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Figueroa Mountain Brews Sage Beer for Condor Trail

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Warren Alford of the Wilderness Society got to heft a Google Street View Trekker, a top-heavy, 45-pound camera that takes 360-degree photos, over Mount Pinos (that's nearly 9,000 feet high, but who's counting) in Ventura County. He was accompanied by fellow naturalist Chris Danch, and after the 18-mile struggle, filming all the way, they got back to Danch's car. Alford says, "I told him, 'Man, I'd kill for a beer now.' Somehow he pulled two ice-cold craft beers out of his trunk. I definitely had a religious experience that evening."

It's only fitting that to help draw support to get Congress to establish the Condor Trail -- over 400 miles of pristine trail from Lake Piru in Ventura County to Bottchers Gap Campground in Monterey County -- Alford and crew have turned to beer as a way to raise awareness. The Condor Trail Association partnered with Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, based in Buellton, to brew a new cask-conditioned version of the company's Hoppy Poppy IPA. It's made with hummingbird sage brought back from the proposed trail.

"Hummingbird Sage has this amazing floral, herbal, resinous note that I think will go great with an IPA like Hoppy Poppy," says Figueroa Mountain brewer Kevin Ashford. "It will showcase well in an unfiltered cask beautifully." Indeed it did, as I got to sample some at the Buellton taproom, the only spot it's currently available (more might be made, depending on the success of this batch). It's not as cold as many beers, and that helps the floral qualities surface even more, plus that creamier texture -- since there's less carbonation from a cask ale -- also adds to the rich experience.

While a sage-brewed beer isn't too unusual, centuries ago it was typical. Today in Southern California we have a fine example like Pasadena's Craftsman Triple White Sage, but it usually is white sage that get featured. In fact, Hollister Brewing Company in Goleta brewed up a yummy fundraising batch of Condor Trail Ale with white sage two years ago. But hummingbird sage has more backcountry to it, perfect for a beer meant to draw attention to a trail that, if finished, will be like a mini-Appalachian Trail in our California backyard. (It's the area north of the Cuesta Grade in San Luis Obispo County to Monterey that needs the most completion, and right-of-way permissions across private lands.)

The new brew also honors the 47th anniversary of the nearby San Rafael Wilderness area, which was signed into law in March 1968. The San Rafael Wilderness was the first wilderness designation in the Los Padres National Forest under the then just three-year-old Wilderness Act.

Alford and his collaborators say Rep. Lois Capps has included the Condor Trail in legislation that would designate it as a National Recreation Trail if approved. Such status will make it easier to get grants to complete the work, and back-country trail blazing, by definition, is no walk in the park. The hope is that soon one can make the arduous, yet breath-taking hike through the Los Padres Forest. Here's to hoping a good friend has a craft beer waiting for you at the finish.

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