Cruisin' for craft beer in Camarillo
By Allison Costa 01/09/2014
795 Camarillo Springs Road
Institution Ale Company
438 Calle San Pablo
4850 Santa Rosa Road
Ever since I heard about the opening of Institution Ale Company in the fall, the small but mighty Camarillo beer scene has been calling to me. “Come, have a pint …” it has been whispering in my ear. I’d also heard rumblings about another haven for beer drinkers, Darryl’s Couch, so one evening we decided to head south and check them both out. And since every night of beer drinking must be accompanied by food, we added a stop at Snapper Jack’s Taco Shack for fortification.
Darryl’s Couch, tucked into a tiny strip mall on Camarillo Springs Road, is an uber-casual neighborhood watering hole that offers a great selection of craft beers. Owner Darryl Levi bought the bar on a whim and has created a comfortable place to chill and drink good beer. The space is no-frills with a pool table, a handful of bar tables, an L-shaped bar and the black couch that inspired the bar’s name. Beers are served with bowls of shelled peanuts.
When we first arrived at Darryl’s, one of the regulars welcomed us with a big smile and a laugh that we were “virgins.” As we sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender, he laughed and said, “It’s like working at Cheers.”
The beer selection includes 11 beers on tap from breweries like Stone, Firestone Walker, The Dudes’, and The Bruery.
The 35 bottled beers available represent brewers like Deschutes, Ballast Point, Dogfish and Golden Road.
The draft beers can be ordered by the pint or in tasters, so we chose a flight of four different brews. The Stone Double Bastard Ale is a feisty American barleywine that comes in at 11 percent alcohol, making it a beast of a beer, the kind in which you can actually taste the alcohol. This is a beer that is meant to be sipped slowly. The Dudes’ Double Trunk Imperial IPA is another high-alcohol beer, yet in contrast it gets its feistiness from a generous helping of hops.
On the sweeter side were The Dudes’ Raspberry Wheat, a perfect summertime sipping beer, and the Stone Smoked Porter with vanilla bean, a perfect winter fireplace beer reminiscent of coffeehouse flavors.
After Darryl’s we hopped back on the 101 to the Santa Rosa Road exit, and stopped in at Snapper Jack’s. Though we frequent the Ventura eatery, it was fun to check out one of its other locations. (The family-owned business now has three locations in Ventura County.) It was neat to see the same branding and surf-themed artwork, and to be greeted by the same friendly and ever-efficient staff. We ordered our usual — battered fish tacos in crispy taco shells, drizzled with creamy Shack sauce — and we were ready to get back on the road.
Photo by Heber Pelayo
We hopped on Pleasant Valley Road for a few miles, made a right on Calle San Pablo, and soon arrived at our next stop: a quiet and dark industrial park, where the only open business was the one we sought, Institution Ale Company. Open since September, Institution Ale is run by Roger Smith and his two sons, Ryan and Shaun.
This space is also small, with a shiny bar and maybe 10 tables. The brand-new and modern-looking space (think stainless steel, a gray concrete bar, and hipster light fixtures with Edison bulbs) greatly contrasts the well-worn man-cave vibe of Darryl’s Couch.
Wanting to sample as many beers as we could, we opted to share another flight of beers. Among our favorites was the Sedation, a low-alcohol red ale. With no bitter aftertaste, it is a good session beer, or an easy drinking beer that doesn’t overwhelm the senses. Another favorite was the Bad Scene, a massive imperial stout with hints of chocolate and coffee. With my first sip, I could almost hear a boisterous Amen! from the heavens. This was by far the best beer of the evening. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes lies the Restraint, a maple-aged brown ale, which we also enjoyed.
The Progress Pale Centennial on nitro was creamy, but we were left wanting when it came to flavor. Though we enjoyed the Restraint cask with vanilla bean and cocoa nibs, it is served at room temperature, which some may find off-putting.
Perhaps it was the vibe of the place or the delicious beer that was flowing, but by the end of the evening everyone in the tasting room seemed to be chatting with neighbors as if they were old friends. And though both places are very different, the vibe at each place was festive and welcoming. Maybe it’s the beer that makes everyone so friendly. Or maybe places like these simply attract friendly people.
Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com where you’ll find information on our private tasting tours and upcoming events.