CVIndependent

Wed06032020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

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

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

The year is 1994. Nelson Mandela has been elected president of South Africa; Amazon.com is founded by Jeff Bezos; the Chunnel between France and the United Kingdom is newly opened; famed athlete and actor O.J. Simpson is in a white Ford Bronco going somewhere with his friend Al Cowlings; I am a junior at Palm Desert High School, just getting into craft beer.

OK, it wasn’t yet “craft beer”; it was called “microbrew” back then, and it was beginning to gain traction with the public thanks to breweries like Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada.

Enter Erik Neiderman. He decided to be way ahead of his time, and opened the Palm Springs Brewing Company in downtown Palm Springs.

To put this in some context, San Diego’s craft-beer scene was just getting under way. Today, there are more than 150 breweries in San Diego County … and three here in the desert. That fits my definition of “ahead of the curve.”

However, as I began looking into the brewery, I became troubled by the utter lack of information about it. Sure, I got returns for the current Palm Springs Brewing Company beers at Revel Public House (this incarnation isn’t brewing beer—yet; Mason Ale Works is contracted to make the brews at the moment), but the only thing on the first PSBC I could find was an interview with Erik Neiderman’s father, Andrew, by Palm Springs Life magazine. Andrew Neiderman is the author of many books including The Devil’s Advocate (yes, the story that was made into a movie where Al Pacino became a full caricature of himself; he hasn’t looked back since). The article mentions the brewery briefly, but there was nothing of substance.

This meant I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I asked my friend Joshua Kunkle, librarian and president of the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club, where I should go next. I had an eerie feeling I might have to sort through microfiche (Google THAT, kids!), but Josh found a breadcrumb thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine: It was Palm Springs Brewing Company’s website from the 1990s, shown here. (It’s so beautifully ’90s that it made me nostalgic for the old modem dial-up sounds.) It was a good start, but I needed to keep digging.

I eventually tracked down Erik Neiderman through the website of the company for which he now works. Thankfully, he was less creeped out and more impressed. (Does this make me an investigative beer journalist? Can I travel around the world and just do this now? Maybe I can get a TV show. And a badge. I definitely want a badge.)

Erik Neiderman was kind enough to answer some of my questions via email.

How did you get started with brewing?

I was in the restaurant business for a few years. I had been vacationing in San Diego, where one of the first brewpubs, Brewski’s, opened. I wasn’t much for beer in those days. A friend suggested I try this new microbeer. After that, I wanted to open my own place.

What was your training?

I was trained by a handful of brewers. I didn’t attend a trade school or university for brewing sciences. Back then, I think only UC Davis had a program. After my first few months of training, I hired a brewer to work with me when I opened the original restaurant/brewery. That was actually called BrewMeisters.

What were the beers/breweries in what used to be known as “microbrewing” that you enjoyed?

We primarily brewed English-style ales. From a business perspective lager- or pilsner-style beers didn’t seem practical, although later on we did brew a few varieties. My favorites where old English style; (I’m) not sure if they would be considered “microbrewing.” … Going to the Great American Beer Festival back in the early days was such a treat. We would meet home-brewers trying to make a go of it. I tasted some amazing beers back in those days.

When did the brewery open, and when did it ultimately close?

(We were) open in 1994, closed the restaurant in 1996 (sold it, actually), and continued to brew offsite and bottle and keg until 2001. We had built a 500-barrel production plant off of Gene Autry Trail.

What were some of your favorite/proudest moments there?

The people. Everyone was new to the idea, and everyone contributed to making something of it. It wasn’t easy, since most people had been a fan of Bud or Coors. When we sold our first keg off-site, I think I was most proud of what we did: Someone else wanted to tap and serve our beer at their establishment.

Your favorite beers you brewed there?

Porter and stout. I liked beers with flavor.

Do you still enjoy craft beer? If so, whose beers are you a fan of? It’s an amazing world compared to the late ’90s, especially here in So Cal.

Honestly, I’m a wine guy. I do enjoy my beer from time to time. I just came back from Germany a few weeks ago. Had some great brews there. Once in a while, I will buy a few just to reminisce.

Why did the brewery close down?

We sold the restaurant off in 1996 to focus on off-site production. We built the 500-barrel production plant with the first in-line pasteurizer, for shelf-stable microbrew. We turned the production plant into a home for the little guys as well. We dedicated 150 barrels of fermentation to “Mom and Pop” shops that couldn’t afford a bottling line and allowed them to come in to brew and finish the beer. We would then bottle it for them. That is how we made money besides selling our own products around the desert.

