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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
HOMETOWN BEERO: Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing's IPA is all hopped up on lip-smacking goodness.

My Brew Heaven

Taste-testing fresh Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing beer is hard work, but somebody's gotta do it

By Christina Waters

GIVING new meaning to the term "overflow," the exuberant crowd in the bulging beer pen makes merry just about every afternoon. And who can blame these diehard suds-o-philes? Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing has found its spiritual home in a cozy back corner of the Ingalls Street complex. Every weekend beer connoisseurs, cyclists, students, artistes and the just plain thirsty pack themselves into the little outdoor patio-corral to swill fresh, organic designer brews made on the spot.

It began five years ago when Emily Thomas and Chad Brill started a garage brew scene. Joined by Nick Thomas and assorted brewing nerds and specialists, the all-organic brewery has grown and flourished and now offers an enlightened alternative to the many wineries surrounding its industrial stronghold.

I'd already observed the little patio throngs of faithful patrons emulating those partying villagers in Brueghel's paintings. But who knew that the indoor pub scene was so atmospheric? John Wayne gazes down from the back bar wall, his vintage portrait a few feet from the TV plying us with Tour de France action. The banquette lining this cozy, cavelike interior was chockablock with couples sampling beer ranging in hue from pale gold (wheat) to warm black (stout). Katya and I decided to belly up to the bar, take possession of a large wooden trough of pretzels and settle into a sampler of eight of the house specialties (the flight of 2-ounce pours runs a budget-conscious $7). As throngs of male beer drinkers entered the establishment—many appealingly clad in sweat-soaked cycling tights, others in vintage O'Neill—we quickly decided that we had found one of the primal spots on the planet. The beer wasn't bad either.

Starting with the light, lemony Wilder Wheat, we began to sip our way through SCM Brewing's current greatest hits. The seasonal brew, a pilsner, hit the spot for me, offering fresh lager energy along with the bite of hops that delivers a great thirst-quenching flavor array. A blackboard on one wall suggested a short list of sandwiches and plates from nearby Kelly's, which SCMB patrons may order and receive without moving off their bar stools. Nice touch, and helpful for those who want to stay conscious during especially lengthy sporting matches, e.g. the World Cup, Wimbledon, NBA playoffs, etc. Somehow the Dread Brown Ale, with its earthy, muffiny aromas, didn't fire our rockets, but the amber proved lovely to the eye and full of caramel barley flavors. "It does feel like a pub," my Welsh companion insisted. "Loud and lively." Well, lively it certainly was. And before you could say "India Pale Ale," the little brewery-cum-beer-hall was packed right to the edges of its exterior corral. Packed.

And speaking of that IPA, it was the absolute hit of our tasting. Beautifully balanced, with its malts and hops bitterness resonating nicely, this golden yellow brew was the one I wouldn't mind swilling for an entire afternoon. However, given its bracing 7.5 percent alcohol content, it is definitely not your father's IPA, if you know what I mean.

Finally we headed into the darker regions of porter and stout. The porter, exuding a coffee perfume, actually did contain organic, roasted, free trade coffee (only in Santa Cruz ...) by special arrangement with Lulu Carpenter's.

I wrapped up my probe of the zesty brew facility with the last drops of that terrific India Pale Ale and made plans to revisit on the very next hot afternoon.

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing

402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz


Open daily noon–10pm

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