This past week at Stripe MEN we transformed the windows into a brewery, all with the help and inspiration of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing. Their brewery located on Santa Cruz's Westside has long since been one of our favorite spots to relax over the weekend and try out a delicious seasonal or organic brew. Check out what Emily Thomas, owner and entrepreneur, responsible for their delicious creations has to say about running her own business here in Santa Cruz. Thanks Emily! Visit Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing at 402 Ingalls St.
Stripe: What were you doing before you were a brewer?
Emily: I was a college student when I started homebrewing so before that I guess I was an awkward teenager. I went to college in Portland, oregon during the nineties when homebrewing was getting big. My uncles didnʼt believe in a college education so I spent the weekends learning the things that they thought were really important, working on cars, tree work, and brewing beer. When I was graduated from college they gave me a toolbox, coveralls, and a homebrew kit. Before the brewery and for the first few years of the brewery - I did put my college education to good use and worked as an engineer for Qualcomm.
Stripe: Whatʼs an average day like at the brewery?
Emily: 5:00am unlock the deadbolt, slide back the rolling door, flip on the kettle, and atake the forklift around back to pick up the bags of grain. On to crushing, mashing, lautering, boiling, transferring, bottling, kegging, and lots of cleaning. By 8:00am the rest of the crew has arrived and itʼs a hustle bustle of brewery tasks, moving kegs, opening the bar, stocking, organizing, emailing, answering the phones, meeting and the like. I can usually slip in a quick run or yoga class if Iʼm lucky. Around 3:00pm my kids skate over from school and park themselves at the bar to their homework. By now the bar is picking up speed, dishes to be bussed and washed, regulars to chat with. The night brewer will be in to the second batch of beer and the whole neighborhood is full with the sweet smell of boiling barley. I usually leave the brewery by 5:00pm with kids in tow, hit New Leaf and head home for dinner. Meanwhile the bar will be in full tilt untill the last pint is poured at 10:00pm. A very full day.
Stripe: How long have you been in the brewery business?
Stripe: What sets you apart from other breweries?
Emily: The most obvious thing that sets us aside from other breweries is that we are certified organic by the CCOF and ALL of our beers are organic. It is a lot of extra work, but as an organic consumer, it is important. I always look for the symbol when I shop and I value their organization. Another thing thatʼs sets us apart is that we are small and family operated. We work hard and every aspect is handcrafted. No push buttons for us. Finally, we take lots of risks and play with flavors, ingredients and styles. If we can dream it, we can brew it. And yes, someone will usually drink it.
Stripe: What are your 3 favorite beers you brew and why?
Emily: I have always loved the Dread Brown. In general, brown ales are one of my favorites flavors. Plus this one has won some big awards and tastes great. I like it so much, I put it in a can. It is this can of beer I want to crack open if Iʼm on a hike at Wilder. I also LOVE the pilsner. I started out brewing it with a good friend Tim, the bartender at the Jury Room a few years ago. We brew it during the winter when production slows down and when the temperatures are low enough. Last year I turned the brew over to my little sister and brewer and it has taken on a life of itʼs own. We named the beer Maggie Artois - brewed by Maggie with a taste similar to Stella Artois. Finally, I am a huge fan of our new beer - Milk Chai Stout. Head brewer, Tommy Mills came up with this recipe and it is a great winter time stout with aromas of cinnamon, orange peel and clove.
Stripe: What advice would you give for anyone thinking of starting a business here in Santa Cruz?
Emily: Do it! As craft brewers we still only make up around 7% of the market share. That means most of the world is still drinking bad beer. But opening a brewery is not cheap. Make sure you have passion for not only brewing but for the community and for creating business.
Stripe: If you werenʼt brewing beer, what would you be doing?
Emily: I would be writing a cookbook. I love food, flavors, recipes, creativity, photos, stories. I love writing. I would probably do more yoga. Maybe I would get on my motorcycle and ride around the country writing my cookbook. Well, I can dream, right?
Stripe: Whatʼs your next step in growing the business?
Emily: We have big expansion plans this year. Opening a satellite location for production and keeping our our smaller system for seasonals and barrel aged beers. I am also working on a collaborative restaurant project in Felton. Oh yeah, and there is one more super exciting project that would be awesome, but it is too soon to discuss.
Stripe: How do you feel about growing the business and keeping things comfortable for your locals?
Emily: Probably one of my favorite parts of owning a small business is growth. Keeping things dynamic and alive is critical for myself, my employees and most importantly for my customers. It helps us stay competitive but it also makes us better. And growth doesnʼt necessarily mean making more beer. For me, growth means keeping things changing, organic, creative. I am passionate about coming up with new ideas to make Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing experience unforgettable.
Stripe: What is the craziest ingredient you have used in your beer?
Emily: Easy. Smoked Pig Ears from El Salchichero. It was for a beer we called “The Devils Horseback” that we brewed for the first Twisted Tasting. It was amazing!