Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Picture it: North Park. San Diego. 2018.

(Sorry, I’ve been watching The Golden Girls lately. Actually, I’m not sorry; that show is brilliant.)

The Coachella Valley, while a wonderful place, is a little short on craft-beer experiences—although some of us are working to make that less true. In the meantime, thirsty desert-dwellers have some great options within a few driving hours—including a neighborhood in San Diego called North Park.

Located off Interstate 805 just south of the 8, North Park is bursting with places to ingest and imbibe all sorts of delicious food and drink. One of my all-time favorite places to have a beer (or four) is Toronado San Diego. I tagged along with my friend Justin, who got more epic tattoo work done by Adam Hathorn at Big Trouble Tattoo (conveniently located next door to and upstairs from the bar). Toronado is a satellite bar of its namesake in San Francisco; the SF location has been open 30 years and is classified by LocalWiki’s site as “a dive bar for beer snobs.” I sadly have never been, but fortunately, the North Park location—which opened almost 10 years ago—is much more accessible to me. I wouldn’t call it a dive, but it’s definitely no-frills: You have a board above the bar teeming with breweries and beer names, and very knowledgeable staffers (such as the lovely Laura) to guide you through your beer experience. Don’t know what you might like? Let her know what you desire, and she will set you up with something to make your taste buds tingle. One of my favorite things about the bar is its devotion to local breweries: If a brewer is right in their neighborhood, they usually don’t bother, but if the brewer is elsewhere in the larger San Diego area, and that brewer produces quality stuff, Toronado will welcome it.

Beyond San Diego, Toronado offers classic beers from Belgium, like the beautiful Rodenbach Grand Cru, in all its blended-vintage, tart, malty glory. Yes, the bar also often carries the infamous Pliny the Elder Double IPA, from Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. I love Russian River, but take my advice, and try some San Diegan hoppy beers—and you might find that Pliny isn’t as good as you thought. For instance, on my most recent visit, the Hop Swingers IPA—a hazy IPA collaboration from Carlsbad’s Burgeon Beer Company and San Clemente-based Artifex Brewing—blew my mind with its richly tropical and resinous aroma and flavor. On that same trip, I was happy to be joined by and have a great conversation with my good friend James, who lives within walking distance of the bar. (I am deeply jealous yet also relieved that I don’t live that close, for fear that I might end up there too much.) He had a Dark Strong Ale from Belgium called Affligem Noël—a Christmas-spiced abbey-style ale full of flavor.

Enough of my romance with Toronado: There are other places to explore if you’re not as inclined as I am to plant your butt on a bar stool for an entire afternoon. You could go a little down the street and hit the Rip Current Brewing tasting room, and try one of many diverse beers. Belching Beaver Brewery also has a satellite tasting room, and around the corner from that, Tiger!Tiger! is a wonderful place to get a craft beer or two on tap, alongside some inventive bar food. I mean, sausage poutine fries? Come on!

A really fun place to kill time is the Coin-Op Game Room. Play your way through dozens of arcade games—with the help of a great craft-beer selection! A personal favorite is a small bottle shop/tap room franchise called Bottle Craft. The store’s tap list is unique, and you can sip on tasters and nosh charcuterie while perusing bottles and cans of (what for desert residents would be) very hard to find beer. I picked up a bottle of insanely good beer from Brouwerij Boon called Mariage Parfait. This “gueuze” lambic is one of the best: It is a blend of 95 percent 3-year barrel-aged beer, with 5 percent young (less than a year old) lambic. There is also a cherry version of this called a Kriek. Don’t be fooled by the strange Flemish language; these beers are delicacies, pure and simple. I also was able to try the “Forged Series” of four coffee imperial stouts on which Bottle Craft and Mason Ale Works collaborated. Conveniently, they carried a four-pack of cans of each variant. (As good as this place is, the Little Italy location is even better.)

