What the Winemakers Are Drinking: Beer


There’s a saying that’s often repeated around Santa Ynez Valley: “It takes a lot of great beer to make good wine.”

Or is it good beer and great wine? Well, luckily we have both around here. With beer so often being the beverage of choice among people who work in the wine industry, we thought it fitting to invite a small group of winemakers to taste a sampling of local brews.

Our guests for the tasting were Karen Steinwachs of Buttonwood Farm Winery, Rick Longoria of Longoria Wines, Jason Barrette of Margerum Wine Company, Nick Morello of Morello Wines and Dave Potter of Municipal Winemakers. They tasted, they swallowed, they talked about the brews and occasionally about wine, and they even told us what they love about beer—there’s nothing more refreshing after a hard day’s work.


Rye Extra Pale Ale — Telegraph Brewing Company 

We started off our tasting with the lightest of the beers and, coincidently, one that was specifically created by Telegraph for winemakers to help get them through the hard work of harvest. Well, Telegraph must know what winemakers like, because all five of ours loved this beer. They liked the fact that it only had 4% alcohol and said it could almost be dubbed the forklift operator’s beer. But beyond being just refreshing, they complimented the not-too-fruity and well-balanced flavors of the beer, picking up a little beeswax character and rich texture. It paired beautifully with cheese, which brought out an extra bit of creaminess in the beer. (

Davy Brown Ale — Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company 

This beer, named after an eccentric character who lived in the back country near Figueroa Mountain in the late 1800s, was pretty well known to our winemakers and was immediately named super drinkable. With nutty, caramel, mocha and chocolate flavors it manages to be rich but fresh at the same time. We liked the not overly carbonated texture that allowed the flavor to really come through. One winemaker said it was light on its feet and that it goes really well with hot wings. We found that it paired nicely with beer-battered onion rings, beef carbonnade and any cheese we threw at it. (

Hippie Kicker IPA — Hollister Brewing Company  

This India Pale Ale is described as a bold and brash American-style IPA. And it’s true that the aroma hits you smack in the face with its intense floral quality. But with one sip you realize just how balanced this beer is. Any more hoppiness would be too much, but the nice bitter notes and superb silky texture are just right. It paired perfectly with a warm spinach bacon salad but would also be great with grilled cheese, steaks, barbecue and, in a nod to its origins, Indian food. One taster said, “I don’t normally drink IPAs, but this one
is great.” (

Black Mamba Ale — Island Brewing Company

A Black Mamba is an American Black Ale or a Black IPA. It’s a real sleight-of-hand trick—looking like a dark stout, but tasting more like an IPA. The color on this one was nice and dark and the flavor had hints of Scotch and pine. One person said it was the perfect cigar beer and others said it was more of a fireside beer. Cheese was definitely a nice companion. We all wondered could the opposite sleight-of-hand trick be possible, a light-colored beer that tasted like a stout? (

Doppel Dunkel Weizen Bock — The Brewhouse

Pronunciation and saying the name of this beer a few times fast proved challenging (hint: Dunkel doesn’t rhyme with uncle). This is also an unusual style of beer—a dark Bavarian-style wheat beer. The special strain of yeast used creates a pronounced banana flavor and a fruity nose. It’s a real dessert beer—sweet, unfiltered and strong (around 9% alcohol). We tried pairing it with some dessert cheeses—an aged Gouda and a decadent triple-crème cheese, but it could also be quite decadent with chocolate. (

Velvet Merlin — Firestone Walker Brewing Company 

This is a classic oatmeal stout, nicely balanced with so much flavor. Our winemakers noted the malty, roasty and rich charred flavors, saying that it had a really attractive espresso quality to it. One winemaker said it was a great end of the day beer, a reward after a long day of work. It’s also very much a winter beer. Serve it at 55°–60°, a little warmer than your typical lager, and you’ll appreciate it on our colder evenings. We paired it with gelato and brown butter sea salt shortbread cookies, and it was delicious. But it is also so flavorful and well balanced that it could stand on its own. (

We should note that we tasted all of these beers from growlers, which are half gallon glass jugs that you can buy and get refilled at all of these breweries. Telegraph, Figueroa Mountain, Island and Firestone are also available in bottles at area stores and on tap in many local restaurants.
You don’t have to be a winemaker to appreciate good beer, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have a thriving wine industry in an area that is increasingly becoming known for its great beer, too.

Krista Harris contributed to this piece with input from our intrepid team of winemakers—Karen Steinwachs, Rick Longoria, Jason Barrette, Nick Morello and Dave Potter.


Categories Winter 2011