CVIndependent

Sun08092020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

Last year, I dedicated an entire column to information and etiquette for people visiting taprooms. Part of my motivation was selfish—I work at a taproom myself, specifically the Coachella Valley Brewing taproom in Thousand Palms—but I also wanted to help people who have little to no experience in the taproom world, and might feel intimidated by it.

I was not intending to follow it up at the time—but things have changed dramatically since those, dare I say, innocent times of late 2019. I want to give you the perspective of someone who is back behind the bar and happy to see his regulars back—while fully understanding that this pandemic is far from over. This brings some new things to consider when visiting your favorite brewery taproom—if it’s one of the few that remains open—and I hope this perspective can help you should you decide you absolutely have to go out for a pint or two, be it now or a little later when more taprooms can reopen again.

There is nowhere to start other than to state the obvious: Bring and wear a mask. This is required in "common and public space, and outdoors when distancing is not possible," according to the California state mandate. Thankfully, I have not had very many customers who felt put out by being required to wear one to order or while walking around—but we’ve all seen the videos of the Karens out there who insist that wearing a mask is a most serious infringement upon their civil rights, and who feel they are the Rosa Parks of the movement. (Is "movement" even the word for this?)

This also assumes you know how to wear a mask properly: It needs to cover your nose and mouth. I've seen a small minority of people whose facial coverings either droop down or just expose their noses outright. "But it's harder to breathe," said one customer to me when I pointed this out to him. Seriously, people: Suck it up. Thankfully, I have all the power in my situation—you have to go through me to get beer, and you’d better believe I am not backing down. When you are at your table or leave the taproom property, you are free to take the mask off and breathe as freely as you wish. Meanwhile, I deeply appreciate you wearing that mask when ordering or walking around the taproom, for my sake—just as I'm wearing my mask for yours.

As of this writing, bars, taprooms and restaurants have had to close their indoor operations, and bars and taprooms can only be open for outdoor service if there is a "bona fide meal provider" (AKA catering service or food truck). This is easier for some places to accomplish than others, but even when taprooms make an effort, this is the time of year when you just don't want to spend much time outside at all—and this doesn't even take into count the toll alcoholic beverages can have on you when it's that hot outside; you have to drink a lot of water to counterbalance its diuretic effect. I have seen some diehards come and have beer (with food) at the taproom, but I would most certainly not do the same, so I understand why I see more people looking to purchase beer to go. This mandate was needed because some businesses were not enforcing social-distancing and/or mask-wearing, and because an increasing amount of science shows that the coronavirus spreads easier indoors than outdoors. Anyway, to summarize: If there is a meal for each person drinking on the tab, and they cover their faces when appropriate, and they sit outside, they can have beer.

It can often feel like there is nothing but bad news out there, especially if you watch cable news or pay attention to social media, but I am happy to say that this is not the case: I have personally been the beneficiary of the generosity of many people who have stopped in to get something to go or have something onsite—and it has been extremely heart-warming. My mother has said that, when I was very young, I used to get overwhelmed to the point of tears when I would get a certain number of Christmas or birthday presents. Some of that emotion has stuck with me to this day—buried deep inside my calloused soul—and I've felt it well up a number of times during the past few months. There have been fewer customers, fewer fun shifts with my co-workers, and lots of moments of worry—but the vast majority of the patrons have been understanding and magnanimous with their tips. I cannot properly express my gratitude for this, but I'm going to try anyway: Thank you. It has meant a lot to me to so far not have to worry about my financial situation on top of all that there is to worry about, and that would not have been possible if it weren't for you. The brewery I work for feels the same way in that we have been able to keep the doors open despite the madness that has befallen us.

I just want us to be able to get to the other side of the pandemic, where we might be able to enjoy some high-fives and hugs again—without having to think about potentially serious lung damage or death. Which means that I hope you stay safe until then.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

All right, that’s it. I’ve had enough. I have to break free.

No, you’ll still find me wearing a mask when I’m out; I am merely talking about finding things to write about related to the lockdown. I need to talk about something else—while simultaneously looking forward to the future. What better way to do that than talk about where I would love to travel when everything has settled down?

Of course, beer is going to play an important part in deciding which places I choose—and I am accepting no limit to our imaginations. So grab your travel-size toiletries and your most-easily removable shoes, and come with me.

I’ll begin with the country whose beers changed my perception of what beer could be: Belgium. If you haven’t experienced Belgian beer outside of the parody of it called Stella Artois, I almost envy you in a strange way. For centuries, Trappist monks toiled to craft some of the most-refined ales in existence—and to this day, some of them still do. Saint-Sixtus of Westvleteren is an abbey that is widely considered to brew some of the finest beer on the planet. You can go to their visitor center and sample some beer, but most people pre-order it and pick up their limited supply in person. The Westvleteren 12 is their most-lauded ale. The 12 is Westvleteren’s quadrupel ale known as the “Belgian Burgundy,” and I’ve been lucky enough to sample it a handful of times. It is truly a work of art in a glass, and this would be toward the top of my wish list for visiting while there.

Then there is Brussels, where the beer cafés have shockingly good beer selections (both on tap and especially in bottles), with knowledgeable staff—and cuisine made with the beer itself. There’s also one of my favorite breweries on the planet located there: Brasserie Cantillon. Jean Van Roy is the brewer, and he creates some of the finest lambics (spontaneously fermented and often sour ales); they are incredibly difficult to get a hold of.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Podge’s Belgian Beer Tours, founded by a man (dubbed Podge, of course) from the United Kingdom and run currently by his wife, Siobhan McGinn, who is uniquely qualified to lead tours in Belgium.

“My late husband, Podge, and I wrote the definitive book on Belgian lambic beer Lambicland, and we are seen as experts on spontaneously fermented beer,” says McGinn.

