The heady smell of fermenting ale filled the air in a new downtown San Luis Obispo business and mingled with the pleasant fragrance of dozens of oak barrels that once held wine, bourbon, brandy or tequila.
Tyler Clark, owner and head of brewing operations for The Libertine Pub in Morro Bay, led a reporter and photographer around his soon-to-be tasting room, restaurant and coffee shop at 1234 Broad St. last week. Libertine Brewing Co. will also offer a cheese and charcuterie shop, supplies for home brewers and growler fills.
And, of course, there’s the brewery. Brewing started last week on a Bière de Garde (translation: “beer for keeping”), a traditional farmhouse French ale that in Clark’s hands is malty and bready and has a copper red color.
Clark aims to open Libertine Brewing Co. in two phases: The small tasting room is on track to open in mid-August with 12 taps, followed by the restaurant, coffee shop and other amenities in late winter to early spring.
The original Libertine Pub at 801 Embarcadero in Morro Bay opened about 3½ years ago. It offers 48 rotating draft handles, with anywhere from two to 10 Libertine-brewed beers, many of them sour.
Clark said many of his customers drive to Morro Bay from San Luis Obispo, so it made sense to expand there.
“I’ve always really loved this building,” he said, referring to the 9,000-square-foot space at Broad and Pacific streets that most recently housed a furniture store. “It’s perfect for what we’re trying to do.”
Clark’s business partners are Eric and Rodessa Newton, who bought the building from previous owner Burt Caldwell, who owned it about eight years with a partner.
According to the San Luis Obispo County Assessor’s Office, it was assessed at about $1.7 million in the 2015-16 tax year.
Clark said he wasn’t sure how much the new business will cost to open.
“At this point, I don’t even want to know,” he added. “But my credit card still works. Just a mill for grain is $10,000.”
He said the company hasn’t turned much of a profit, because any additional money goes toward buying more tanks, barrels or other equipment.
In January, the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission approved the Newtons’ plans for an “artisan marketplace” that includes a brewery, a restaurant and retail space. But the commission nixed part of the plan to have wine tasting or any other alcohol in four separate lease spaces along Pacific Street.
At the time, the project drew some concern from a few Save Our Downtown members about the addition of another alcohol-serving business downtown.
In a project-use statement included in their application, the Newtons said their goal was to attract a sophisticated clientele that would appreciate fine wine, craft beer and great cuisine from local artisans.
The Libertine will eventually offer 76 beers on tap, including 12 in the tasting room, as well as four cask beers (translation: beer that’s naturally conditioned in a cask and served directly from it without using additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure).
Clark hopes about 15 to 20 of the offered beers will be Libertine-brewed. Wine will also be offered on tap from local wineries after the restaurant opens.
Clark will continue to brew in Morro Bay, but the new location could allow Libertine to go from producing 250 barrels a year to 2,000. He plans to open a second aging and packaging facility off-site.
His wife, Shannon, will help run the brewery’s Wild Registry club membership and start online sales.
During last week’s visit, the wort (translation: the sugary liquid that comes from mashing grains) was fermenting in two 500-gallon coolships, open-air vessels that expose the brew to naturally occurring yeast in the air. After a night or two, the beer would be moved into barrels to age.
As Libertine’s website explains, Clark has embraced old-world brewing methods that include using hot rocks to heat the mash and boil, as well as cooling the wort in coolships to capture fermentable yeast. The result is called a wild ale.
Libertine brews a few different base beers — a golden ale, red ale and a porter — lets them age for three months to three years, and then blends different beers.
“We’re just as much a blending house as we are a brewery,” brewer Laurence Duterte said.
In Morro Bay, Clark has also added a small amount of (boiled) seawater to his brews. One of his favorite brews is a sour fruit beer, made with locally sourced fruit whenever possible.
“You have to look at our beer like you look at wine,” Duterte said. “Every vintage is different.”