Two breweries debut in Santa Cruz this week

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February 16, 2016 – Our local craft beer wave just keeps cresting. Right when it seems we are at a tipping point, when we couldn’t possibly support another beer operation, here they come. Two new ventures—East Cliff Brewing and Elkhorn Slough Brewing—are launching in the Santa Cruz area this week, both sure to be unique and special additions to our beer community, no matter how overflowing it is.

East Cliff Brewing Company

Your weekly shopping trip to the Sunday Live Oak Farmers’ Market is just about to get a bit more lively. The guys behind East Cliff Brewing Co. (ECBC), have been working tirelessly at renovating a tucked away space in the very same, aptly named East Cliff Shopping Center, and will be opening their doors starting this weekend.

“It was an empty shell,” recalls ECBC co-owner James Hrica, of the space that was formerly a music store, vacant for the last 5-8 years. The Santa Cruz native, who has been homebrewing for 30 years, had initially wanted to open a brewery in Midtown area, since he grew up in Seabright, but after a year-long search, the East Side location presented a lot of advantages. Support from Barry Swenson Builders, who proposed a turn-key build out, and ample parking were huge attractions, but also the fact that “this neighborhood really seems to be wanting something like this,” he adds.

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The ECBC ownership group: James Hrica, Joe Evans & Jon Moriconi

Hrica’s two business partners, friend and fellow home brewer Jon Moriconi and Joe Evans, who is “the back office guy” with the MBA knowledge that the others lacked, were enjoying a pint at Discretion Brewing when they decided to make the leap from hobby to profession last year. Hrica had left a tech career in April, and quickly filled his newly open schedule with this demanding project.

“We didn’t want to just open another craft brewery making more of the same” he says. “We wanted to do something other people aren’t. If I just wanted American style craft beer, I’d just keep going to Discretion, New Bohemia, Santa Cruz Mountain, because this is a lot of work!”

“Yeah, it’s definitely easier to just buy it,” agrees Moriconi. Having spent a lot of time in England, visiting the country over twenty times for work, Hrica fell in love with the beer and pub culture there, which is what inspired the desire to open something similar here. He maintains that there are three main aspects that set ECBC apart, and the primary component to creating a real pub: session beers (“not everything has to be a super IPA or 10% alcohol,” says James), balanced brewing style, and a neighborhood primed to receive it.

So this is the niche that ECBC aims to fill, and the team hopes to educate us on what true English style ales actually are. “Those of you who have been to the British Isles know that the myth of the ‘flat and warm’ british beer is false. British beer is served at cellar temperature, normally around 50°F to 53°F and its carbonation is naturally occurring from the fermentation process. The cask is not under pressure, the hand pump pulls the beer instead of CO2 pushing it out, hence the term of a barman “pulling a pint.” That is how proper British beer is served, and how it is experienced at East Cliff Brewing Company,” he explains.

They will open with four beers on the hand pumps, including the Burton’s Bounty English IPA, a crowd pleaser for both the folks that still really want a hoppy American style IPA and the folks that don’t. If Facebook is any indication of public support, ECBC will surely be a hit. They already have several positive reviews and they aren’t even open yet. Further proof that our beer community is a strong one and that neighbors are thirsty to frequent a new spot in their hood. A gathering space that encourages conviviality and conversation is exactly the kind of “pub culture” ECBC is striving to create.

They have paired up with Roger Barnes, owner of U.S. Meals in the same shopping center, to provide food. Since the brewery does not have a kitchen, this partnership will follow the same model that Kelly’s bakery and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing set up. Patrons at ECBC can order off a customized U.S. Meals menu of several burger variations (including a house veggie made with quinoa, kale and almonds), smoked bratwurst and fries, and then a POS system linked to the restaurant shoots out the order, delivered by the U.S. staff right to your bar stool.

Also, the ECBC team know that parents tend to be the thirstiest customers, which is why there are plans for an entire front corner of the large space to be dedicated to kiddos. Jon has 9 month old twin girls, and predicts the need to corral them onsite if he’s going to get any work done.

A grand opening is TBD at this point, and they plan to expand their opening hours from weekends only in a strategic way after gauging demand and capacity. For now, visit the new taproom Friday through Sunday starting on the 19th at 4pm.

Elkhorn Slough Brewing Company

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Julie Reinhardt and Michael Enos of Elkhart Slough Brewing at the Twisted Tasting

Husband and wife, Michael Enos and Julie Reinhardt, have been pressing apples off their small home orchard for years, mostly to give to their kids as juice. Those two kids are now all grown up, which is perhaps what provided the time and inclination to tinker with a fermented variety of the juice. “We are great partners,” says Reinhardt, and when the kids were teenagers and that first batch of juice turned into cider, “it really ignited in us a passion, the idea to create your own and experiment and play, and to get to do something together.”

The duo specialize in wild ales, using the native yeasts from their apples to craft artisan brews. “The apples are really the base for our wild beer, our apple orchard is sort of a yeast manufacturing factory,” explains Enos. After that first batch of cider, which kind of “spontaneously fermented” they recognized that the reason the fermentation process was so “fast and furious without any work at all really” indicated how much yeast there was. He decided to apply the same yeast to a batch of beer and was very happy. So happy, in fact, that they decided to have the strain analyzed and it turns out it’s a unique yeast strain called Bilardi. “We are one of the first breweries to use it for beer, since you usually find it in nutritional supplements,” says Enos, “which means it’s good for you!”

Michael is a veteran home brewer, having gotten into it in the 80’s when he moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC. The unfortunate result was that “I developed a craft beer taste on a Budweiser budget,” he says, realizing that he could make better beer for much less money than what was available at the time in the craft market. He started brewing again some ten years ago, this time with Julie on board, and they finally decided to turn hobby into business in 2014 after seeing how much people were enjoying their brews. “We started getting some great recognition for the beers and people were encouraging us to make more,” says Enos.

In the beginning the only people lucky enough to taste their limited product were at volunteer events, where they would pour on a donation basis. Both of their careers are in the nonprofit world, and they see that the same “cohesiveness to the community” that nonprofits have can apply to their new venture as well. “The brewery is a platform for us to engage in the community locally,” says Reinhardt.

The couple have been brewing in a warehouse space in Watsonville for about a month now, and are, in fact, the first and only brewery in the city at this point. “We could only go so big in terms of home production,” not to mention the complicated process of getting a home operation certified for a commercial product. Since their property is in North Monterey County and their kids went to school in Watsonville, it was a natural choice to find production space there.

And while they won’t have a physical brewery or tasting room at this point, they are beginning to distribute their special, hyper-local selections to a few taprooms starting early March. “We are taking our time and trying to do it right. It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he says. “We want to keep it crafty.”

In the meantime, you can find them at beer events, such as the recent Twisted Tasting last month. They were pouring their “June Bug” wild ale made w/ a 10% addition of olallieberries. “They are very specific to this area and we are lucky enough to grow some on our property,” says Julie, also further proof of the terroir-driven beers they make. They also had a wild red ale blend called “Three Letter Acronym” aged in bourbon barrels which was a gold medal winner at CA State Fair in the Belgium category.

Don’t miss the Funk ‘N Sour event at Beer Thirty in Soquel next Wednesday the 24th, in which Elkhorn Slough Brewing will be pouring their “Star Light” Wild Ale. It also happens to be Michael’s birthday, so it’s sure to be a double celebration.

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