There’s still another layer to this onion: “The other popular tours are Beer and Battlefields tours in Flanders, as I have a master’s degree in British First World War studies and my dissertation was on ‘Alcohol, Morale and Discipline in the British Army in Flanders in the First World War.’” As much as I adore lambics, I would have a very difficult time not going on one of the battlefield tours first. There are other tours as well. (“All our tours are individually designed and no two are exactly the same, but most popular is the LambicLand Revisted/Tour de Geuze tour every two years in May to coincide with the Tour de Geuze,” McGinn adds.)

Now that I’ve spent most of my column singing the praises of Belgium, I have the difficult task of listing some more places. At the risk of rankling ancient ire on many sides, I will combine Ireland and the United Kingdom for my next trip. I have long wanted to do a complete tour of the isles centered on beer, and there’s never been a better time. Both countries have been touched by the craft-beer movement, but my love for beer was kindled in part due to the old styles: the Irish dry stouts and reds, the various malty Scottish ales, and the highly drinkable cask ales and rich, aged barley wines of England. As much as possible, I would love to have a true pub experience that just cannot be had here in the States. It is worth mentioning that the newer craft breweries in both nations are making some brilliant beer as well—Porterhouse Brewing in Dublin and Beavertown Brewery in London are two whose quality for which I can vouch—but if I can get at some Samuel Smith on tap, I will be a happy boy.

Of course, there are many areas in North America where one can devote a whole visit to craft beer. San Diego is obvious and close, and has many areas within its county limits where one could devote a single trip. Portland, Ore., is equally obvious and packed with food and beer experiences to delight even the snobbiest of beer lovers. There are also Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Montreal, Tijuana, New York and Boston … and this fails to mention all of the jaunts that can be made to the breweries on the outskirts of major cities that have amazing rewards for those who make the effort.

I can easily go on, but I have reached the point where I am merely torturing myself by thinking of all the possibilities. I’ve described in past columns my two-month stay in Bavaria more than 20 years ago, and I would love another chance to visit and revisit some places not only in Bavaria, but throughout Germany—with a glass of Kölsch in Cologne, some Altbier in Frankfurt, and Rauchbier in Bamberg. One could also explore recent trends in craft beer in Berlin—and more.

Czechia would certainly fit into this picture, and then there are places with burgeoning craft-beer scenes like Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Australia … it’s all too much to type this out without going mad wishing I were there and not in my room.

One day, when I’m reveling in my luck that I reached any of these places, I will look back to this and smile, thinking, “It was all worth the wait.” Until then, I sign off from the safety of my computer desk—and hope to see it all on the other side of this ugly moment in history.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

In these strange times, the last thing you might be pondering is: "How do I get my craft beer, though?"

However, there are options for California craft-beer aficionados. In fact, the pandemic has made it easier than ever to get one’s hands on the best beer across the state—without having to go to a single brewery. A group of friends and I have been enjoying some of these benefits, and my fridge has seen some amazing beers that I didn't get to previously enjoy very often.

Let's begin locally. As far as I know, every brewery in the Coachella Valley is doing to-go orders, and some are offering rotating deals. The best way to find out about these details is social media—as much as I despise Facebook and its ilk, as I think it has made the world a demonstrably worse place. Anyway, the brewery where I work has been offering limited delivery on any order more than $20, for a $5 delivery fee. At least two other breweries in town are doing similar things. I won’t be too specific as this is all subject to change, but all of this information is incredibly easy to look up; it took me about five clicks to verify what breweries are delivering versus offering only pickup, at least as of this writing. Also, use one of those searches to figure out each brewery’s hours. Most places of business are not operating on their usual schedules (as you might imagine), and breweries are no exception. Of course, with bars and taprooms closed, many of these breweries are hurting right now—so if you can swing a purchase or two, now is most definitely the time to support these local businesses.

Expanding our circle of concern out a bit: The Craft Lounge in Beaumont is definitely worth a look; you can order online and pick up your beer at their curb. Recently, the store had a special crowler (sort of like a growler, but not refillable) sale of Bottle Logic Brewing beers. If you're unfamiliar, Bottle Logic's beers are highly sought after (especially their barrel-aged stout releases), and the brewery has had to institute a whole separate pickup system for their bottle releases due to insane lines. Craft Lounge is also selling cans and bottles of some great beers, albeit at pretty steep prices. I will say this, however: Many of those cans and bottles are impossible to find here in the desert, so you pay for the privilege.

That brings us to the state level: Some heralded breweries have quickly pivoted to the shipping game—many of which were not offering beer for shipping previously. I will throw out some names, and apologies to the breweries I've left out: Cellarmaker Brewing (whose beer I've had the joy of getting in on thanks to some of their recent sales; it’s absolutely brilliant all around), Burgeon Beer Company, Kern River Brewing, Beachwood Brewing, Societe Brewing, North Coast Brewing—and the list goes on. That short list covers much of California geographically … and here's the kicker: Much of this shipping-within-the-state stuff is likely to continue once we get back to some semblance of normalcy.

"It is legal to ship beer in California," says Shelby Swensen, tasting room manager at the aforementioned Burgeon Beer Company, in Carlsbad. (If you forced me to say what my favorite brewery is, this would be the answer.) "Due to the constant high demand in the tasting room, as well as our accounts, we didn't allocate any beer for shipping. Now, with the times changing due to COVID-19, we have found that it is beneficial to both parties to ship beer. Now that we have the system in place, we will continue to ship our beer."

In addition to cases of cans, Burgeon is also shipping one-use, recyclable kegs of most of their beers. What a strange and wonderful time for craft beer consumers.

I know what you might be thinking: "This has to be wildly expensive." While the prices of the beers themselves vary, I've found the cost of shopping—which usually takes a week or less—to be incredibly reasonable. After all, shipping companies have a robust network set up for other purposes, though some breweries have been using them in varying degrees for years now. Shelby at Burgeon gave me a little insight regarding what they do.

