Although SLO Brew originally opened in 1988, I remember it was rarely as popular as it has become today. It’s all thanks to longtime friends and business partners Rodney “Rod” Cegelski and Hamish Marshall, who met 10 years ago and recognized the potential of buying the historic old Central Coast brewhouse. They have recreated it into two new places that have become some of the most popular venues in San Luis Obispo for drinking, eating, and entertainment.

According to the press release, Cegelski noted: “SLO Brew has never turned away from creative change. We are excited by the evolution of our new brands and look forward to guests experiencing them all.” Currently the airport location features SLO Brew and their newest inspiration, Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills tasting rooms. In downtown SLO the have re-designed the restaurant and bar to make it family friendly, and comfortable for their young and older patrons (more on that note to come).

First and foremost, they have always held up to the original theme of producing high quality handcrafted brews in SLO, but they have gone far beyond that recently by adding handcrafted spirits, along with wines (that don’t come in a box) and craft beer micheladas in cans.

As my readers know I’m a wine lover foremost, but I learned to appreciate an icy craft brew when I couldn’t find wine good enough to drink. That said, most of my friends who love wine, also love a fresh brew and/or good cocktails. Now we can all find whatever we crave at the SLO Brew venues on Hwy. 227 (Broad Street) and downtown on busy Higuera Street a half block away from the original location on Garden Street.

Once they expanded by adding the larger brewhouse near the SLO Airport where they feature a family friendly restaurant, it allowed them to grow further. They have now combined the spacious building to create a distillery alongside the brewery. Not only that, they use their beer mash to create their brown spirits, which includes rye whiskeys and bourbon, along with gin and vodka.

The spirits are cut with purified and desalinated Pacific Ocean water, which they describe as an homage to their heritage, Rod’s Shell Beach roots as a surfer and Hamish’s roots as an Aussie jackaroo (Aussie lingo for rancher). The spirits are aged in 15-gallon new American oak barrels. Guests who join their “Barrel Club” early as founding members, will receive a personal five-gallon barrel to age their own custom SLO Stills whiskey over a year’s span as it ages in the tasting room. Club members will get early access to special releases, complimentary tastings, and about 28 bottles (750ml each) of their personalized whiskey.

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Members will be able to consult with head distiller, Paul Quinn who also produces their wines, to customize the flavor of their spirit and taste their whiskey from the barrel to determine whether the spirit should be aged more or bottled for consumption.

The recent opening of Rod & Hammer’s SLO Stills tasting room, which is adjacent to SLO Brew Rock, is limited to adults 21-years or older. They will offer a limited menu of snacks, but the menu was not available when I attended the media introduction. I must say I loved the combined decor reflecting surfer Rod meets jackaroo Hamish, thus Rod & Hammer, with the cowboy hats and up-cycled planks from the original Pismo Beach pier as floating shelves that display bottles of Rod & Hammer SLO Stills spirits.

The tasting room is open Sunday through Thursday from noon until 7 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from noon until 9 p.m. It may be closed on days when they are booked for special events. SLO Brew Rock & Rod & Hammer SLO Stills tasting rooms are located at 855 Aerovista Lane, SLO.

There are several new changes at their new restaurant and lounge, The Carissa, in downtown SLO. They hired decorator Cherisse Sweeney, owner of Basalt Interiors, who explained: “We channeled a relaxing space with a coastal vibe to foster a sense of home for our guests.” Banquet seating and communal tables with warm lighting keeps the atmosphere family friendly and a great space to relax with friends. As it is now, they no longer feature large bands downtown, but they will have DJ attractions.

The new menu is quite reasonably priced for a kitchen that makes everything from scratch. Based on the California cuisine concept, it offers family friendly meals, with craft tacos ranging from $4 to $5 each with an array of toppings, and sides are only $3 for rice, beans, or grilled jalapeños. There are salad bowls, poke choices, and entrees of halibut or salmon.

According to partner, Marshall: “We’re committed to ensuring the community feels welcome in this space. The Carissa is a haven for friends and families to come together in a neighborhood hangout.”Learn more about The Carissa at www. Thecarissa .com. Any one of these venues would be perfect for booking your holiday parties.

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Reach Kathy Marcks Hardesty at Kathymhardesty @gmail .com