Written by Tom Becham
The recent birthday of a long-time friend was the occasion of a nice beer field trip this past Martin Luther King holiday.
Our first stop was Figueroa Mountain’s new brewpub in Westlake Village, California. Figueroa Mountain’s main production facility is in Buellton, about 100 miles away. But Fig Mountain has been aggressively expanding, despite only recently celebrating their 4th Anniversary in business. They have other brewpubs and taprooms from San Luis Obispo down to Los Angeles.
Fig Mountain’s success is not an accident. They produce very good, commercially successful DIPAs like Lizard’s Mouth and Hurricane Deck, as well as the more standard American brewpub offerings like Brown and Pale Ales, IPA (Hoppy Poppy is likely the best IPA I know to please both hopheads and malt guys alike), Porters, Stouts, etc. While they share the same small town with Firestone Walker, they have taken a markedly different approach to growing their business.
In any case, their new brewpub in Westlake Village is top notch. It’s decorated in the typical rustic California Ranch look that became so popular with Reagan. And the food, while simple pub grub, is fantastic. As an American, I’ve probably had burgers in hundreds of different places in my life, but those at Figueroa Mountain Westlake are definitely in the Top Ten. My friend also raved about his Carne Asada sandwich.
How was the beer? I’m glad you asked. We sampled flights. And while I admit that some of the offerings were a tad less exciting than others, nothing was less than “very good”, and some were downright excellent. There were four standouts for me.
Mandarina Golden Lager is a standard gold lager, but made to far more exacting standards than any the macros produce. The Mandarina hops live up to their name, and not only bitter the beer, but produce a slight, yet definite mandarin orange aftertaste.
The 4th Anniversary Doppelbock will likely not last much longer, unfortunately. It is a sublime malt bomb, as the style should be. Thick, bready malt with a strong hazelnut finish (and no added flavorings, according to the resident brewer), it is dangerously drinkable at 12% ABV. Seriously, this is one of the better strong beers I’ve ever had. Fully on par with products from Germany and Belgium.
Blackbird Porter is a Baltic style Porter (notice these have all been lagers? Odd…). It has the grainy, dark bread, chocolate and coffee aromas and flavors of a Baltic, with just a touch of the dark fruit character you’d expect from a regular porter. And – and this is a huge thing for me – Figueroa Mountain knows to not use the quantities of roasted unmalted barley you’d find in a stout. Well done.
Finally, I must also praise the Gimme That Nut Brown Ale (honest to God, that’s what they call it). Again, with no added flavorings, just skillful manipulation of malt, Fig Mountain managed to produce what I consider one of the best Nut Brown Ales in the world. It is serious competition for both Samuel Smith’s and Alesmith in that category. The nutty aroma and flavor carry through from aroma to flavor to finish, all with the caramel character one expects from a Brown. Absolutely superb.
Go to Figueroa Mountain Westlake, if you can.
On the return home, we stopped at a place in Newbury Park (also on the 101 Freeway corridor) called Bottle and Pint. It’s a very small taproom and bottle shop, open for almost a year now. It only has twenty taps, but everything is top flight. They had offerings from brewing luminaries like Allagash, Toolbox, Libertine, etc. Of course, by that point in the day, things were starting to get a bit fuzzy.
So, I will instead review a couple brews I brought home.
Toolbox is a new and popular brewery in Temecula, California, on the outskirts of San Diego. They are most famous for their sour and wild ales. This particular effort is called CucumBerliner. That’s right: it’s a Berliner Weisse, with cucumber added. This one is odd, but good. It has the typical vinegary aromas of a Berliner, with slight hints of cucumber in the background. The head is big, pillowy and fizzy, but settles quickly. The beer is low in alcohol at 4.8%, and the flavor is, well… strange, but good. It starts with a slight tang, followed by the distinct lemony zip typical of a Berliner. Then it finishes with a faint byt noticeable cucumber accent. In all, this would be a perfect beer for a warm summer day.
My last review is of James E. Pepper’s 1776 American Brown Ale. I’ve seen this one for sale nearly everywhere. It doesn’t seem at all exclusive or limited in any way. Plus, I have a rather reserved liking for barrel-aged beers, in any case. I feel, that like most trends, barrel aging is unnecessary in many cases, and doesn’t always add much to a beer. So, in short, I had lowered expectations for this beer.
I’m happy to say that my expectations were confounded. This is one of the better barrel-aged beers I’ve had recently, especially when price is considered. It pours a translucent mahogany, with little to no head other than a brief, bubbly fizz. At first smell, the rye barrel aroma is prominent, but not overpowering. Additional odors of caramel, bready malt creep through, as well as a slight blast of alcohol (to be expected at 10.4%).
The taste? Top shelf. The rye quality from the barrels is in perfect balance with the malt. The rye lends a slightly spicy burn to a beer that would otherwise be too cloyingly, sticky sweet. The balance is established from the first taste until the end of the bottle, and afterward, with no noticeable changes or drops in balance. I suggest trying this one. It might not be a life changer, but it is definitely damned good!
Tom Becham lives in Oxnard, CA and reviews brews and brew based businesses for PGA and other publications, out west, even in Hawaii. We are lucky to have him.