In 2001, I was approached by a company that made soda. We started to produce soda for them on the side. This led to more soda, and eventually they brought me a product to produce that was called Energy in a bright-green package. We made a deal to build a larger plant in Indio just for their products. That took us out of the beer business; I handed most of my products and clients to a friend in the high desert. He still operates today: Indian Wells Brewing Company, (run by) Rick Lovett. Oh, and that “Energy” drink in the bright green package ... they changed the name from “Energy” to “Monster.”


A special thanks to Erik for his help in satisfying my curiosity. He left me with one last thought: “I hope that helps you out. Fun thinking about the old times. One of my partners in the business passed away a few years ago, and his sister sent me a news article from the brewery. Good times. I hope your experience with brewing is among the best times of your life. It was for me.”

With that, I raise a toast in honor of the original Palm Springs Brewing Company.


You may have noticed I’ve changed my sobriquet (there’s a $10 word for you) for the column to Caesar Cervisia—Latin for “beer emperor.” This was done at the behest of a certain organization that wanted me to either use my full title (Certified Cicerone™) or something else entirely. The name I chose (thank you, Joaquin, for the suggestion!) seemed appropriate for two reasons: First, it’s been almost a full year since I started writing this column, following in the footsteps of The Beer Goddess, Erin Peters. But alas, I am no immortal, so I settled for “emperor.” Second, the name I was forced to change was derived from Latin, so it seemed poetic to use it myself.

Salutaria!

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

Beer culture stretches back more than 4,000 years—and for much of that time, beer was primarily made by amateurs.

The more things change, the more things stay the same: Homebrewing today is on a meteoric rise in the United States.

Since 1978, the American Homebrewers Association (www.homebrewersassociation.org) has promoted the joys of homebrewing. The organization now has more than 43,000 members. An American Homebrewers Association survey done in the earlier part of 2014 estimated that there were at least 1.3 million homebrewers in the U.S. The hobby has been growing at a rate of 20 percent per year in the last five years—oh, and a lot more women are joining in, too.

I recently spoke several notable local homebrewers to get their two cents on the growing trend.


Joshua Kunkle has been brewing since October 2007 and is now the president of the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club. Club meetings are usually held on the first Thursday of the month, at Coachella Valley Brewing Co., starting at 7 p.m.

Unlike most homebrewers, Kunkle began by making alcoholic ciders, after returning home from France. He was living in San Francisco at the time, and sought out local brew-supply shops that sold the appropriate equipment. It came with a free batch of grains to brew beer.

“I did the beer, and the beer turned out better than I thought it would,” he said. “And when I finally got around to making the cider, it was so much of a bitch to do that, I thought, ‘I’m going to stick with the beer. It’s a lot less work, for a lot better product.’ That spurred me into trying different things, and along the way, every time I made a mistake, it turned out to be kind of serendipity in my favor, so that helped me learn new things.”

He later moved back to Southern California—Murietta, specifically.

“I was living over at my parents’ house, which is on five acres, and that gave me impetus to expand the operation and start working my way to all-grain,” he said. “Once I started doing all-grain, that’s when I started building all my equipment.”

That’s right: He’s built his own beer-making equipment. The move also showed him how place can affect the beer-making process. “On one hand, the beer was slightly better at my parents’ house in Murietta, because they lived on a well system. But on the other hand, the weather was perfect for brewing in San Francisco. The temperatures do fluctuate there more in Southern California.”

Kunkle’s system includes a 4-foot-by-4-foot-by-8 foot insulated, temperature-controlled box; it started out as an armament-storage box belonging to his grandfather. There’s a door on the side and a lid that opens at the top. He has the ability to put as much as 70 gallons in it at one time. In half of the box, he’s got a hole cut out with some PVC pipe, a window air-conditioning unit, and a thermostat. He even has a dual-stage controller, to run two different circuits—air conditioning or heating, depending on the weather.

As for the system itself, it was built with a slight pyramid shape to center the gravity in the middle, minimizing the risk of tilting. Each side sits in a set of tracks with heavy-duty wheels, which take the load when the plates holding the pots are being lifted. Using this system, Kunkle has won several medals, including Best of Show at the 2013 Props and Hops Homebrew Competition.

He’s found that temperature control is the key to preparing his award-winning beers.