"Once an order is placed, depending on when you place the order, it will be shipped cold within 24 hours. This allows customers to get our beer fresh."

Be wary of any brewery that does not ensure cold shipment. Heat is the enemy of beer—especially now that it's warming up here in the desert.

Of course, many breweries are in danger if they can't shift to this new paradigm—and some are imperiled regardless. But the fact that some breweries have shifted so quickly—with a few thriving, even—is definitely a light in the current darkness. While we’re still in the midst of this pandemic, we beer-lovers can at least look forward to a world with more access to the beer we love without having to travel for it. That may not be much in the overall scheme of things, but it's something—and I don't know about you, dear reader, but something is definitely good enough for me right now.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

As this Horseman of the Apocalypse continues his world tour, some of us are handling isolation poorly. Well, I'm here with a helpful suggestion if you have some time on your hands and have a little extra money lying around: Make your own beer.

If your first reaction to this suggestion is to scoff, please read on—and see that the prospect of brewing beer at home is not as difficult as you might think.

I’ve been interested in beer for decades and learned how it was made early on in my readings about the subject (Beer for Dummies was really a great introduction), but I didn't feel the urge to brew my own until a little more than a decade ago. At the time, I was doing a podcast on beer with my cousin Josh, and it just seemed silly to not try our hand at brewing. We ordered the basics we needed to do this at Josh's home—a 6-gallon kettle; a glass carboy to hold the wort as it ferments into beer; a stirring spoon; some grain and hop bags; and a bunch of 22-ounce bottles for when it was finished.

At the time, my sister lived in San Clemente; when I would visit, I’d usually stop by O'Shea Beer Co. in neighboring Laguna Niguel to collect beers I couldn't get my hands on here in the desert. The store carries supplies for homebrewers as well as a wide array of recipe kits. This is where I purchased the Hop Mothra IPA partial-mash kit—I will get into the terminology in a bit—which we brewed and made a flawed, but successfully drinkable beer.

I was hooked.

My cousin's schedule was not as flexible as mine, so I wound up going at it alone. As I do with everything I love, I did some heavy research. The first edition of How to Brew by John Palmer (still available for free at www.howtobrew.com) was my go-to resource, and I would highly recommend it (or the not-as-free fourth edition, if you want to throw the man some financial love).

In homebrewing, you can go one of three ways: You can go all in and do all-grain; do partial mash (as I did throughout my time as a homebrewer); or use extract. All-grain brewing is as it sounds: No extracts are involved. This is the most-involved option; it requires some more equipment, but to many “gatekeeping” homebrewers, this is the only real option. For those who don't want to throw their entire lives into the hobby, however, there are the other two options. Extract brewing utilizes only malt extracts, while partial mash uses milled specialty grains (varying by recipe, of course) to enhance the extracts.

From there, I searched online and was happily surprised to find the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club. I reached out via their Yahoo! Group page; the club's founder and then-president, Micah Stark, invited me to a homebrew competition award ceremony being held at the late, lamented Schmidy's Tavern. Micah and another very capable brewer we called Sarge were there; I sampled an American red and an eisbock collaboration between Sarge and Chris Anderson. Both were impressive. I paid the dues and started sitting in with the brewers with whom I was most impressed. It was pretty easy; at the time, there were only eight members, at the most. This allowed me to tighten up my processes—and I'm happy to say that I pumped out some pretty solid beers as a result.

But that's just my story. There are many paths that lead to brewing at home.

Current CVHBC president Josh Kunkle got started when his local homebrew supply shop threw in a free beer kit along with the equipment he’d bought to make cider.

"On a whim, I followed their directions to the letter and was pleasantly surprised with the results,” Kunkle said. “I would later find that the beer was much more diverse and easy to make by comparison (to cider), and so I stuck with that, although I've since dabbled in more of the fermented arts." He also went with a bare-bones partial-mash setup at first.

The aforementioned Chris Anderson—a former president of the CVHBC, the founding brewer of the Coachella Valley Brewing Company, and an all-around encyclopedia of beer knowledge—found himself intrigued after reading his friend's copy of homebrewing icon Charlie Papazian's The Complete Joy of Homebrewing.

"A local homebrew shop sold homebrewing supplies and never cared that I was underage,” Anderson said. “After all, they weren’t selling alcohol, but rather barley, hops and yeast. I started with a carboy, a bottle bucket and a stainless-steel pot. I won a slew of medals with this simple setup. I had the opportunity to get a three-tiered 15-gallon keggle (a keg repurposed as a brew kettle) system a few years later." From there, he was off to the races, with stints in his home state at Midnight Sun Brewing and Alaskan Brewing, before bringing his expertise to the Coachella Valley.

I'm happy to say that the club still exists today; I'd heartily recommend it and/or the Mojave Desert Brewers Guild even if you haven't brewed a single batch yet.

As for your starting setup: The most convenient options are going to be found online. Kunkle recently guest-authored a post on Andrew Smith's Coachella Valley Beer Scene site discussing more of what you can do to get started. While the physical location is closed at the moment, MoreBeer Riverside is a fine homebrew shop that has helped me and many others out of a pinch when our yeast was dead or something broke just before we were attempting a brew. Fortunately, MoreBeer has an online store that should suit your needs. Northern Brewer and Austin Homebrew Supply are other fine online alternatives.

Anderson recommends simple starting equipment: "I suggest reading up on the basics and starting with a (BIAB) brew-in-a-bag setup. More Beer Riverside has all that is needed,” he said. “It’s not very expensive to buy a pot with a thermometer and valve. I always encourage folks to go straight to kegging, which will add a couple hundred bucks. It is just so much easier than bottling.

“There has never been a better time to learn to homebrew since we are all stuck at home with time on our hands. The technology and ingredient availability is pretty incredible. Mostly anything can be mail-ordered."

