Half Moon Bay’s small-scale Main Street brewery fosters creative beer and innovative eats.

Lunchtime eats at Sacrilege: the Hawaiian chicken tacos (on corn tortillas with pineapple and aioli) and the brewery’s namesake Sacrilege burger (with the works on a toasted English muffin), plus a Lemon Peels Grass Blonde Ale and St. Carl’s Salted Caramel Stout — both Sacrilege brewed. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Joe Pacini loves beer. He loves making it. He loves talking about it. And he especially loves choosing food to go with it.

“We love to cook with beer and we love to pair food with beer,” says Pacini.

Enter Pacini’s brainchild: Sacrilege Brewery + Kitchen in Half Moon Bay, where his outside-the-bottle approach to brewing is easy to discern. Pacini challenges the status quo of regular old IPAs and mass-produced lagers with original concoctions that incorporate a dash of wasabi or a dose of salted caramel. With the ever-growing craft beer industry now well-established along the Northern California coast, keeping the menu innovative is a vital part of Pacini setting his brewery apart from the crowd.

It’s an approach that Sacrilege emphasizes by applying the same offbeat outlook to their kitchen, as well. Chef Santiago Flores elevates typical pub fare with creative twists: burrata poutine (read as: french fries + gravy), whole dill pickles on ice, house specialty burgers served on an English muffin and a donut stuffed with IPA-marinated peaches. Paired together, Pacini’s beer and Flores’s kitchen creations provide a unique brewery experience unlike any other on the coast.

Sacrilege owner Joe Pacini pictured at the front counter of his brewery and restaurant: “I always loved the industry. It’s unlike any other. With craft beer, we’re one team… The high tide raises all ships.” (Photo by Charles Russo)

The picturesque Main Street building that houses Sacrilege is sparsely decorated but retains an air of coziness. Dried hops wrap around the rafters, comfortable armchairs sit by the front windows and a folk-rock soundtrack compliments the sounds of the Brewery’s busy dining room. The room itself anchors around two long, communal tables — a touch that puts an emphasis on what Pacini calls the “neighborhood driven” atmosphere of the restaurant. On sunny days, the sprawling front porch fills up quickly with locals sipping beers and watching the subdued bustle of downtown Half Moon Bay drifting along.

Pacini’s position as owner and master brewer at Sacrilege Brewery is the latest phase of a long career in the food and beverage industry. After starting out in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, Pacini worked his way through the restaurant scene in Washington, D.C., before making his way out west “on a whim.” After the dot-com boom (and following crash) of the early 2000s, Pacini found a home on the West Coast in the beer industry.

After ten years working in the Bay Area beer scene with a distribution company, Pacini embarked upon a career change and started working at Sacrilege’s Main Street location while it was under the tutelage of its previous owners: Cowboy Fishing Company, another brewery-restaurant combo. Pacini, who had recently purchased large-scale brewing equipment from a brewery that went out of business, offered to be Cowboy Fishing Company’s master brewer, intent on creating unique flavors for the restaurant.

A view of the dining room at Sacrilege Brewery + Kitchen. (Photo by Ethan Beberness)

It’s a place Pacini inherited, in some sense. Cowboy Fishing Company was a venture by a group of local fishermen, and was open for only fifteen to twenty hours every week, according to Pacini. That worked fine for him, though — he was able to come and go as he pleased, perfecting his craft.

“My project was in cahoots with [the Cowboy Fishing Company] side project,” says Pacini. It was when Cowboy Fishing closed that he was faced with a problem. “My first thought was, ‘Oh, shit, where do I put my equipment?’” says Pacini. “And my second was, ‘Why don’t I open my own brewery?’”

Flights of beer are a popular option at Sacrilege, which regularly rotates it’s in-house beer menu. (Image via Yelp)

Thus Sacrilege Brewery was born. With full control of the brewing process, Pacini began to experiment with increasingly unique recipes. He created four signature brews that are currently featured on tap: the Lemon Peels Grass blonde ale, L’Ultima Crema (a lactose-free cream ale), Mo’s 7 Secrets (an American IPA, though Pacini isn’t particularly fond of the current IPA trend), and the St. Carl’s Caramel Stout (one of the recipes still in production from Pacini’s homebrewing years). Don’t be fooled: the in-house beer selection at Sacrilege is constantly changing — as is their wide range of guest taps and bottled or canned beers.

Pacini has watched with delight as the Northern Californian coastal beer scene exploded (“It’s insane. It’s absolutely insane,” he says). With that expansive brewing culture comes a new level of cultural legitimization that would have been unheard of in the beer world twenty years ago. Now, some craft beer is treated with the same reverence as good wine, and the rise of cicerones (like a sommelier for beer) has allowed for a culture in which chefs create entire menus focused on beer pairings.

At Sacrilege, Chef Flores crafts quarterly dinners featuring beer pairings from Sacrilege and other local craft breweries. “I use my creativity,” says Flores, who draws upon a long and successful career in the food industry. “I create something that you might call crazy but works for me.”

From left: The Sacrilege Burger stacked high; brews with a view — the front porch seating looks out onto Main Street in Half Moon Bay. (Photo by Charles Russo & via Yelp)

The quarterly dinners provide an opportunity for beer and food lovers to come together to appreciate the craft of curating an excellent meal. Pacini typically partners with notable breweries (Barebottle, Firestone Walker, Alpha Acid…to name a few past collaborators), and then Flores designs an original multi-course meal to pair with their beers.

Some of Pacini’s favorite pairings include the Banana Chocolate Marshmallow egg roll (served on top of a Double IPA-based chocolate mousse) alongside Sante Adairius Double IPA, as well as lobster cakes which he serves with a Cantaloupe Cucumber Saison from Dogfish Head. Pacini notes that generally “fish dishes tend to go well with lighter citrusy beers, [and] lamb burgers pair well with saisons,” and adds that if you’re interested in pairing your food with a beer option, the knowledgeable staff at the ordering counter can give you a recommendation.

A prix fixe menu for one of Sacrilege’s past dinner events. (Courtesy of Sacrilege Brewing + Kitchen)

Past dinner themes have included “Bringing the East Coast West,” which featured the beers of Dogfish Head Brewery (of Milton, Delaware) alongside dishes such as IPA-battered soft-shell crabs. Another was “Santi Meets Sante,” which paired Chef Santiago Flores’s culinary creations with beers from Sante Adarius Rustic Ales. These dinners not only showcase the best of what these breweries have to offer, but work as a template for how the industry can evolve forward in new and creative ways.

Of course, Pacini’s always inventive approach was baked into the name of the brewery itself. Though religious overtones of it have roots in Pacini’s Catholic upbringing, he says the idea of “sacrilege” is more of a reference to the unusual and innovative quirks that pop up on the brewery’s menus — or, as he explains it — the idea of “putting a little twist on everything.”

Tap handles inside the dining room at Sacrilege Brewery + Kitchen in downtown Half Moon Bay. (Photo by Charles Russo)

Sacrilege Brewery + Kitchen // 730 Main St, Half Moon Bay; 650.276.7029

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