“I’m dealing with a living organism; I should treat it with respect,” Kunkle said. “I used to joke: ‘You should treat yeast like people.’ If you fluctuate the temperature, hot, cold, hot, cold, you get sick. I imagine yeast is the same way. Your beer is a result of that, for better or for worse. The idea is, you’re creating a nice environment for them.”

His two favorite homebrews have been a Trappist-style honey-orange pale ale, and a “Braggot”-style hybrid-beer—actually a form of mead made with honey and barley malt, using nitrogen after fermentation.

Like most homebrewers, Kunkle isn’t afraid to experiment. He’s even brewed with wormwood, taking concepts from absinthe.

He has ambitious plans for the Homebrew Club.

“I told the club at the last meeting that I want to be part of the community a lot more,” he said. “I want to get our name out there; I want people to know who we are—that we’re not just a bunch of drunk guys sitting around.

“There is a science behind this. There is biology and chemistry. This is a smart people’s sport. You can learn a lot about the art of it.”

He also wants the club’s meetings to have more of a focus on teaching.

“It’s nice trying different beers, but sometimes, a lot of people come to the meetings hoping to learn something,” Kunkle said. “So I’d like to use the meetings as a means of getting people together and learning: ‘Tonight, we’re going to learn why an IPA is an IPA,’ or why sanitation is a good thing.”

Kunkle works full-time as a reference librarian, and brewing feeds his desire to constantly learn.

“I live by the ethos that if I’m not learning something, I’m dying,” he said.


Brett Newton has been interested in craft beer since 1993, but he only started brewing with his cousin a little more than five years ago.

Their first batch was an IPA. It wasn’t very good, he said. But it was drinkable.

He joined the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club in 2010 after meeting four of its members. He sat in with many of the members on brew days in order to learn more about the process. (One of those members: future brewmaster of Coachella Valley Brewing Company, Chris Anderson.) He then went on to be elected president of the club. He also co-hosted the Beer Me Podcast up until a couple of years ago.

“I just kinda watched them do what they do,” he said of his beginnings with the Homebrew Club members. “I feel like I was able to brew better beer right away.

“There are a bunch of resources online. There’s a free older edition of How to Brew by John Palmer. That’s kind of the brewing bible. You can buy a version of it that’s up to date. I also read a couple of books by Charlie Papazian, who’s kind of considered the godfather of homebrew.”

Newton has brewed some delicious English barleywines. For one, he soaked French oak cubes in Maker’s Mark bourbon; for another, he used French oak cubes soaked in Glenlivet Nadurra 16-year-old Scotch. Brett orders his ingredients online at Austin Homebrew Supply because of the quality and customer service, he said. In a pinch, he’ll visit MoreBeer in Riverside.

He said he appreciates having local help via the Homebrew Club.

“It still helps me with learning to brew,” he said. “It’s a great place to come ask questions. … You can go online, and you can get some good advice, but you have to sift through some stuff. You can know there are some guys in the club who can really brew, because you’ve tasted their beer, and you can ask them questions and be a lot more sure of the answers.

Newton said the homebrewing world is changing in a lot of the same ways that the craft-beer world is changing.

“People are willing to try lots of different styles,” he said. “It’s not just, ‘Let’s brew the hoppiest beer we can brew,’ which I always thought was ridiculous, because I try to discourage the beginners from going hoppy right away, because that’s one of the harder ones to get right.”


Brent Schmidman is not only the founder and previous owner of Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert, and a founder of the Props and Hops Festival in Palm Springs; he is also an avid homebrewer, and has been now for eight years.

Brent started with a Mr. Beer kit—and quickly realized that there had to be a better way to brew. He now has a system that was partly purchased from MoreBeer, with some elements he designed himself. One of Brent’s most impressive homebrews was a 17 percent alcohol chocolate-cherry Russian imperial stout, aged in Bourbon barrels.

Like Josh and Brett, Brent uses the Homebrew Club as a resource.

“I’d say when I joined the club, Chris (of Coachella Valley Brewing) was probably the most influential, because he was so open to meeting new people, and that kind of thing,” he said. “… I think the best part about the club is that people can come and just learn and experience and share before they have to actually go and buy equipment to do all of that. We’ve had several members that came for six months to a year before they ever bought anything.”

He said it’s a lot easier to be a homebrewer these days than it used to be.

“Now there are so many different sites that you can order from online. There are tons and tons of books … and you can have kits that take a RussianRiver beer, and you have a clone that’s very, very close to that,” Schmidman said. Maybe you’ve never made a sour before, and you can buy a kit and do it. I think it’s the accessibility to everything, in small quantities.”


