For a Beery Good Time Call: SLO

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There are so many good things to say about San Luis Obispo — a.k.a. SLO – that you’d almost have to sit down and discuss them over a cold brew or two. Lucky for you, SLO is the perfect place to do just that. The home of several annual beer festivals – including the glorious October SLO Brew Week – this central coast town is a beery fun place to visit any time of year.  With beer tours, stellar accommodations, great meals, and top of the line breweries, it’s easy to spend a week or a weekend here.

Above and below, a look at Hop On Beer Tours.  Owner Brant Myers knows his brews and takes guests to the region on a well-curated tour of some of the best breweries in SLO.

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Myers is brewing expert having entered the craft beer industry with a partner, appeared on Shark Tank, sold his business, and bought a bus. A comfortable bus that he hand designed on which SLO-goers can ride and listen to Myers’ insights into beers and the brewing process. “We are still kind of in the Wild West,” he attests. “Every brewery is doing their own thing. These brewers are celebrating their craft. ”

Myers took our group to Tap It, Central Coast, Libertine, and SLO Brew, four fine examples of the regions brewing.

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The largest brewery in SLO and the third largest in the country, Tap It served up ample tasters of 7 different beers. Their IPA, amber, American pale ale, and blonde are their year ’round brews, but seasonals were also on tap for tastings. Among others, we tried the light, refreshing Bierre de table; a Chardonnay-barrel-aged wheat, with a light, fruity character; and the Three on the Tree, a triple IPA with an ABV of 11% and a delightfully hoppy flavor.

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Above, brewmaster Ryan Aikens says “We do so many styles here, why block yourself into a single beer? It’s all about good times with friends and family.”

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Before moving on to the next tasting, we made a lunch stop at Luna Red. This charming restaurant is sleek and modern, with globally inspired food that includes tapas and paella.

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Located in the heart of town at the edge of Mission Plaza, the stylish restaurant offers live music in the evening.

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Appetite sated, it was back to tasting: next up, Central Coast Brewing.

Despite a smaller brew system,  brewmaster Brendan Gough says CCB usually has 15 beers on tap, and produces a variety of fresh, hoppy ales, stouts, barrel-aged beers and lagers. A stint by Gough at Firestone Walker led to a friendly relationship with the larger brewer, located just up the road in Paso Robles, one which allows Central Coast, which calls itself “your neighborhood brewery,” access to a variety of hops.  The brewery propagates their own yeast in-house, and harvests and dries its hops once a year. “Most of the brewing uses hops as pellets to help preserve them,” he says. Freshness is key at the brewery, which has ten barrels and twenty tanks.

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Above, Brendan Gough, below – brewery owner George Peterson offers a taste of the brewery’s GABF Gold medal award winner Monterey Street Pale Ale.

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Sours have never been better than at our next stop, Libertine. Using local organic produce – such as a recent purchase of 800 pounds of persimmons – and an open brewing technique in big stainless steel open tubs, their beer gets flavors from the air and is barrel aged before adding fruit to the brew. Libertine also has small brewery outposts in Santa Maria and Morro Bay as well as in SLO.

“You need good beers to stay in business,” Libertine founder and head brewer Tyler Clark says. “We started five years ago in Morro Bay, and we use hot rocks that retain heat for two to three days for natural fermentation in insulated tanks.”

The SLO brewery now includes a flagship restaurant in a 9000-square-foot facility with 76 taps and a full menu that takes full advantage of the brewery’s relationship with local farms and creameries.

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Above and below, Tyler Clark.

Open fermentation, wild yeast, a charcoal filter for water all add to the intense flavors here. We tasted two awesome sours: the Central Coast Saison with lemony flavor, and Casa de Newton, so called because the grapefruit added came from Clark’s partners’ home.

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Below, SLO Brew, our final Beer Tour stop.

