Pepe Palacios moved to Santa Cruz from Mexico in 1993. Since then, he has worked for three Santa Cruz establishments. He worked his way up from busboy to manager at The Whole Earth, which was the restaurant in Quarry Plaza before Joe’s. Then, he spent seven years as bottling line supervisor at Bonny Doon Vineyards. Now he is a brewmaster at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery (SCMB), where he’s ushering in the summer with a trio of original beers. City on a Hill Press stopped by the brewery to ask Palacios about the inspiration behind his recent “floral” series of India Pale Ales — jasmine, hibiscus and lavender — and how he got his start at the post he has held for the past seven years.

City on a Hill Press: How did you become a brewmaster? 

Pepe Palacios: Well, I’m a lucky, lucky person. When I was working for Bonny Doon Vineyard, Chuck and Emily [owners and co-founders of SCMB] were driving down from Ben Lomond, many years ago before they opened, and they needed to find a place to open the brewery, right? So they were driving around Santa Cruz, and then they saw my friend and me playing soccer, right where we are sitting now. And then they went, “Hey, see that guy?”— that guy was me — they said, “See that guy playing soccer over there? I think that could be the place for us.”

A while later, I had this friend named Dan, and he had just started brewing in Capitola. And when they finally opened this place, pretty much everybody in town was brewing with them. So Dan introduced me and then things just went from there.

And then, when I started working here, they recognized me and told me they opened the brewery here because of me. Isn’t that exciting, dude? And then after that day we were pretty much great friends, Emily and Chuck and I. They’re not my parents, but they’re my brothers. I’m happy we can grow together — their experience and my experience.

And so now, you know, together we’re making good beer.

CHP: What’s your favorite part of brewing beer?

Palacios: When you brew beer, it’s like making a nice big cake for somebody special. It could be my best friend’s wedding, or my customer, too, but either way it’s very special.

So when you brew the beer, one of the best experiences is during the boiling process, when you add the hops. You know that? It’s just like all these crazy intense aromas that you just have to go, ‘Whoa, dude.’ Like I wish to have a keg over here [points towards the corner of the brewery] that’s boiling beer, you know what I mean, and then when my customers are here I’ll add the hops, so that way they can know.

But that experience man, its like being in heaven. Nobody knows. You have to make beer with your heart. So when you love that, dude, that makes you feel really, really good. So that’s probably my favorite part.

CHP: What’s your process for coming up with a new beer?

Palacios: So me as an employee of the brewery, I work very hard, but then I am always waiting for my boss to let me know when it’s my chance to try something new. And then a few weeks ago, right before I did the last three IPAs, my boss, she went up to me and she’s like, “Pepe, you’ve been too quiet.”

And I say, “Well, I saw you guys brewing a lot of beers and there’s no more tanks, you know what I mean, because our place is so small. So how can I brew another beer if there’s no space?’ And she’s like, “Pepe, you bring me new beer and don’t worry about that. If there’s no space, we’ll figure it out. Your job is to bring me new beers.” And then you know what I said? “Emily, thank you so much, because you know what? I’ve been thinking about it. Give me a minute. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

And then you know what I did? This is the way we work under stress with the community. I call my buddies, and I say, “Hey, I have to make new beer.” I wanted to make a Red IPA, and then one of my good friends is like, “Pepe, let’s go to the Herb Room.” And I say, “Yeah! That’d be awesome.”

So we’re at the Herb Room and my friend is like, “What do you think about this flower, this flower,” and so on, you know? Until we hit the hibiscus. Then I said, ‘“Oh my god! I know this flower! And it’s even red. This is perfect!” See? But that’s the way I come up with my beers. I talk to my friends, I tell them my ideas, and they help me out. That’s my job, dude.

CHP: So how has your time at SCMB been overall?

Palacios: It’s been really fun — intense. I feel like I cannot believe my life right now, you know what I mean? I get a lot of support and I really love connecting with people in Santa Cruz. It’s been really good. Santa Cruz Mountain Brewery forever!