In 1876, Fridolin Hartman, a Bavarian immigrant, started churning out "the best, coolest and most delicious beer manufactured south of San Francisco" at his Ventura Brewery on North Palm Street.
The suds of Ventura Beer stopped flowing when Prohibition shut down the brewery in 1919.
Seventy years later, Bob Shields, 49, aims to follow in Hartman's foamy footsteps. But his brewing operation might be shut even sooner; the "brewpub" that he and his wife Trudy hope to open by December is in a downtown Ventura building that is on a city hit list to be demolished within five years.
Shields Brewing Co., at Santa Clara Street and Ventura Avenue, would join the ranks of about three dozen California restaurants that brew their own beer on the premises. Shields' offerings would include Channel Islands Ale, a dark, reddish-brown beer, high in hops with a malty flavor, and Gold Coast Beer, a light, amber beer with less hops taste than the ale.
"They're going to find it much more flavorful and tastier than anything that they're used to in a bottle," Shields said. Some time down the road, a stout would be added to the menu.
But the road might dead end before too many glasses are hoisted.
Shields' building, which he leases from Santa Clara Properties, sits smack in the middle of a three-block area designated by the city for redevelopment. This means that the city wants to tear down most of the businesses there to make way for four- to six-story office buildings, said Miriam Mack, Ventura's redevelopment administrator.
The redevelopment plans are still in the early stages, Mack said. But if they are approved, the brewpub, as well as a veterinarian's office, a sporting goods store, the Smart & Final Iris Co., an auto body shop and other businesses might have to go. Mack said the brewpub building--a gray, boxy, brick affair built 40 years ago as a welding shop--has virtually no historic or architectural value.
Shields, a former president of the Downtown Ventura Assn., disagrees.
"These buildings have a charm and should be saved," he said.
Shields, who has sunk more than $300,000 into his project, said he intends to fight the city with petitions and thinks that he has a good chance of remaining at his location. He said he believes that Ventura residents will challenge the demolition.
Shields owns and operates Curly's Upholstery in the same building next to the planned brewery. He said he leased the Strong Steel Building four years ago--before the city hatched its redevelopment plans--specifically to pursue his dream of opening a brewpub.
The industrial characteristics of the building add to the planned atmosphere. The high, varnished, hardwood ceiling is crisscrossed with exposed pipes painted a dark reddish brown; stainless steel vats and beer tanks gleam behind glass walls; ceiling fans and warehouse lamps give the building the feel of a working environment.
The long, whitewashed mahogany bar, accented with mint-green bar pads and stools, peach walls and the terra-cotta tile floor, give a Southern California accent.
"The thing we're trying to do is to get people to feel they're in a hospitality room of a real working brewery," Shields said.
Because the beer is to be brewed at the site, Shields said it will be fresh and distinctive in flavor, reminiscent of beer brewed at European pubs and taverns. He said the beer will come directly to the taps from 210-gallon tanks, through lines run under the floor.
To ready his brewpub for opening, Shields said he has worked 10 to 12 hours a day seven days a week. He has done most of the building, plumbing and wiring himself, applying his 27 years of experience as an electrician and builder.
Shields, broad-shouldered with graying brown, curly hair, said he first began brewing beer at home in Ojai as a child with his father, who would cook the grains in the kitchen and store the beer in glass water bottles. Shields took it up on his own about 10 years ago and was bitten by the brewpub bug on a vacation to Canada.
"We were driving through a little town up in British Columbia, and I was reading a local paper, and there was an article about a local pub that brewed its own beer," he said. "It was such a phenomenon in the tavern to brew beer and open it once a year and drink it."
It has become less phenomenal in the United States in recent years.
In 1983, California passed a law allowing "microbreweries" to sell beer on the premises. Small manufacturers, who previously were only allowed to sell their products to distributors and then retailers, can now be manufacturers and retailers with one license. In 1987, the federal government also adopted regulations for microbreweries and brewpubs.
Since then, the businesses have boomed, with about 95 brewpubs in operation across the country, according to Jeff Mandel of the Assn. of Brewers, a trade group based in Boulder, Colo. In 1982, there were only six microbreweries, but now there are 160, he said.