CVIndependent

Sun12082019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

It’s not easy to know exactly where your money is going when you buy something. Some large corporations take great care to intentionally obscure this knowledge, at least when looking at products superficially. You might despise a certain large conglomerate, and vow to boycott it … only to later find out that the paper towels you bought are made by a company that is wholly owned by that same conglomerate.

For decades in the craft-beer world, we didn’t have this problem: If you liked the beer you were drinking, you could find out who made it by looking at the label—and that was that. Well, the craft-beer market steadily grew … until the bigger boys in the industry could no longer stand by and watch its massive market share erode.

The plan was simple: Buy up craft breweries around the country.  

“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. Not a single thing … at least not from a business and legal perspective. Lagunitas Brewing Company, the renowned brewer in Petaluma, sold half of the company to Heineken in 2015, and then sold the remaining half in 2017—yet the beer’s quality remains just as good as ever, and consumer costs have gone down. What could be wrong with that?

The short answer: Plenty. As for the longer answer, we’ll come back to this later, because now I have to try to make a relatively dry concept somewhat interesting: the three-tier system for alcohol in the U.S. At least it has an interesting origin, in the shadows of the Prohibition era and the Roaring ‘20s. In that decade, saloons popped up to serve the sinfully thirsty public, and many of them were “tied houses,” meaning an alcoholic-beverage supplier would pay a saloon to exclusively carry their products. Upon Prohibition’s merciful appeal, federal and state legislators saw the problem with this and sought to institute a system to protect the consumer from tied houses, encouraging free-market activity. Thus, the three-tier system was born: Breweries (or alcoholic-beverage makers more generally) would sell their products to consumers through a distributor that acts as a middle man.  

Benefits and drawbacks to this system have popped up in the ensuing years. One the biggest benefits is to smaller breweries: They have the possibility of getting their beer into other markets relatively easily, thanks to a distributor’s expanded network. This could allow a brewery to gain fans in places it previously might have never been known.

There is a dark side: AB InBev and Molson Coors have become the equivalent to The Empire in the Star Wars movies when it comes to craft beer. AB InBev is the massive multinational conglomerate and parent company to all of the Anheuser Busch and SABMiller beers, as well as many other brands. (Yes, that nasty yellow stuff is owned by foreign corporations. Don’t ever be fooled by the ridiculous beer commercials pasting American flags on everything.) Molson Coors is at least half-American, and I think you can guess which half. The company’s M.O. seems to be combining marketing and packaging efforts, as well as streamlining processes within the company. This allows them to produce the exact same product, no matter where you’ll find it in the world. It’s a feat of engineering, really, and something to be admired for what it is worth (and it’s worth billions for them), but what about the … uh ... taste?

Now we come to “branches”: Large breweries own distribution affiliates in select markets. While legal, it is plain to see the problem with this setup: These distribution affiliates can strong-arm local businesses into essentially becoming tied houses. “Oh, you’d like to carry (fill in the blank) brewery’s beers? They’re not in our portfolio, I’m afraid. And if you do carry them, we’ll pull all of (our popular but bland) brewery’s beers. If you want craft beer, though, you’re in luck! We have some in our portfolio. So what if we stomped on the quality of their beers in an attempt to make them more cheaply and more efficiently (with the exception of Lagunitas/Heineken … for now)?”

These conglomerates count on your ignorance of the origins of the beer you’re drinking. This isn’t anything to be ashamed of, by the way: Beer aisles are an absolute labyrinth, and nobody should be expected to stand around Googling who owns what. However … did you know that Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewing is owned by AB InBev? Don’t be surprised; AB InBev owns at least 400 beer brands.

This mess inevitably spreads to the shelves. It’s why you might see packages of varying sizes and shapes of Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors, Miller Lite, etc. More shelf space equals more eyes on brands, which equals more sales. It has a distinct, anti-free-market whiff about it, doesn’t it? It’s also why these conglomerates spend ungodly sums of money on commercials that either dazzle you with visual stimuli, distract you with humor, or talk about all of its beer’s attributes without mentioning a single taste descriptor: “Hey, this beer is cold-filtered, crisp and golden? Those are my favorite flavors!”

