Corralitos Brewing Company

Corralitos Brewing Company

Corralitos Brewing Company’s front porch

Corralitos Brewing Company, in Watsonville, California, is a long way from Deschutes in trendy downtown Portland or hip Dogfish Head in Rehoboth, Deleware. Tourists flock to nearby Santa Cruz and the Monterey Peninsula, but Watsonville? Home to Driscoll and Giant berry companies, it’s primarily a farming community.

Recently, my husband Hugo and I plugged Corralitos’ address into the GPS and set out to find the new taproom that was getting good reviews on Yelp. Eventually, we left the highway and wound along a country road for eight miles, passing crops and cows.

We arrived to find a full parking lot. And this was on a Sunday when the lumber business that shares Corralitos’ building was closed. We joined the overflow crowd parked on the dirt shoulder across the two-lane road. A large front porch invited folks to sit back and enjoy a cold beer—and there were plenty of people doing just that.

In line at the register, we studied the list of ten ales on tap, which included an American blond, an amber, a red and a pale, along with an American and a Belgian IPA. We ordered a five-sampler flight for $8.00, a bargain in these parts.

Fresas Acidas

Fresas Acidas

I enjoyed every beer, and more importantly, Hugo the professional brewer, was impressed. Colors ranged from light gold to a deep red, alcohol from 5%-9% and IBUs from 19-80. We soon found ourselves discussing the brews with a couple sitting nearby who said the little brewery seemed to get busier each weekend.

Three days later, I was back, sitting down with co-owner Luke Taylor and a sour beer called Fresas Acidas (Tart Strawberries). First question: “Why Watsonville?”

“There was never any question. My family owns the building, and Watsonville is home.”

Turns out Luke’s father also owns Pacific Firewood and Lumber which occupies two-thirds of the building. After high school and a stint at community college, Luke went to work for his dad, and in 2002, he started homebrewing. Eventually, he was devoting every spare moment to brewing. Partner Mike Smith also started as a homebrewer before studying brewing at the University of California, Davis.

The friends tossed around the idea of a brewery in 2009, but the economy was tanking. In 2011-2012, they got moving, only to run into bureaucratic complications. The county would allow a winery on the premises but not a brewery. “So we set about educating the officials, telling them all the good things the brewery would bring to the county.”

Leslie with Luke Taylor

Leslie with Luke Taylor

On December 2, 2014, Luke and Mike brewed Corralitos’ first batch of beer. On January 2, 2015, they sold the first keg, and on February 4, they opened the taproom. And how has business been? “Currently, we have 30 accounts,” Luke said, “restaurants in Santa Cruz County. When we started, we anticipated brewing 600 barrels this year. Right now, we’re on track to brew 1100.”

The partners chose to put their money into fermenters. Twice a week, they do two 5-barrel brews per day to fill one of the three 10-barrel fermenters. They’ve already maxed out their fermenter space. They have a fourth coming in July and a fifth in October.

Corralitos ageing barrels

Corralitos aging barrels

“Exciting” was a word that came up a lot as Luke talked, particularly on the subject of the 50 former wine barrels they had accumulated, about half local and half from Napa. “I look at my barrels as a library. We’re on the tip of the iceberg with what can be done with sour beers. It’s really exciting.”

“By the way,” I said, picking up my now empty glass, “the Fresas Acidas was terrific. I didn’t see it on the menu Sunday. How long has it been available to the public?”

“We tapped the cask today,” Luke replied. He paused to smile. “You’re the first customer to try it.”

Some days you just get lucky!

Corralitos Brewing Company is located at 2536 Freedom Blvd, Watsonville, CA 95076.

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