On the Bus

The comfy confines of Brew Cruz’s converted school bus Betsy include a spinning boat-captain in the back corner, just visible in the photo on the right, right of founder Annie Pautsch.

Brew Cruz founder Annie Pautsch wants to make something clear as she loops a simple electric-green string around my left wrist and ties it.

“It’s just a coincidence that this string matches my jacket,” she says. “I promise.”

Maybe. But it’s no coincidence her upstart beer mission is exploding at exactly the same time craft beer appetites – and Santa Cruz artisan beer – are too.

Suddenly there are 11 breweries and six tap rooms, at least three of them recent debuts, with four more brewery operations on the way.

Maybe it’s also a coincidence that a Santa Cruz Beer Trail passport ($25) debuted last month.

Pautsch and Bryce Root of Root Group Marketing co-founded the passport, which carries with it the region’s beer history (which hails back to 1848), other beer geekery (the secret life of hops!), and Beer Trail bargains (50 percent off tasting flights at Santa Cruz Ale Works and a $1 pint and free crisps at Steel Bonnet Brewing Company).

From north to south, the “first release” passport also includes Highway 1 Brewing CompanySeven Bridges Co-Op Brewing SupplySeabright BreweryEast CliffBrewing CompanyNew Bohemia Brewing Co.Discretion Brewing and Corralitos Brewing Co., which is a mouthful. (Get more at SantaCruzBeerTrail.com and a rundown of Santa Cruz’s bumper crop of breweries at www.mcweekly.com/edible.)

~ ~ ~

All aboard beautiful Betty, the lounge-seating soul of the Brew Cruz, which Pautsch found on Craigslist. Fifteen of us (aka: capacity) will hit three well-curated and centralized spots along our 6-9pm Friday adventure ($69/person, www.scbrewcruz.com). Our green strings get us a pint or a tasting, plus discounts.

First comes East Cliff Brewing Company (713-5540), a brand-new outpost with an old-school approach: Debuting in February, it enjoys a strategic Pleasure Point location in an art-and-mural-laden strip-mall space.

“Americans who have never experienced real British ales can now appreciate them the way they are meant to be,” its creators write on their website. “Those who already love good British beer now have new local favorites in their neighborhood.” That means cellar-temperature, cask-conditioned standouts like the Blackpoint Porter and a dry Irish stout called The Gypsy. They also do box meals like a burger and macaroni salad for $6.50.

Next it’s another darling newbie brewery, New Bohemia (350-0253), just a half-year old, founded by dreadlocked local icon/brewer/co-owner Dan Satterthwaite.

The sparkling two-story space doubles as a working brewery with wide observation angles and a beer bar/venue that hosts comedy, live music and seven taps. The second story contains a tidy outdoor bar, retail desk and a viewshed down into the main brew room on the floor. The NuBo Pils and Monkey Business Dünkelweizen (a dark wheat) rank among the impressive house brews.

The final stop is born-in-2014 Beer Thirty Bottle Shop & Pour House in Soquel (www.bthirty.com), with its 30 shiny taps, 30 rotating small-batch beers on its digital “chalkboard” (and its website) – which at press time carried everything from Alvarado Street Brewery’s Peninsula Hoppy Pilsner to Allagash Brewing Company Confluence out of Maine to Santa Cruz Scrumpy Prickly Pear with Thai Chili Cider.

Inside, a big cooler offers scores of curated specialty beers to carry out or drink in house and two flatscreens for watching sports. Most beer-goers gather outside for pingpong tables, darts, corn hole, picnic benches, dog-friendly sections and the neighboring Carpo’s Restaurant’s quality snack plates Thursday-Sunday.

Those stops are full of fun and flavor. But it’s what happens in between that had me smiling – and scratching my head.

At one point we’re tracing the Santa Cruz coast along East Cliff Drive through Pleasure Point, the sunset shooting shards of color through the old-school bus’ slide-down windows, everybody’s got an open beer and life feels complete.

Pautsch lets whoever has the seat next to the music play DJ (if they want); on this trip it’s a group of German transplants who uncork homeland songs so spirited – with choreographed moves to match – that we dance in the aisles and it approaches crazy and crazy fun at the same time.

Probably another coincidence.

Weekly environmental reporter David Schmalz was along for the ride. At one point, after executing a stand-up-sit-down dance to the modern oompah music, he turns and smiles with a “What tha hell was that?” grin.

“I felt like I was a tourist in the best possible way,” he says. “Even on familiar ground, there is much to discover.”

The trip is like that: You don’t know where it’s taking you, but you know it’s going to be fun. Or maybe – you guessed it – it’s all just a coincidence.

~ QUICKKBITES ~

  • Big Sur Vineyards (624-3675) has a tasting room now in the former Chock Rock spot in Carmel Valley Village, next to Trailside Cafe. Chock Rock will manage its sales directly from the winery.
  • Peter B’s BrewPub sees its new head brewer report tomorrow (June 1). Justin Rivard worked his way up at Jolly Pumpkin Artesian Ales and Grizzly Peak Brewing Company then Arbor Brewing Company. “I do enjoy brewing historic styles like milds and porters,” he says, “and I am excited to brew funky, off-the-wall saisons while bringing unique pale ales and IPAs from around the world into the lineup, as well as traditional German-style beers.”
  • Monterey Wine Festival happens this weekend, as does Castroville Artichoke Food & Wine. More on p. 30-31.
  • Also on Saturday, on the other side of Custom House Plaza, The City of Monterey’s 246th birthday (“La Marienda”) goes places it hasn’t before with the biggest and most involved buffet barbecue lunch yet (p. 30).
  • The Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Artisans named their annual above-and-beyond volunteer of the year at last month’s 2016 SLH Gala celebration: Jason Auxier, marketing coordinator at Morgan Winery.
  • Cali’s Finest (210-3100), an eagerly awaited deli in King City that rocks Roy’s Swiss sausages, big sandwiches, burgers and old-school pink-bean soup – has its grand opening party 11am Thursday, June 2, at 601 Broadway St. downtown.
  • The Wharf Marketplace’s “Taste It Thursday” star 4:30-6pm June 2 is Joyce Vineyards, with tastings, bottle discounts and more, plus a toast to The Great Pacific Race.
  • Poppy Hills Golf Club in Pebble sponsors a fundraising concert for the Monterey Jazz Festival’s High School All-Star Band on Father’s Day (June 19) with a blues festival featuring the Chris Cain BandDaniel CastroTammi Brown, the Al James BandWolf Hamlin and the Front Porch Drifters. Gourmet food trucks, the Mad Otter Beer Garden and Ketel One Courtyard too ($25, 622-8239, www.poppyhillsgolf.com/blues.)
  • Shakespeare: “For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.”

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