At this point, a craft-beer fan needs to make up his or her mind. You don’t need my permission to spend your hard-earned dollars on any brand over another—but if you’d like to continue to see craft beer thrive, and become more interesting and exciting with each new beer released, join me in moving away from the products by the breweries that have sold out to Big Beer, and instead support the absolute glut of breweries that have not done so. The Brewers Association recently created the Independent Craft Brewers Seal, which qualified breweries can apply to their labels. (Note, however, that the seal is not yet being used industry-wide, so if a beer does not have the seal, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being produced by a brewery owned by one of the large conglomerates.)

Since we’re in Southern California, I’ll mention a couple of breweries that have sold out.

AB InBev owns Golden Road Brewing and 10 Barrel Brewing. The latter is out of Oregon, but opened a large restaurant and taproom in downtown San Diego—something that was a topic of great contention in a county with 150-plus breweries. If you’re in San Diego and find your way to 10 Barrel, you’ve really overlooked some amazing, independent brewers within a stone’s throw (no pun intended).

Constellation Brands owns San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing. This buyout was a big deal in the industry when it occurred in 2015 due to the $1 billion price tag. At least Constellation is an American company; it also owns Corona, Modelo, Pacifico and many other brands. However, there are so many true craft breweries within a very short distance of any Ballast Point location where you could have a good or better time.

Go forth; stay vigilant; and drink wisely!

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

Whether you’re new to craft beer or are already familiar with some of the best and brightest brewers across our 50 states, this non-comprehensive and unofficial list of 25 great craft beers is a good start.

Keep in mind there are now more than 5,000 breweries nationwide, so this is just a taste of all the amazing beers available. In no particular order:

1. AleSmith Old Numbskull: American Barleywine (11 percent ABV)

This barleywine has won three Great American Beer Festival awards and two World Beer Cup medals. It’s extremely well-balanced and full-bodied, and can be paired with anything from roasted meats and stews to a variety of pungent cheeses.

2. Allagash White: Witbier (5 percent ABV)

Spiced with a special blend of coriander and Curaçao orange peel, this Belgian-style wheat beer has won numerous awards, including gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015, and gold at the World Beer Cup in 1998, 2010 and 2012. Clove, banana and orange notes dominate the taste, but in a deliciously balanced and subtle way.

3. Allagash Black Ale: Belgian-Style Stout (7.5 percent ABV)

Allagash brews some of the most delicious craft beers on the market. Technically, there is no such thing as a traditional Belgian stout, but the good folks at Allagash don’t always necessarily follow the rules. This beer is a little easier to drink than some regular stouts and finishes clean.

4. Bell’s Expedition Stout: Russian Imperial Stout (10.5 percent ABV)

Chocolate, dark fruits, coffee and molasses come together in this warming, super-smooth and complex beer. This is one of the best Russian imperial stouts on the market, and one that gets even better with age.

5. Brauerei Aying Ayinger Celebrator: Dark Doppelbock (6.7 percent ABV)

This is a full-bodied beer showing off notes of caramel and toasted malts, and mild notes of dark fruit. Touches of alcohol warmth give it a gorgeous, long finish.

6. Cigar City Guava Grove: Farmhouse Ale (8 percent ABV)

This award-winning brewery brews Guava Grove in tribute to Tampa, Fla.’s fruity nickname. It’s made with a French strain of Saison yeast, with a secondary fermentation with pink guava puree. With this beer, experience barnyard flavors, carbonation, guava (of course), pepper, citrus, watermelon, clove and wheat.

7. Deschutes The Abyss: American Double/Imperial Stout (11 percent ABV)

You’ll want to dive into The Abyss at least once, thanks to its nearly immeasurable depth and complexity. This is barrel-aged for 12 months in bourbon, Oregon oak and pinot noir barrels.

8. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA: India Pale Ale (9 percent ABV)

It’s named after the amount of time it’s continuously hopped, providing smack-you-in-the-face hop bitterness, while a good amount of malt sweetness provides balance. Notes of pine, pineapple and honey lend to its drinkability.

9. Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA: American IPA (7.5 percent ABV)

This is pretty darn close to a perfect beer, in my book. The bouquet is crammed with Pacific Northwest hops. Notes of lemon, pineapple, papaya and pine give it a juicy and resinous quality.

10. Founders KBS: Imperial Stout (12.4 percent ABV)

This world-class beer is available starting this month (April), so mark your calendars. Take your time to fully taste all of the layers: coffee, brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla, licorice, charred nuttiness and bourbon. After sitting in oak bourbon barrels for a year, KBS emerges with a boozy sweet bourbon profile.

11. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: Imperial Stout (13.8 percent ABV)

From the bottle: “The original bourbon barrel aged Stout”; “Since 1992”; “Stout aged in bourbon barrels.” It smells like a bourbon dessert with sweet caramel up front. The complex notes include plums, figs and milk chocolate. This is decadence in a glass.

12. Green Flash Palate Wrecker: Double IPA (9.5 percent ABV)

The appropriately named Imperial IPA has thick, sticky, chunky lacing and pistol-blazing intense bitterness. The pineapple, mango and grapefruit sweetness perfectly balance with the insanely high number of IBUs.

13. Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela: Pumpkin Ale (5.9 percent ABV)

This is a perfect fall beer (that’s also good now!) with notes of pumpkin, cinnamon, brown sugar, chocolate, caramel, lemon zest, sour cherries and toast. This isn’t your average pumpkin ale, as it finishes with a refreshing tart sourness.

14. Kern River Brewing Citra: Imperial IPA (8 percent ABV)

This citrus-forward beer is almost faultless. There are lingering notes of lemon cake, candied mango and chocolate-covered strawberries. Citra is bright and fresh with a creamy mouth-feel.

15. Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale: Pale Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

The balance between malt and hop makes this wheat ale outstanding. With grapefruit, pine, mandarin and a hint of wheat malt sweetness, the flavor is bright and clean, with an excellent harmony of citrus hops and sweet malts.

16. Pizza Port/Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme: American Wild Ale (11 percent ABV)

The brewery made famous for brewing amazing Belgian-style beers decided to brew an unconventional sour brown ale in 1999. Made from four fermentable sugars, it is fully fermented before being placed in bourbon barrels, where it ages for one year with sour cherries. Think cherry, oak, vanilla, bourbon and brown sugar.

17. Russian River Pliny the Elder: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Beer-drinkers have been known to stand in line to enjoy this limited-supply double IPA. This is the easiest IPA to imbibe. It’s powerful, fragrant and amazingly complex, yet very smooth and clean. It’s worth the hype.

18. Saison Dupont: Saison (6.5 percent ABV)

This must-try beer is a top fermentation beer, with re-fermentation in the bottle. Since 1844, this beer has been brewed at La Brasserie Dupont’s farm-brewery. Hints of banana, pineapple, tropical fruit, pear and black pepperfinish with a German hop flavor. In the background hangs a light screen of barnyard funk.

19. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: American Pale Ale (5.6 percent ABV)

This is a homebrewer’s dream that turned into one of the most iconic beers in the craft-beer world. A generous amount of premium Cascade hops give the pale ale its fragrant bouquet and spicy flavor. Its piny and citrus-hop aroma comes with a slightly dry finish.

20. Stone Brewing: Imperial Russian Stout (10.6 percent ABV)

Go ahead and enjoy this decadent, black-as-night beer now, or age at cellar temperature. Or buy two and do both! This is heavy on dark fruits, molasses, chocolate, coffee and licorice, with a hint of alcohol burn.