The one thing I will add to all of this is to be open to constructive criticism. Never expect to be endlessly lauded for your homebrewed beer and have your mistakes covered up for you. Find out why whatever went wrong with your beer happened so that it will never happen again. Yes, this is a hobby, but one whose labors result in beverages for you and your friends—and friends don't let friends drink bad beer, even if it was made at home.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

I have avoided them successfully for so long, but they have found a way into my home. Now I must brace myself, confront them—and hope for the best.

No, I am not talking about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am talking about the trend known as hard seltzer.

Last year, we saw the apotheosis of these low/no-carb alcoholic beverages marketed toward people with an “active lifestyle,” which—and I must apologize for this beforehand—I always took as meaning “upper middle-class yuppies.” The brewery for which I work gave in and made one, so I felt like the time was right for me to delve into subject. But before we do so, we need to take a look at what these drinks actually are.

First: They are not seltzers. “Seltzer” is a term I heard on the East Coast (or from one of its transplants) as a term for carbonated water, aka club soda. My great-grandmother (RIP Bubbe Celia!) in the Bronx used to have a bottle of it in her fridge that she would flavor with grenadine for the little ones. But I digress. Most of these hard seltzers are variants of beverages made with grains—often gluten-free ones like millet—which can be flavored and sweetened, then fermented to create something around 5 percent alcohol by volume that you would swear is almost healthy if you believed much of the advertising. Cheaper versions are often made using corn sugar and/or rice, and one line of seltzers made by Crook and Marker boasts of including “organic alcohol derived from ancient grains and tropical roots.” Never before have I felt like shotgunning a can and summarily burping out the word namaste.

Second: These drinks are not really new. Zima existed in the mid-’90s. It was made by Coors and aggressively marketed toward women—which was ultimately its downfall. (It finally stopped getting made in 2008, believe it or not, before having a brief comeback in 2017-2018.) Zima became ubiquitous virtually overnight, and you felt as though you had to try it. Unlike hard seltzers now, they weren’t flavored outside of the strange, malty taste that was the result of the process of making them. I wish I had more of a description, but they were wholly unremarkable to drink. After all, why would they have bombarded the public with marketing if the taste could sell you on its own? That marketing mostly consisted of replacing the “s” in words with a “z.” If they had bullshitted us at the right moment in time, to everyone, like they’re doing with seltzers now, that reality might have been totally unrecognizable from our current one.

While many people may have first noticed these drinks in the beverage aisles of their local liquor or grocery stores, I was forced to take notice due to the viral videos of (let’s just call them) intellectuals with pistols point-blank shooting off the top of their cans of White Claw or Truly seltzer and chugging the remains. An internet denizen who goes by the name of Worst Beer Blog documented this in a thread showcasing these videos that you can see here. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for people who strive to create a whole new category for the prestigious Darwin Awards, but this meme got out of hand really quickly. (See what I did there?) Comedian Trevor Wallace seemingly launched his career by creating a series of videos depicting himself as man who magically morphs into a douchebag after just one hard-seltzer sip, proclaiming things like, “Ain’t no laws when you’re drinking Claws!” and, “It’s basically just a vegan Four Loko.”

By the way, Four Loko has a Seltzer Sour line that weighs in at a classy 14 percent ABV, just in case you thought they wouldn’t get in on this act.

My absolute favorite thing that has emerged from this has been the series of commercials for Bud Light Seltzer in which the spokesman makes certain, almost pleading, that it contains no actual Bud Light. I am sure the marketing ploy used here was intended to be ironic, but it comes across as an acknowledgement by its makers that Bud Light tastes terrible. So … why did they use Bud Light in the name? Did they want to have their cake (positive brand recognition) and eat it, too? I’d like to suggest an alternative angle for them, free of charge: “A forgettable beverage that you’ll probably regret buying, but is DEFINITELY NOT like another beverage we make with the same name. Now in blue raspberry flavor!”

You may have realized by now that I chose this topic mostly so I can cram in as many jokes as possible. And you would be absolutely correct. But I also want to convey my frustrations with the beverage itself: At their best, they are OK, but even then, the finish bores me and leaves little to no impression on my palate or my mind. At the taproom, we have a coconut-lime seltzer, and it’s well-made. The first thing I thought upon trying some was, “This would have made a great beer.”

But I get it … you might not find beer palatable, or you may have some physical ailment that prevents you from enjoying anything with gluten. Might I do something that my Independent wine counterpart, Katie Finn, would almost certainly approve of, and suggest a dry wine? There’s no gluten; they’re lower in calories than most beers; and they’re definitely miles above any seltzer you will ever encounter when it comes to flavor.

You are worth it. Unless you shoot the top of a wine bottle off and chug it. Then you aren’t at all worth it, and you deserve what you get.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

This month, I want to take a look at what has been officially dubbed the "New England IPA," but is otherwise known as the hazy IPA.

If you are a craft-beer nerd, you may be thinking, "Aren't you, like, years late to this party?" While I don't get many questions about hazy IPAs at my taproom, I know people are still learning about them—and I also know there’s a small universe of things still being learned, either about these beers or about the ingredients used in making these beers.

What I'm trying to say in a roundabout fashion is this: Whether you're new to this topic or the haziest of "haze bros," read on—because there may very well be something you can discover about this young style of IPA.

Let's start with the facts (as far as I can ascertain them), shall we? The Alchemist, a brewery with a very cool name in the town of Stowe, Vt., opened in 2003 and brewed a somewhat murky double IPA called Heady Topper as an occasional release. Founder and head brewer John Kimmich chose to emphasize, rather than considerable bitterness, the flavor and aroma aspects that hops add. The huge additions of hops—along with an English yeast strain that produces fruity esters and doesn't "finish out" (a brewing term meaning that the sugars are not as fully converted into alcohol) like a typical West Coast IPA yeast strain—left the beer a little sweeter. All of that, along with the massive amount of proteins and polyphenols from the malts and hops used, created the haze that has become the de facto name of the style. The resulting beer had an impression of juiciness: It was citrusy and tropical, yet not cloying in its sweetness.

