Ramona is known for its numerous wineries and grape-stomping vineyards, but something new has hopped into town and it's a bit more... off the vine.
ChuckAlek Ind. Brewers is less than two months into serving Ramona samples of porters, pale ales and pre-prohibition suds, but the ambitious husband-wife duo who opened up the brewery said they've already seen a steady flow of traffic thanks to their food truck-themed Saturdays.
"We definitely want a Saturday night dinner to be a thing," co-owner Marta Jankowska.
Those interested in the food truck/beer tasting idea can visit ChuckAlek tonight for gourmet grilled cheese and cigars.
Grant Fraley, Jankowksa's husband and brewmaster of ChuckAlek, said his love of brewing started out at home and he went "nuts with it."
"I started brewing while in grad school and spent months in Austria and Germany, going to Oktoberfest and Prague and other beer capitals," the beer-enthusiast told Patch. "When I came home, I couldn't find something that hit that nostalgia for me."
So Fraley began making his own beer. And now, he's got a modest space inside a retail building next to Bisher's Meat on Main Street.
"We're focusing on rare and unique styles," Fraley told Patch. "One of the most unique styles we have is a Kentucky common, which is a pre-prohrbition style. It's one of the only beers that is actually indigenous to America."
ChuckAlek's other unique beer is a California common—light amber in color and doesn't feel "full in your mouth," according to Fraley.
"We're one of the only breweries doing that style. It's a light body, easy to drink," the brewmaster said. "It's a good session beer, where you can have a couple of them."
Jankowksa said ChuckAlek was named after both her and Fraley's grandfathers, a nod to both of their heritages. Fraley said the brewery's logo—a red cardinal and poppy—are homage to Kentucky, Ohio and Poland, heritages of Fraley and Jankowska, respectively.
The young couple, who are expecting a baby in the spring, ambitiously opened up their brewery in January, keeping the tasting room open only Friday through Sunday, as Jankowska calls this "a hobby" more than anything. But it's easy to see Fraley's passion for beer when he's in the back mixing up a batch.
"It's not hard to absorb it," he said of the brewing process. "You just have to spend the time doing it right."
And doing it right they are. Jankwoska and Fraley have opened up a new business in town for locals to go enjoy and college students home on vacation to chat with a friend at. ChuckAlek Ind. Brewers communal seating and long bar offer a residents a chance to socialize, sip and even learn something new.
Like beer can taste smoky.
"We use oak to age one of our beers and it gets a smoky flavor," Fraley said. "It sounds weird but I think it's kind of tasty. People either seem to love it or hate it."
This Patch editor loved it.
Fraley is also doing location-specific beers to help bring back that German nostalgia he missed after he left Europe.
"I wouldn't call it quite sour, but it's this effervescent, funky beer."
The Weiss is a light, "sour" beer that can be bought as a flight of four, one plain and three others that have been mixed with syrups to help enhance and chance the drink's flavor.
Fraley said that five of the beers on tap are standards, with one constantly rotating, appropriately named the "Revolver."
"We have a couple stronger beers that just aren't ready yet," Fraley said. "The higher alcohol beers take time to mellow."
They've started brewing a Baltic porter that will take about 4 months to sit. Fraley said the porter could age for a year, but at about 4 months is when it starts tasting pretty good.
"We definitely have other beers coming, some seasonal things for summer and Oktoberfest."
For now, the pair is keeping patrons happy with their six delicious beers on tap:
- The Fiddler: Kentucky Common Ale, light-bodied, roast and fruity.
- Dowser: Hop presence and crisp, malty flavor.
- The Weiss: Tart and refreshing wheat ale.
- Revolver: Ramona Pale Ale, hoppy.
- Breton: Deep, brown malty ale. (Editor's Pick).
- The Hussar: Oak-smoked wheat ale.
ChuckAlek will celebrate its sudsy success on Feb. 24 with a grand opening event, complete with live music, Stallion Cigar Lounge stogies and tri-tip and chicken from Bisher's Meats.
Cost on Feb. 24 is $35 for 8 tasters and a meal from Bisher's.
ChuckAlek is located at 2300 Main Street next to Bisher's Meats. Their hours are Friday. 2-8 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.