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SLO Brew has been a part of the San Luis Obispo beer scene for 21 years. The brewery and restaurant features a variety of crisp, delicious beers from their original blonde ale, the refreshingly light and hoppy IPA Wave Wrangler, and their popular Reggae Red hemp seed beer.

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Tasty flat bread pizzas and a wide range of appetizers are on the menu here, and the brewery features live musical acts many evenings.

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Below, brewer Luis Lapostol.

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The brewery and restaurant also has another perk: beer lovers need not worry about a drive home. Six stunning, modern loft sites are located above the brewery.

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During the festival, we stayed at the iconic Apple Farm Inn. With canopy bed and elegant, old-fashioned style, this is the spot to relax and enjoy capacious grounds, evening cookies, and warm, friendly service. True to their name, guests can also much on crunchy apples; bottles of crisp cider await in the room.

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One of the signature events of the beer festival is the Somm vs. Cicerone Dinner. Held at the San Luis Obispo Mission Plaza, this was a dining experience to be reckoned with, with beer and wine battling it out for a flavor pairing with a four-course meal. Each dish comes paired with both a wine and a beer, the choices curated by a both a master sommelier and a master cicerone.

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Pours were generous and the food, featuring farm fresh local ingredients, was delicious.

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Above, butternut squash soup, one of the many fresh regional flavors highlighted by exceptional beer and wine.

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Carnivores and vegetarians alike had a host of flavors from the farms of the Central Valley to enjoy.

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Mark Stern of Pomar Junction and Bill Sysak of Stone Brewing did a masterful job of curating as sommelier and cicerone, respectively.

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As a closing event, Holly Holliday offered a terrific selection of breweries to taste from at Best of the Fest on Madonna Field.

 

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Lagunitas offered bottles of Aunt Sally and their refreshing Pils. And of course, there was music.

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The Breury offered a sour blonde pale ale, as well as their awesome Dodie, named after the brewer’s grandmother, whose passion for the classic Manhattan cocktail is paid tribute.  The barrel-aged beer was rich and flavorful, evoking memories of distant urban cocktail bars past in the most pleasant of ways.

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Tap It, Heretic, SLO Brew, and Central Coast Brewing served more stellar brews.

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And the girls from Figueroa Mountain were breezy but unbowed, serving a potent strong Belgian C’est La Viogner.

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Hard to resist: Karl Strauss Brewing’s Peanut Butter Cup. Chocolatey.

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Central Coast’s Peach Krush IPA featured peach pulp infusion and dry hops for an amazing flavor bomb.

The week ended with a beautiful dinner in the romantic patio space at the Granada Hotel Bistro. The only thing left? A strong recommendation not to miss SLO Brew Week 2017.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

 

 

Ajo Arts Weekend: Splashes of Spring Color in the Sonoran Desert

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Ajo, Ariz. is a unique community in transition. A former copper mining community, through the support of the International Sonoran Desert Alliance nonprofit, the town is remaking itself with a community non-profit gallery, beautiful living/working space lofts, and the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center, a former elementary school that is now a unique and beautiful destination inn.

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Above, a room at the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center

Another part of the transition is a dedication to arts and culture, and the weekend of March 24-26th proved that undeniably with an arts program that included a stunning musical and dramatic performance by New Orleans-based Mondo Bizzaro and ArtSpot, three days of mural-painting in what is known as the town’s Artist’s Alley, and a buffet dinner of regional Tohono O’odham cuisine by Desert Rain Cafe.

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Above: performance, mural art, and Native American cuisine.

The mural painting was a profound aspect of the weekend: the vastness of the project, the beauty of the work, and the way it spread from Artist’s Alley into the facades of buildings facing the street, was as natural and as vivid as the striking desert sunsets.

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Above, Kat Anderson with her son – who contributed his artwork to one of her murals.

