Interview: brewmaster Evan Weinberg (Cismontane Brewing)

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Victor Novak, Christina Perozzi, Hallie Beaune, Cedd Moses, Evan Weinberg, Jeremy Raub and Mark Jilg toast at the LA Beer Crawl launch.

Even though Evan Weinberg spent some time working in the software industry, in some ways, it was practically pre-ordained that he would end up working with beer for a living. Weinberg grew up in Solana Beach, blocks from the original Pizza Port. In 2009, he partnered with childhood friend Ross Stewart on Cismontane Brewing in Rancho Santa Margarita. On October 7, we spoke with Weinberg, who better explained what differentiates Cismontane Brewing from the field.

How did growing up near Pizza Port influence your interest in beer?

Growing up in San Diego, you’re definitely aware of good beer at a relatively young age. We used to buy craft beer kegs for keggers…that was where it all kind of started to a certain extent, but for me, brewing and craft beer is a hobby and now a job. I actually started in Napa. I used to work in Napa and had an heirloom tomato farm that a friend of mine and I managed and ran, did all the farming, managed. The farm we were farming on was owned by Camus, a famous Cabernet producer. My friend was one of their vineyard managers. I would help out with some of the vineyard management as well. Farming grapes and helping out in my friend’s wineries and farming tomatoes, I burned out on wine. It’s actually hard to get good beer in the Valley, even though you’re close to Santa Rosa and the Anderson Valley. I took it upon myself to make beer. We had most of the equipment there, so I used a lot of winemaking stuff and retrofit things to brew. I went down to Napa Fermentation Supply and cleaned them out of anything beer related and started researching how to make beer and got really into it. We lost the land lease on the farm, and my friend was getting ready to leave Napa, and I got recruited to this software firm down in Orange County.

I brought my stuff with me, downsized, but kept making beer in my garage. I’ve done the corporate thing a bunch of times, so I got more and more dissatisfied with the lifestyle, even though the paycheck is good. I’d run companies before and been inspired by good food and people, it was something I wanted to get back to. I scraped up enough savings to start what we have today, which is a funky little brewery that makes good beer.

What was the first beer that you made, and how did it turn out?

I wish I could remember, I’m not even entirely sure. One of the more memorable ones was the first IPA I made up there, which came out really nice. I know I made a wheat beer, spiced ales, all kind of stuff, whatever I felt like making at the time.

How did your partnership in Cismontane come about?

My partner is Ross Stewart, a childhood friend of mine, a buddy of mine who I grew up with in Solana Beach. He was unemployed at the time and wanted to do something…I went down there from time and time and said, “Hey, man, you should get into making beer.” His roommate got him a cheap homebrew kit for Christmas. I brought some ingredients down. My brother in law gave me a recipe and some hops to brew an IPA. I brought it down to Ross’ house, and it turned out great. Several years later this opportunity presented itself.

What is the criteria for a beer at Cismontane?

For us, for the most part, we like to make beers that are just a little bit different than the style that they’re supposed to represent. We’ll take say our IPA and we’ll use enough hops to make it a West Coast style IPA, but we added some rye, and raised our mash temperature a little bit, so it doesn’t ferment as dry. It’s a little darker in color, not as dry and hoppy…We’ll use local ingredients. For Oktoberfest, I harvested some buckwheat here in the canyon, and we used that in the mash to give it some unique character. Being native Californians, we name most of our beers after something local, a place, animal or tree. The whole brand is about coastal Southern California, which is actually what Cismontane means. It’s a geographic name for this part of California. It’s basically west of the Peninsula range and south of the Transverse Mountain range, which goes to Santa Barbara at the highest point.

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What’s the most recent beer that you made, and what was your approach?

We just racked a champagne style saison that is in the image of a Flanders gueuze or Malheur. It’s about 10.5% and it’s brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops, from New Zealand, which gives off a Sauvignon Blanc character, complements the style well, gives aroma and flavor to the beer. We also dry hopped it with Nelson Sauvin. It’s going to be a little drier than beers in that style.

Ross is of course a Scottish chap, so we recently brewed Scotch Ale. We added peat smoke to it and had half bags of this and that grain about the brewery, and hops, and it’s a kitchen sink beer.

We did a barrel aged saison with TAPS. We did half of that beer fresh and the other half we aged in white wine barrels. That’s going to be ready shortly, and I’m really excited about that.

What other brewers or breweries inspire you?

There are a lot of guys making great stuff our there. I like the creativity of Craftsman and The Bruery. Of course Mark Jilg has been doing wacky, unique beers forever and The Bruery has made stuff like that a bit more accessible to the general market. Mark’s got a very different business style. I like what those guys are doing, the beers that Victor [Novak] does at TAPS. His beers are awesome, they’re clear and perfect and to style. I like the sours that have come out of Russian Russian. They’re some of the best ones in the States. I love Belgian beers like Rodenbach and Cantillon, they’re just amazing to me that liquid can be produced and as wonderful as it is. That kind of stuff really motivates you to do something special like that. Of course there’s great stuff coming out of San Diego, Alpine, AleSmith, Port. All beers offer inspiration to me, as long as they’re drinkable and clean, they always give you something to think about.

If you could only have one more beer, and it wasn’t your own, what would it be?

That is tough. I would just stop drinking beer altogether. I couldn’t handle that…One beer? Probably some really great mildly hoppy Pilsner of some kind, a Bohemian Pilsner.

If you could drink it anywhere, where would you drink it?

I would probably just go straight to Tahiti. I’d go to a South Pacific island.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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