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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Located in the heart of town at the edge of Mission Plaza, the stylish restaurant offers live music in the evening.
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.
Above, Brendan Gough, below – brewery owner George Peterson offers a taste of the brewery’s GABF Gold medal award winner Monterey Street Pale Ale.
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.
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.
Below, SLO Brew, our final Beer Tour stop.
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.
Tasty flat bread pizzas and a wide range of appetizers are on the menu here, and the brewery features live musical acts many evenings.
Below, brewer Luis Lapostol.
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.
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.
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.
Pours were generous and the food, featuring farm fresh local ingredients, was delicious.
Above, butternut squash soup, one of the many fresh regional flavors highlighted by exceptional beer and wine.
Carnivores and vegetarians alike had a host of flavors from the farms of the Central Valley to enjoy.
Mark Stern of Pomar Junction and Bill Sysak of Stone Brewing did a masterful job of curating as sommelier and cicerone, respectively.
As a closing event, Holly Holliday offered a terrific selection of breweries to taste from at Best of the Fest on Madonna Field.
Lagunitas offered bottles of Aunt Sally and their refreshing Pils. And of course, there was music.
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.
Tap It, Heretic, SLO Brew, and Central Coast Brewing served more stellar brews.
And the girls from Figueroa Mountain were breezy but unbowed, serving a potent strong Belgian C’est La Viogner.
Hard to resist: Karl Strauss Brewing’s Peanut Butter Cup. Chocolatey.
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