It’s no secret that the Central Coast is home to world-class brewer Firestone Walker Brewing Co. But that’s not where the craft beer scene begins and ends in San Luis Obispo County.
About a dozen craft breweries have set up kettles, barrels and taprooms to create and share IPAs, porters, sours, and, well, just about any style you could imagine. Here’s a look at what some of these innovative folks are up to.
DUNBAR BREWING | Santa Margarita
Chris Chambers — founder, brewer and often bartender — has created the ultimate neighborhood bar for the county.
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A bottle shop and 14 taps offer a well-rounded collection of some of the most interesting and rare beers from across the state and country. He cycles his own beers through the lineup, having a couple on tap at any given time. One of his brews is a hyper-local tribute: the 438, a red ale named for the first three numbers that every Santa Margarita phone number carries.
Chambers founded Dunbar in 1997 in Los Osos, put his project on hold while he served in the U.S. Army, and returned to the county to reopen his Home of the Forty Deuce Ales — focusing on English- and Scottish-style beers — in Santa Margarita in 2009. Two of Dunbar’s core brews are two of its best: the brown porter and the oatmeal stout.
Make it a point to catch some of his specialty brews — including the chocolate peppermint stout available during the winter holidays — and his impressive beer collaborations with larger breweries. Past collaborations have involved brewers from Stone Brewing Co. of San Diego and Firestone Walker.
Brewery is on site; growlers (refillable containers for beer on tap that can be taken home) to go. Note: This is a cash-only establishment.
CENTRAL COAST BREWING CO. | San Luis Obispo
At Central Coast Brewing, 12 rotating taps offer solid and often adventurous beer, the results of years of trial and error — and success. And the brewery has many good years under its belt: It will celebrate its 16th anniversary this year.
There is a lot to choose from in the taproom. While easy-to-drink Golden Glow pale ale and the Topless Blonde are best-sellers, the Catch 23 malty and hoppy black rye IPA, and the Chai Ale are remarkable for achieving unusual but palate-pleasing flavors. (“The chai is a force,” owner George Peterson said.) The list of must-try beers could go on, but one more stands out: If you like a refreshing but hoppy beer, you’ll love the Lucky Day IPA.
Here’s how to tackle this beer quest: Choose flights over pints to taste as many of Central Coast Brewing beers as possible, and claim a bar stool right next to the brew area in the small tasting room. On a warm sunny day, head out to a deck and admire the Santa Lucia Range.
Brewery is on site; bottles, cans, kegs and growlers to go.
BARRELHOUSE BREWING CO. | Paso Robles
Pack a picnic, bring your family and grab a pint, because at BarrelHouse, the outdoor beer garden sets this brewery apart. Food trucks also roll up and musicians play in the afternoon on a 1933 Dodge flatbed. Inside the taproom, sit among the fermentation tanks and watch brewers at work, even on the weekends.
The Templeton kolsch, a German-style light beer, and an IPA are BarrelHouse’s bread and butter. And they’ve had some fun with those flagship beers. One of my favorite specialty BarrelHouse brews was the Unfiltered Albarino Templeton on Oak, a barrel-aged blend of the kolsch and juice from albarino grapes. It was smooth and clean, and last I checked, no longer available. But other experimental brews are in the works, including a rye aged in bourbon barrels and a sour infused with apricots.
As BarrelHouse celebrated its first year in February, it planned to triple production and release a new specialty beer each month.
Brewery is on site; bottles and growlers to go.
MANROCK BREWING CO. | Grover Beach
Don’t be misled by the reaper on the logo. This brewery is neither grim nor dark. Run by husband-and-wife team Mike and Deshia Hiebner, ManRock produces a wide variety of beer in a small, bright brewhouse.
A kolsch with coriander is a customer favorite. Called Bree Unleashed, it’s named for the family’s friendly boxer dog Bree, who’ll likely be first to greet you at the brewpub door. The not-overly-hoppy IPAs and the Double Damn, a (delicious!) chocolate lavender double stout, also offer surprises.
To top it all off, many of the beers feature names such as Fear The Reaper, Apocalyptic and Reaper-cussion.
It’s in a small spot — the capacity is just 35 people — so the Hiebners are planning to move their operation to a larger location near AJ Spurs. After the move, expect more barrel-aged brews and an outdoor patio.
Brewery is on site; growlers to go.
THE LIBERTINE PUB | Morro Bay
This waterfront spot is split in two. On the bay side, raise your pint and drink to the stunning Morro Rock, which is the main attraction through a wall of windows. On the street side, relax in a more intimate pub where the main attraction is beer. In all, there are 48 taps that pour both Libertine brews and guest beers from locals Firestone Walker and Toro Creek, as well as from breweries across the United States.
Libertine is revving up a bottle club, ramping up its brewing and immersing itself in a wild ales project that uses local ingredients, from yeast to fruits. For its own brews and hard ciders, a lot more experimentation is down the line. Keep an eye out for Libertine’s latest beer aged in wine or bourbon barrels (such as a chocolate porter with pomegranate juice) for something that expands your notion of beer.
Brewing is done on and off site; bottles to be available soon.