21. The Alchemist Heady Topper: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Brewed out of Vermont, this is a world-class beer. The scent is a burst of tropical hops like pineapple, mango, grapefruit and peach. A hoppy start flexes and finishes into a malty finish, while staying incredibly smooth.

22. The Bruery Black Tuesday: Imperial Stout (19.2 percent ABV)

Released on the final Tuesday of October every year, this beer is The Bruery’s take on a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout. The nose is typically all dark chocolate, roasted coffee, toasted oak and bourbon. Despite its decadence and booziness, it’s wonderfully smooth.

23. 3 Floyds Zombie Dust: Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV)

This intensely hopped undead pale ale pours peachy gold and gives off big aromas of citrus and tropical fruits. The taste is toasty buttered breadiness, and ripe tropical fruitiness. This is an exceptional beer.

24. 3 Floyds Dark Lord: Russian Imperial Stout (15 percent AB)

This RIS is brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar. Not for the faint of heart, Dark Lord is among the most opaque and black stouts on the market. What you smell is delivered in the taste—dark chocolate, cherries, plums, caramel, roasted malt and burnt sugar.

25. Victory Prima Pils: German Pilsner (5.3 percent ABV)

This signature pils is brewed with heaps of whole flower European hops and fine German malts. You may notice grass, cracker and pepper notes on the nose, and pear, white grape and hoppy bitterness in the taste. Enjoy it alone or with seafood or burgers.

Published in Beer

The Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience is back on March 5 with an amazing lineup of bands, wine and brews.

Live music, craft beer from 48 breweries and amazing wine from 21 wineries will be enjoyed with the scenic Empire Polo Club as the backdrop.

Kevin Olsen runs Adam’s Bottle Boutique in Redondo Beach; he is the RWB beer curator.

“This year, we have a more unique selection of breweries,” he said. “Some are a little less mainstream, with some smaller breweries that are more artisanal and craft-driven. Last year, we definitely took a step in that direction.

“Belching Beaver came out this year, (as did) Strand Brewing; Ritual Brewing, which is a little closer, is an Inland Empire brewery.”

Here is more information some of the breweries that will be rockin’ this year’s Rhythm, Wine and Brews. Get more information at www.rwbexp.com.

10 Barrel Brewing: This is a favorite in Oregon and a multiple Great American Beer Festival medal winner. There are satellite brewpubs in Boise, Portland and Bend.

Anchor Brewing Company: This brewery is dripping with history: Anchor began during the California Gold Rush and was the first to produce steam beer—effervescent beer now labeled California common beer. Anchor is the only steam-brewing company still in operation.

Ace Cider: Did you know cider is fantastic to cook with? Use Ace cider in place of champagne to lighten up your dishes, and consider Ace Apple with your next pork dish!

Ballast Point: This San Diego brewery is a homebrewer’s fairytale come true. Founder Jack White opened Home Brew Mart in 1992, after wanting more quality and unique brewing ingredients for homebrewers to use. Ballast Point opened their “back room” brewery, behind the shop, in 1996. In November, the UCLA students turned brewery owners sold to Constellation Brands for $1 billion.

Sierra Nevada: Ken Grossman, the godfather of craft beers, opened a homebrew supply store in Chico in 1976. He purchased whole cone hops from Yakima hop brokers directly and began brewing his now infamous hop-forward beers. He launched Sierra Nevada Brewing three years later.

Green Flash Brewing: Green Flash opened Cellar 3 last year, a new tasting room and specialty brewing facility in Poway. The facility focuses on innovation through barrel-aging and wild yeast experimentation.  When not sipping something sour, try the Soul Style American IPA. Citra, Simcoe and Cascade hops are layered, giving it tropical and sherbert flavors. It’s a perfect warm weather beer.

Breckenridge Brewery: Colorado’s third craft brewery began thanks to a ski-bum homebrewer in 1990. Today, Breckenridge’s beers can be found in 32 states. In true outdoorsy form, the brewery put nitro—nitrogen-carbonated beer—in cans late last year.