Homebrewer Erik DeBellis has been brewing for just 2 1/2 years—but he sure has racked up a lot of medals in that time.

Erik took the gold medal in the American ale category in both 2013 and 2014 at the Hangar 24 homebrew competition. He took home the gold in the German wheat category at the 2013 and 2014 Props and Hops homebrew competition, the gold and silver in the IPA category at the 2013 Props and Hops competition. He also nabbed a silver in the German wheat and rye category at the Southern California Homebrew Championships.

He is now the assistant brewer at Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage.

The Hangar 24 homebrew competition in 2012 sparked his interest in homebrewing, he said. It just so happened that he and a friend visited the brewery on the day of the competition.

I asked him what he uses to make his award-winning brews.

“I used to just do stovetop—you know, everything on your burner. Now I actually bought a propane-powered burner, so, I’m doing everything on that, and it’s awesome. I will never go back to stovetop. … I’m getting so much better isomerization of my hops on this bad boy—more power, more heat. You’re getting a better boil, which allows my hops to bitter more, I’m getting more out of my bittering additions.”

DeBellis said he buys most of his supplies at MoreBeer, although he wishes the store took better care of their hops.

“I pretty much buy everything at MoreBeer or Northern Brewer, but when it comes to hops, I just source straight from the farms—mostly, Yakima Valley Hops,” he said.


What are some homebrewing trends worth knowing about?

Brew in a bag (BIAB) one-gallon kits are becoming more popular for brand new homebrewers. It’s an inexpensive way to for homebrewers to transition to all-grain or partial-mash brewing. 

Alternatively, all-grain is becoming more popular, and extracts are declining. This speaks to quality and the fact that the future brewers of America want to make the best beer they can.

Speaking of quality: With the ever-growing popularity of the hobby, you can now find more quality ingredients; including malts and hops from around the world, and top-notch yeast from ever-more companies.

Don’t fear the foam. Join the club; do some online research; and/or read a homebrew book. Then take a sip and exhale with the satisfaction of your delicious, homebrewed pint.


Want to start learning more about homebrewing? Here are some online resources to consider:

  • Beer Conscious Training (beerconscious.com) offers beer training and learning videos for those interested in passing exams like the Cicerone Certification Program, the Beer Judge Certification Program and Beer Steward Certificate Program.
  • Beer Smith (beersmith.com) is a homebrewers’ dream resource, with answers to just about any question or roadblock. It also has informative video blogs from seasoned homebrew professionals.
  • Better Beer Scores (www.betterbeerscores.com) is a Colorado-based company that offers webinar programs to learn more about craft-beer styles and homebrewing. It also features programs to help people prep for beer exams.
  • Craft Beer University (www.craftbeeru.com) is an online school offering Beer Judge Certification Program exam-prep courses, as well as other Internet-based educational services to improve home-brewing skills.

Published in Beer

The weather is starting to cool down in the Coachella Valley—so it’s a perfect time to explore what the craft-beer industry has to offer at local beer festivals. They are the perfect place to experiment, meet fellow craft-beer enthusiasts and even get involved in the community!

For the third year, the Palm Springs Air Museum is combining two things that you may not normally think go together: flying and beer. The Props and Hops Craft Beer Festival commences on Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Air Museum, a picturesque venue with gorgeous views. General admission costs $35.

I am on the festival’s board, and this year, the beers on offer will range from one-off seasonals to perennial favorites.

All three local breweries will be pouring their award-winning beers. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse will be pouring its Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale, which just took home a silver medal from the granddaddy of all beer events, the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. will likely be pouring its newest seasonal offering, Condition Black. It’s an imperial black IPA offered every Veterans Day. Another possible offering is the new Saison L'Automne, a fall farmhouse ale with yams, pumpkins and spices.

La Quinta Brewing Co. will have on hand the popular Indian Canyon IPA, the Poolside Blonde and the brewery’s fall/early winter seasonal, the Tan Line Brown. The brewery will also bring either its new barrel-aged porter, or the Sand Storm Double IPA.

Of course, other breweries from Southern California will be on hand, including Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, Stone Brewing, Hangar 24, Lagunitas, Ballast Point, Firestone Walker, Black Market, Refuge Brewery and Golden Road Brewing.

