JUN/JUL 2006 | REGIONAL | WEST
Santa Cruz : Catching Up With The Surf City Scene
By Mark Conley
The first rule in the brewer’s survivor guide: Know
thy beer-swilling audience. The folks who opened Surf City’s
newest beer operation a year ago, the Santa Cruz Mountain
Brewery, knew indeed. Hence, their slogan “Think organic,
drink organic.” Santa Cruz has always been near the
epicenter of this once hippie-dippie, crunchy concept that
has suddenly gone ultra-mainstream trendy.
The husband-and-wife tandem of Chad Brill and Emily Thomas,
longtime homebrewers, are tapping that niche locally with
an eye toward the ever-growing organic market nationally.
“I can’t believe how well it’s selling,”
says Brill, the operation’s head brewer. “It’s
hard to keep up with demand.”
From their 800-square-foot warehouse space on Santa Cruz’s
Westside, with the help of family and friends, the couple
produces a combined 15 barrels a week of their five organic
offerings: a pale, an amber, an IPA, a brown (Dread Brown)
and a stout (Devout Stout). It’s enough to service the
demand in Santa Cruz, from thirsty college students who find
it on tap around town to discriminating craft-brew drinkers
who drop a few 22-ounce bottles into their cart next to the
sustainably grown tomatoes and lettuce wraps while shopping
at the nearest natural foods store.
“It’s really like a giant homebrewing operation,”
says Brill, who had no commercial brewing experience when
he and Thomas started. In keeping with their roots, they held
a homebrew competition to find their recipe for a sixth beer,
an American hefeweizen. The winner, local homebrewer Dave
Bossie, will help brew the first batch. It will be on tap
by mid-May and in bottles by early summer.
The small size of the operation is good for quality control
and sanitation, the latter being one of the biggest challenges
with organic beers, since most cleaning products can’t
be used for organic certification. From their space, Brill
and Thomas also painstakingly hand-bottle and hand-label —
one big reason they hope to expand their equipment, and thus
their distribution potential, in the near future.
Santa Cruz Mountain beer is already showing up on shelves
in Washington, Oregon and Southern California because of a
distribution deal with the same company that dispenses other
popular organic brands like Otter Creek (Wolaver’s),
Butte Creek and Eel River. The plan is for six-packs of the
top-selling IPA and amber within the next few months.
As with any good family venture, there are diverse hats to
be worn. Brill takes care of the brewing, and Thomas takes
care of most business matters. A tasting bar is open three
days a week at their cozy, full-service beer factory, conveniently
located next to several local wineries and a craft bakery.
That’s drummed up a steady flow of inquiries from the
growing number of savvy beer drinkers who live in town or
are just passing through.
“We sold our house because we needed money to keep
the business going,” Brill says with a shrug. “But
we’re getting great feedback on our beer.” And
in the process, they’re proving that sustainable and
swillable can go hand in hand.
A few miles east, in an area Santa Cruzans call Midtown,
you’ll find the other end of the craft-brew spectrum:
the Central Coast’s granddaddy of the brewpub scene.
The Seabright Brewery turns 18 this month, and it’s
still turning out some of the tastiest beer this side of Highway
17 from its small 7-barrel system. The offerings of brewer
Marc Rosenblum have remained fairly consistent over the span
of his four years with Seabright. The most popular brews —
the Blur double IPA, oatmeal stout and, most recently, Resolution
Red — are now being bottled in 22-ouncers by Coast Range
in Gilroy and sold all over the Monterey Bay area.
The loss of longtime area staple Santa Cruz Brewing Company
and Front Street Pub in 2002 ended up being a gain for the
area’s second-oldest brewpub, Boulder Creek Brewing
Company. The 15-year-old establishment was able to double
its brewing capacity by purchasing the kettles once used at
Front Street, said brewer Brian Weatherman, who’s been
with Boulder Creek for three years after assisting at Seabright.
The brewery’s offerings — which include regulars
Redwood Ale, an amber; Lompico Gold, an IPA; and a rotation
of five different stouts, among others — will be featured
at the Boulder Creek Art, Wine and Music Festival over Memorial
The only true downtown Santa Cruz microbrewery opened earlier
this year in the form of Coastline Brewery Restaurant. Located
in a funky, cool space at 120 Union Street, one block west
of the main drag, Coastline serves affordable upper-end pub
grub, has an ever-revolving slate of nightly music and is
using contract brewer Devil’s Canyon to produce its
staples: Big Shark Amber, Santa Cruz Blonde and Halfpipe Lager.
There are plans to add a hefeweizen and a raspberry beer to
that mix soon and to eventually add a revolving “beer
of the month” that will be brewed at another site in
Santa Cruz and served at Coastline, according to owner James
Mark Conley is a homebrewer, good-beer drinker
and sports editor living in Santa Cruz, Calif. Contact him