It’s been a year since BenitoLink last visited Grillin & Chillin Alehouse at 401 McCray St in Hollister, and, with the easing of pandemic restrictions, the restaurant is more crowded but considerably more relaxed.
“Business is back,” said owner Chuck Frowein. “We don’t have to wear masks. We can have live music again. People can come here and enjoy themselves again.”
Frowein himself is working his way back to health, with just a scar and some residual pain from a double fracture to his wrist suffered in a boating accident in May 2021. But the times still present a challenge, with inflation driving price increases. As with every restaurant, the alehouse is dealing with issues of costs and supply.
“We are just rolling with it,” he said. “Everything is going up and now some vendors are adding a gas surcharge. I don’t want to talk about price increases, because I want every customer to feel like a guest, not like a dollar sign.”
Construction around Highway 156 at Union Road has had an impact on the Grillin & Chillin Roadhouse.
“A few weeks ago you could not get to the restaurant from the freeway,” Frowein said. “You had to go through Freitas Road. Caltrans was trying to help me out by not closing that but everyone thought they could take the back roads and that took them two hours.”
Despite all of the business complications, the one reliable fact is that Frowein’s customers drink all the beer he can produce—he is having the time of his life making his brews.
“If you look historically, when someone’s having a good day, they drink a beer,” he said. “When someone’s having a bad day, they drink a beer. They get married, they drink a beer. They get a divorce, they drink a beer. So I think we are going to be OK as long as we keep making what the customers are asking for. And so far, our customers have been very loyal.”
Frowein and brewmaster Frank Sanchez are already planning some new surprises, including a blood orange beer and a variety of hazy beers.
“I personally like clear beers,” frowein said, “but you have to listen to the customers and they like hazy beers. After that, we are probably going to be trying some kettle sours.”
I had a chance to sit down with Frowein and Sanchez as they presented the five newest beers made at the alehouse. We were joined in the tasting by Mike Waller, winemaker for Calera Winery and a regular Grillin & Chillin customer.
As we tasted the beers, we sampled the new “831 Burger,” a classic diner offering that packs a lot of flavors, which Frowein calls his answer to a standard In-N-Out Burger. I am a big fan of the larger alehouse hamburgers and this is a fun choice for a lighter lunch.
The Beers of Grillin & Chillin Alehouse
Fear la Chancla (4.5%) “We wanted something light and refreshing,” said Sanchez. “So this is pretty much our version of a Modelo: a smooth summertime beer.” This is a spin-off from their popular 831 Willamette hops beer, accented with fresh-squeezed limes and a touch of salt. “We poured this out at the last wine stroll,” Frowein said, “and I think it was our most popular beer.” There is a little sweetness up front which is quickly cut by the acid of the lime and fades into a smooth finish. “I almost drink Modelo for a living,” Waller said. “And this is a hoppier Modelo with some bitterness. But I think it is a good beer and very refreshing.” The light hops and the clean taste make this an attractively easy beer to drink. I am a sucker for lime anyway, but that touch of tartness makes this a great beer to have with food and a great beer to drink while knocking around with friends.
Locking Hub IPA (7%) “We didn’t have an IPA for a while,” Sanchez said, “and I was trying to get something lighter than usual. We had a triple but nothing lower. So I researched, trying to figure out how to do it, and I came up with this one. This is the first beer that I created by myself from the beginning to the end.” The label is a low shot of a jeep, highlighting the hub, with Frowein’s dog behind the wheel. “I am really digging this one,” said Waller. “It has a good balance of malt and hops. I think this is one of the cleanest beers they make here. It’s a monster.” The aroma comes from Citra, Chinook, and Cascade hops and leans toward fresh lavender. It is smooth, with a wavering floral layer, until just before the end, when you get a mix of bitterness and sweetness. “I told him to create a beer that you could have two or three of without it being too much,” Frowein said. “When he came back with this, I just had to stop everything to find him and tell him it was a great beer.”
Candelorian Hazy (6.7%) Sanchez and Frowein are constantly coming up with new ideas and this is one of their attempts. “We debated on putting these experiments out for our customers,” Frowein said, “But I think it is worth serving it to them just to get honest feedback.” The beer is on the hoppy side, with a smokey taste and rough edges. “When you look at this, you are expecting an orange juice flavor,” said Waller. “And then it hits you with a lot of bitterness.” Frowein thinks they got the right color and texture, but he considers it to be a work in progress and is working on the next version.
Here’s to the Dark Side (13%) This brew is a dark, barrel-aged stout. “We were making a dark side beer for Star Wars Day, May 4,” said Frowein. “I suggested we take part of it and mix in some whiskey chips from Fog’s End Distillery. I think the chips give it a little smokiness, with some hops and lightness.” Drinking the beer is indeed like having two forces battling for your tastebuds: the rich dark coffee and chocolate flavor and the light, sweet-vanilla whiskey tones swirling around trying to establish dominance. Frowein describes it as “dessert in a glass” and this is definitely an end-of-the-meal beer, perhaps served with some fresh baked and still-warm apple pie.
Quarantine Charlie (13%) This is the fourth iteration of this beer, which remains one of the most delightful on the menu. “This town likes either accessible beers or high-alcohol beers,” Frowein said. “And we have them covered on both.” The previous batch of this beer was featured in our previous review and the new batch is also a knockout—literally and figuratively. “I am partial to high-alcohol beers,” Frowein said, “and I do like barrel-aged beers with bourbon or whiskey. But if you don’t expect that in a beer, especially if it goes down easy, you have to be careful.” It is a very seductive beer made more complex by the addition of whiskey chips which mellow the bitterness, increase the sweetness, and smooth out the drinkability. “For me, this is a perfect sipping beer,” said Waller. “For people who go after this kind of beer, they are going to love it.” As with the Dark Side beer, the alcohol content has to be considered—two pints of this would likely push you past the legal limits. But it is a must-try beer and remains one of the finest brews in the area.
BenitoLink thanks our underwriters, Hollister Super and Windmill Market, for helping to expand the Eat, Drink, Savor series and give our readers the stories that interest them. Hollister Super (two stores in Hollister) and Windmill Market (in San Juan Bautista) support reporting on the inspired and creative people behind the many delicious food and drink products made in San Benito County. All editorial decisions are made by BenitoLink.