Behind the Bottle, Beyond the Barley

Foraging, Sourcing and Drinking Local

Beer. Barley. Hops. Yeast. Water. A beautiful science experiment so eloquently simple yet utterly profound. It has been said that fermentation does all the work, but our local brewers have created a community rich in talent. They are more than brewers; they are tastemakers and artists… all inspired by their craft and our local bounty. I have shared beers, stories and laughs with many of them. Some of their stories could fill an entire book.

Behind the glass, we encounter a thirsty and diverse landscape, a hoppy wonderland of locally sourced flavors and ingredients. There are over 20 breweries in Santa Barbara County and all are worthy of visiting, as you’ll see on the Beer Trail Map (page 28 in the digital issue). The six ingredients discussed below are an introduction to the local beer scene’s dedication to the craft, passion for our products and support for our local economy. This summer, make sure to sip, savor and repeat.


“Stay with the beer. Beer is continuous blood. A continuous lover.”
—Charles Bukowski 


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Fermentation Station
Firestone Walker Brewing Company–Barrelworks, Buellton
Locally Sourced Ingredient: Wild Yeast

It all begins with one simple ingredient: yeast. Jim Crooks of Firestone Walker is an institution in his own right. The man is brilliant, a mad chemist, giddy about the art and science of fermentation. Many brewers have worked under him or beside him to harness the magic that is fermentation. Utilizing local flora for Barrelworks’ line of sour beers, Crooks began sourcing indigenous yeast from Foxen Vineyard. Clipping semi-ripe grape clusters, the wild yeast on the grapes was used to create the first batch of De La Casa, an Indigenous Barrel-Aged Saison.

“Yeast really does all the work, we are just putting the ingredients together,” said Crooks, Barrelworks’ master blender. “We are taking a step back in time, exploring what can you get from your environment, the bacteria, the flora.”

Known as their “house” beer (available only in their tasting rooms), the 2017 batch was harvested off Chardonnay grapes, yielding notes of citrus, tropical fruit and white pepper. As it mutates and adapts to the environment, the yeast is fed from the decanted grape juice matter, resulting in a crisp, refreshing summer beer. Approaching lambic beers similar to wine, there is a certain art in the backbone of blending—and wild yeast is at the forefront. What winemakers work to get out of their system, Firestone works into their system, creating tart funky beers full of aroma, body and acidity.

“We have always come from wine, inspiring how we blend flavors, balance acidity… effectively breaking down the boundaries of beer making,” said Crooks. “It’s a renaissance time right now for beer.”

Backyard Bounty
Telegraph Brewing Company, Santa Barbara
Locally Sourced Ingredient: Foraged Fruit

There’s nothing quite like picking fruit from your own backyard (or your neighbors’). Telegraph Brewing, started in 2006, has been sourcing locally for over 10 years, as part of their core philosophy. The Obscura Series began in 2010 as an adventure into wild beers, often using local fruit for their tart and funky sours. Their Obscura Pêche Barrel-Aged Sour blends whole local peaches from owner Brian Thompson’s backyard tree, supplemented from the farmers market when necessary. This perfect summer beer keeps with the philosophies of traditional brewing, taking advantage of what’s in season.

“Traditionally, a brewer would make do with what they had around them,” said Thompson. “We live in a region that is so rich in agricultural bounty we wanted to take advantage of that.”

Using seasonal, local fruit in the batch not only yields a purer flavor but also adds local microflora to the complexity (due to wild yeast living on the skin). This results in some exquisite and flavorful small-batch beers, as exemplified in their line of Reserve Wheat fruited sour beers. Past lineups have included locally sourced hibiscus, apricot and fruit blends. Sourced from Telegraph’s parking lot guava tree, the Passionfruit & Guava Reserve is a German-style Berliner Weisse, infused with passionfruit and guava purées. When not foraging, Telegraph celebrates our local agrarians, from Goodland Organics in Goleta to Friend’s Ranches in Ojai.

“When we were just starting, there wasn’t a local beer scene. We wanted to make sure our beers reflected Santa Barbara,” said Thompson. “Our beer celebrates the local agriculture and landscape, making the beer world a better place in the process.”

A Sweet Story
Third Window Brewing Co., Santa Barbara
Locally Sourced Ingredient: Chocolate 

Sometimes all you need to do is “walk about” your neighborhood to get inspired. Third Window Brewing has done just that, creating the incredibly decadent “Walkabout” Stout, inspired by the area’s surplus of local citrus and rich local chocolate. Kris Parker, founder and brewer, is the mastermind behind this sweet treat, utilizing Twenty-Four Blackbirds Chocolates, a Santa Barbara–based bean-to-bar chocolatier. Utilizing roasted cacao nibs from the 75% Cedeño blend, the chocolate yields lightly sweet floral notes upfront, which pairs effortlessly with the juicy citrus, foraged locally (from regulars and the neighborhood).

“I try to keep as much of the economic impact of the brewery in our home as I possibly can,” said Parker. “Collaboration is really at the core of who we are. We just want to hang out with our friends and make great beer.”

It is hard to talk about Parker, the grandson of actor Fess Parker, without talking about his background in wine. Growing up on the ranch, Kris Parker has always been interested in terroir and its expression of the local environment. Like a fine wine, this idea is translated into every batch of his beer. It’s exemplified in the delicious chocolate-forward 2017 Walkabout, which is built upon the components of chocolate, extracting the flavor of the cocoa nibs with hints of coffee. With each sip, the beer represents a specific place and time, a product reminiscent of the people who helped create it.

