Jaime Dietenhofer has aspired to own a brewery since high school, and in 2010, the Garage Envy founder finally opened Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. with wife Meighan in Buellton. The couple’s venture has proven so successful that they’re contributing a smaller brewpub to the artisanal Santa Barbara collective known as the Funk Zone. The Dietenhofers shared several hop-fueled insights at Kings Row Pub on the opening night of 2012 LA Beer Week.
At what point did you know that you would work with beer for a living?
Jaime Dietenhofer: Probably about 15 years ago. It was in high school. I told my dad I wanted to start a brewery, he thought I was crazy, and he said, “Go to college.” So I did. I went to college and did a lot of beer research and actually studied abroad, lived over in Europe. Meighan went with me. This was over in Austria. We did a lot of biergarten research in Germany also. We went to college in the Northwest. Back in the mid ’90s, the Northwest was the hub.
Where in the Northwest?
Jaime Dietenhofer: In Washington. She was in Seattle, and I was on the eastern side in Walla Walla, but we spent a lot of time in Seattle and Portland, a lot of time. The California breweries really weren’t hitting at that time. I finished undergrad, came back and again told my dad about it and he said, “Go get a job.” And I just started writing a business plan. I started getting really good at spreadsheets and started building a business plan, and then a couple years ago, I realized it was time to pull the trigger.
What were you doing for a living leading up to this?
Jaime Dietenhofer: I own a company called Garage Envy, that tricks out garages. We have a TV show, go around and trick out garages. It’s totally random and separate. My dad had his own business, but we decided to finally team up.
Meighan Dietenhofer: He was ready to retire.
Jaime Dietenhofer: I told my dad he had to wait to retire. We put the business plan to work and invested back into it the capital and material. Meighan helped me do a lot of the planning. Names. She’s from the Santa Ynez Valley. She’s a local Danish girl.
That’s why you have the Danish Red Lager?
Jaime Dietenhofer: Yeah, there you go. With all the beer names and that sort of stuff, before we opened the doors, we spent close to three years on brand, interviewed over 140 brewers. We were in no rush. That was the great thing. We were in no rush to get it open, so we could make sure everything was lined up. A lot of breweries just say, “Go, go, go.”
Do you have a tasting room up in Buellton?
Meighan Dietenhofer: There’s a little taproom, but it was designed really nicely and has become a really nice bar where a lot of locals like to come. And a lot of people on wine tastings like to go over there and get a little escape from the wine, get some beer. And a lot of people passing through Buellton.
So there’s a mountain called Figueroa Mountain nearby?
Meighan Dietenhofer: There actually is. And there’s a Paradise Road. We’ve hiked a lot out in the Figueroa Mountain area. That was why we really liked the name.
Jaime Dietenhofer: Davy Brown, Hurricane Deck, they’re all named after local spots or people.
Would you say that anybody mentored you along the way?
Jaime Dietenhofer: Yeah, actually, we spoke to a friend of ours, Mark Jilg, from Craftsman. I opened Garage Envy next door to Craftsman, right over here at Lincoln & Washington. We borrowed his forklift and I told him that I’d planned to open a brewery for a long time. He talked to me for awhile about that. Then I started talking to some people in the Northwest and just started going forward. Mark was a good guy to talk to.
What would you say the best advice Mark gave you?
Jaime Dietenhofer: Exactly what Mark does, which he says not to do. Because he’s seasonal every month. He says don’t do that, but now he’s kind of hooked on it now, so he has to do that. He doesn’t like sales a lot, but I think he thinks it’s important to do that. He says to find someone to go out and do it.
Meighan Dietenhofer: He’s remained true to the beer.
Jaime Dietenhofer: He’s remained true to the beer. And he actually helped us look at different brewers and interview different brewers and try to find someone who’s really creative on the recipe making, because there are a lot of people out there who can make beer, but to really take it from a certain level to an expert level, there’s an artistic quality that’s innate. You just don’t get that to a certain level. Work ethic can only get you so far. Then the rest of it is pure talent. That’s what I think we found.
What was the first beer that you ever brewed, and how did it turn out?
Jaime Dietenhofer: The first beer we came out with was the Wrangler Wheat. The wheat was the easiest to make, and we didn’t have our filter yet, so we had an unfiltered American wheat. It still is.
How did the first batch turn out?
Jaime Dietenhofer: Really good, actually. We were thinking we were going to filter it, and we ended up tasting it. People liked it so well that we ended up keeping it as an unfiltered wheat.
Meighan Dietenhofer: We had that at our high school reunion, our test sample brew. Our 15-year reunion.
What’s the criteria for a beer that you brew at Figueroa Mountain?
Jaime Dietenhofer: We have a pilot system, and if it doesn’t pass the pilot, it doesn’t make it to the larger system. We go through test batches and things like that, and make final tweaks to it before we actually produce it. Our whole thing on our website is, “Never settle on mediocre.” If we don’t really feel passionate about it, or if it’s not something that’s true to style, we won’t release it.
What’s your top selling beer?
Meighan Dietenhofer: The Hoppy Poppy IPA. It’s our single IPA, and it’s really well balanced, so it pleases a lot of people.
Do you have people working for you in the brewhouse, other than family?
Jaime Dietenhofer: Oh yeah. We have 27 employees now. We have seven brew staff.
What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work in the brewhouse?