Craft Beer Heaven in Ventura County

By Matthew Kay

Craft Beer Heaven is exactly what sounds like and a great way to spend a hot Saturday afternoon in Ventura, CA. This is the fourth year of the California Beer Festival, and each Saturday of the travelling festival features this event, a collection of local and national brewers coming together to share beers, new ones and classics.

Even though this festival offered some great beers by big names like Firestone, Allagash and Goose Island, I chose to review some of the offerings from some of the local breweries on premises. Some of these beers are only available at the breweries themselves, and show off some of the great work in beer coming out of the Ventura County coast area. Here are some notables:

Avocado Honey IPA @ Surf Brewery Ventura, CA

Surf Brewing opened in Ventura in 2011, and have several beers that can be found in stores in the Ventura County area. The Avocado Honey IPA is not one of them, however. This is a new offering from the brewery, to be brewed during the avocado season, is an experiment with few flavors not normally associated with beer. I am glad to say that this an IPA first and foremost, with a nice aroma a nice, piney hop flavor. The beer doesn’t actually have any avocados in it, just avocado honey, so the beer has some avocado creaminess and just a bit of honey flavor. Island Brewing also offers a Avocado Honey Ale, but I think these flavors blend better with an IPA, too much and it could overpower the beer, but they fit nicely behind the bitterness and aroma of an IPA.

The Big Meat Ruachbier @ Enegren Brewing Company Moorpark, CA

This brewery, which opened in 2011 in Moorpark, has a long list of delicious German and German-inspired brews, among other delicious options, and this is another to add to the list. This is a big, malty beer with a delicious smoky flavor, achieved with Beechwood smoked malt. The smokiness is complimented by the caramel and biscuity flavors also in the beer. As dark and malty as this beer was, it was smooth enough to still be refreshing in the 90 degree heat of the festival, a welcome change from the overwhelming heaviness of many smoked beers. At the beginning of this year Enegren moved to a new, larger location across the street from their original spot, well worth a visit for this beer as well as many others.

Faltlands Saison @ Topa Topa Brewing Company Ventura, CA

This refreshing saison was a welcome drink on this hot festival day. All I notice on the first sip was how smooth it was, light but still full of flavor. Further sips revealed a pretty classic saison, minimal funk, with pepper and spice notes. The beer finishes clean and dry, with a little tang. Topa Topa has only been open since this summer, started by a former head brewer at Stone, and is already offering some great beers to the Ventura County beer scene.

Variance "Beach Day" IPA @ Island Brewing Company Carpinteria, CA

Island is a more established brewery in Ventura, having been around since 2001, and the Variance IPA series is a new one from them. The plan is to brew many different types of IPAs in the series--Belgian IPA, West Coast IPA, English IPA, etc--to highlight the large variety of styles that fall under the IPA label. The Variance IPA offering at the festival was a session IPA called Beach Day. The beer has a wonderful hop aroma, with notes of citrus and pine, and those flavors shine through in the beer. It is surprisingly aggressive and bitter, a nice surprise from session ale, but only comes in at 4.3% ABV. I am definitely looking forward to trying more beers in this series.

Berliner Weisse @ Anacapa Brewing Company Ventura, CA

The only sour offering I got to try from the local breweries on the day was a Berliner Weisse from Anacapa Brewing Company. I have always been a fan of this style and this beer did not disappoint. It has a sharp lacto nose with some citrus notes that immediately gives the beer away as a Berliner, but the flavor is amazingly light. The beer as a smooth wheat body that gives way to a nice tart finish, a great beer for a hot day. Anacapa is not just a brewery but a restaurant as well, and I can see this beer pairing with salty foods in a really nice way.

Skipping over the big national brewers and going straight to the local ones yielded delicious flavors and interesting new options the average beer drinker doesn’t get every day.

Regional beer festivals are some of the best places to discover good local beer that may be lesser known because it’s new, or the brewery only serves beer in it’s taproom. The 2015 California Beer Festival in Ventura was no different. Skipping over the big national brewers and going straight to the local ones yielded delicious flavors and interesting new options the average beer drinker doesn’t get every day. Hopefully you’ll check out some of these breweries if you’re ever in the Ventura County area and contribute to this thriving local beer scene.

Justin Tung

San Francisco, CA,

Justin Tung is a San Francisco resident, amateur homebrewer, and big beer lover. Often traveling for work grew a natural habit - an obsession - with exploring new regions and beers. The best way to understand a locality? Hang with a local and buy them a beer, hear their stories and the rest is history. This is the golden age of beer revolution and innovation. Fortune rewards the brave.