Longboard Sampler, $11.00, includes six, 5oz beer samples from Ventura's… (Ventura's Surf Brewery )
On a national scale, Los Angeles is considered a rather nascent beer city. Yet drive 57 miles north, and the brew landscape gets far more barren. Bill Riegler, however, saw opportunity. His two years in the making Surf Brewery has wasted little time since opening doors five months ago, boasting now 12 original beers in its Ventura County taproom.
His 6,000 square foot operation, located less than 1 mill off US-101 at 4561 Market St., hasn't had much trouble attracting interest. One problem: Most of those wanting to stock Surf beer hail from Santa Barbara or Los Angeles, and the self-distributed brewery isn't yet interested in travelling further south than Santa Monica.
"By and far, most people don't know craft beer up here," Riegler said. "Most owners of bars and restaurants don't know craft beer. They've been buying what they've been buying for 20 years. So that's been harder up here, whereas that has been much easier in Los Angeles."
Riegler grew up in Ventura and began home-brewing while attending the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the 1980s, where he majored in chemistry. After a high end job working with chemicals for Union Carbide – Riegler said his focus was "silicones that go into medical devices and defense coating" – he decided a few years ago to devote his life savings to beer.
"I'm feeling it right now, to be quite honest with you," he said. "We're not making money right now. But I'm pretty idealistic."
There are plenty of reasons for optimism. Surf's flagship beer, Mondo's Cream Ale, has earned tap space at the Father's Office in Culver City and Burbank's Tony's Darts Away, among many others. It's a light, crisp and slightly tart invention, and it's also a distinctive style that helps set Surf apart.
"Our most popular beer is a double IPA," Riegler said, "but we want to have other options"
Additionally, Surf's tap room, which opens straight into the brewery, does a brisk business on weekend afternoons and evenings. Though situated in a business park, the ocean mural, picnic tables and surfer art lend a beach vibe. Another unexpected Surf offering includes a lager, which pairs well with fish tacos, and weekend nights now come with food trucks. Riegler also quickly learned that people want tables.
"It's not a fancy truck like those ones in L.A., but people want food with their beer," he said. "We thought it would be more like a winery, but we found that people want tables to sit down and bring in food."