According to Kat Anderson who administered and coordinated – as well as participated in – the mural project, “It was amazing to watch this event take on its own energy and transform into something collectively that we would never have attained individually. We started with a budget of zero, a crazy dream, and a handful of artists with the dedication to organize and see it through. Now Ajo has 50 new murals and another impactful commUNITY experience to bond us closer, and empower our shared goals of revitalization.”

Muralists included:
Neoglyphix (a team of 8 led by Dwayne Manuel)
Porter McDonald
Micah Perry
Leanne Miller
L.T. Sparrow
Jah Rome
Caitlyn Allen
Nellie David
Amy Juan
Harriet Wood
Victor Garcia
Hop David
Kat Anderson
Silas Anderson
Delbert Antone
Maria Singleton
Harold Curtis
Ghazal Ghazi
Niki Ortiz
Jimmy Fennewald & Mitch Jacobs
Michael Schwartz
Valeria Hutchings
Izrael Rios Garcia
Mauriel Morejon
Catherine Ecker
Emma Bayne
Adan Alvarez
DaWolf Baker
Jake Boyd
Bike Ajo
Ajo CSA
Women Act Now

NCCC TeamKat

Anderson is an artist who lives in Ajo nine months of the year; the other three, in the height of the summer months, in Alaska. “I stumbled into murals. I’ve always been an artist, but never worked on anything bigger than canvas. Two years ago was the first street art happening in Ajo, and the first mural I ever painted. I got hooked on Ajo and on murals.”

Since that time, Anderson has created 12 murals in Ajo, Mexico, and Alaska, as well as continuing with her own studio paintings, poetry writing, and poetry readings. She describes her style as “a little surreal, a little abstract, vivid colors, some landscape and some my own imagination.”  She adds that “I really tend towards thinking about things in colors and a collage of concepts. My painting and my writing both just pop into my head in pieces and then I put them together to create a greater motif.”

For Ajo’s mural festival, she created five murals, including a collaboration with artist Leanne Miller, as well as curating the event. “The first one, I took ten days to finish two years ago. I knew I couldn’t undertake that and run this, so instead I did smaller pieces. I had to have a paintbrush in my hand,” she laughs.

“This is the first year for me being in charge of the murals. The International Sonoran Desert Alliance didn’t have a grant for us, but I was able to see the vision of doing something out of nothing. The grass roots community really came together to show we could make something beautiful out of nothing,” she attests.

Anderson feels that with this year’s festival, the town has “broken through the threshold” in terms of the location of its murals, and that the town will be looking forward to welcoming murals throughout the community.

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Artist Harriet Wood, based in Barcelona and previously from London, created one of the larger, most vivid pieces this year with her “Sonora.” The image covers an entire side of a two-story building.

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“This piece is based on the wild life I stumbled across visiting Arizona. I never saw anything like it before. There’s a nod to native history in the headdress of my female figure, which I made as colorful as possible. I paint female characters for female empowerment,” she notes.

In terms of technique, Wood uses primarily spray paint with some brush work, but says she would’ve used all spray paint if she’d had enough available to complete the impressive work.

“I started spray painting eleven years ago at age fifteen. My dad was an artist, so I’m lucky, it was an accepted goal. My oldest friend lives in Tucson, and when I visited him in September I was introduced to Michael Schwartz and the Tucson Arts Brigade, who got me a wall,” she explains. “I’m staying here just a week, but I don’t want to leave this magical place,” she says.3R1A2544

Wood could not afford the cost necessary for paint, and crowd-sourced the project, which was extremely successful.

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Wood’s participation in the arts weekend was long planned, but Mauriel Morejon merely drove by, saw the project, and wanted to join in. The professional muralist titled his swiftly and beautifully created project “Arizona Hurricane.”

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Morejon creates dynamic, sweeping landscapes and stories.

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Above, Izrael Rios Garcia created a stunning spray and air brushed acrylic work whose rich black background fills a large building corner and loading dock area.

Below, the muralists’ worked all day and into the night.  The festive, creative scene was open to the public.