Three Weavers Brewing Company: The female-run brewery is Los Angeles’ second Kickstarter-funded brewery. Brewmaster Alexandra Nowell was the former lead brewer at Drakes and won two GABF bronze medals while brewmaster at Kinetic Brewing Company in Lancaster.

Coachella Valley Brewing Company: CVB, as we locals like to call it, answers the call for a bigger selection of sophisticated and modern beers here in the valley. Head brewmaster and part owner Chris Anderson is a graduate of the University of Alaska-Anchorage Culinary program. Anderson brews using local ingredients. CVB started a sour program in 2015, and the Profligate Society features sours like the cabernet-barrel-aged Epineux Poire prickly pear wild ale.

Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse: The Rancho Mirage restaurant and brewhouse was founded by Marie Callender’s founder, Don Callender. Don had a passion for craft beer and opened two small breweries in 1998 and 1999. Babe’s later opened in April 2002. In 2014, the Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale took gold at the Great America Beer Festival.

La Quinta Brewing: One of the valley’s three local brewers opened its doors in the fall of 2013. And after much success and popularity, it recently opened a taproom in Old Town La Quinta.

Goose Island Brewing: Goose Island's brands are sold in 24 states and parts of Europe thanks to the Anheuser-Busch InBev deal in 2011. While craft-beer geeks across the country cried in their beers over the deal, their Bourbon County Stout has remained world class.

New Belgium Brewing: This is one of the coolest breweries on the planet. The New Belgium folks not only advocate for beer, they advocate for the planet. Tour de Fat is New Belgium’s traveling party regarding all things bicycle: In every Tour de Fat city, one awesome role model will step on stage to trade in his or her car keys and pledge to live car free for one year. Oh, and the brewery is now 100 percent employee owned.

Black Market Brewing: Black Market launched the craft movement in Temecula’s wine country. It recently brewed a Rum Matured Deception With Pineapple. The “normal” Deception is a coconut lime blonde ale. Black Market releases a new beer on Cask Night, every Monday.

Lost Coast: Lost Coast began in 1990, in a 100-year-old castle in Eureka, Calif. Barbara Groom, a pharmacist turned homebrewer, now owns the 43rd-largest craft brewery in the U.S. Have a friend who hasn’t turned to craft yet? Give them a pint of Great White.

Founders Brewery: If you haven’t fallen in love with Founders, you don’t have a heart. This brewery is ranked as one of the top breweries in the world by Ratebeer.com over the last five years. If you haven’t tried the Breakfast Stout, you haven’t lived.

Speakeasy Ales and Lager: Speakeasy hales from San Francisco. Last year, a new 60-barrel brewhouse was made with a malt handling system, fermenters, a centrifuge and a canning line were installed. Production capacity increased to 90,000 barrels per year.

Bootleggers Brewery: Orange County craft-beer darling Bootleggers was established in 2008 by husband and wife Aaron and Patricia Barkenhagen. They brew the popular Mint Chocolate Porter.

Firestone Walker Brewing Co.: I can’t say enough good things about Firestone—and neither could the Great American Beer Fest last year: Firestone took a silver for the Feral One in the Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale category. The brewery also brought home two bronzes: for the Hammersmith IPA in the English-Style India Pale Ale category, and thr Sour Opal in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer categories. Then, Firestone was awarded golds for the Pivo in the German-Style Pilsener and the DBA in the Ordinary or Special Bitter categories. It only made sense that it was awarded the Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year awards.

Bell’s Brewery: Bell’s was founded by Larry Bell as a home-brewing supply shop in 1983. It ranked eighth in total volume among all domestic craft brewers in the U.S. in 2010.

Barley Forge Brewery: This was the OC Weekly Best Brewery in 2015. Barley Forge specializes in Belgian, West Coast and German-style beers.

Brew Rebellion: This brewery is true to its name: Brew Rebellion brews beer 30 to 50 gallons at a time. That means an awesome rotating tap list and more specialty beers.