Somewhere along the way, this style of IPA caught on in the northeastern U.S., and then spread westward; a craze resulted. I can't say for sure when it reached our coast, but I tried my first Heady Topper in 2011, and I didn't start seeing breweries in Southern California making the style for a few more years after. Instead, West Coast IPAs reigned supreme here, with breweries like Stone at the forefront, making 100-plus IBU hop bombs. Much like the excesses in music in the late ’80s and early ’90s led to grunge music, people who were fed up with the bitterness arms race among brewers—people who formerly couldn't stand IPAs—could now begin to enjoy the myriad beguiling flavors that hops provided.

When the trend first made it here, all of the varieties I tried seemed quite similar to each other in flavor; they were very citrusy and juicy. As with any industry's trend, many people then stepped into the hazy arena, resulting in all kinds of tomfoolery—from hazing up regular IPAs with various ploys such as the use of flour and apple sauce (I know of a case of this firsthand, and the results were wretched), to creations of just-plain-terrible beer that happened to be anything from lightly hazy to near-muddy or even "green," with the flavor of hop matter not yet having settled out of the beer.

Some breweries even responded by completely changing up what they brewed. When they did, lines would spring up at their doors on the beer's release date. I've heard stories of surrogates hired to wait in line, sometimes early in the morning, to get whatever hazy liquid was being sold. Monkish Brewing in Torrance is a prime example of this phenomenon: The brewery went from Belgian styles almost exclusively to being the coolest kid on the block when they switched their emphasis to N.E. IPAs and "pastry stouts." Please don't mistake my reference to Monkish as a slight: They do what they do well, and their success is well-deserved. (They also make other styles that they put on in their taproom, including a great Belgian-style tripel with hibiscus called the Feminist that they’ve brewed from the beginning.)

I have since come to enjoy these IPAs, as they have evolved a bit since their early days. Hops strains have played a role in this. There are too many hop strains to keep up with; there are strains that give off flavors of virtually any fruit you can imagine—and the same goes with various herbs. Sabro hops are particularly interesting, as they can give off flavors and aromas of pineapple and coconut. I had a hazy IPA from Brouwerij West out of San Pedro using the hop, and I'll be damned if it didn't taste like a piña colada beer—without a single fruit addition!

There’s also been a welcome upshot of this style's rise to prominence: a lowering of bitterness in regular old West Coast IPAs, allowing consumers' palates to survive more than one IPA in a sitting without fatiguing to the point of confusion.

A pseudo side effect has been an increased interest in research conducted on hop oils, and the hottest of industry terms at the moment: biotransformation. These subjects are far too dense to get into here (and largely above my current pay grade), but to paraphrase Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are more things in IPAs than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Thomas Shellhammer and his group of researchers at Oregon State University are leading the way on this front, and you'd better believe the Germans are looking deeply into the matter at the Hop Research Center in Bavaria.

If any of this is interesting to you, stay tuned in the upcoming decade. When I said there was a small universe of things contained within hops, their growth and their use in beer, I probably wildly understated things.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of the local craft-beer scene is … puzzling.

I've racked my brain for ways that I can approach this topic, and I’ve decided to just write what comes to mind. I wonder if it will get me in as much trouble as last year's version of this column did. (Caring if it gets me in trouble, however, is something I cannot bring myself to do.) I've done something unusual for me and made a resolution for the new year: I’m trying a more Buddhist approach, to not let what could or should be happening (in my opinion, of course) cause me to suffer over what actually is happening. I don’t want my hopes for the craft-beer scene to overshadow what good exists here.

With that ominous foreword, let's get this show on the road.

There have been some positive changes over the last year. Before I began writing this, Will Sperling at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club announced a barrel-aged beer festival, also featuring ciders and meads, coming in March. Some of the participants should include De Garde, Mumford, Bottle Logic, Bagby Beer Company and Superstition Meadery (which makes world-class meads like the Peanut Butter Jelly Crime, which is life-altering in its deliciousness). This is, by far, the best news for the valley's beer scene, as we were deprived of the Rhythm, Wine and Brews festival last year (for a laughable reason). However, the RWB, Props and Hops, and Brew in LQ festivals are really just get-togethers that also include some craft beer, if I'm being honest.

This past year has seen an influx of some great breweries' beers ending up in stores and on tap in select places. I've noticed expanded lists of beer—like some of Bottle Logic's barrel-aged releases—at places like Whole Foods, which stocks all of the beer cold. I cannot stress how important that last point is. I just wish the Tap-In Taproom inside the Whole Foods would get beer on draft that’s half as good as what's on the shelves.

(Remember, Brett: Concentrate on what is and not what should be.)

In other news, there was a somewhat comical game of musical chairs in the local brewery world. This is the spot where I should note that I work for one of the local breweries, and I don't like to mention names when discussing them in this column due to a possible appearance of bias. I feel like I'm just as hard—if not harder—on my own brewery than the others, but I'd rather just avoid the whole issue. That being said, strap in for this roller coaster: A long-time head brewer went over to another local brewery. The former brewery then promoted someone with minimal experience to the position of head brewer, and then proceeded to hire a head brewer from a different local brewery to be the assistant brewer. I wish I were making this up as some sort of Twilight Zone episode for my own amusement, but I am not. I hope it somehow leads to better beer from all the parties involved (and it tentatively seems to have done so for one of the parties). Stay tuned and decide for yourself; you'll just have to forgive my skepticism in this regard.

