Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Beers and bites, off the beaten path: Babi's Beer Emporium of Los Alamos kicks off a monthly craft dinner series
BY HAYLEY THOMAS
The moment I stepped through the creaky, wooden threshold of the artfully adorned beer haven, I knew I was home. Babi’s Beer Emporium is all warmth, laughter, and true reverence for craft brew.
Owner Sonja Magdevski never fails to flash each patron a wide smile, her spritely eyes dancing with unceasing energy. Ask anyone in town about Magdevski, and they’ll tell you: That woman is damn near unstoppable.
Between wholeheartedly singing “Happy Birthday” for a friend’s party held in the adjoining wine tasting room (she makes wine under her Malibu label Casa Dumetz) and prepping for her first-ever craft dinner series, she found ample time to be interviewed.
Don’t ask me how. This is the magic of Magdevski.
“People love wine, they love food, and they love beer, but I’m a little tired of the standard first course, second course, white linens bore,” the winemaker said. “Everything we do here is interactive. We thought, ‘We have this kitchen—so let’s do a series where we feature a beer or winemaker each month, and that beer or winemaker does all the cooking.”
During the inaugural Saturday, Dec. 6, feast, Mikey Giugni of Scar of the Sea—a Central Coast producer of boutique sparkling apple cider and pinot noir—cooked up a cunning and uncommon feast. The heartfelt menu included lobster tacos, his mom’s peanut brittle, and a coworker’s authentic tamales.
“As much as we can eat with our hands, the better,” Magdevski said with a laugh. “With the craft dinners, we get to talk and relax and have fun. It’s also a great introduction to meet these new producers who are kicking butt and trying to get the word out.”
The new craft dinner series—booked out till October 2015—is straight forward, serving 50 people for $50 each on the first Saturday of the month. Pop-up dining is also offered on the weekends, and attendees are known to spill out onto the emporium’s lush garden area. Hanging out at Babi’s (named after Magdevski’s Yugoslavian grandma) feels like having drinks at an artsy friend’s bungalow.
This free-spirited attitude is hardwired into the emporium itself, where there’s no appointment or dress code required. Simply stop in for a taste of rotating craft beer on tap, sip a range of Casa Dumetz wines, or pick up a bottle of something grand.
If you’re like many of Babi’s regulars, you’ll also lounge and chat till the cows come home, which brings me to my next point: Magdevski may very well be wed to actor and filmmaker Emilio Estevez (they hitched in 2006 after planting what would become their shared Malibu vineyard), but she’s a country girl beer nut at heart.
Her criteria is simple: If it can’t be found at BevMo, and it’s incredibly good, then you can probably find it on her shelf or on her tap. Each Thursday night, locals congregate at the watering hole for a boisterous “bottle share” from 4 to 8 p.m.
“Our motto is ‘join the discovery,’” Magdevski said, adding that when she moved from a smaller nearby tasting room last year, she wanted to create a tasting playground of sorts. Indeed, I found myself falling down the rabbit hole while sipping on The Mesa’s handcrafted table beer No. 2, featuring a blend of 15 percent riesling and 15 percent viognier grapes sourced from Santa Lucia Highlands-based Mer Soleil Vineyard and combined with 70 percent pilsner malt. The hops? Aged for five years and fermented with a blend of white wine yeast, giving the brew its bright, cohesive flavor.
As owner of a wine label and a beer emporium, it makes perfect sense, then, that Magdevski would be interested in melding the two worlds herself. A collaboration between Casa Dumetz and Firestone Walker Brewing Co.’s Barrelworks is—well—in the works.
“I asked what they wanted to add to their beer, and they picked a grenache grape that we make as a rosé,” Magdevski said. “We picked it, stomped it, pressed it off, and I sent them 160 gallons. They then made a beautiful sour mash, which is currently barrel fermenting.”
Another sour collaboration with Morro Bay’s Libertine Pub, featuring mourvèdre and a load of fresh kiwi fruit, is also going through the fermentation process.
“What craft beer people are doing is so sophisticated, and so beyond what anyone of us in wine is doing,” Magdevski said. “Particularly with barrel aging, you are using the same pallet and mind-frame as you are with wine. You are blending, tasting, and saying, ‘What is missing?’”
That missing factor could be brightness, sweetness, structure, or acidity, but when it comes to the winemaker’s favorite beers, ingenuity—and fearlessness—is always built in.
“In the end, these brewers are making a blend to reflect the best of the very best,” Magdevski said. “When it comes to experimenting, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”
A craft beer wonderland
You’ve got to stop by Babi’s Beer Emporium on your next trip to Los Alamos. The beer and wine tasting room, retail shop, and eatery is 448 Bell Street in the Old Western Town dripping with rustic charm. For information about Babi’s monthly craft dinner series, weekend pop-up dining, Thursday bottle sharing, or what’s on tap now, call 344-1911 or visit the business’s Facebook page.
Hayley Thomas is in love with The Mesa’s handcrafted table beer No. 2. Send your creative beer suggestions to email@example.com.
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