Santa Ynez Valley, perhaps most recognized by its movie-star wines and unique Danish heritage celebrations, is becoming increasingly well-known for its award-winning breweries.
When two parties -- albeit competitors -- come to the table with mutual respect for one anot…
“Beer, over the last 10 years, has taken a huge leap,” said Jaime Dietenhofer, co-founder of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company.
Since establishing their first brewery in Buellton in 2010, Figueroa has grown to include some 200 employees brewing flavors for its six taprooms along the Central Coast. Their suds can also be found bottled at select retailers, on tap at restaurants throughout California and, after a $6 million expansion this summer, in cans.
“All our beers are named for hiking trails and outdoor spots in the area, but those are places you don’t take bottles. We needed to get cans out there so you can pack it out, take it to the beach, hiking and outdoors,” Dietenhofer said.
The expansion also involves reinvestment in facilities that ensure more consistent quality throughout the brewing and canning process.
“We grow until we’re busting at the seams, then make adjustments. Our goal is to make the best liquid, and doing that allows us to continue growing,” Dietenhofer said.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company isn’t alone in the Valley.
Adam Firestone and David Walker kicked off the Valley’s brewing tradition a dozen years ago with their Firestone Walker Brewing Company. The brothers-in-law are joined by brewmaster Matt Brynildson in creating popular beers like Double-Barrel Ale and the 805 series, as well as Barrelworks craft ales featuring the likes of raspberries, currants and sour cherries.
“Traditionally, when we think of beer, we’ve come to think of guys drinking warm beers from cans, then crushing them on their head," Dietenhofer said. "The craft thing has allowed whole different demographics to come in. We see cheese pairings, food pairings, glassware that the beer is served in because it’s just as delicate and nuanced as wine, if not more. We’ve allowed the connoisseur to enjoy it.”
The explosive growth of the Firestone Walker labels might have been enough to deter lesser entrepreneurs, but Stephen and Cari Renfrow were ready to join the brewmaster club.
In 2010, they partnered with Bill Rodgers to bring Solvang Brewing to life, complete with brewpubs featuring grown-up play spaces and special events.
“The small town of Solvang didn’t have much of a nightlife," Stephen said. "There were only two places to go after 8 that had entertainment. The streets rolled up. When family or friends came to town, we had to drive to Santa Barbra to go out, really. Considering it was a northern European-inspired community without a brewpub, we thought that would be a perfect fit for the community.”
Now, the Santa Ynez Valley-born brewery has expanded outside the Valley to its Lompoc digs: Hoptions Taproom and Eatery. Their menu includes Mexican-inspired items, burgers, pizza and, of course, several of their beers.
“Santa Ynez is a very special place. It’s a beautiful area with a lot of people who are food connoisseurs and wine connoisseurs. I think this propelled craft manufacturing of all kinds on the Central Coast,” Dietenhofer said.
Just as with the slow food movement, the local artisan movement and the buy-local grocery movement, Dietenhofer believes craft beers benefit from their local ties.
“I think craft beer sells when customers can some see where it’s being made, that the people who make it are local people who love this place and their product," he said. "Whether it’s food, craft beer, distilled spirits, anything, people had lost touch with the source. Now that they’ve found it, their palates are changing and they’re demanding better.”