Brewer Spotlight: Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing

By Jimi T Hardee

When Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing opened in 2005, the concept of going green was a foreign, unnecessary fad to most people. But to SCMB, it was a core tenant of their brewing processes. Now as the first--and largest--organic brewery in Santa Cruz, let's take a look at how this attitude has shaped their beer.

Our interview with head brewer Tommy Mills was conducted in the midst of a work day with machines and tools whirring in the background. Despite the busy atmosphere we found Tommy to be a warm and friendly host, indicative of SCMB’s attitudes not only towards people but towards the planet.


Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing’s organic certification is provided by CCOF, an accolade which is apparently not so easy to attain based on Tommy’s description of the oversight process:

“They come and check on us once a year… just to check our brew sheets and brew logs to ensure that we aren’t falsifying anything… So every pint has a paper trail back to where it came from.” Says Mills “Nothing ever comes into the brewery that’s not organic.”

Logistically speaking this might seem like a lot of work on the business’ end to keep all this paperwork in order. However, the idea of an eco-friendly, organic brewery was a core pillar of Founder Emily Thomas’ vision when SCMB was first opened.

“Emily grew up in Santa Cruz, it’s just what she felt best about. A lot of farming practices aren’t necessarily environmentally forward, she always kinda thought of that as the backbone of what she wanted the business to be: a place that wasn’t just responsible but also sustainable”

Aside from sourcing ingredients though, there is another key factor that influences a brewery’s sustainability: water.

SCMB Head Brewer: Tommy Mills

SCMB Head Brewer: Tommy Mills

When Tommy Mills returned to SCMB after a brief stint running a brewery in New Orleans, it was in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the recorded history of California. We asked how this has influenced the way he thinks about water in the brewing process, and if he was worried about the future of water scarcity in the state.

“I constantly think about it, I mean if for any reason we don’t have water none of this is happening,” says Mills, gesturing at the brewing operations behind him.

“There are honestly times thinking about it where it almost feels like I should get out of the industry. It sometimes just seems so unnecessary, especially when you consider that there are maybe 1000 breweries in the state, all just pumping water.”

This attitude is fairly common amongst brewers we have interviewed, and with agriculture being one of the main reasons for water waste in brewing, SCMB does its best to address the problem at the source.

“A lot of the places we have been working with (to source our ingredients) are very conscious about their growing. I think it does sort of trickle down in that sense” Says Tommy “I think it’s very important for everyone to be very conscious of it, whether we are in a drought or not.”

Even within the brewing operation itself, there are steps taken to conserve water.

“I think it's fairly industry standard, people try to reuse as much water as possible. For instance, pretty much anything that goes through your heat exchanger can be used for another brew.”


It seems that the nature of brewing as an industry is that of conservation, especially when talking about water. The fact of the matter is that all the water you use goes on the balance sheet, so wasting the resource is tantamount to dumping your money down the drain.

So as the fight over climate change and scarcity becomes more and more about education, it’s possible that breweries as fixtures of their communities could do a lot to help show people how they can live more sustainably. This is a thought that it seems had occurred to Tommy as well:

“What we had talked about for instance with your guy’s NuTree, if it was something that was in the beer garden as a kind of focal point to create a conversation. It could help to get people actively thinking about these things.”

Essentially, everything we do at NuLeaf is about communities. Creating healthy communities through cross-industry cooperation and resource management is more or less what we are all about. Our impression of SCMB was that of a business that cared about its community. From working to keep its environment healthy, to fostering positive relationships between other breweries.

If you are looking for a place in Santa Cruz to stop in for a guilt-free pint and meet some really very friendly people, SCMB should be at the top of your list.

Thanks again to everyone at Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing for sitting down to talk with us.