Santa Cruz is experiencing a craft beer renaissance. The region — better known for its wine — hasn’t been widely regarded as a mecca for beer lovers. But that’s about to change. The local scene has gained new momentum from a recent batch of breweries and taprooms and overwhelming support from locals. And there’s no end in sight. As of this writing, another brewery — the county’s 8th — is set to open later this year in Capitola.
Here’s a list of places to witness Santa Cruz’s current beer renaissance. Some are old, some are new, but all are passionate about advancing their craft. Stop by, grab a pint and cheers to California’s newest craft beer destination.
The first thing you’ll notice when you step inside this handsome spot is the word “Beer” lit up in vintage marquee lights. Beer Thirty opened this past April and is already an integral part of their Soquel neighborhood. It sports a huge, ever-changing digital screen that displays its 30 beers on tap. They also stock over 200 bottles (including gluten-free options) which you can pop open and enjoy in the large, pup-friendly beer garden. The warm staff is enthusiastic about guiding patrons through options and introducing them to new beers and styles. There’s no kitchen, but they encourage you to bring back grub from one of the adjacent eateries.
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery’s beer garden is a bustling, perennial west side hangout. Drop by and soak up the good vibes any time of day, any day of the week (Tip: Monday is movie night). The organic beers include faves like the Dread Brown Ale and Devout Stout. Founded in 2005, they’re still small enough to experiment like they did with a one-off ale made with Smoked Pigs Ear from neighbors El Salchichero. Speaking of neighbors, their outsourced food menu comes courtesy of Kelly’s French Bakery and Avanti Pizzeria. And be sure to try their ode to the Giant Dipper’s 90th this year, with a Giant DIPA – a citrusy, malty double IPA.
Owner and brewer Alec Stefansky said he didn’t want to produce yet another version of the same product others had created. How about a brown ale made with bacon? It sounds more fringe than it tastes. Their use of exotic ingredients serves as a gentle seasoning that compliments the beers, rather than wallop you over the head. A great example of this is their Siamese Twin Ale brewed with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and coriander. The certified organic brewery doesn’t have a tasting room but you can arrange for a private tour. Or just pick up one of their 4-packs at local spots like New Leaf Market.
Adair Paterno and Tim Clifford are doing some wonderful things down in Capitola with their Sante Adairius Rustic Ales brewery. Known for exceptional, high-quality beers that span traditions, I think of them as the Kronos Quartet of beer: able to adapt any genre with skill and grace while still maintaining their own distinctive style. The rich, hoppy aroma on their 831 IPA will linger in your memory. The Verve Coffee spiked Vanilla Joe porter is like opening a bag of freshly-ground coffee. And don’t pass up their complex, barrel-aged saisons: rich with spice and yeast and a touch of tartness. There’s a reason their beers are so popular. They recently doubled capacity — including their rustic chic tasting room — and are still only meeting a fraction of the demand.
It’s been an exciting first year for this all-organic brewery and brewpub in Soquel. In April they won a World Beer Cup for their Song in Your Heart English brown ale. And they just nabbed Santos Majano from Soif to open up The Kitchen at Discretion. He’ll be creating an organic menu of locally-sourced grub that pairs well with their beers. One cool practice is that they send their spent grain to feed livestock at Fogline Farm which is where Santos sources many of his ingredients like chicken and pork. Their spacious brewpub — which sports a trellised patio and kids play section — is a great spot to gather friends and family.
This stylish new downtown spot just opened in April and is already turning over kegs on a daily basis. Lúpulo (which means “hop” in Spanish) is run by Noelle Antolin — an M.S. in Conservation Biology — and Stuyvie Esteva Bearns — a lecturing sociology PhD at UCSC. They bring smarts and soul to this former florist space by filling it with beautiful, polished wood, 16 small-production beers on tap and 100s more in bottles. Stuyvie told me they set out to create a space where folks interacted and created community. Easy to do when you’re breaking bread over delicious Spanish and Mexican tapas borrowed from each of their family’s recipes.
At 26 years, Seabright Brewery is the longest-running brewery in town. Their sunny patio just a few blocks from the beach hosts a cross-section of Santa Cruz: surfers, business folk, beer geeks, families and dogs. They come for beer like the Pelican Pale and Seabright Amber — which have been on tap since day one — and hamburgers which owner Charlie says they sell by the millions. Fill up a thermos growler which keeps cold without ice, or take away a 6-pack of their Blur IPA which is only available at the brewery.
99 Bottles has kept Downtown’s pint glass filled with good beer for over 20 years with new management taking over the taps in the last two. The cozy pub sports 42 beers on draft and over 250 bottles in the cold case. You’ll find a wide range of styles that span the globe with an especially strong representation of West Coast brews. Fill up a sampler and taste through the expansive selection. Once you reach that famous sing-songy number just shy of 100, your name goes up on their Wall of Fame. A late-night kitchen keeps things in check with a menu of pub grub faves.
You’ll have to seek out this tasting room hidden away in a business park near the Costco in Harvey West. But what a comfortable little spot they carved out. It has a humble, pub-like feel with darts, TVs, a bartop full of regulars and a few picnic tables to enjoy their deli style menu. Pair the Cubano or Bahn Mi sandwiches with their IPA or a refreshing, German-style Kolsch. The latter makes a perfect summer beer and is newly available in cans.
The county’s newest brew on the block is New Bohemia Brewing Company in Santa Cruz’s Pleasure Point area which is set to open early 2015. The microbrewery will bring a variety of craft lagers and ales inspired by years of experience with European brewing traditions and culture, especially those rooted in the Central European regions of Bohemia and Bavaria. The “NuBo” microbrewery will serve light appetizers, meat & cheese board, bread and butter, popcorn, & chocolate treats, but own food is also welcome.
If you’re looking to brew hop a bit, take a microbrewery Brew Cruz. Ride “Betty Jane,” a beautifully refurbished vintage bus that takes passengers on a tour of the local microbreweries, to taste and celebrate the craft beer scene. It’s the perfect way to cover a lot of brew ground in Santa Cruz County.