Fresh suds, solid pub fare at Gilman Brewing’s new Santa Cruz digs

Gilman Brewing opened on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz on Dec. 17.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Owner and head brewer Sean Wells has brought Berkeley-based Gilman Brewing’s ales and lagers to the town he calls home, complemented by grub from Alderwood alum Gavin Braid.

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Gilman Brewing opened on Soquel Avenue in Santa Cruz last week, giving craft beer lovers in Midtown a new spot to enjoy fresh beer on tap and a pub-style menu that includes a burger, wings and Neapolitan-style pizzas. This is the fourth location for the Berkeley-based brewery, which has a flagship on Gilman Avenue and second and third locations in Daly City and Pleasanton, respectively. I asked owner and head brewer Sean Wells what made him want to open in Santa Cruz, and he gave a simple answer: “Because I live here.”

Wells moved to Santa Cruz with his family three years ago, and now splits his time between the Bay Area and his home on the coast. At Gilman, he worked with local craftsmen to transform the old Tony & Alba’s building into a modern taproom with indoor and outdoor seating for more than 150 people. Gilman’s more than 35 regular and seasonal beers will rotate through its 20 taps. Wells says the brewery specializes in French-, Belgian- and farmhouse-style ales and lagers but offers a little bit of everything, including big, hoppy IPAs, refreshing pilsners, sours, dark beers and even hard ciders. Its flagship is The Gilman, a Belgian saison with a lovely floral nose and a bright, biscuity body. The crisp, roasty West Berkeley black lager, the hoppy and refreshing Punxsutawney Phils hazy IPA and the juicy, citrusy Antifreeze double IPA also impressed.

The smash burger at Gilman Brewing.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The Santa Cruz location is the only Gilman spot with its own in-house kitchen. It’s headed by chef Gavin Braid, who previously worked at Santa Cruz’s Alderwood as well as fine dining spots in San Francisco and the Tahoe area. At Gilman, Braid crafted a short but impactful menu, the highlight of which for me was the smash burger with a thin patty, gooey cheese and crunchy lettuce on a soft potato bun. The wood-fired margherita pizza also disappeared rapidly from the table. While the enticing aroma of ginger and Szechuan peppercorns radiating off the chicken wings initially gave us pause, we realized that the spice level was mostly bark and little bite, noticeable only as a pleasant tingling sensation that paired well with the sweet and funky gochujang aioli.

The margherita pizza at Gilman Brewing.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Gilman Brewing is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. at 817 Soquel Ave. in Santa Cruz. Find more info at

From left to right: Sean Wells, Gavin Braid and Adam Colburn of Gilman Brewing.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)