I first visited Camarillo's Institution Ale Co. last fall when it was located in the back corner of a light industrial building that was on a street with similar, indistinguishable industrial buildings. Its tasting room was tiny and jammed with people. The beer offerings were basic, and included a pale ale, an IPA, a stout, and a blond ale, but all the beers I tried were good. It is better to make a limited number of beers well than brew a large number of beers with haphazard results. I revisited Institution a few weeks ago and was amazed by the changes. It has a new location, its own building along a road that frontages Highway 101 in Camarillo. The stark, one-story, stand-alone building, in addition to housing the brewery and a small merchandise store, has a huge tasting room, which was packed with patrons, and an outdoor seating area, which was also full. The tasting room is fitted with picnic benches for communal seating. Institution also has limited food offerings, prepared on-site. Here is a picture of part of the tasting room:
Institution is named after Camarillo's State Mental Hospital, which closed in 1997 after operating since 1932. The former hospital site is now Cal State Channel Islands. Institution's logo appears to play on the mental hospital theme, with what looks like a Rorschach ink blot. The photo of the logo below is from an Institution growler, and I see something steam punk on the left, and my face before I get my first IPA on the right:
Institution's beer offerings have increased, but remain primarily ales. It now offers multiple pale ales, IPAs, and stouts. (You can find Institution's current beer list by selecting the link at the top of this post.) Institution's core IPA, named Institution IPA, is a classic West Coast IPA, which means heavy on the hops and light on the malt. The beer is not groundbreaking, but it is done right. The picture below is Institution IPA from the outside seating area. I selected the Simcoe Pale Ale as a growler fill from Institution's Progressive Pale Ale series, which I found out, despite the name, is not a single hop beer. Simcoe Pale Ale was a well made, quality beer that I enjoyed. Like newer pale ales, Simcoe Pale Ale was hop forward and malt diminished, basically an IPA with about a 5% to 6% abv.
The people at Institution were friendly. They kept the long beer line moving, even getting beers and tasters for you while you waited in line. I am glad for Institution's success. Its new location is a huge improvement and a testament to its growth. It beers alone are worth a stop. They are not fancy or pretentious, but taste great. I plan to refill my growler next time I am up in Ventura County.