On any given weekend, Camarillo’s Institution Ale Company is packed to the brim with guests, sometimes spilling out onto the patio. As servers pour tasters and pints from the bar that is located in the business district, the owners behind Institution Ale Co. are busy trying to keep up with demand.
“We sell more beer through the tasting room each week than we can physically make,” said Shaun Smith, sales director for Institution.
Production at Institution Ale Company has grown enormously since the brewery’s opening in September, so much so that two new fermenting tanks will be arriving soon in order to keep up with demand. Until the tanks are up and running, guests will only be able to taste between three and five beers, down from the usual eight.
“It should definitely be a temporary situation,” said Smith.
Current capacity limits the brewery to 24 barrels (31 gallons per barrel), but when the new fermenting tanks arrive, the company will be able to brew 38 barrels.
Craft beer has seen an increase in popularity with sales up 23 percent nationwide over last year, according to Wines & Vines magazine; and in places like San Francisco sales have increased by upward of 30 percent.
In just the last few years, Ventura County has seen its share of craft breweries spring up, and with increasing demand comes a need for more space to brew and ferment the treasured beverage.
Danny Saldana has owned Anacapa Brewing Company in downtown Ventura since 2007, right at the onset of the increase in interest in craft beer — and the beginning of the economic downturn.
Saldana says that there are a number of factors behind the craft beer boom, and why 2014 is the right time for it to have happened and for breweries to grow.
“People have more trust in our economy, in our local economy at least. People are starting to go out and spend a little more money,” he said.
Anacapa Brewing Company is also looking to expand. Currently, all brewing takes place at the restaurant behind the bar in the large tanks that make up the restaurant’s scenery. Head brewer Jason Coudray arrives at 3 a.m. to begin brewing, hoping to be finished by 10 in time for the restaurant’s operations to begin. With the expansion, Saldana hopes that there will be more time to focus on experimental beers and the increase in demand.
“I have customers who would come in who wouldn’t even think of liking beer a couple years ago,” said Saldana. “Now they’re drinking beers left and right. There are so many different beers they can explore to find what they like.”
It’s not just established breweries talking expansion, either. Downtown Ventura has recently acquired another micro-brewery in Shanghai Gardens, and retailers like Grapes & Hops and Paradise Pantry have expanded their selection of beers.
In Moorpark, Enegren Brewing Company is doubling its production size by moving down the road into a larger building where new fermenting tanks and a potential bottling facility will allow the brewers to distribute outside of Ventura County.
Things aren’t all bright for beer as a whole. Young consumers have shifted to whiskey — particularly, high-end whiskeys. The manufacturer of Jack Daniel’s saw an increase of 10 percent in the first quarter of 2014 for its flagship bourbon, while sales for its higher-end versions, Gentleman Jack and Woodford Reserve, were up 18 percent and 28 percent, respectively.
The biggest loser in the beer industry is light beer. Anheuser-Busch InBev and Mosler Coors have seen their market share dwindle and have reacted by manipulating their cans in order to attract crowds through novelty, and have even announced plans to release a beer higher in alcohol by volume in a bid to appeal to youth.
This isn’t the case in craft beer, however, which is thriving, due in part to the changing palate of the nation’s drinkers and the shifting gender identity.
Allison Costa is the owner of Ventura Food Tours and has put on special beer centric events in the past. The latest, called Knit and Sip, combined the art of crocheting with beer tasting at Barrelhouse 101 and mostly comprised women.
Costa says that women have moved from wine to beer over the past few years.
“This is a crochet event and you had a lot of women who were interested in the beer,” she said. “It seemed like people’s questions during the beer tasting part were pretty sophisticated, which tells me that people are thinking about beer.”
Differences between the cultures of wine and beer have made beer more accessible, says Costa.
“When I first started doing tours, it was mostly the guys who were excited about the beer and women were mostly excited about the wine,” said Costa. “With wine tasting, there’s a level of intimidation that does not exist when you’re tasting beer. Beer is more laid-back, more playful and more chill than wine tasting.”
Back at Institution, Smith is busy setting up the tasting room for the oncoming storm of regulars and first-timers. Smith says that he’s still surprised that most of his sales go through the tasting room. For Smith, Ventura County has a lot of room to grow to meet the needs of its residents.
“Ventura County is a little late to the craft beer party, so to speak,” said Smith. “Now we’re seeing a craft beer rise in LA and Ventura. We’re still just kind of starting to embrace the beer culture.”