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One of the strongest supporters of the mural project is Michael Schwartz, who brought Wood into the creation of murals in both Tucson and Ajo. He describes himself as being “all about community building.” A muralist and studio artist, he has gotten high school students involved in the artistic process, and is working on a multi-year collaboration between Tucson and Ajo involving young people.

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Above, Schwartz with a young artist, Val Hutchings.

He’s created 125 murals over time. “Here I feel like it’s taking on a life of its own, the mural project. It’s great to start a wind-up toy and let it keep going. I talked to ISDA early on as to what culture is, we talked it through, and Kat ended up handling 90% of it all, we just did fundraisers online. Really, this is a hundred grand project, but we just came together. Normally, you wouldn’t do something like this without a grant, but we needed to be re-energized to do something for the community.”  Schwartz believes that going “back to our roots” feels good particularly in our current political climate.

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Along with the incredible, large-scale art work, the New Orleans-based Mondo Bizzaro and ArtSpot performance, funded by the National Performance Network, offered an immersive outdoor/indoor show that was as profound as it was beautiful.

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Community artist and former ISDA community arts coordinator Morgana Wallace Cooper saw the performers in North Carolina and knew they would be a passionate fit for the festival.

Performing troupe member Monique Verdin noted that while their primarily outdoor performance is not usually done at night, creating their work at dusk “added a new quality. Everyone really let loose with the Fais de Doux.”

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The eco-performance combined historically-based drama with hauntingly magical music. The subject matter dealt with the Army Corps of Engineers reconfiguring the Mississippi, industrial pollution, and environmental racism, a subject that might have been set in Louisiana culture, but which still resonated for Ajo with its mining past.

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The group led its audience from Ajo’s town square indoors to the beautiful auditorium  at the renovated Curley School adjacent to the Sonoran Desert Inn and Conference Center. Haunting melodies were paired with floor to ceiling photographs of the Louisiana region, while the backdrop to the auditorium’s stage was the rolled-open loading dock, creating an amazing intermingling of Arizona sunset sky and Cajun melodies.

It would be hard to put into words both how powerful and how dream-like the performance was, and how well it fit the almost dream-like quality of Ajo itself: here is a town that is in the process of reinvention, painting itself into revitalized life with enormous murals, serving up a spring arts festival as beautifully realized as any in a much larger community.

Don’t wait to visit Ajo and view the murals and absorb the town’s special magic, from it’s sprightly farmer’s market to it’s art gallery openings; and do look forward to the town’s next Spring Arts Festival.

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Above and below: farmer’s market; opening at Under the Arches Gallery.

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Above, artists’ renderings of mural works; below a delightful crafts project.

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Below, another look at some of the beautiful murals created during the Spring Arts Weekend.

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  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke

 

 

 

 

Sabroso Festival: Tacos and Punk Rock On

Sunshine broke through the clouds at Dana Point last weekend, and with it came a bright expansion of the Sabroso Festival, this year featuring a taco eating contest, tastings of over 100 different regional craft beers, gourmet tacos, Lucha Libre wresting, and – music.

Sure, some people came to see whether Takeru Kobayashi could top his 2015 record of eating 144 street tacos, but most attendees were in it for the music. The crowd loved rocking out to punk and rock and Latin-edged acts. For the latter, it was Metalachi, for the punk it was Unwritten Law, Long Beach rock band Rival Sons, and Fullerton rock band Lit, straight up rock was well represented by Fueled by Defiance, and arguably the most renowned group on stage, Huntington Beach-based rockers the Offspring. Also on tap (pun intended): Canadian rock quintet Sum 41 whose set had a little pop sensibility.

Below, Fueled by Defiance commanded the stage with a blistering set.

Fueled by Defiance

Fueled by Defiance
Fueled by Defiance

Below, Metalachi added something primal and fun to a Latin edged set that was sexy, a little crazy, and totally intense.

