Art of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson

I am passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monastic life. Each year, about this time, I drive a few hours from Southern California to a monastery in Big Sur. My annual retreat is an opportunity to spend time reflecting, remembering, and listening to silence.

The drive north, and the return trip back south, helps me let frustrations and aggravations drop away. It gives me a chance to prepare for my time away, and plan how to apply insights as I return.

Several monasteries around the world are known for brewing their own beer. Unfortunately, the monastery I visit is not one of the handful in the United States that does.

Even so, the trip up and the trip back are also excellent times to visit new craft breweries along the way. I do not stop at every place on each trip, but I explore and see what I can discover.

There are plenty of great places in Los Angeles on our way out of town. I have not included Eagle Rock BreweryGolden Road, or Highland Park Brewing on this list. We could stop at any of them, though they may be better options for our return trip.

The first place to visit is Ladyface Ale in Agoura Hills. Depending on the time of day we depart, Ladyface is a very good place to stop for a meal. I particularly appreciate their Picture City Porter, which goes well with lunch or dinner.

Ladyface has a full menu of appetizing beers. A few years ago, Ladyface was the second stop on my first Southern California Craft Brewery Pilgrimage. It is our last stop in Los Angeles County.

As we continue up the coast toward Big Sur we cross into Ventura County. The stop that tempts me is Surf Brewery in Ventura.

Surf has a large tasting room which is a combination surf museum and craft brewing showroom. They display surfing and brewery videos, and have live music on Saturday evenings. Surf also donates 1% of their total sales to the Surfrider Foundation.

Surf has a range of delicious beers. My favorites are their American Oatmeal Stout, Oil Piers Porter (especially infused with Espresso), and their Black IPA Style Ale.

From Ventura we continue along the Pacific Coast to Santa Barbara, where we have two options.

If we have not stopped to eat, Santa Barbara Brewing Company has a satisfying menu of meals and their own brews. Not surprisingly, I prefer their State Street Stout.

Our other option is the tasting room of Telegraph Brewing Company. For more than 10 years, Telegraph has been brewing premium California craft beers in Santa Barbara.Telegraph California Ale is their flagship beer. I also enjoy their Stock Porter and Ravena Stout.

As you can imagine, there are several reasons not to stop at each brewery on our list each year. For one, it might take us twice as long to get to Big Sur. For another, driving along the coast on Highway 1 between Hearst Castle and our destination can be challenging even without an elevated blood alcohol level.

From Santa Barbara, we head inland. Our next potential stop, in Buellton, is the home of Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Firestone Walker offers an extensive food and beer menu. They brew many excellent beers. The one which stands out for me is their Velvet Merlin, though I need to try their Velvet Mocha Merlin.

From Buellton, our trip takes us through San Luis Obispo, where we transition from the 101 to Highway 1. Driving along Highway 1 is stunningly beautiful as it follows the rocky California coast. It can be a little challenging to navigate. There is at least one more stop before we focus our attention on Big Sur.

The Cambria Beer Company is in the town of Cambria. Their tasting room is welcoming and friendly. Cambria offers excellent bourbon barrel beers, as well as their regular brews. I enjoy a flight, especially Mudhoney Oatmeal Stout and Old #23 Robust Porter.

Leaving Cambria, we pass Hearst Castle and enter the more circuitous stretch of Highway 1. It is about another hour to Big Sur, so we have plenty of time to prepare for the contemplative retreat days.

There are still some towns and potential breweries along the route I would like to explore. I have not stopped in San Luis Obispo or Morro Bay, for example, and have heard about potential places in Carpinteria and Pismo Beach.

Fortunately, there is always next year . . .

Greg Richardson is a leadership and organizational coach, and a spiritual life mentor, in Pasadena, California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monks and monastic life. Greg is a recovering attorney, executive, and university professor. Greg’s website is and he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk. You can email Greg at

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