Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Spirits of Ventura: Tequila, Beer, and Lemons, Oh My!

No, this isn’t a ghost story, unless beer and tequila frightens you. This is liquid satisfaction in downtown Ventura. Located 60 miles north of Los Angeles, Ventura has long been like that middle child in every family – ignored and left behind in favor of the flamboyant kid, namely Santa Barbara. But Ventura is rapidly changing; there is a laid back vibe, easy beach access, strong arts community, and the culinary scene is taking off. But what’s really getting attention is our friend, alcohol.

Anacapa Brewing Company
Wine is booming with nearly 15 wineries from Oxnard to Ojai. But wine gets the lion’s share of attention already, so it’s time to uncover other sweet juices of joy. Micro-breweries are ubiquitous along the Central Coast, but currently in downtown Ventura there is only one: Anacapa Brewing Company. Housed in a 130 year-old building, the narrow interior is bookended by exposed brick walls. Owner Danny Saldana offers five brews on tap, and new brews coming on line all the time. You can only buy them here, or bring in your growler for a fill-up. Their hops come from Yakima, Washington, and their malts from Canada. The result is finely balanced beers; everything from porters and hoppy double IPAs to lighter lagers. They also have a large food menu and are located right on Main Street. ( 

Dr. Adolfo Murillo

Mules haul out the agave
What does a local optometrist do when his family ranch in Mexico is up for grabs? Since the ranch was located in Jalisco, Mexico, Dr. Adolfo Murillo planted blue agave in order to produce tequila. All tequila must come from the state of Jalisco otherwise it ain’t recognized as tequila. His organic approach to the barren and difficult ranch land has resulted in better quality agave, stronger, and healthier. Adolfo has shared his organic protocol with other farmers in Mexico, regardless of the crop, and currently there are farmers growing organic in multiple states. You can find his Tequila Alquimia in restaurants and bars in Ventura. His is one of only three or four of the 1,150 different labels of tequila in the world to be certified organic by the USDA. There is the blanco, reposada, añejo, and Extra Añejo, aged six years. These are smooth tequilas, beautifully made and they make excellent margaritas. Adolfo’s recipe defies the conventional approach: One part tequila (he prefers the blanco over an aged version), one part fresh lime juice, ½ part orange juice, and ½ part agave nectar. That’s it, no need for triple sec or Grand Marnier. And the result is a fresh, crisp flavor with the fruit and tequila being balanced. Or have them at room temperature, as these are sipping tequila’s, not shooters. Does organic really matter in a tequila? Well, consider this: the average growing cycle of blue agave is 7-10 years; that’s nearly a decade an agave plant can soak up chemicals, toxins and pesticides. With Tequila Alquimia, there are no chemicals in the ground to begin with. So there. (

James Carling
Ventura is also home to vast citrus orchards, specifically lemons. So if you’re of Italian descent limoncello is customary back home along the Amalfi Coast. If you’re the husband/wife team James Carling and Manuela Zaretti-Carling, you bring Italy to California. They had been making their limoncello at home for 10 years and were eventually persuaded to move into commercial production. Ventura Limoncello has scored tremendous medals and awards at spirits competitions, even beating itself in one competition. So what is limoncello? Just the best damn lemon liqueur you’ll ever taste. Lemon peel, neutral spirits, sugar and water. There ya go. But the simplicity of ingredients should not belie the quality. James doesn’t use vodka as he believes that vodkas give the liqueur a harsher taste. Only the top layer of the lemon skin is peeled, all by hand, then it’s infused in large glass jars (metal containers leave an aftertaste) with the neutral spirits. In addition to their original version, they produce a crema, one made with milk, and an orange-cello made with blood oranges. Smooth, viscous and addictive, you need to find this when you’re in the area at local restaurants and bars, and take a bottle home with you. Leave it in the freezer and pour it directly into your glass. ( 
Lemon rinds in neutral spirits, relaxing.

All these diverse liquid refreshments can be found by simply walking Main Street in downtown Ventura, and these family-owned businesses deserve your attention, not just because they offer a local flavor to your visit, but because these are excellent beverages. For more information about Ventura/Ojai including the wines and restaurants, shopping and outdoor activities, check out my Moon travel book, Santa Barbara & The Central Coast. Salud!


  1. Hi
    this is really very helpful article. I go through this site really very nice information.thank for sharing such a nice information.

  2. Hi Aman: Glad my blog is helpful. Always NEW info coming up! Thanks for checking it out.