There are some other places I should mention that are just a short Lyft ride away; unfortunately, I don’t have the room to go too deeply into them all:

Modern Times Brewing has two locations: the brewery taproom (complete with a coffee bar serving their delicious coffee), and a North Park tasting room. The beer is great all around—and the décor offers an interesting hipster aesthetic (including chandeliers made from tumbleweeds containing interwoven Christmas tree lights). Both locations can get quite busy.

North Park Beer Co. is located right across the street from Bottle Craft and offers great beer and food from the Mastiff Kitchen, which is an offshoot of the Mastiff Sausage food trucks. They expand out from just serving sausage here, but trust me: The sausage is legit. What’s better with beer than meat in tube form?

Blind Lady Ale House in the nearby Normal Heights neighborhood has a lot—beer, pizza, charcuterie … OK, that’s not a lot, but within those confines, a whole world of flavors are contained. Try some of their own Automatic Brewing beers—made in an impossibly small space at that location.

Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park (yes, friendly faces everywhere) is another classic beer bar in San Diego that rivals Toronado. Indeed, it is a dive bar for beer snobs. The last time I visited, Melvin Brewing from Alpine, Wyo., was holding one of the 2x4 Days—celebrating the release of their incredible 2x4 Double IPA by taking over many taps, showing nothing but martial arts movies on the TVs, and giving out swag like logo bandannas and ninja star-shaped coasters. The bartender dressed as a ninja really sold it for me, as did the showing of Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman.

If I’m in the North Park area, you’ll likely find me parked at Toronado, planning my next move from there ... if there is one. Happy hunting!

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

Writing a column about the history of beer is a much more daunting task than one might expect.

As I stated in my last column, beer is the oldest alcoholic beverage recorded in history. In fact,The Hymn to Ninkasi,"circa 1800 B.C., a tribute to the Sumerian women whose responsibility it was to brew beer, is one of the earliest writings that we still have today. They brewed beer by baking bappir (a honey bread), crumbling it in water, and allowing it to ferment, with the addition of honey and/or dates. The unfiltered beer then had to be drunk through a straw with a filter—much like the South American yerba mate tea.

Allow me to digress here and offer a plausible theory of how the first beer came to be discovered. I say "discovered," because brewers are stewards of the yeast or bacteria that make sugary wort (the fermentable, hoppy brew at the end of the brewing process) into glorious beer; they do their best to make a suitable environment for the yeast to do their business. I submit that the first "brewers" (circa 5,000 B.C.) probably didn't brew at all, but instead carelessly left a bowl of grains out in the open, allowing rainwater to collect inside. Or perhaps they prepared a hot cereal of some kind, and the same thing happened. After a period of a couple of weeks or so, someone was brave—or desperately thirsty—enough to stick in a straw and take a hit. (My hunch is that, knowing humans, it was on a dare.) The result was a slightly euphoric feeling, and eventually, someone figured out how to improve the process.

You may laugh, but animals and insects were in on the act long before homo sapiens was. Certain species either have a high tolerance for alcohol in overly ripe fruit, or eat said fruit and enjoy a good buzz.

Let us move to ancient Greece and Rome. As wine grew to prominence, beer remained the alcoholic drink of the lower classes. In northern Europe, beer reigned—mostly due to climate. Without refrigeration, hot weather sours beer quickly, while in cooler climates, beer can be fermented for much of the year. Therefore, you can imagine a sort of "grape/grain" line dividing Europe latitudinally. This largely remains true today, with some notable exceptions. Beer also afforded people a safe beverage in places where the water source might have been "compromised."

Our friend humulus lupulus, aka the hop, comes into the picture around the 9th century A.D. in writing, but it would take another 200-300 years before it became the preferred bittering and antiseptic agent in beer. Keep in mind, bacteria and yeast were not known about until Louis Pasteur in the 19th century. Brewers just knew that, with hops, their beer was less likely to be undrinkable. Climate also shows its influence here: Hops thrive between the 35th and 55th latitudes in both hemispheres. This plays out in history, with places like Scotland and Ireland having much more malt-forward beers (though in the case of Scotland, this was as a slight to England, where most of the hops were grown), and places like the Czech Republic and Germany having more crisp, hoppy lagers. The makeup of the water in every region played a big part as well.