Coedo Brewery: Japan’s Coedo names beers after five classic Japanese hues. Coedo honors traditions: The brewers allow the first sip of beer to fall to the ground from the tanks, as a tribute to the brewmasters who came before them.

Einstök Brewing: This brewer is located just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in the fishing port of Akureyri, Iceland. All Einstök beers are 100 percent vegan, with no GMOs.

Clown Shoes: Funny name, great beer. Check out American black ale dubbed “Lubrication.” The label features a robot at a gas station holding a pump handle in his groin vicinity. Fun tidbit: The artist is a woman.

Pizza Port Brewing: Pizza Port serves delicious craft beer in Solana Beach, Carlsbad, San Clemente and Ocean Beach. Each of Pizza Port’s four San Diego County brewpubs won at least one GABF medal last year.

Hangar 24 Craft Brewery: Located at the end of a dusty road, with the San Bernardino Mountains serving as a backdrop, Hangar 24 is named after the hangar where owner Ben Cook—a licensed pilot—and his friends would relax after a day of flying. Fun fact: Much of the equipment in Hangar 24’s main brew house came by way of Las Vegas’ Monte Carlo Casino.

Pizza Port Brewing: Pizza Port serves delicious craft beer in Solana Beach, Carlsbad, San Clemente and Ocean Beach. Each of Pizza Port’s four San Diego County brewpubs won at least one GABF medal last year.

Mission Brewery: Mission Brewery was originally established in 1913; like most breweries of the time, it went out of business during the first year of Prohibition. The revived Mission Brewery is now in the East Village in downtown San Diego in the historic Wonder Bread Building.

King Harbor Brewing Company: This is first production brewery in Redondo Beach. Last June, it opened the Waterfront Tasting Room, joining Los Angeles craft-beer-bar icon Naja’s Place on the International Boardwalk.

Belching Beaver Brewing: This is a dog-friendly brewery in North Park, San Diego. The Beavers Milk, Milk Stout took a gold medal at the World Beer Championships in 2014 and 2015. Their Dammed! Double IPA also took a gold at the World Beer Championships in 2014.

Strand Brewing: Torrance’s first production brewery has grown so much since 2009 that it moved to Old Torrance last October. Strand Brewing, Monkish Brewing, The Dudes Brewing and Smog City Brewing are all within a short Uber ride from each other.

Deschutes Brewing: Deschutes is awesome—and it’s family owned and operated. The company even set up an employee stock ownership program in 2013 so employees can own a percentage. If you try anything from Deschutes, try The Abyss. It’s a world class, 12 percent alcohol by volume imperial stout.

Alpine Brewing: You may already know Green Flash and Alpine merged in 2014. Green Flash is about 20 times larger than Alpine. Alpine couldn’t previously meet the demand for its popular IPA. Now it can.

Angel City Brewing: Angel City has a special place in my heart: When I first started writing about beer in 2008, I met Michael Bowe, the founder of Angel City. He’s since sold it and is sailing around the world, but the brewery continues to thrive in downtown Los Angeles.

Ironfire Brewing Company: John Maino and Greg Webb met at Ballast Point in San Diego and decided to start their own brewery in Temecula—and Ironfire was born in 2012.

BarrelHouse Brewing Co.:BarrelHouse not only has fantastic beers (Sours!); it also offers beautiful views from the inviting Central Coast patio. The just-announced 2016 Curly Wolf is maple vanilla bourbon-barrel-aged Russian imperial stout.

Rock Brothers Brewing: Music and beer are this brewery’s mantra. Creating custom brews for bands is the focus: It made 311’s amber ale beer.

Elysian Brewing: Elysian was founded in Seattle in 1995. Try the Avatar Jasmine IP brewed with died jasmine flowers.

Golden Road Brewing: All of the beers are delivered in cans. Canned beers stay fresher longer without light oxidation, and they are better for the environment. Anheuser-Busch Inbev acquired Los Angeles’ largest craft brewer last September.

Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment: Acoustic started brewing in 2012, but the building that houses it has more than 100 years of American brewing history: The original facility housed Mission Brewery, which operated before Prohibition.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company: Strauss was former vice president of production and reached master brewer at Pabst Brewing Company. He, Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner started the first-ever brew pub in San Diego in 1989.

Lagunitas Brewing Company: The brewery that brews in Northern California and Chicago sold a 50 percent stake to Heineken last September in an effort to expand the brand globally.

Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider: The Rev. Nat West started making cider in his basement, and in the spirit of craft beer geeks, grew into to a business that now distributes in five states.

Ritual Brewing Company: This Redlands brewery was founded by Owen Williams and Steve Dunkerken. Williams is a former brewing operations director of BJ’s Brewhouse and teaches at California Polytechnic University. Dunkerken is a Redlands native and long time homebrewer.

Published in Beer

Some beer-drinkers and wine-drinkers have the idea that you must be loyal to one beverage or style.

Well, let me introduce myself: My name is Erin Peters. I am a cross drinker—and I’m not the only one.

A visit to California’s Central Coast offers cross-drinkers like me the chance to compare some of the world’s best artisan beers and wines. I recently took a drive up to Paso Robles, and then further north to the Monterey area, to find out what craft beers are preferred by wine experts.

Midnight Cellars is a small-production, award-winning winery on the west end of Paso Robles. The boutique winery produces sustainably farmed Bordeaux grapes on 28 acres of hilly and limestone-rich soil. Midnight is known for making some of the best blends and big merlots. (Do not mention Sideways to the winemakers there!) Merlots are often viewed as gateway wines—kind of like pale ales are in the beer world. However, Midnight’s 2010 Estate Merlot transcends this stereotype: It’s big, bold and rich with dark fruit flavors.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Shelby at midnight told me how much she loves Sierra Nevada’s pale ale—still known as one of the biggest pale ales in the industry. There’s a nice balance in both this beer and this wine.

Just around the corner from Midnight is a gorgeous, upscale tasting room, serving old world varietal wines. Sextant Winery serves powerful zinfandel and petite sirah blends. The folks at Sextant claim it is the only winery in North America to cross-pollinate grenache and cabernet sauvignon, producing a big and bold caladoc. Bright Bing cherries and ripe blackberries are layered with dark fig, cinnamon and spicy cardamom notes. It’s delicious and poetically one-of-a-kind. Just don’t call it a blend.

Enthusiastic and knowledgeable server Kate Keller is a fan of local breweries like Central Coast Brewing, Libertine Brewing Company and BarrelHouse Brewing Company. BarrelHouse is a must-do when visiting the Central Coast—not just for the beer, but also for the beautiful views and inviting patio. The brewery typically has at least a couple fantastic sours on tap.

Monica Villicana not only runs a boutique winery, Villicana Winery, in Paso Robles; she and her husband, Alex, were the first in the area to distill spirits from the used grapes. Winemakers bleed a percentage of the free-run juice from red-wine grapes before fermentation to enhance the quality of the wines. Saignée is this French term meaning “to bleed,” and this juice is often discarded. By fermenting this bleed and then triple-distilling it, Re:Find Distillery has found a new use for saignée.

No surprise: Monica’s first choice of libations is wine. Then she’ll reach for liquors such as brandy, vodka or whiskey. While she’s not a big beer fan, she recently found one that she enjoys and can drink for a longer period of time: Central Coast Brewing’s Original Chai Ale. The spiced blonde ale from this veteran downtown San Luis Obispo brewery—it’s been open since 1998—comes in with a very manageable 4.9 percent alcohol by volume and has flavorful notes of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

Her husband, Alex, will grab Firestone Walker’s Double Barrel Ale when he’s not enjoying his own cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels, merlots or syrahs. This American take on a British style beer has sweet malt flavors overlaying a slightly woody aroma. Villicana’s vintner likely enjoys the earthiness notes that highlight roasted bread, caramel and oak.

