5 O'Clock Somewhere
Happy New Beer (and wine and spirits)
By Chris O'Neal 12/26/2013
What a flagship year it’s been in Ventura County for imbibing. Not only did yours truly begin this much-loved and well-read article (a boy can dream), but local breweries and wineries kicked production into full gear. Let’s remember 2013 for what it was: the year Ventura County came into its own.
Craft beer has taken the nation by storm since 2010, but Ventura County was a little slow on the uptake — until 2013. Surf Brewery’s production ramped up and new favorites like the Aerial IPA and two summer releases — Seawall Summer ale and Night Session black mild — hit the taps and became instant favorites.
In Camarillo, Institution Ale Company opened up and introduced us to its maple aged brown ale, a heavenly balance of sweet and bitter. The newest addition to the VC beer-trek, Institution Ale Company looks promising with New Year recipes in the works.
Moorpark’s Enegren Brewing Company continued to inspire and pop out some serious flavor, specifically with the Golden Spur saison.
The year in wine was just as impressive: Labyrinth Wine Cellars opened a tasting room in Downtown Ventura featuring wines built on grapes sourced from Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and even the Yarra Valley in New Zealand. The Haka Freebird, a blend of merlot and tempranillo, is a wonderful selection for your holiday parties — and here’s to later vintages in 2014.
Paradise Pantry added a restaurant to its already fine selection of wines, while Camarillo’s The Wine Closet turned drinking into a learning experience with regular tastings and classes.
The Tavern sent its expert cocktail craftsmen to its latest venture, Saloon BBQ, in hopes of inspiring the menu — and inspired they were. Beer cocktails became a thing in Ventura thanks mostly to the fine folks behind the bar at Saloon.
Ventiki Polynesian Dining and Cocktails brought a taste of Hawaii to Main Street, sans sugar-bomb generic recipes. The Mai Tai, for instance, features two high-end rums and fresh juice. It’s the closest you’ll get to the islands without stepping into the Pacific.
It’s good to reminisce and be reminded of from whence we came — Ventura County has finally caught up with its hip-on-booze cousins L.A. and Santa Barbara. Next year, expect more (Grapes and Hops, for one) as our local suppliers grow and deliver unto us liquid riches.
Chris O’Neal floated home that night. Follow him on Twitter @agentoneal.