And then there's Belgium. Since this is a "brief" history, I must restrain myself from heaping effusive praise on Belgian beers and their histories. What I will mention is that it all began in the 12th century with monks in abbeys seeking to brew something potable. What then ensued was the creation of some of the most elegant, subtle and exciting beers in the world. If you have any interest in learning more about Belgian beer history, ignore the books (for now); get to the nearest beer store; and start making your way through the country's beers. Just avoid the fake beers like Stella Artois and Leffe. They are corporate black parodies of Belgian beer.

England and Germany also deserve mention. Germany is responsible for the invention of lagering (cold storage during a slower fermentation period than an ale, with a different type of yeast), as well as Noble hops. England invented the porter, stout and pale ale, among others—and amassed a huge empire that helped make beer well-known.

From these two brewing cultures, we move to America. Native American tribes were making a form of beer before Europeans arrived that used maize and birch sap. Once settlers came, brewers often had to make do with native ingredients—like a different type of malt, grains like maize, and hop varietals such as Cluster hops. The result was a much drier, lighter-bodied beer. German immigrants eventually used these ingredients to their advantage to create what is now known as the Pre-Prohibition Pilsner. After Prohibition, a few of the surviving breweries took this style and used even more corn and other lower-protein adjuncts to create a more-diluted version. Then they added marketing to sell this as the working man's drink.

Several ghastly decades later, some breweries began to appear and make beer that, well, tasted good. A man who is widely considered to be the godfather of craft beer is Fritz Maytag. He purchased the Anchor Brewing Co. in 1965 and quietly began brewing tastier beer. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law making homebrewing legal. Not long after, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. introduced the world to its Pale Ale. It was its day's "hop bomb." Piney, citrusy, bitter and vastly different from everything else on the shelves, it spurred more creativity. Around the same time, Jim Koch and his Boston Beer Company began to brew Samuel Adams and introduce drinkers to forgotten styles in America.

The leak in the dam became a deluge; new styles evolved; and the United States became the most exciting country in which to be a beer drinker. As of this writing, there are more than 5,300 breweries in the United States. This is up from 89 in 1978. And the end doesn't seem to be anywhere in sight.

One could look at all of this history and conclude that this is the best time and place for a beer-drinker to be alive. One could also pour a beer and raise a glass to celebrate this fact.


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

One of the skills I had to acquire before becoming a certified cicerone (the beer equivalent of a sommelier, more or less) was pairing beer with food. In other words, the IPA I was ordering with my hamburger was research! Works for me.

You may be familiar with the idea of wine dinners, but you might not know that when it comes to pairing foods with beverages, beer wipes the floor with wine. Yeah, I included that sentence to provoke a reaction with wine-lovers. The thing is … it happens to be true!

Just think about how beer is made for a moment: The grains are prepared in various ways (malting, kilning and/or roasting), then steeped in the mashing process (much like hot cereal); the sugars are then boiled, with ingredients added at any number of points during the end of the boil and fermentation.

With wine? There are grapes. Maybe some will be blended together. Ergo beer > wine.

I know I'm short-changing wine here, but I bristle at the assumed superiority of wine to beer. Wine struggles where beer breezes in and amazes. Spicy foods, desserts, complex or simple entrées, among all cultures and preparations—beer has it covered, usually from multiple angles. Do you think wine and cheese is dreamy? Beer and cheese will wake you up and make you praise the day. The Belgians have known this for a long time, and has Cuisine à la Biere, which uses the country's delicious beers in the preparation of dishes such as mussels sautéed in a tripel or gueuze, or carbonnade flamande, a beef and onion stew using Flanders red ale instead of water or broth.

Yes, you, too, can pair beer and food. There are a few principles to keep in mind when planning an individual pairing or a multi-course beer dinner:

Match intensities: This is a fairly simple idea: If you have a pairing in which either the beer or the food overwhelms, you might as well have had water rather than beer with your food. When a meal has numerous courses, this is even more important. If you can raise the intensity of the pairings along the way, you can leave your dinner guests blissfully sated. Keep in mind the beer’s strength, as well as how hoppy, roasty, smoky, bitter, etc., it is, and then arrange the dinner courses accordingly.

