Topa Topa Brewing Co.'s business model is based on three pillars: craftsmanship, quality and community experience. Each of the four partners operate on the shared belief that beer is the perfect beverage, and that they have a duty to make their most perfect version of it.
Topa Topa Brewing Company is named for the mountain range anchoring the foothills of Ventura and Ojai, visible from all of Ventura County. The range is transverse, meaning that the mountains run east to west instead of north to south, making them a little bit different from all the other ranges in the region. And if you’ve tried Topa Topa Brewing Company’s award winning beers, you’ll experience a key tenet of their operation: they place an almost fanatical value on high quality products and expert craftsmanship, making them a little bit different from all the other breweries in Southern California.
Co-founders Jack Dyer and Kyle Thompson first met through their wives and quickly bonded as surfing buddies at some of San Diego’s best breaks. They also shared a huge passion for hobby home-brewing, leading them to help start a beer co-op with 30 members and a large home-brew system producing a beer a month for its members. With successful careers and otherwise full lives, Topa Topa might never have come to pass had Jack and Kyle not realized that they had both been independently daydreaming about and researching starting a brewery. A casual friendship transformed into a solid partnership, and they began building a business plan to open a brewery in San Diego. They enlisted Casey Harris to join them, a mutual friend who also happened to be a Head Brewer at Stone Brewing Co., the 9th largest brewery in the country. But then Jack’s wife got a great job opportunity in Santa Barbara, one he felt they couldn’t pass up, and so Jack and his wife moved to Ojai, leading the partners to reluctantly resign themselves to the assumption that their brewery dream was dead.
Getting acquainted with his new digs, Jack started checking out the few local breweries that called Ventura and Santa Barbara home, and in doing so he almost immediately came to a realization. “I got Kyle and Casey on the phone,” says Jack. "I told them I thought there was a serious opportunity to really do something special up in this region. That we could bring what we knew we could do in San Diego to Ventura and Santa Barbara.”
Kyle and Casey didn’t disagree with his logic. As Kyle puts it, “San Diego is a completely beer soaked region. If you open a brewery there you’re competing with more than 130 existing craft breweries. We saw Ventura as a great place to stake our first claim, prove our concept and give ourselves the opportunity to expand organically.” It didn’t hurt that Casey was from the Santa Barbara area, had gone to UCSB and was passionate about bringing good beer back home. Along the way, they also added another partner in Ryan Jacobs, a mutual friend with a creative direction studio in Cardiff who now serves as Topa Topa’s Creative Director.
The foursome have based their business on three pillars: craftsmanship, quality and community experience. They all operate on the shared belief that beer is the perfect beverage, and that they have a duty to make their most perfect version of it. Says Jack, “Beer has always and continues to bring people together and it has proven to be a great gathering tool in terms of raising awareness of issues or raising money for a cause.” Kyle follows up, “You don’t see too many people turning down a beer. We designed our tasting room so that you could come talk to your neighbor.” That community aspect of beer culture is a focal point of their vision. In their Ventura tasting room, they throw events in collaboration with businesses and organizations that support causes they believe in, and that will surely extend to the new tasting room in The Funk Zone.
They actively support environmental organizations such as Los Padres ForestWatch, which preserves the national forests in the region. They've established partnerships with local companies like Patagonia to support of the local economy and encourage environmental advocacy. On summer Sundays, Topa Topa hosts yoga classes on their patio, followed by the class hanging out and grabbing a beer. These types of partnerships and events, in conjunction with the Topa Topa Collective (their version of a “mug club”) creates a real sense of community. Following the model that’s worked so well for them in Ventura, they plan to form partnerships with likeminded local businesses and organizations here in Santa Barbara. They cater to the active, nature lover who thoroughly enjoys being outside: someone stopping in for a beer after a mountain bike ride, a morning of surfing, or a scenic hike. But while those causes and activities are indelible to the partners and their brand’s sense of community, it’s their beer that’s really created their core customer base.
With an eye to the future, they purposely oversized their brew system in Ventura in anticipation of their ability to grow, but for now their distribution is all keg based and their focus is on the tasting rooms. This allows them to control the consumer experience. Every customer they engage with at the Waterline is going to understand who Topa Topa is and what they are about. Their brewing style is very straight forward. Jack explains, “We believe in taking the hard work of the malters and the hop growers and simply adding a little bit of chemistry and process to make a great, solid beer.” Their commitment to quality and consistency is something that sets them apart from many other start up breweries. “With our team’s experience in the brewing industry, we’re able to reproduce our beers pretty quickly,” says Jack. “Our beers are very hop forward, especially our Chief Peak IPA. We’re using harder to find hops and more of them than most craft breweries, and we’re willing to do that to produce the highest quality beer. That goes back to our business model. We’re not selling most of our beer through a distributer, we’re selling it over the counter in our own tasting room experience. We’re not putting it in cans. We can make the highest quality beer because we’re in control of how it’s served. We can spend a little bit more to make the beer that much better.”
One of the great benefits of Topa Topa’s business model is their agility in being able to satisfy craft beer consumers' immense appetite for what’s new and what’s next. In their Ventura tasting room, and of course in their soon-to-launch Funk Zone location, they’re regularly coming out with new beers for their customers to try. Belgian, Stout, IPA – you’re always going to be drinking great beer, regardless of style. And like any artist passionate about his work, Head Brewer Casey is always looking forward to experimenting with fun new concepts. For one, he wants to roll out a limited sour beer program, something he has the rare expertise to do right.
The partners are thrilled about their new tasting room at the Waterline, because it’s an exciting time to be a craft brewery in Santa Barbara. There are a few other operations in the area, but compared to other parts of the country, Santa Barbara’s just barely entering the new craft beer generation. Says Kyle, “In the last ten years there’s been a new hyper-localization of the brewery market. Tasting rooms are becoming the local bar. They appeal to the enthusiast who, yes, appreciates that the space may take on the communal feel of a beer bar at times, but that it is first and foremost designed for those who want to taste and really appreciate the beer.”
“Just like the craft beer boom,” says Jack, “people are increasingly interested in finding fresh, local stuff in every category, which is why we’re excited to be part of the Waterline. With the open environment, the quality food aspect and the unique local offerings of all the other tenants, it’s going to be the only place in town where you’ll be able to have this experience. We’re going to be working with everyone to make it a great space. Get some good music in here and make every day a fun one.”