A series of beer dinners happened courtesy of the Juniper Table at the Kimpton Rowan in Palm Springs. I helped with one over the summer, and the food was fantastic. However, they made the common mistake of just picking some beers they liked and somewhat blindly pairing them with these amazing dishes. Overall, it turned out fine, but as far as beer-pairings go, it was less than ideal. This is a point I wish I could get to every chef who wants to put on a beer dinner: There is more to pairing beer with food than picking a beer, using it in the dish, and then pairing said beer with that course. I've been to events where the beer and the food was really well-paired, and it's a magical experience for which every chef and beer-lover should strive. The best part is that there are so many right answers to the question of what to pair with any given dish; the only limits are beer availability and one’s imagination. The desert really has some amazing restaurants of all stripes, and I would love to see a proper beer dinner in the near future. In fact, if I have my way, there may be one soon enough.

My last compliment and criticism is aimed at Eureka! Burger in Indian Wells. Last year, they changed some of the (in my opinion, far too many) "permanent" taps, and it resulted in the appearance of some beauties such as Modern Times' Black House coffee stout, Beachwood's Citraholic IPA, and Melvin's 2x4 double IPA. They then proceeded to put the permanent beers they replaced on their rotating taps and sell them on their "Steal the Glass" nights for months afterward.

As I've stated before, Eureka! is a place I frequent; I love the staff, the food, the whiskey, the cocktails and sometimes the beer that is on tap. However, I don't think they prioritize craft beer very highly (and I'm fairly certain it's not their leading moneymaker), and I don't think the people making the decisions on which beers to purchase know much about the subject. Despite all of this, it is still a place I recommend, and I hope they will eventually "get it." We now have considerable resources for bars here to have a killer craft lineup. The Amigo Room at the aforementioned Ace Hotel is leading the way in this respect.

I still have hope for our beer scene. It has grown a bit in the past year, including the opening of two small breweries, Desert Beer Company and Las Palmas Brewing. I have also seen some plans for another, larger brewery that I hope will happen sooner rather than later—but that is all I can say about that here. I bring it up only to say there is more change on the horizon, and I want to help build our craft-beer scene into something special and worthy of being in the shadow of the neighboring giants in Southern California. Higher standards, hard work, some imagination, some time and a bit of luck, perhaps, is all we need to get there.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

My regular readers (yes, some people tell me they are regular readers, without any prompting on my part—and yes, one of them is my mother; hi, Mom!) know I try to shy away from clichés in my column.

However, this month, I’m feeling the Christmas spirit, and I want to help those who are not as deep into craft beer find legitimately great gifts for the zythophile in their lives … so it’s time for a cliché: The Holiday Gift List.

I will limit this list to things I have experienced, either by myself or through friends, so I don’t lead anyone too far astray:

The Cap Zappa Beer Cap Launcher: I first saw this being used on a YouTube channel and immediately knew I needed to have one. It was surprisingly hard to track down a couple of years ago when I got mine, but now you can find many different kinds of fun, cap-shooting openers. My friend’s wife gave me a pistol-shaped version, which is now being employed at my taproom. They are simple but they bring a disproportionate amount of joy for the money.

Growlerwerks Carbonated Growlers: A growler, for the uninitiated, is a to-go container for beer on tap. I have a love/hate relationship with growlers—and by “love/hate,” I primarily mean “hate.” They’re not a great medium for beer—but they are a great way for a brewery taproom to make money. Even assuming the growlers are properly cleaned and carbon-dioxide-purged before being filled with beer, that beer really should be consumed the same day you open the growler. What if you just wanted a pint? Well, Growlerwerks provides the solution with the use of a replaceable carbon dioxide cartridge housed under the cap, with a dial above it to regulate the pressure. The upshot of all this: You’ll have a 64- or 128-ounce miniature keg sitting in your fridge with a spigot at the bottom. Plus, they look really sharp. I’ve never not seen one start a conversation at the taproom when they are brought in to be filled. For about $150-$200, you can seriously impress the beer-lover in your life.

The Rare Beer Club: I wish I could say that my experience with this club comes through my own subscription, but alas, this is a little too expensive for my budget. A friend of mine has a wife who was loving enough to get this for him, and I’ve benefited from rummaging through the built-up collection of bottles from the club. My verdict? It’s fantastic. Some of the beers are true rarities that I will probably never get my hands on again—some because they are incredibly hard to acquire, and others because they were one-offs, never to be brewed again. Like the Biere De Goord from Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales; it’s a saison-style ale with kale, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, green tea and peppercorns. Does that sound weird? Yes. Did it taste good? Hell yes—and I’ve never had another beer like it. The best part is that, if you loved one of the beers you were sent that month (and that’s two, four or six bottles of each, depending on the subscription level) and absolutely need more, you can buy more. This is just the tip of the iceberg for customization, too. You can replace upcoming beers with ones you loved in the past, if available, or add more of any beer to the next shipment. As I write this, I’m pondering what I need to cut out of my life financially in order to accommodate one of these memberships. Beer is technically food, right?

Brewery memberships: Some breweries offer yearly memberships that include discounts, exclusives and beer allocations. The terms obviously vary from brewery to brewery, but the gist is that you sign up; pay the requisite fee; and reap the benefits. There are breweries that offer little more than special glassware for you to use while at the taproom, plus a discount. Others offer first cracks at the latest beer releases, discounts, member parties and more. The Bruery in Orange County is the first brewery I can remember doing this, more than a decade ago, and now that brewery offers many tiers of membership that can be paid for in myriad ways. The Bruery went through a lot of growing pains while ironing out flaws in the membership models—and other breweries have learned by example when it comes to making their clubs.

But let me repeat myself: Not all brewery memberships are created equal. I’ve even seen breweries sell memberships to people before opening their doors. This is as pure of an example of caveat emptor as you are going to find, and I wish you luck and success if you decide to do this. My recommendation is to partake in the clubs of established breweries; if possible, speak with current members of the club to gauge worthiness.

