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Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.

Paul Wellman

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.


Best of 2013: Drinking


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Coffee House

The French Press

Two locations

The definition of a coffee house can be very fluid, if you think back to bohemian Santa Barbara in the days before Starbucks conquered every corner. The French Press, with its new two-locale identities, expresses both ends. The first on State Street is mostly indoors, no-nonsense get-me-to-work service with a little space for poets and boulevardiers to park, while the new gigantor French Press in the industrial building that old-timers remember as the Day Old Bread outlet is airy, sundrenched, and has caffeine as a party drug. Either way, it’s coffee in its mighty incarnation, strong in flavor and quality — not cheap but worth it.

FINALISTSTARBUCKS

Tea Selection

Vices & Spices

3558 State St., 687-7196

“We have great selections of all kinds of loose teas,” said Henry Wildenborg who co-owns the popular spot with Blue Booth. “But one of the things people really like is that they can come in here and taste the tea before they buy it.” Wildenborg recommends wandering amongst the less-common leaves like the organic golden monkey and the coconut pouching varieties. “But what’s nice is that this is a nice, quiet neighborhood,” he said, a tiny place where you can taste your way around the world.

FINALIST: THE COFFEE BEAN & TEA LEAF

Happy Hour

Enterprise Fish Co.

225 State St., 962-3313

“We are excited, very,” laughed general manager Eliana Britton. “I think people like us because of the combo of food and drink specials,” she said, enumerating at length a school of bargains including raw oysters, steamed clams, and poke. The other big obvious benefits are the hours; Enterprise observes an enhanced number of them — from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays from 5 p.m. until the bar closes. “The best thing I think is the crowd. It’s a nice place, and people get together at tables. Friends share; it’s a community.”

FINALIST: ARCH ROCK FISH

Beer Selection on Tap

Z’s Tap House & Grill Zodo’s Bowling & Beyond

5925 Calle Real, 967-0128

Another place with a great, long happy-hour tradition, but the category this place takes is for the sheer number of beers that pump out fresh from kegs. It tops the nearest contender four to one, according to general manager Tony Blankenship. “But the other thing people don’t know about us, or don’t guess, is how great the kitchen is; we have food to complement all these beers. Much better than you might imagine in a bowling alley,” he said.

FINALIST: THE BREWHOUSE

S.B. County Brewery

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.

Two locations

“Primarily, it’s the beer,” said Figueroa general manager David Esdaile. “If it wasn’t the beer, then we would be in the wrong category. We have eight beers, from a pilsner to a stout, though we do make seasonal beers. I find that our beers are very drinkable,” said Esdaile. “I grew up in England, where you just went down to the pub and had a beer. It wasn’t really all about whatever quality the beer had,” he said. The brew wasn’t criticized for it hoppiness or fruit flavors. “It was what you drank with your mates.”

FINALIST: FIRESTONE WALKER BREWING CO.

Valley Tasting Room

Sunstone Winery

125 N. Refugio Rd., Santa Ynez, 688-9463

There is much to recommend Sunstone Winery, from its commitment to organic growing to the loveliness of its surroundings, a villa of the Tuscan variety, which somehow goes perfectly with wines of a Rhone complexion. Open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the winery charges less than the cost of a bar drink for tastings and welcomes groups of eight or fewer to drop in (larger groups should schedule private tastings.) Oh, and another thing: The wine is award-winning and full of what they call “an uncommon intensity of flavor and aroma.”

FINALIST: KALYRA WINERY

Urban Tasting Room

Municipal Winemakers

22 Anacapa St., 931-6864

Every year we think this is the year in which the Funk Zone will emerge as a vital link to the city’s future life. If it does happen, it seems likely now it will start on Anacapa Street where a number of hot eateries, wine bars, and this fun place have suddenly taken off. (Suddenly after a decade, that is.) Municipal is finally getting reader recognition. “It’s kind of a fun place,” said tasting room manager Jen Santarosa. “It’s relaxed, indoor-outdoor, dog friendly, and we have very nice wines in French style, very drinkable, reasonably priced, and sourced in Santa Barbara for Santa Barbara people.”

FINALIST: CORKS N’ CROWNS

S.B. Wine Tour Company

Santa Barbara Adventure Company

720 Bond Ave., 884-9283

“Oh yes, we are very happy to win,” said Adventure Co. guide Rachel Harvey. “We think we do offer the best wine tours with very knowledgeable and very fun tour guides,” she said. The best part of the tour is the company’s flexible attitude. With all their knowledge and contacts, they are quite willing to customize the experience to the groups who go out in 14-passenger vans. “We listen to our guest’s feedback, and it changes the way we give tours.”