Homebrewers are making an ever-increasing mark on the industry, and the festival will highlight these beer-making champions with the third annual homebrewers' competition. Led by local Coachella Valley Homebrew Club president Brett Newton, the Beer Judge Certification Program-certified competition will only be limited by imagination. Bring your tasty concoction, and get some expert feedback from certified beer judges! Entries must be received at either Coachella Valley Brewing in Thousand Palms, or MoreBeer in Riverside, by Nov. 8. Brewers must bring three unmarked, unlabeled 12-ounce bottles, and the winners will be announced at the festival. Prizes include gift cards, a 70-liter Speidel fermenter from MoreBeer, and, of course, mad respect from fellow craft-beer drinkers.

This year, the festival is offering beer-lovers a chance to literally combine flying and beer: For an extra $175, experience a Cicerone-guided tour of beers while in the sky above the Coachella Valley. This rare beer-tasting will be held aboard a vintage DC3!

The festival will include more live music than last year, with performances by The Anonymous Five, the Independent´s own All Night Shoes, and Long Duk Dong.

The big brain behind the event is an ale-loving, craft beer advocate, Brent Schmidman. He’s the man responsible for making Schmidy’s Tavern into the loved craft-beer spot that it is today.

“We’re always trying to push the envelope with the event and to bring something new,” he said.

Schmidman said he’s excited about some breweries who are new to the festival this year.

“The first two that come to mind are Avery and Three Weavers. Avery is an amazing brewery and makes some insane beers—crazy wild sours and barrel-aged beers that are hard to get. I'm also excited about Three Weavers Brewing, a new brewery from Inglewood. They’re already making a big buzz in the beer scene.”

Yours truly will be hosting a special beer dinner on the night before the festival at the Purple Room in Palm Springs. Join me on Friday, Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m. for an intimate dinner featuring several Southern California beers. Executive chef Jen Town will be preparing the menu, and together, we’ll pair the food with the perfect beers. Tickets are $55, and capacity is limited to 100 people. Don’t miss out!

Whatever you do, don’t be intimidated if you’re a beer novice. Volunteers, brewers and other festival attendees will be happy to guide you toward amazing beers with which you may not be familiar.

The craft-beer revolution continues to gain momentum, and festivals like Props and Hops are a perfect way to experiment with new and trending California beers. Who knows? You may just find a new favorite.

Get tickets and more information at www.PropsandHopsFestival.com.

Published in Beer

A smile grows on Jacqueline Aguilar’s face when she talks about local art and her community.

Aguilar, a senior at Coachella Valley High School, is passionate about these topics—and she’s eager to share her insight with anyone willing to listen.

Aguilar represented Raices Cultura when she spoke about art and her community to an audience of city planners at the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Planning Association’s California Chapter in Anaheim in mid-September.

“I was really nervous. I was shaking,” Aguilar said. “I’m not usually that nervous, but people started showing up, and it was really weird to have such a large audience.”

Aguilar and other youth representatives from the eastern Coachella Valley participated in a youth panel at the annual conference titled “Legitimate Voices: Youth Perspectives on the Meaning of Building Healthy Communities in the Eastern Coachella Valley.”

The youth panel was an opportunity for planners to hear from youth who are working in the Eastern Coachella Valley. The Building Healthy Communities Initiative was represented by Adriana Diaz-Ordaz, and Pueblo Unido CDC was represented by Sahara Huazano and Victor Gonzalez.

Daisy Ramirez, a health education assistant for the County of Riverside Department of Public Health, said she was proud of the panel, because the youth representatives were able to better educate the planners about the work that is going on in the eastern Coachella Valley.

“Some planners didn’t even know where the eastern Coachella Valley was, or what was going on in the eastern Coachella Valley,” Ramirez said. “Sometimes, we assume people already know.”

The youth panel met again on Sept. 22 at the Building Healthy Communities office in Coachella to debrief. Diaz-Ordaz and Huazano both said they felt honored to present their community projects to people who are responsible for planning future communities.

“There’s this realm, or sphere of influence, that comes with being a planner,” Diaz-Ordaz said. “There’s that network, there’s that community, and that social capital that comes along with even being in that place.”

At the conference, Huazano and Gonzalez presented Pueblo Unido’s Coachella Valley Mobile Home Pavement Project, which is aimed at improving the health of more than 400 families in 39 mobile home parks in the eastern Coachella Valley. Huazano said the conference helped her identify skills she needs to build in order to keep representing the eastern Coachella Valley well.

“I’ve been thinking of how I can improve my speaking skills, because I want to continue on doing this work.” Huazano said. “And in order for me to represent my community how they deserve, I need to learn how to speak properly.”