Now feel free to cut and paste this list into your letter to Santa … and let’s hope he brings me that Rare Beer Club membership rather than the coal I probably deserve.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

I know precious little about beer. Aside from some pedestrian lingo about lagers and IPAs and plebeian fermentation knowledge, I’m pretty clueless—and as someone who is an “expert” about wine, this is a sad and shameful fact.

The truth is, when I was a kid, everyone around me drank Budweiser or Kokanee out of a can. When I got into college, Sam Adams was the height of beer-drinking sophistication; wanting to be a “cool kid,” I did my best to choke it down. But I just didn’t understand what all the fuss was about: It was bitter and ashy and gave me cottonmouth—not exactly what I wanted in a nice, cold beverage.

As time went on, and the craft-beer scene started to explode, I continued my efforts to drink “serious” beer and really did my damnedest to “get it” … but the more time passed, the worse the beer got. I really couldn’t figure out why beer stopped being refreshing and drinkable—as if brewers were in some kind of arms race to see who could create the most-bitter, hoppiest, most-marijuana-tasting brew in the land. Or as the kids today say, “that beer is dank.” Nowadays, “dank” means good. If you’re like me, and use terms like “nowadays” and refer to the next generation as “kids,” you might have thought that “dank” referred to a stinky, moldy cave. Nope. Apparently we’re hoping our beer is dank.

So here I am, a sommelier in Southern California, where I find myself surrounded by friends who are immersed in—and very prominent figures in—the SoCal beer culture. I no longer want to be a beer dummy. To this end, Brett Newton—the desert’s pre-eminent cicerone and the beer-writer extraordinaire for this newspaper—agreed to a little education exchange: I would select some wines for him to taste, and he’d describe how he felt about them; in return, he would choose a few beers for me to sip, and I’d offer my two cents.

Here’s how it went: We convened on a Sunday at a friend’s house—with wine and beer and plenty of greasy, alcohol-absorbing foods in tow.

The first beer I tasted is one of Brett’s personal favorites when he wants something easy-drinking and quaffable (although I’m pretty sure he’s never used the word “quaffable”; he’s too manly for that): the Allagash White Belgian-style wheat beer. As soon as I stuck my nose in the glass, I loved the aromas of coriander seeds, dried orange peel and cloves. There was this underlying scent of ripe bananas, a little pine resin, and licorice—and I loved the higher amount of carbonation. It’s a beer that’s savory and spicy, and it made my taste buds tingle, which is always fun. But after a few sips, I could sense my mouth was beginning to dry out. Oh god, it’s happening. Here comes the cottonmouth, and I’m only on beer one. I started wondering if anyone would notice if I went and got a Modelo out of the fridge.

We tasted the Effective Dreams by Modern Times next. This beer is double-dry-hopped, which terrified me. I could only assume that “double-dry-hopped” means “skunky weed in a glass.” Before I smelled it, I had visions of this beer reminding me of a bad high school party, and assumed it would taste like the day after. At first, all I could smell was sweaty armpits. Seriously, the beer was really stinky. But much to my surprise … I liked it. I liked it in the same way I like South African wine that smells like mangy animals and Band-Aids. I liked that it had layers of fresh and bright citrus fruit that reminded me of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Once I got past the initial sweet-sweat stench, there were loads of flavors of pineapple and mango—and much to my pleasure, it was thirst-quenching and even a little juicy. It didn’t strip my palate with its double dry hops at all. My name is Katie, and I like double-dry-hopped beer! Who knew?

Next up was the Rodenbach “Alexander” sour from Flanders. To my knowledge, I’ve never had a Flemish beer—but at the recent Craft Beer Weekend at the Ace Hotel, I did experience a few sours, and I really loved them. As an acid hound with wine, I find the tart, vibrant flavors of sour beers to be right up my alley. This particular beer is a red ale fermented with macerated cherries and aged in oak foudres (read: really big barrels)—and it’s quite possibly the most perfect beer for a wine-lover. Right away, I noticed the carbonation was light, and the bubbles were fine, like those in a Champagne, due to the process of bottle conditioning: The bubbles are created from trapped carbon dioxide, just like they are in a bottle of your favorite high-end sparkling wine. I noticed pronounced aromas of bitter coffee and dark chocolate, and a touch of burnt milk. I’ve noticed that the initial aromas I get from these beers are a little … vomitous. I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way (if it’s possible to not be pejorative while using the word “vomitous”). I’ve just realized that there is an introductory component on the nose of some of these beers that I need to get past before I can begin to appreciate the secondary flavors and aromas. At one point, Brett was describing the making of this beer as “gooey” and “stringy,” so I guess that solidifies my point.

We moved on to a beer that I was incredibly excited about: The Bruery Terreux Bourgogne Noir 2017 is hardly a beer at all! This is what they call an American wild ale, fermented with pinot noir grape must (juice) and aged in French oak puncheons. Intentionally, there is zero carbonation, which not only makes it look like a full-fledged pinot noir; to my delight, it makes it smell like one, too. On the palate, it offered up more beer flavors, but the overall wine components took over, with cola and Bing cherries dominating. I tasted the telltale bitter-coffee component that I associate with ales, but it was neither dominating nor overpowering. This definitely wasn’t wine, but I would be hard-pressed to call it a beer, either. It was the most unusual and thought-provoking beverage I’ve had in a long time.

Lastly, we tasted what I can only assume is the pinnacle of beer hedonism: a 2017 imperial stout called Black Tuesday from The Bruery. This bottle of brew comes in at a whopping 19.5 percent alcohol by volume. For a girl who relishes wine that comes in less than 13 percent ABV, this might as well be a glass of gasoline. Aged in bourbon barrels for 10 months, this beer resembles an oloroso sherry with its thick, burnt-caramel smell. There is a honey and hot-tar sensation on the palate, followed by a ton of Hershey’s milk chocolate. Honestly, I couldn’t tell if I liked it … there is definitely a dessert wine quality to it. I couldn’t drink a whole glass of Black Tuesday, but much to my surprise, a few sips are unexpectedly pleasant. I don’t care for the heat from the high alcohol that resonates out of the glass, but the flavors are harmonious, layered and balanced.

