The last of our Santa Barabra-area brewery visits takes us south along the coast to Carpinteria, home to Island Brewing Company. Just a short drive off the 101-freeway, tucked into an industrial complex, we find a lively little storefront with a distant ocean view across the railroad tracks and over the green fields of a park just beyond. Dozens of patrons, a few bringing along their babies and dogs, congregate around 5 p.m. inside at a simple bar and outside on the asphalt patio wrapped in a bamboo fence. There is a laid-back vibe here, casual conversation over pints and pretzels (just about the only items served here), with the California sun and surf providing the only needed atmosphere. You can just imagine Jimmy Buffet hanging out here after a hard day at work… wait a minute, does Jimmy really ever have a “hard day at work”?
Six beers are available on tap, with 22 oz bottles of most offerings avaible to take home. We skip the light lager, and start with the Kolsch, a relatively light German-style ale that with its light color and body most casual drinkers would mistake for a pilsner. Island’s version has an aroma nearly identical to Heineken (from the noble hops), but a richer taste of bready malt and clover-honey sweetness. A nice alternative to a lager on a warm summer evening.
Both their Paradise Pale Ale and IPA have a distinctive “tropical” taste with hints of guava and passionfruit resulting from similar hop varieties used in both beers. This flavor gives Island’s beers a signature character to make them memorable among literally hundreds of Pale Ales and IPA’s produced by most American breweries. While the pale ale is more balanced with biscuit and caramel flavors from the malt, the IPA is more assertively hopped with grapefruit flavor and aroma, and a more pronounced lingering bitterness.
And while the Pale Ale and IPA are all about the hops, their Nut Brown and Jubilee ales are where the malts take center stage. The brown has a deep rich caramel flavor, with a sweetness offset by roasted and bitter notes of walnut and peanut shells. The Jubilee is made in the style of an Old Ale, a big rich dark malty beer that one patron described as the extreme take on the Nut Brown. We found Jubilee to be extrememly smooth and very drinkable despite its relatively high alcohol content, and the best beer overall of this very fine bunch.
Definition: Old Ale
While many think of Barleywines when it comes to high-alcohol beers that are meant to be sipped and savored, and can be cellared much like wine, the British Old Ale style also falls under this definition. Old Ales are big malty beers, often having flavors of dark fruit (dates, raisins, figs), and a noticable warming alcohol note in their finish. Even with their high alcohol content, there is still plenty of residual sugar in these beers, and their low carbonation and somewhat syrupy mouthfeel make them ideal for slowly sipping out of a brandy snifter.
“Of hard old ale… according to my mind, is better than all the wine in the world.”
– George Borrow