“Every beer is a vintage. It’s a distinct thing that is alive and then it’s gone,” said Parker. “I don’t mind having a great deal of variance in our beers; they are all telling a story of this unique period in time.”

Take a Walk on the Wild Side
brewLAB, Carpinteria
Locally Sourced Ingredient: Native Herbs

The experimental team at Carpinteria’s brewLAB, an active group of hikers and herbalists, looks no further than the mountains for inspiration. After reading Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner, the nano brewery crew began brewing test batches of beers sourced from native plants, reinforcing their sacred, almost spiritual quality. Exploring the plants for both flavor and medicinal qualities, brewLAB has foraged a variety of native plants for their beers, including California coastal sagebrush, Santa Cruz Island yarrow, mugwort, pineappleweed/wild chamomile and coyote mint.

“Beer is our medium to explore the world, using our sensory organs to our fullest, touching and tasting, and experimenting with what’s in our backyard,” said co-founder/brewer Peter Goldammer.

Exploring the ancient craft of bittering with herb mixtures, not hops, brewLAB has created a variety of tart Gruit beers (think a hop-free, beer tea). Experimenting batch by batch, selections have included “There Gosé Gruit”—a tart and refreshing Gosé/Gruit hybrid with mugwort, sagebrush, seawater and toasted coriander—and the “Humming Juniper”—an herbal and tart gruit with yarrow, juniper berries and the brewery’s favorite, hummingbird sage, offering a nice floral quality. Touted as a dream enhancer, mugwort has been known to also help with stomach issues and nerves, while sage can aid in inflammation and cognition. Foraged locally, this is beer as “farmacy.”

“What we do goes beyond just beer,” said Goldammer. “It’s more ethereal… it is an orchestration. It is the medium we use to bring people together, to push people to discover new styles, to talk to each other.”

A Different Kind of Buzz
M. Special Brew Co., Goleta
Locally Sourced Ingredient: Coffee 

Coffee and beer has become a magnetic (and energetic) force in the beer scene. Like any famous pairing, quality matters. M. Special Brewing recently began working alongside Daniel Randall of Goleta-based Green Star Coffee, sourcing organic coffee beans for a series of cask-aged beers. The result of this synergistic relationship is the “Green Star” Special, a rotating series that pairs different coffee roasts alongside different beer styles—from pale ales to IPAs.

“We love coffee, they love beer, the pairing seemed like a natural fit,” said Brewmaster Joshua Ellis. “The spirit of collaboration is one and the same as the spirit of brewing in this town.”

Trying several different roasts, they landed on the Organic Red’s Espresso, alongside their pale ale. This particular roast, originally created for Red’s, gives all the coffee aroma without the acidity or bitterness. Creamy, rich and deep… with a perfectly balanced backbone for a pale ale. Unlike coffee IPAs, which can be overbittered when you add coffee’s naturally occurring acidity, pale ales offer a well-rounded smoothness to your caffeine kick.

“This beer is really intriguing, the unique juxtaposition of a light pale ale with a strong, full-body coffee flavor,” said Ellis. “I started brewing beer to make beer I couldn’t buy in stores. It really is a passion project for all of us.”

Sugar, Ah, Honey, Honey
Island Brewing Company, Carpinteria
Locally Sourced Ingredient: Honey

No passion project might be quite as humbling as owner Paul Wright’s story. Gifted a “Beer Machine” home-brew kit in the ’90s by his wife… well, the rest is history for this Carp institution, opened in 2001. Just as synonymous with Carpinteria is the famous Avocado Festival and the amber beauty that is Island Brewery’s Avocado Honey Ale, a 10-year veteran with a sweet story. When originally brainstorming how Island could be involved in the festival, Wright decided to create a beer made not from avocados, but local avocado honey, sourced from a neighborhood beekeeper (and brewery regular).

“We joke that this beer is a gateway beer for craft-beer newcomers,” said Wright. “Avocado honey is very distinctive to this area; this is our local product.”

As one of the first alcoholic beverages, honey is totally fermentable… adding an extra buzz of alcohol to your beer. Sourced from the foothills of Carpinteria, avocado honey has a dark, intense flavor, similar to molasses. Contributing a rich amber color and smoothness to the honey ale, the beer has become a summer classic, a “collaboration between bees, beekeepers, avocado growers and brewery workers.” And just remember: No avocados were harmed making this beer! Smooth and approachable, this year-round beer represents Island’s commitment to growing the Central Coast Beer Trail.

“I love that nowadays, you can go up and down the 101 and enjoy craft beer wherever you go,” said Wright. “No matter where you start or finish, you can guarantee you will find great beer on the Central Coast.”

. . .

These ingredients are just the beginning of a vibrant beer community blooming around us locally. “Santa Barbara is just now coming to age, with a rich and diverse portfolio of microbreweries,” said Joshua Ellis. “It’s coming of age because of the spirit of community.”

While Hunter S. Thompson noted that “good people drink good beer,” we Santa Barbarians (and Barbeerians) know that great people drink local beer.


Rachel Hommel is a fearless gourmet and world traveler, promoting culinary tourism in the 805. When not rallying for fair food, Rachel Hommel can be spotted at the farmers market, practicing yoga and dancing to the “beet” of life. A native of Las Vegas, she is a lead tour guide and freelance writer. Follow her at TasteTrekTravel.com.

–Published in the Summer 2017 issue of Edible Santa Barbara

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