Thursday, July 9, 2015

Reaching for the Peak- Figueroa Mountain Brewery Continues to Climb

If you're ever in the Santa Ynez Valley the dominating feature against the lithe blue skyline is always Figueroa Mountain, peaking at 4,500 feet. It was under the shadow of this geographical landmark that the father and son team of Jim and Jamie Dietenhofer decided it would be a good idea to start a brewery and in 2010 the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. (or just Fig Mountain as we locals call it) was born. For years of the dominant brewery on the Central Coast has been the powerhouse Firestone-Walker. Sure there have been smaller microbrews popping up here and there including Telegraph Brewing, Island Brewing, and a handful of others but really that was like comparing apple to oranges, or hops to grapes. You had the really big guy, and the many smaller guys. And you now have Fig Mountain. 
What’s impressive about Figueroa Mountain Brewery is not only their selection of beers, obviously, but also that they have doubled in size every year since their inception and kept the quality level high. Craft beer is nothing new, but what Fig Mountain has done is to create a huge step up from mass marketed beer (like Bud and Coors) and found a sweet spot for true local craft beer lovers on the Central Coast. They have multiple taprooms in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties and I recently visited the newest taproom with an attached restaurant in Arroyo Grande (locals call it “AG”), just south of San Luis Obispo. They have a solid selection of their core beers including personal favorites of mine the Danish Red Lager, and Lizards Mouth IPA - so named for a great hiking place on the San Marcos Pass. In fact all of their core of beers have names and hand-drawn labels that are reflective of Santa Barbara. What's great about their core, seasonal and specialty beers is not only the clean fresh crisp nature of them, but they are wonderfully balanced and work ideally with food.
The Fish Tacos!
The AG taproom food is a mix of full entrĂ©es and more traditional bar pub food like salads, soup and burgers. I was partial on my visit to the fish tacos with crispy cod, cabbage and a cilantro cream, the surprisingly crispy baked beer pretzel, and the earthy and spicy carnitas nachos. The food side of this particular partnership in Arroyo Grande is with a family who started in the restaurant business in 1954 and wisely the Dietenhofer’s turned that portion over to people who know what they're doing so they could focus on what they are doing. Smart move. The AG spot also has live music, both indoor and outdoor seating and is ideal for families even though it will run loud inside. 
And for those who want to explore more beers, from micro-micobreweries to Fig Mountain and Firestone Walker there’s a service called Hop On Beer Tours, which hits up breweries from Paso Robles to Buellton. Owner Brant Myers is, shall we say, obsessed with beer always on the lookout for seasonal, short-term and specialty offerings, whatever may be of interest and unique. “I go geocaching for beers,” he tells me.

So if you're a visitor to the Central Coast, or if you're local, and you haven't tried Figueroa Mountain Brewery you need to do yourself a favor and check out one of their locations in Santa Barbera (the Funk Zone), Buellton, Santa Maria, the newest addition in Arroyo Grande and coming soon will be Westlake Village and San Luis Obispo. The Central Coast has a long history with wine, but the beers are coming on strong. And check out my Moon Travel Book California Road Trip for all sorts of wines and beer up and down the state.

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