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Liquid Courage: Visit to the West Coast (Part 1)

Submitted by on July 27, 2009 – 9:33 AMNo Comment
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West Coast Offense: 5 Days, 24 Beers, 2 Breweries, and One Happy Blogger

mattCalifornia is known for a few things: pristine beaches, endless summer, Napa Valley, the California girls. What’s often overlooked is the real and powerful influence the West Coast has had on the American craft beer scene. Most beer advocates are already familiar with the stalwart story of Ken Grossman and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (if you’re not, well, pull up a pint and read here) and recognize the iconic green stubby bottles of hoppy pale ale. Not to degrade their success story in any way, but that’s so 1980. Taking the example of Sierra Nevada, founded 1979, is useful because it exposes the huge strides the industry has taken and the paramount role West Coast brewers and drinkers have played. Today, California persists as one of the country’s most beer-savvy populations, with access to some seriously tasty brews. It can get overwhelming, so let’s catch you up to speed.

Surf City, USA

santacruzI want to make one point clear: I went to Santa Cruz to spend time with my family. It was a planned rendezvous dedicated to my cousin, and my primary aim was to relax and catch up with relatives. My beer escapades were an impromptu side-mission that suddenly had me inebriated and trying to keep track of all the different beers I was experiencing. That’s the thing about this place: you don’t need to try to find an awesome beer scene, it’s waiting there for you between the palm trees and the pubs. In any event, I did the dirty work of drinking brews, keeping notes, and taking pictures. Tough life, I know. Here’s a poorly organized list of all the different beers I had the pleasure of enjoying during my stay:

-Anchor Steam Beer, Anchor Brewing Co.
-Racer 5 IPA, Bear Republic Brewing Co.
-Cran Slam Wheat, Seabright Brewery
-Fat Tire Amber Ale, New Belgium Brewing Inc.
-Hop Rod Rye, Bear Republic Brewing Co.
-Hop Stoopid, Lagunitas Brewing Co.seabright 4
-Longboard Island Lager, Kona Brewing Co.
-Lagunitas IPA, Lagunitas Brewing Co.
-Le Freak, Green Flash Brewing Co.
-Long Hammer IPA, Redhook Ale Brewery
-Salvator Dopplebock, Paulaner Salvator Thomasbraeu AG
-Slim Chance Light Ale, Redhook Ale Brewery
-Red Tail Ale, Mendocino Brewing Co.
-Redhook ESB, Redhook Ale Brewery
-Sacrilicious Ale, Seabright Brewery
-Devout Stout, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
-Dread Brown Ale, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
-India Pale Ale, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
-People’s Porter, Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
-Oatmeal Stout, Seabright Brewey
-The Blur IPA, Seabright Brewery
-Pale Ale, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
-Summerfest Lager, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
-Ruination IPA, Stone Brewing Co.

Twenty-four different brews in five days (reviews and recommendations to come later). Don’t say I never sacrificed for the people.

The funny thing is how easy it was to compile this list. I didn’t actively seek out any of these bottles or pours; I just had some free time and asked around for the brewery. If four visiting tourists can cruise around town in a cramped Ford pickup and get all this done, you can too. The West Coast beer scene is easily a priority for any adventurous and exploring beer drinker, and if it isn’t, it should be on your list. But now I want to talk a little bit about my experiences with the local flavor and people as I was getting progressively more beer soaked.

Brewery Profile: Seabright Brewery, Santa Cruz, CA.Seabright-1

The Seabright Brewery is a brewpub, located just down the road from the Santa Cruz harbor and yacht wharf. We (my father, brother, and girlfriend) showed up around lunchtime on a weekday and found the place already at capacity, with a 10-15 minute wait. Things came together, however, once we went inside. The interior had enough seating for around (total guess here) 30-50 comfortable patrons and a fully stocked bar, but the place to be was outside in the sun, kicking back a freshly brewed tap pour. We sat outside and ordered, taking in the sun and blue sky, and just enjoying passing the time. This place has a definite local vibe to it, friendly service, quite inviting.  The pesto and cheese fries were outstanding and stood up to the bitter, cutting hoppiness of Seabright’s IPA. Jenn had the teriyaki salmon dish and paired it up with the Cran Slam wheat, a wheat beer brewed with 15 pounds of honey and 50 pounds of fresh cranberries. The best pour to my taste was a reddish brown ale called Sacrilicious, which matched a robust malty sweetness and round body to the dry, puckering flavor of “a sinful amount of Columbus dry hops.” Lunch was fantastic, kicking back in the sun, and on the way out I made sure to pick up a growler of their award-winning oatmeal stout to bring back home for the evening.

UP NEXT: the taproom at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing, and how to navigate among California’s biggest and baddest breweries.