolate with its hints of cinnamon, allspice, and sweet ancho chilies. The chocolate and caramel malts are sure to sweeten your holiday taste buds and perhaps make you reconsider your choice to leave milk out for Santa on Christmas Eve.
Telegraph Brewing Company has a tasting room open Thursday through Saturday, sharing their distinctive beers that celebrate the local area. Their California Ale is named in appreciation for the rich agricultural valley of Santa Barbara and their Cervesa de Fiesta is an annual brew made especially for one of the city’s most popular events: Old Spanish Days. Telegraph is the perfect brewery to enjoy just as the locals do.
Following in the theme of chocolate and caramel, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company is sure to impress with their Davy Brown Ale, boasting a balance of coffee and citrus notes. Named after a pioneer of the Santa Ynez Valley, the ale has won gold the last two years at the Denver International Beer Competition and will remove the chill of cold from any scrooge this season.
The brewery itself, run by a father and son team, has an open tasting room all week long in Buellton where you can sample and enjoy brews that tie together the region and its history with both ingredient and name. At just two years old, the brewery is already grabbing the attention of connoisseurs in the area.
Firestone Walker Brewery — Photo courtesy of Tori Bodin
From Buellton and north to Paso Robles, you can find of the biggest names in microbrewery: Firestone Walker. With “taproom” restaurants in Buellton and Paso Robles and a local blonde ale called the “805,” the regional craft brewer is a big name on a small stretch of the coast. Open in 1996, the company has kept pace with the seasons and their brews.
The Velvet Merlin, an oatmeal stout that becomes available in winter months, has won several medals for its creamy combination of chocolate and coffee traces. The cocoa and espresso aromas are perfect for the holidays, reminding consumers of the warmth of the season despite the cold drink in hand. While the restaurants serve lunch and dinner alongside their most popular taps, the brewery itself in Paso Robles could easily be the highlight of this coastal tour. The brewery gives (free) tours from Friday to Sunday and offers tastings seven days a week. It’s a rather intimate look at the workings and lifestyle of a world-class brewery.
Firestone Walker Brewery Tour — Photo courtesy of Tori Bodin
Each of these breweries will supply any demand for the perfect winter beer, sure to warm up even those at the North Pole. Touring all five will give any beer lover a unique look at the local brewing scene in the Santa Barbara area. While it may not seem like the best time of year to visit these beach communities, it’s the perfect time to receive a more personalized experience with the locals who enjoy these brews on an (almost) daily basis and narrow down which 6-packs and growlers you will be adding to your Christmas list.