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Metalachi
Metalachi
Metalachi

Below, Lit was on fire.

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Lit
Lit
Lit definitely preached to a crowd of music believers,  including a couple who got engaged right on stage. “Miss You Gone” – nope, these guys should stay and play.

Rival Sons, below, offered a powerful set that throbbed with rhythm.

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Rival Sons
Rival Sons

Sum 41 tore things up with a set that was both straight up rock and some pop-influenced material.

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Sum 41
Sum 41
Sum 41
Sum 41

And closing act The Offspring proved their potency, reaffirming their status as a late 90s era headliner. If “The Kids Aren’t Alright” you couldn’t tell it here.

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The Offspring
The Offspring
The Offspring

Along the way, the “Best of Taste” taco prizes were awarded…we were fortunate enough to taste several of the winners’ wares.

Taco Taste Winners

First place went to Mess Company Canteen food truck, second place Falasophy food truck, and third place went to Kroft.

And the taco eating competition unfolded – stuffed faces, full stomachs, and prizes. Above, entering champion Kobayashi.

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Molly Schuyler
Molly Schuyler

First place record holder Kobayashi  kept his spot, consuming 159 Chronic tacos.

Second place went to Molly Schuyler who devoured 139 Chronic tacos.

Wee Man – of Jackass fame –  promoting his Chronic Tacos.

The crowd around stage grew as the day faded into the night.

Samples of Gringo Bandito hot sauce were offered.
The crowd at the stage was exuberant day and night.
Above, attendees enjoyed a high-powered set by Metalachi.
Beer tasting on the beach drew it’s own crowd.
KLOS d.j.’s Frank, Heidi, Frosty work the crowd.
The KLOS crew raising their glasses.
Away from the stage KLOS also made its presence known: the radio station’s tent was home to swag and strong event support.
Sweet James – accident attorney. KLOS staff think highly of this legal eagle.
Beer tasting next to the main stage.

Strong music, strong brews, spicy tacos, and a beach front setting with great acoustics…who could ask for more? Flexing their musical and event driven muscles, the Sabroso festival is quintessentially Southern Californian,  a mix of music and marvelous madness.

  • Genie Davis; Photos – straight from the photographers’ pit – by Jack Burke.

A New Phoenix Rising

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Located on 3rd at its juncture with La Cienega is a reincarnation of the former Phoenix as – The Phoenix. And it’s a new bird rising. Sleek, French-bistro styling draws the eye to the  bar, while draft cocktails like the Dublin Donkey and La Paloma – as well as a wide selection of whiskies – draw the palette.

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While the food may be somewhat secondary to the beverages, it’s tasty too: below, Fusilli Marinara topped with a fried egg. The idea, our server tells us, is to mix the fried egg in with the basil and Parm cheese. The marinara sauce has a nice zing.
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Lighter fare is also present. The Phoenix House Salad adds feta cheese, pear, pepperocini, cilantro, cherry tomatoes, and red onions to fresh mixed green. Toasty bread on the side.
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Below, Adolfo Suaya, partner in the restaurant, ready to help patrons enjoy the classy but cool European vibe.

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The very red-lit patio was our favorite spot. Hip, happening, sexy lighting, comfortable booths and the al fresco bar scene that LA needs a lot more of.

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Below, crisply well-seasoned fries are redolent of rosemary.

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Below: those well prepared draft cocktails.

The Paloma features Milagro Blanco Tequila, Giffard’s Pamplemousse,  plus lime and soda.

We loved the Dublin Donkey, a nicely spicy blend of Tullamore Dew, Giffard’s Ginger of the Indies, lime, and Ginger Beer.

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To sum up: a welcoming place for a drink and some food, The Phoenix is open late and stays stylish. Insiders tip: the patio is the perfect spot for a date night. The Phoenix rises to become your next occasion for celebration. It’s located at 8480 3rd Street close to the Beverly Center.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Jack Burke