Miguel Vazquez, the co-chair for the California Planning Roundtable Healthy Communities Workgroup, organized the panel and moderated the session. At the debriefing, Vazquez said he’d never heard an audience applaud so long for a panel.

Vasquez encouraged the youth presenters to use the momentum they built at the conference to keep working on community issues.

“It would be really cool if something came out of this, and next year, we could go back and say, ‘Remember that group of youth? Well, they did this. And it wasn’t futile,’” Vasquez said.

Alejandra Alarcon is a reporter for Coachella Unincorporated, a youth media organization in the east Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of the California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. “Coachella Unincorporated” refers to the region youth journalists cover, but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset. For more information, visit coachellaunincorporated.org.

Published in Local Issues

The Southern California Homebrewers Festival is held every year in early May.

The festival, hosted by the California Homebrewers Association (CHA), is held at Lake Casitas, in Ventura County—about a three-hour drive from Palm Springs. Commercial breweries and homebrewers pour their beers; award winning homebrewers and brewmasters speak at the wildlife recreation area. With more than 40 homebrew clubs in attendance, and unlimited tastings, it’s a beer and camping extravaganza that attracts a couple thousand beer-lovers every year.

However, its future was temporarily thrown into doubt, thanks to a potentially damaging piece of legislation.

On Oct. 1, 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1425. The bill was supposed to do good things—namely, make home-brewed beer and wine easier to share. However, it included this phrase: “A nonprofit organization established for the purpose of promoting home production of beer or wine, or whose membership is composed primarily of home brewers or home winemakers, shall not be eligible to sell beer or wine pursuant to this subdivision.”

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control initially interpreted that phrase as prohibiting homebrew festivals—such as the Southern California Homebrewers Festival.

The California Homebrewers Association put pressure on the ABC for a more favorable interpretation of the law—and they had help from some powerful people. On Jan. 23, the top two members of the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization—chair Isadore Hall III, a Los Angeles Democrat, and vice-chair Brian Nestande, a Palm Desert Republican—issued a press release announcing they’d sent a letter to the director of the ABC in an effort to ensure the festival can continue.

“It appears that there is a misinterpretation of the committee’s intent with this bill,” Nestande said in the news release. “These small local festivals attract thousands of people. They are a vital part of our economy and promote small-business growth. I’m committed to working with director (Timothy) Gorsuch to ensure the festival can carry on as planned.”

David Humphrey is the CEO of the Coachella Valley Brewing Company, as well as an attorney. He said that the provision in question was intended “to keep commercial breweries from using the expansive language as an end around from obtaining a proper license.

“Under no good-faith reading was the provision meant to limit a homebrewer or home wine-maker from showcasing his hobby at a festival,” Humphrey said.

Brett Newman is the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club president and has been helping the other Southern California homebrew clubs fight the ABC interpretation. Newman has attended the festival twice. He said he loves getting ideas, and tasting rare beers.

“Serving and pouring at your booth is just amazing,” he said. “I actually love doing that almost more than anything else. It’s like instant feedback. … You can’t trust your own senses with your own homebrew sometimes.”

California Homebrewers Association president Christy Elshof wants to make it clear that it’s the Southern California Homebrewers Festival. Note that the word “beer” is not included.

“We want to make that clear, because it seems that there’s a lot of misunderstanding that it’s all about the beer,” she said in early February. “We want to make it very clear it’s all about the homebrewer. It’s the homebrewers’ rights that are in jeopardy with the law as it stands.”

Elshof started homebrewing 17 years ago. She started going to the event as a volunteer in the 1990s and was later asked to join the board. Elshof feels that the ABC was looking at the event as a beer festival; she looks at it as a place for homebrewers to get together and talk about what they make.

“We are enthusiastic hobbyists. Over the years, we’ve grown from … three or four clubs that started it. … We had over 2,000 people last year. If they could actually hear how brewers talk to each other—talk about technique, you know. As a brewer, you’re always looking for that little intangible. You want to know what it is that added that little back flavor. What did you add? What was your temperature? You gather more information by sharing with others.”

Things came down to the wire, but in mid-February, Elshof learned that the event could go on: Thanks to a loophole and the involvement of a nonprofit group, the early May festival is safe. Tickets should go on sale around the first of March. Meanwhile, the group will keep fighting to make sure the law is fixed.

“This is where we grow our future craft brewers, in the homebrewing industry,” Elshof said.

For more information, visit www1.calhomebrewers.org.

Published in Beer