Traveling north on Highway 46, I stopped in Cambria, a lovely seaside village that oozes quaint, artistic expression. Here, you’ll find several wineries and what used to be called Cambria Beer Company. After a trademark dispute, the local brewery is now thriving as 927 Beer Company. Head brewer and president Aaron Wharton doesn’t have a taste for wine, but in true collaborative craft-beer-industry fashion, his patrons and friends bring him bottles and growlers of their beers to exchange with his own brews. Some of his favorites include Modern Times, Noble AleWorks, Rare Barrel and Alpine Brewing. In January, Aaron will start offering barrel-aged beers on a monthly basis.

Down the street is tasting room for Moonstone Cellars. Server and “wineaux” Ron Panna tends to favor chardonnays and appreciates red varietals like petite syrah. Young petite syrah wines may have dark berry and plum fruit characteristics, as seen in the winery’s 2013 petite syrah, which is a club exclusive—and it’s fantastic. This wine is full of spice and dark fruit and demands a meal befitting its robust and full-flavored nature, such as rosemary leg of lamb.

When not sipping on wine, he seeks out beers like Lagunitas Sucks’ Brown Shugga. Brown Shugga is a whopping 10 percent ABV American strong ale that carries flavors of malt, dark fruit and brown sugar together beautifully. Many strong ales also have prominent notes of spice, just like syrahs.

Heading up Highway 1, in Big Sur Village, I came upon a cozy pub serving some of the best wings I’ve had in a long time. Maiden Publick House is a bit of a transcendental intersection, where locals, hippie campers and tourists enjoy brews among surrounding lush forests. The menu also lists nice beer pairings for the appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers and traditional favorites like shepherd’s pie or Monterey chicken. Choose beers from 12 taps or 70 bottles. Parish Pub in Santa Cruz owns Maiden Pub, giving them access to a nice beer selection.

Continuing north to Monterey, I stopped by Alvarado Street Brewery and Grill. The first thing I noticed were the delicious smells wafting from the main bar and kitchen. Thanks in part to access to pristine, local ingredients, the brewery has started a barrel-aging program utilizing zinfandel barrels from Joullian Vineyards in Carmel Valley. Now aging is the Kriek lambic with Brettanomyces—and 40 pounds of cherries. Alvarado’s approach to artisan craft beer nabbed them gold at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival: The Mai Tai PA was recognized in the international-style pale ale beer-style category. The beer lineup includes Saboteur saison, Super Rad! sour and Double Cone double IPA. The Super Rad! was, well, super rad—and their bacon and egg flatbread was positively scrumptious.

I later picked up a bottle of pinot noir from my dear friend Cathy. (I’ve known her since the fifth-grade!) She and her husband, Chris Weidemann, started Pelerin, a small artisan winery in Carmel Valley. Their wines are hand-harvested, gently tended and bottled without filtration. When not sipping on pinot noir or Rhone-style syrah, Chris and Cathy enjoy beers from the Monterey Coast Brewing Co. in Salinas. Chris enjoys mid-weight, moderately hoppy ales, and like most, enjoys craft beers from his local community. 

Here’s a quick guide that may help you match your beer preferences with your wine preferences:

  • Enjoy Chardonnay? Try wheat beers.
  • Like carménère? Try West Coast IPAs.
  • Drink syrahs or chianti? Try a porter.
  • If you enjoy merlot, pick up a pale ale.
  • Like riesling? You may also like Czech pilsners.
  • Shiraz or grenache-blend aficionado? Try a Belgium ale.
  • Is your go-to pinot noir? You should also try lambic or sour.

These are mere recommendations; after all, nothing beats your own palate.

Wine is known to be gorgeous, mysterious and sophisticated. Craft beer can portray a sense of worldly history, anarchy and fun. Enjoy both—and you can have it all.

Published in Beer