FINALIST: SUSTAINABLE VINE WINE TOURS

S.B. County Winery White Wine

The Brander Vineyard

2401 N. Refugio Rd., Los Olivos, 688-2455

Without question, said Brander’s Jeff Butler, the white wine that the readers mean is their sauvignon blanc. “Unequivocally,” confirmed Butler, who likes to think his official title at the vineyards is marketing guy and beekeeper. “It’s our 36th vintage, and in 1975, Fred Brander first planted the grapes.” In 1977, he said, Brander won an award for the wine at the L.A. County Fair, thereby officially putting Santa Ynez wines on the map. If history isn’t enough, there is the wine itself. “It’s great and a benchmark of value. Two-thirds of our total wine sales are the sauvignon blanc.”

FINALIST: SANTA BARBARA WINERY

S.B. County Winery Red Wine

Jaffurs Wine Cellars

819 E. Montecito St., 962-7003

“We’re pretty stoked about winning,” said owner Craig Jaffurs. “It’d have to be our Santa Barbara Syrah,” he continued. “It’s powerful, full of fruit, and everybody loves it. It’s got good tannins; it’s a good mouthful of wine. It’s our 20th harvest, and we are grateful the readers voted for us. Yahoo!”

FINALIST: SUNSTONE VINEYARDS & WINERY

Restaurant Wine List

Wine Cask

813 Anacapa St., 966-9463

It runs 16 pages, and there are glasses of wine to be had and a jeroboam of Château Margaux 1995 for $1995. Surprisingly, there are no Château D’Yquems, but there is Cristal. A bottle of Beaulieu Vineyard TK19678 “Burgundy,” a wine that we would’ve fetched at the grocery store in the mid 1970s if we were desperate, is now $195. If we had a lot of money to spend celebrating, though, we would order dinner and put ourselves in the hands of the sommelier here because, where else in this town has such a collection that has been accumulated over time by so many people who have intelligence credentials and taste? And we’ll have the burgundy for old wines’ sake.

FINALISTBOUCHON

By Paul Wellman

The Winehound

Wine Shop

The Winehound

3849 State St., 845-5247

Funny thing is, there used to be a lot more wine stores in this town back when it was becoming commonplace for people to understand the depths of pleasure available beyond Italian Swiss Colony and Lancers. In fact, most of those very good wine stores in town were a lot like The Winehound, run by avid enthusiasts who enjoyed drinking a lot more than collecting and who could tell you an awesome deal on wines you might never guess. New to this uptown location, we hope The Winehound maintains its vintage status as a store that reminds you what fine experiences can come to those with grape expectations.

FINALIST: VINO DIVINO

Martini

Harry’s Plaza Café

3313 State St., 687-2800

What needs to be said about Harry’s martini? In a place where all the drinks are strong, can one then presume that the martini — the one in which ice is briefly introduced to gin, swirled with a sip of dry vermouth, and poured into a glass that best shows off its clarity, its utter pungency — is obviously strongest? The readers did not gin up any facts in their stirring pronunciation: Harry’s drinks are made strong, so you don’t have to be.

FINALISTLUCKY’S

Margarita

Carlito’s Café y Cantina

1324 State St., 962-7117

A Fiesta tradition since the late 1970s, this is also a place where people go to fuel up before a long stint at the Arlington or Granada, bracing themselves for high culture with tequila. Past attempts to elicit the margarita recipe have been met with disdainful silence from management, except to note that high-quality agave tequilas are employed in the mix. It could also be the casual elegance of the place, muy rapido service, and a guitar plunking outside that helps complete the illusion that the real world can wait while we convene with our city’s best traditions.

FINALIST: LA PLAYA AZUL CAFÉ

Stiffest Drinks

Joe’s Café

536 State St., 966-4638

Since 1928, there has been a Joe’s restaurant and since 1935, they served booze. Back then it was Acme Beer, which, apparently, had nothing to do with the Road Runner’s demise. Ever since the late 1950s, Joe’s drinks have been justly celebrated for high alcohol content. This means you spend less of your evening’s budget on spirits, theoretically. Don’t believe this? Suit yourself, though we advise the constant testing of theories, responsible drinking, and above all else the return of Acme Beer.

FINALIST: HARRY’S PLAZA CAFÉ

Neighborhood Bar

The Neighborhood Bar & Grill

235 W. Montecito St., 963-7600

“When you think about it, there really aren’t a lot of big neighborhood bars,” said David Burkholder, who is currently beefing up his own through expansion and new construction. “They usually are very small with a small clique of people who go to them. Where we are and what we do makes everybody feel like this is their neighborhood bar. And some of the reasoning behind this was actually on purpose. I’ve stayed away from things like a sports bar and music. From the start, we were going to be unlike any other place. This award helps us feel like we’re doing the right thing.”

FINALIST: THE BREWHOUSE

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