Brooke Robertson

Some may consider beer a less sophisticated beverage than wine, but on the Central Coast, privately-owned breweries are an alternative to the plentiful wineries.

Central Coast Brewing (CCB) on Monterey Street has created a reputation for its premier brewing facilities and variety of hand-crafted microbrews and signature ales, including its most popular flavor: chai, said CCB’s Head Brewer Jeff Sorenson.

“Beer is more appealing to me because you can drink more of it,” he said. “It has a lower alcohol content than wine, and you can sit down with your friends and have a few beers.”

Creekside Brewing Co. plans to open up shop in downtown San Luis Obispo as well, according to a recent report by The Tribune. Like Downtown Brewing Co. (DTB) on Garden Street, Creekside Brewing Co. will brew its own beer on site, serve bottled selections and have a full bar pairing drinks with entrees.

For beer fans, Sorenson recommends Downtown Brewing Co.’s India Pale Ale (IPA), Santa Maria Brewing Co.’s Porter and IPA, and Firestone Walker Brewing Company’s Union Jack IPA.

“You can put a flavor in the beer, but by law in Germany, you only have to have the four main ingredients or you can’t call it beer,” he said.

Of course, the four ingredients he referred to are malted barley, hops, water and yeast. With the perfect combination and the right amount of time, these ingredients can produce a refreshing, flavorful beverage.

“I look for balance between sweetness and bitterness,” Sorenson said. “I like a real clean flavor, no off flavors like a sour or buttery taste. Some beers taste like gasoline to me.”

DTB prepares about 700 barrels of beer annually, said DTB Master Brewer Steve Courier, who has been brewing at the location for more than 10 years.

“Beer is always the best when it’s fresh,” he said. “I think beer should always be cold. It’s a perishable. And we don’t filter our beer here. In a way, it’s better here because a lot of times when filtering, you’re looking for shelf stability, looking for it to last. Here, we’re not interested in making it last as long.”

Courier also works as a brewer at Firestone Walker Brewing Company in Paso Robles. He said the difference between DTB and Firestone Walker is that one is a bar, restaurant and brewery and the other is a just a brewery.

Also, the production rate is much higher at Firestone Walker, where nearly 40,000 barrels are brewed annually.

“When people come (to Firestone Walker), they’re coming just to drink beer,” he said.

The brewing process takes about three weeks before any beer is ready to be tasted, Sorenson said, adding that beer tasting is just as sophisticated as wine tasting.

“We’re not like wine makers, where they wait for the crush to do it,” Sorenson said. “Hops and barley can be stored for years. Mainly, what I tell people is to pay attention to what they taste. Give it a good smell, because a lot of the taste is in the smell.”

When smelling IPA, Sorenson said to look for a really nice, fresh hop smell. For a brew like a Hefeweizen, he said to smell for that clove, banana, and bubble gum kind of aroma.

Courier said that a beer’s clarity, or clear, bright color, is important to a lot of people.

“To the average drinker, seeing a bright, clear beer is appealing,” he said. “A lot of times people drink with their eyes first.”

DTB offers a 6-beer sampler for $6, CCB’s beer tasting is $1 per beer, and Firestone Walker offers a 4-beer sampler with a complimentary pint glass for $6.

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