Complement, contrast and combine: These are the three ways you can approach a pairing. Finding a beer that resembles or includes ingredients contained within the food should be obvious—a citrusy, herbal American pale ale with tacos, for example, or a toasty, nutty English Brown ale with a sharp cheddar. (You will think you're having a grilled cheese sandwich!)

Contrast is another way of approaching a pairing. This is a little more difficult, but a simple way of doing it is using a beer's carbonation and bitterness to "cut" through the food and refresh the palate when necessary. Contrasting flavors can also be done in so many ways that it would be impossible for me to convey even the basics without boring you to death. This is where playing around with pairings is very fun and educational. Good examples of this are pairing a fruited lambic (Belgian sour ale) with a chocolate cake, where the sour, fruity and spritzy beer contrasts with the rich and sweet flavors of the cake. A roasty, creamy stout like Guinness with oysters is a classic pairing. I've had much success combining hoppy beers with chocolates as well (although one could say that eating chocolate and drinking beer simultaneously is a success in and of itself, regardless of how they pair up).

Finally, combining flavors in beer and food to leave the impression of something else altogether can be a great way to conduct whole beer dinners. Themes are another good idea: You can use a single beer style with different courses, or pair beers with a particular cuisine, or develop any kind of theme that unites both.

Pitfalls: I've mentioned some "home run" combinations, but there are also potential duds. For example, hoppy beers make oily fish (sardines, anchovies, etc.) taste harshly metallic. Gross. Hops and alcohol accentuate capsaicin in spicy foods. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're a spice junkie like me. Malt-ier beers will soothe that heat, alternately.

I've paired food from the highly talented Jeshua Garza of Kuma Catering with then-head brewer Chris Anderson's beers at Coachella Valley Brewing for some private dinners. Here is the menu from one of my favorites.

Amuse bouche: Crab arancini with shaved parmesan, paired with Oasis Apple Ale, an American wheat ale with fresh-pressed McIntosh apples. The carbonation in the beer cuts through the fried rice ball and lifts it off the palate, while the slightly tart apple notes contrast the savory crab and cheese.

First Course: Citrus-cured salmon puntarelle, anchovy dressing, radish, lemon aioli, grapefruit and breadcrumbs, paired with Desert Swarm, a Belgian-style honey double witbier with kumquats and coriander. Again, carbonation helps clear the palate for the next bite, while the citrus in the beer and in the food complement each other. The banana yeast esters and coriander in the beer add an extra dimension.

Second course: Sous vide herb chicken, curried sun-choke puree, crispy Brussels sprouts and orange almond pistou, paired with Big Cat Tart Farmhouse Style Ale, containing desert sage, rosemary and grains of paradise. This was the highlight of the dinner: Tartness meets tartness, and citrus in the food plays well off of the curried puree and Brussels sprouts. Then the herbs and spices in the beer cling to the tender chicken perfectly.

Third course: Lamb leg, smoked yogurt, chili baby turnips, roasted persimmons and pork jus, paired with Dubbel Date, a Belgian dubbel with dates. This is a great example of both types of contrast mentioned previously. Belgian beers are typically highly carbonated and dry, and contain fruity, sweet (but not cloying) flavors. This helps the savory, smoky, roasty, fatty goodness of the lamb slide on down and adds sweetness to get you reaching for that next bite.

Fourth course: Caramelized pear tart, toasted coriander ice cream, mint and meyer lemon syrup, paired with Super Swarm on Brett, a variation of a stronger version of Desert Swarm aged in whiskey barrels with pomegranate molasses. This has complement (sweetness, breadiness, citrus and coriander), contrast (a higher alcohol by volume and carbonation against buttery, sweet flavors) and combination (it tasted like having Froot Loops cereal with some banana added alongside a nip of bourbon), all in one dish. I was lucky that this beer was on tap for this dinner, as only a limited amount was produced. 

