Take Highway 101 north to the junction of Route 135 just beyond Buellton and you’ll find yourself in the tiny, historic town of Los Alamos. Frequented in the 19th Century by stagecoach travelers, the town’s current 1,800 or so residents still have to stop by the post office to collect their mail, but they needn’t venture much farther to satisfy their thirst for quality craft beer. At Babi’s Beer Emporium (sounds like “Bobby’s”) a modest wall of shelves is lined with bottles like Allagash Midnight Brett and Mikkeller Spontanrosehip, and three taps pour carefully-chosen selections like Ommegang Rare Vos, Tap It Rimfire Red, and 10 Barrel/Bluejacket/Stone Suede Imperial Porter.
Beer wasn’t always the focus though. Owner Sonja Magdevski also makes wine under the Casa Dumetz label, and the tasting room was wine-oriented for about two years. She then moved the operation down the block, and was planning to use the original location as an auxiliary wine space. But after a Thanksgiving visit to Jolly Pumpkin Brewing with friends Jon Carlson and Greg Lobdell from Northern United Brewing Co., she decided to turn to beer: “By the time we were returning from Michigan I was hunting for kegerators.”
The Beer Emporium opened in December, 2013. We first heard about it from a friend of a friend who casually mentioned that Emilio Estevez was pouring beer one weekend in January. Estevez is married to Magdevski, and will sometimes come in to lend a hand. The pair are new to the beer industry though. “I’m learning as I go, and tasting as I go,” she disclaims. “It’s a new audience, too. Beer geeks are more heady and intense than even the most invested wine drinker… Talking about beer that other people have made is much easier than talking about the wine I’ve made myself. I’m personally invested in my own wine — it has sweat-equity. Beer is more fun.”
The community has been there to help and encourage Babi’s. With Figueroa Mountain’s production brewery and Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks just 15 miles south in Buellton, good relationships aren’t taken for granted. “Last week Jeffers [Richardson, Director of Barrelworks] came by and invited me over to Barrelworks for some rare tastings. He told me all about Sankey kegs and conversions for European kegs — I had no idea,” Magdevski says with a laugh as she wraps a to-go bottle in bright blue tissue paper. She is gregarious and feminine, waving neighborly to familiar faces on the sidewalk outside.
Only a few months old, Babi’s is already in the throes of new growth. Three more taps will be added in February, including dedicated sour and cider lines. Monthly food events like this Saturday’s Bao + Beer will feature a food cart from Santa Barbara’s Sama Sama Kitchen, and in March they’ll welcome hot dogs from Let’s Be Frank. For Valentine’s weekend Babi’s will host an Oskar Blues tap takeover, pouring Ten FIDY imperial stout, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, and Dale’s Pale Ale. As a tasting room and bottle shop, Babi’s charges no corkage fee, but absorbs the additional cost of on-site consumption into the bottle price.
Particularly for county residents who have limited bottle shop options, the Los Alamos stop is a beer oasis. “When I make decisions with my distributors about what to to carry, my first question is, ‘Does BevMo have it?’” Magdevski chooses carefully for Babi’s limited shelf real estate, and she won’t sell bottles readily available at nearby chain grocery stores or retailers. “For me this is all about discovery, education, and fun. I invite everyone to come in for a taste and join me.”
Babi’s Beer Emporium, 448 Bell St., Ste. B; Los Alamos; (805) 344-1911