Gettin’ Figgy Wit It at Santa Barbara’s Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company
Just outside of downtown Santa Barbara, a couple blocks from the beach in an area known affectionately as the “Funk Zone”, sits the second brewery location of Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. Sure, you could write it off as just another brewery in a sea of new craft breweries popping up left and right. But Figueroa Mountain is doing things right from top to bottom and their Santa Barbara location is one of those spots that once you visit, you just want to keep coming back.
The Birth of the Brewery
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company’s roots go back to 2010, when father-son owners, Jim & Jamie Dietenhofer, realized their longtime dream and launched the brewery in Buelton in the heart of Santa Ynez wine country. Along for the ride was Brewmaster A.J. Stoll, who racked up 6 medals for the brewery within their first 6 months of opening. Since then, he’s led Figueroa Mountain to over 60 medal wins in beer competitions around the world and doesn’t seem to be slowing down one bit. After about three years of brewing at their Buelton location, Figueroa Mountain opened up their second brewery in Santa Barbara in June 2013, just in time for summer. While originally they expected to use the facility to produce some smaller batch experimental and specialty brews, demand has gotten so strong that they’ve had to stick to brewing the core beers for now just to satisfy the thirst of the steady crowds filling up the tasting room.
Brewing it Local
Figueroa’s impressive lineup of brews spans light to dark, malty to hoppy, and everything in between. They also make sure to incorporate a local component in the branding of their beers, with names like Paradise Road Pilsner (the road that runs along the Santa Ynez River), Danish Red Lager (the nearby Danish town of Solvang), Lizard’s Mouth Imperial IPA (the mountaintop rock formation in Santa Barbara that resembles an open-mouthed lizard), Hurricane Deck Double IPA (the challenging ridge trail out beyond the Santa Barbara mountains), and Davy Brown Ale (a fabled hunter who settled along Figueroa Mountain in the late 1800s).
Some of their other brews include their first-ever commercial release, Wrangler Wheat, Figueroa Mtn Pale Ale, Hoppy Poppy IPA, Big Cone Black Ale, Stagecoach Stout, their new canned flagship Kolsch-style light beer, FMB “101”, and the impressingly innovative Bieré de Ménage, which is a Farmhouse ale brewed with locally-produced Sauvignon Blanc wine.
With so many different styles, everyone’s got their own favorite. But for a hop head like myself, I naturally gravitate to their Lizard’s Mouth Imperial IPA. This is a killer beer with a light body, strong citrusy hoppy bite, and is dangerously drinkable at 9.2%. Get it, drink it, love it.
The Santa Barbara Spot
The space at the Santa Barbara brewery has an awesome vibe. Dark wood, wrought iron, cement floors, and vintage filament light bulbs give the tasting room a cool rustic western feel. There were only 11 beers pouring the day I visited, but the bar houses 32 taps, perfect for when they’re able to start brewing those special one-off and experimental brews that they planned for. And while they don’t have a kitchen, they’ve partnered up with Lucky Penny next door, which serves up some really awesome looking pizzas, sandwiches, and small bites. Once you grab your beer, you can set up at one of the wood tables inside or you can grab a seat on the patio and drink your brew in that awesome Santa Barbara sunshine. One of my favorite aspects of the tasting room is the merchandise section near the front door. At a lot of brewery tasting rooms, merchandising is a complete afterthought and just thrown together in a tiny corner. But at Figueroa Mountain, the merch section is nicely designed, does a great job showcasing their different products, and is incorporated into the space very seamlessly. With craft breweries working to capture as much profit as possible from their retail locations, Figueroa’s merch section is something that other breweries can definitely learn from.
The Growing of the Mountain
Since the opening of the Santa Barbara brewery, Figueroa has expanded production at their Buelton brewery and opened up a third location in a small cottage in Los Olivos. They also started the Santa Ynez Valley Loop Shuttle, a free van ride that brings visitors from Figueroa’s Los Olivos location to their original tasting room in Buelton and back again, stopping at a few local wineries along the way.
This is not a brewery that’s content with staying small and being comfortable. They seem to have an aggressive yet balanced approach to production of their core beers, development of new recipes, serving their local community, and steady growth in a dynamic California craft beer market. Despite growing up in the shadow of craft beer giant, Firestone Walker in nearby Paso Robles, Figueroa Mountain is well on their way to being one of the top breweries in the Central/Southern California region.
I’m not gonna lie, on some occasions you’re gonna find it hard to find a seat at Figueroa Mountain’s Santa Barbara tasting room. But take my advice, head there on an early afternoon when the weather’s good (aka almost every day in Santa Barbara), or check out one of their nightly events, like $4 Pint Night, Movie Night, or Quiz Night and you won’t be disappointed. Check them out on Facebook to stay up to date on what’s going on there and let me know in the comments which beer is your favorite!