All in all, I have to give kudos to Brett, who curated a selection of beers that were perfect for a sommelier. I realized after this tasting that I had been painting some beers with a broad brush: I assumed that all IPAs and craft beers were plagued with a cannabis, pine-resin, skunky taste—just like people assume all chardonnay is oaky, buttery and laden with cloying caramel. The education I received from Brett was priceless, and I don’t feel like such a beer dummy anymore. Thank you, Brett, for tolerating my absurd descriptions and patiently answering all my questions.

I highly suggest you make your way to Coachella Valley Brewing and have a few pints with Brett. You might get drunk—but you’ll definitely learn something.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came

In 2008, I was in the midst of a major life transition. I was a musician who had retreated from the wasteland that was the Los Angeles music scene a year previous, and was I wondering what my next move would be. Beer had always been a love of mine, so I found myself alongside my cousin Josh, attempting to brew it at home.

Our first beer was an IPA, and while it turned out drinkable, it wasn't great. I needed help, and deep within the recesses of Yahoo! Groups, I found the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club. I contacted the club's founder and was invited to a bar in Palm Desert for the award ceremony of a local homebrew competition run by the bar's proprietor.

That proprietor's name is Brent Schmidman, and his bar was Schmidy's Tavern.

Schmidy (this is, after all, how we refer to the man) hails from Nebraska, and in his words, he was fortunate enough to spend a little time as a Marine stationed in San Diego at Camp Pendleton when not in Asia. It was then he fell in love with Southern California.

"I loved the weather, and coming from the Midwest, this was perfect year-round," he said.

He found himself starting a maintenance business in Orange County, where the stress of the job eventually got to him—so he sold it and moved to the Coachella Valley. Why the desert? "I had been coming out here so I could get back down to earth … being from the Midwest and not used to Orange County craziness."

He decided to take some previous experience with the hospitality and beverage industries into a sales position with a local drinks distributor, where he developed a love for "microbrew." After eight successful years with the distribution company, Schmidy was ready to move on.

"I decided I would open a place that would focus on the locals, and because of my passion, craft beer had to be a part of that," he said.

He emphasized his desire to concentrate on the year-round desert residents. "The premise was to focus on locals. Of course, tourists were welcome, too, but really, (it was) for the community to have a place to go—kind of like a modern-day Cheers," he explained. After some searching, he found a location in Palm Desert that would be the home of Schmidy's Tavern, beginning in 2008.

Then in 2010 came Jonas Wilby, the Stone Brewing Company bartender-turned-local representative for Stone Distributing Company.

"They presented an offer to me to move out there and launch Stone Distributing,” Wilby said. “I would be the everyday distribution rep and work alongside all the customers in all facets: stores, chains, restaurants and bars."

He quickly paid a visit to Stone's only IPA tap handle in the valley—at Schmidy's Tavern—only to find it wasn't on tap anymore. "I was like, ‘God dang! We lost this handle!’" Jonas said. "I eventually got a chance to sit down (with Schmidman) and … we talked about the different brands in our portfolio, about cold storage and cold delivery. And we could guarantee to have super-fresh inventory." This, combined with the amount of driving this would save Schmidman, led to an important partnership.

Shortly thereafter, Schmidy had an idea: "I said to Jonas, 'I want to build the craft-beer scene, and I want you to help me. … I'm going to pay for the beers, and we will give free samples. I just want to educate people.' We started it once a week. The first weeks we did it, we couldn't give it away!"

Added Wilby: “There were people sitting at the bar, drinking a Bud Light, saying, 'No, I'm good. I don't want to try that,' like I was trying to poison them.”

But with persistence, Beer School, as Schmidy dubbed it, started to gain momentum and eventually boomed. The last Wednesday of every month, for $20, you'd get four-ounce pours of four beers, alongside four courses of food—and at the end, a specially made cask that Schmidy acquired for the occasion would be tapped, and everyone would get a pour. Soon enough, Schmidy's had to turn people away.

Before founding Coachella Valley Brewing Co. in 2013, Chris Anderson used his culinary background to help Schmidy with the dinner menus.

"(Schmidman) and I really had an ability to create some unique, innovative and often incredibly well-thought-out beer and food pairings together. They were often beers and foods that you probably wouldn't see normally in the valley," Anderson said.

Said Schmidman: "We got real creative about it and thought outside the box and did crazy stuff. That was what it was about: to create an experience with beer that would be memorable. Then people realize beer is not just something you guzzle down while you're mowing the lawn."

Beer School became a "tent pole" event, even bringing in industry people to help out on occasion. 

"Because we had a set time, and it was an event,” Wilby said, “I was able to go out when I was talking to other accounts, even if it was a new account, and I'd be like, 'Hey, you gotta come out to Beer School to see what the desert beer scene is really like.'"

A group of beer-lovers were working at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club at the time, including chef Jennifer Town, who would later be the guest chef at multiple Beer Schools.

In 2013, Schmidman sold the tavern, and Beer School eventually fizzled out. Schmidy’s Tavern itself closed in 2016, after the landlord significantly raised the rent on the space.

"I don’t think you will find another person as passionate, driven and hungry as … Brent,” Anderson said. “He put in the time and effort to make that place a beer destination. He knew that it was going to be a big effort, and it worked. I often would see him in the morning, and he would still be there in the office working well into the night.”

There has not been a local craft-beer bar like Schmidy's Tavern since.

"What was in my head throughout this whole time was spreading the love for craft beer and spreading the culture, one beer at a time," Schmidy said. "I'm proud of what we did … I don't know if it would be the same now or not."

I'd like to raise a toast to Schmidy's Tavern. Here's to hoping we get something as good back here in the desert soon.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

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