By Hudson Lindenberger
Jaime Dietenhofer Started with a Childhood Dream
As a child growing up in the Santa Ynez valley, Jaime Dietenhofer had a lofty goal: to brew world-class beers. During his formative teen years, he would dream about owning his own brewery while sitting in school. Sketches of his factory of foam would fill class notebooks; an image of what he hoped would come.
Jaime’s father Jim would patiently listen to his sons’ aspirations and give him sensible advice, “Grades, Jamie. Focus on school, get your college diploma and then we will talk.” A successful businessman, Jim thought his son’s idea was crazy and time in college would set him upon the correct path.
In 1999, Jaime graduated from Whitman College. Now was the time to create some golden goodness; he had fulfilled his fathers’ wishes. Diploma in hand, Jamie approached his father again. Jim once again calmly listened to his son’s outline for his brewery and replied, ”Go get your master’s degree, set yourself up for a successful career, then we will talk.”
The next time Jamie approached his father, he had his master’s from UCSB proudly in hand, and it was time. Ever the vigilant businessman, Jim told his son, “Open a business, polish your skills then we will talk about this outlandish dream of yours.”
A Seasoned Businessman
Undaunted, Jaime did just that; he became a successful businessman with his own company, but the fire of brewing kept burning. He would plan trips with his family to visit breweries, he worked on his business plan, polished his idea. When he approached his father again. Jim told him he was thinking of retiring, stepping away from business. This was unacceptable to Jaime; 13 years had passed since he first formed his dream. He had followed through on his father’s recommendations.
As Jaime showed his father all of his plans, drawings and spreadsheets, Jim realized that his son’s wild idea could succeed. They agreed to partner and open a brewery in Buellton.
Seeking a Master Brewer
There was one small roadblock; they had no brewer.
The single most important person in any brewing operation is the head brewer; no one has greater influence on the liquid that consumers will imbibe. Brewers can quite literally make or break your brand; inconsistent beer flowing from taps will drive away customers. After all the years the idea had been percolating in Jaime’s’ mind, it was imperative to find the correct individual to helm operations.
Enter A.J Stoll, a young brewer with more than ten years experience, a man who came from “the gritty underbelly of the industry,” as he describes it. A.J. started homebrewing when he was 18 and finally succumbed to the siren call of the hops. A chemist by education, he brings a meticulous approach to brewing. He strives to produce the cleanest beers on the market, with the perfect mixture of balance and subtlety.
A Lofty Goal
When Figueroa Mountain opened, the Deitenhofers charged A.J. with one basic mission. That his driving vision behind every beer they produce “create the highest quality beer at all times.” Armed with this philosophy, A.J. worked with his team to create a varied lineup of beers that give homage to the Santa Ynez valley’s farming and Danish roots. All of their beers are named after local landmarks and individuals; yes, there is an actual Figueroa Mountain and Telegraph Road. Stagecoach Stout, Danish Red Lager and Wrangler Wheat are nods to the valley’s past.
The big question that loomed over the operation was simple; in the crowded landscape that is California Craft Beer, would their products stand out and showcase the best of Santa Ynez Valley?
In 2010, Figueroa began fermenting their beers, with hopes of creating something the public would embrace – beers to fulfill Jaime’s lifelong dream. Soon, the awards starting arriving on their doorstep and have not stopped. In fact, they are winning more each year.
And The Medals Begin to Pour In
In 2011, they won one medal (bronze) at the Great American Beer Festival for their Stagecoach Oatmeal Stout. It has since medaled in every single GABF since cumulating in Gold last year.
In 2012, they brought home three medals (all bronze) from the festival; their Danish Red Lager and Wrangler Wheat also joined Stagecoach as champions.
In 2013, they were awarded five medals, one of the largest collections of hardware at the competition. Collecting their first silver medals were Surfliner Lager, Oktoberfest and Stearns Stout. Standing proudly atop the podium, as gold medal winners were Davy Brown Ale and Stagecoach Stout. Jaime, Jim and AJ had brought home an astonishing nine medals in three years, a haul that validated the long journey for Jaime from quixotic teenager to successful brewer.
So far in 2014, they have won two medals at the World Beer Cup, Silver for Davy Brown Ale and bronze for Their Danish Red Lager.
Three Locations: Buellton, Santa Barbara’s Funkzone and Los Olivos
The success of Figueroa has allowed them to open a satellite brewery and tasting room in Santa Barbara’s Funkzone in 2013 and a tasting room in Los Olivos this year. Both locations offer a complete selection of their brews, along with a full menu from a local restaurant partner.
The Santa Barbara location serves food from Lucky Penny; superb wood-fired pizzas, sandwiches and salads that pair fantastically with their 16 beers on tap.
The Los Olivos location serves food from Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe to enjoy alongside their thirteen beers on tap. Both locations exude a relaxed western farming vibe, with large decks to enjoy the outdoor scenery while slowly sipping.
Entering Figueroa Mountain’s Buellton brewery, two things immediately grab your attention. The first, the overwhelming western farming feel that permeates the tasting room – wagon wheels on the walls, framed barbed wire samples and numerous historical photos of the surrounding valley. The second thing that grabs your attention is that you are basically on the brew house floor. The tasting room literally is amongst the brewing equipment, with one short wall dividing you from the brewers hard at work. You can rest your beer on the rail while talking to a foam master creating liquid goodness; not many brewers allow this level of access.
Plenty of Variety with 16-Plus Beers on Tap
With more than 16 beers on tap, it is easy to get lost looking for an interesting IPA or special stout. The knowledgeable staff and roaming brewers will steer you towards the perfect pour to savor in the fruits of the Santa Ynez valley. The Stagecoach Stout, a burnished black liquid, was silky smooth with a chocolate malt finish that lingered long after each sip. With one sip of Davy Brown Ale, a smooth yet robust American Brown, it is easy to imagine this beer becoming another medal-winning staple in their roster.
Their Paradise Road Pilsner was probably one of the best Pilsners I have ever had in a microbrewery. For the uninformed, Pilsners are one of the hardest beers to consistently produce at a high level. The beer is very temperature sensitive and can easily develop off flavors. Their incredibly well-balanced beer is a testament to AJ’s chemist background and attention to detail.
Lizard’s Mouth Imperial IPA is going to start winning a lot of accolades for the brewery; the beer is one of the most unique IPA’s I have tasted this year. In the teeming field of Southern California IPA’s, this beer is one to try. The secret blend of hops driving its 90 IBU’s creates a citrus-forward beer that perfectly balances the bitter with the fruitiness. Its surprisingly clean finish left my taste buds begging for more, like a kid on Easter morning digging through his basket.
Beyond The Basics, Figueroa’s On Tap Specialties
When visiting any brewery, one perk is trying whatever crazy concoction they are playing with that day, week or month. Zero to Sexy is one such twisted experiment that is currently on tap. AJ and his team have created something unseen and unheard of: golden mocha ale. From the moment you set eyes upon this outrageous blend of styles, confusion reigns. The beer is light golden in color, with no hint of what lies below its surface. The beer is flavored with more than ten pounds of mocha nibs during brewing, but the team at Figueroa superbly slips this secret under your nose until it hits your lips. If you close your eyes, you could swear it’s a mocha porter, an absolute must try if on tap.
The Buellton brewery recently expanded its tasting room to incorporate food served from Beto’s Place, with a menu of gourmet pub fare. If you find yourself in Santa Barbara County, visit one of its three locations and enjoy some of the best beer in California.
Feature photo at top: An assortment of beer tasting flights at Figueroa Brewery in Buellton. Photo by Hudson Lindenberger.