Ojai Valley Brewery
457 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
“Waiter, there’s a tree in my pint,” I said to no one in particular, the scent of a wooded forest overtaking my senses upon first sip of Ojai Valley Brewery’s Windbreaker, a lager brewed with pine. I wasn’t complaining, but rather pointing out that, indeed, this was an herby brew.
Ojai Valley Brewery’s mantra takes the concept of locavore to the extreme, sourcing flavors from the blooming hillsides, fruit from trees blossoming down the street and anything else that can possibly be sourced in the surrounding vicinity. The Windbreaker’s strong piney nose took the place of traditional hops that could easily have come 4,000 miles before hitting the brew tank. This pine was probably plucked from a backyard down the way.
Same goes for the Chaparral lager, flavored with native white and black sage. More subtle than pine, the sage offered an earthy tone to cap the bright ale.
Up north, there exists a program dubbed Beers Made by Walking, meant to inspire brewers to take inspiration from the native aromas and flavors rather than from a catalog and shipment from, say, Australia or Europe. Ojai Valley operates in the same vein, it would seem, and it truly is a refreshing take on the otherwise by now standard (and predictable) menu.
The J.F.B., a dry California lager, is brewed with toasted malts and native corn; White Pixie, which my companion found to be perfect for the hot Ojai Earth Day afternoon, is a wheat ale brewed with, you guessed it, Pixie tangerine zest and blossoms from the orchard. The Pixie tangerine is grown in Ojai and its annual arrival is much celebrated on menus around the city.
Of course, there’s a hop-forward pale ale dubbed the Ephemera, but even this is somewhat local in a way — at least to the United States, where the brewery has sourced U.S.-grown Amarillo hops.
Ojai Valley Brewery is unique to Ventura County, but fitting for the city it resides in. Though the “brewery” is hardly a brewery in the traditional sense (the only signs being a logo on the front door of Azu Restaurant, with which it shares a bar), it hardly matters — this beer is as close to home as you’ll get in a beer, literally.
Chris O’Neal is enjoying the taste of spring. Follow him on Instagram @atchrisoneal.