Central Coast Brewing Co. turns 20 on Saturday with a big celebration at its shiny new brewery.
The San Luis Obispo brewery boasts several award-winning beers, lots of local fans and a 12,000-square-foot brewhouse and taphouse opening on Higuera Street just south of downtown.
But its beginnings two decades ago were far more humble.
After a brew-your-own-beer spot closed at 1422 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo, Central Coast Brewing founder George Peterson bought it, equipment and all, from the bank.
“It was a shell of a building with a few brew kettles,” Peterson said. “This was before craft beer was ‘craft beer.’”
There was no food when CCB first opened its doors in 1998, and no pints for a time — just sample-size pours made with a glorified homebrew system. The business started mostly as a hang-out for ahead-of-their-time beer geeks and homebrewers but eventually built a consistent local clientele.
“We treaded water for a while,” Peterson said.
Then Peterson upgraded to a five-barrel brew system — the one that adorns CCB’s logo. The beers evolved — many customers still remember the Chai ale, Topless blonde and Catch 23 black rye IPA — and so did the space, adding amenities to appeal to a wider crowd.
“We had some good brewers. We had some average brewers,” Peterson said. “We just did our thing for 10 or 12 years.”
Then “that thing” began ramping up. Consumer tastes changed to more flavorful brews, craft beer came into its own, and Brendan Gough joined the brewing team.
An avid homebrewer, Gough was working at Peterson’s Sunset Honda dealership in San Luis Obispo convinced Peterson to take him on.
Gough quickly made his mark at CCB and was soon plucked up by Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in Paso Robles.
He continued brewing for CCB on weekends, though, then returned as its head brewer a few years later.
It didn’t take long for Gough to put the small brewery on the map.
In 2015, his Monterey Street pale ale was named the best in the country at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival.
The beer — praised by Firestone brewmaster Matt Brynildson as the gold standard of pale ale — proved to be no one-hit wonder. It won silver at the same festival in 2016 and gold again in 2017.
CCB’s Lucky Day IPA won World Beer Cup gold in 2016, while General Schwarz took Great American Beer Festival gold later that same year for German-style schwarzbier.
The awards propelled CCB from something Peterson described as a hobby business “to a full-blown force to be reckoned with.”
Rising demand sparked a need to expand, leading to a two-year project to transform the old San Luis Motorsports spot at 6 Higuera St., just south of downtown San Luis Obispo, into a beacon for folks who enjoy beer.
“It’s like an oasis on this side of town,” Peterson said.
When it’s fully up and running, the new 20-barrel brewhouse will increase capacity four-fold. With room to expand further, that could allow popular beers to be distributed in kegs and cans from the Bay Area south to Los Angeles.
The hopped-up capacity also makes room for more seasonal releases, one-offs and experimental brews, most of which will be made at the Monterey Street location’s 10-barrel brewhouse.
That means more offerings like Moonbuggy, Juice Box Hero and Juice Almighty — unfiltered IPAs that have found a fast local following.
“The hazy IPAs have been killing it,” Peterson said.
It also means more collaboration brews, like upcoming releases with Berkeley’s The Rare Barrel, Field Recordings Wine in Paso Robles and even Ernie Ball Music Man.
In addition, the expansion makes room for a full barrel program, with cognac and rum barrel-aged beers that could include offerings like a Caribbean-inspired Rumrunner stout. Another possibility is a distillery on site.
Peterson said he could eventually add locations in Avila Beach or Paso Robles. But next on the list is continuing to upgrade CCB’s original home, which recently took over the coffee shop and deli next door and added an on-site food truck.
“We’re going to give Monterey some extra love,” he said, with improvements to the patio and bathrooms.
For all the attention CCB’s medal-winning beers get, Peterson said, “We’re still just a little guy. We don’t want to be a global brand.”
To him, the brewery’s success stems from the local community built over two decades.
“We’ve been here 20 years,” he said, “and we’ve stayed to our roots.”
Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at email@example.com.
Party with Central Coast Brewing Co.
Central Coast Brewing Co’s 20th anniversary party takes place 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday at CCB’s new taproom, 6 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo. Admission is free, with live music and games: food and brews are available for purchase. Pre-release cans of XX Anniversary triple IPA and Moonbuggy double IPA available at eventbrite.com.
For more information, call 805-783-2739 or visit centralcoastbrewing.com.