I hope this whets your appetite. If in doubt … just go for it, and see what happens. If you find some interesting, delicious and/or unexpected pairings, please send them my way and share them so that we may all enjoy them.

One last thing: Make sure you don’t take this too seriously. One of the best things about beer is its accessibility. We don't need the level of snobbery that some wine enthusiasts can manage anywhere near the greatest and oldest alcoholic beverage in the world—beer. Cheers!

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

Today, we’re going to go over some tips on how to buy beer.

Before you throw up your hands and say, “Please … what is there to know about buying beer?! You enter a store that sells it, and you buy it!”—let me explain.

If you drink mass-produced lager and are perfectly happy with that, you don’t need this advice. The one thing the “big boys” in the brewing industry are good at is making their beer exactly the same, every time, and getting it to you as fresh as possible, as often as possible. But if you are like me and love craft beer—in other words, you look forward to having your taste buds challenged and your mind blown—this advice will help.

I have some good and bad news for you. First, the bad: There is bad beer everywhere. The good news: There is excellent beer almost everywhere, and if you follow a few rules, you can greatly increase your chances of finding some great beer.

How am I qualified to tell you, the wise consumer, about this? I am what is called a certified cicerone. Think of it as the equivalent of a sommelier (a wine “expert”) for beer. I spent a year studying (after 23 years of exploring and learning on my own) for a 4 1/2-hour exam that only 33 percent of all test-takers pass. (This is only the second level of a four-level system of certifications, by the way.) In other words, when it comes to the subject of beer, you can go very deep.

Anyway, enough about my bona fides; let’s jump into the rabbit hole.

1. Beer goes bad at varying rates. A can or keg is ideal for protecting beer, because light, oxygen and heat are beer’s worst enemies. The brown bottle offers the next-best protection, followed by green and clear bottles, which provide almost no protection. Also, refrigerated beer is the best to buy. There are many reasons for this, but suffice it to say that beer stored in cold, dark places is preferable.

2. Check the dates. Many craft breweries stamp or print the bottling date somewhere on the packaging.

Hoppy beers are the first to go bad. This is due to the breakdown of the various hop compounds in the beer, as well as possible exposure to UV rays (Ever had skunky beer, anyone?) If that IPA is more than three months old, it probably isn’t what the brewer wanted you to taste—especially if it was not refrigerated or protected from light.

Three to six months is good for most other styles. There are major exceptions to this—for example, many Belgian trappist styles and sour ales last longer, as do stronger ales such as barley wines and imperial stouts—but a good way to look at it is this: The brewer would not have packaged and released the beer if he or she didn’t think it was ready to drink. I have saved enough bottles—and been subsequently disappointed—often enough to now seriously limit the number of beers I cellar.

3. Crowd-sourcing sites like BeerAdvocate are your friends. BeerAdvocate is a website that allows users to add, rate and review beers, as well as breweries and craft-beer bars. If you have any questions or are wondering what the beer you’re looking at in the store is, you can look it up there and get some generally thoughtful reviews.

Many places sell or serve craft with employees who can’t offer you much help—but luckily, you are armed with a powerful pocket computer that can access the vast information resource that is the Internet. Remember to consider the source, however.

4. Don’t be afraid to send that beer back. You might feel odd doing this—but a beer you’ve been served may be flawed. It may be the beer itself is no good and suffers from off-flavors; the keg may be old; or the lines that bring the beer to the tap may need cleaning. You don’t need to pay for a bad drink, and while a truly great beer bar will rarely, if ever, make these mistakes, they’ll gladly make up for it if they do.

And if a business reacts poorly when you send a beer back … be glad: You now know where not to drink in the future.

5. Take a chance. Many of the best beers I’ve ever purchased have been dice rolls when it came down to it. This does not need to happen as much as it did in the 1990s and 2000s—yes, I’m that old—because today, there are so many resources discussing so much beer from so many breweries. However, in some ways, this wealth information can be daunting, and even discouraging. If you’re afraid of looking ignorant … don’t be afraid. We’re all dreadfully ignorant about some things—so much so that there are things that we don’t even know that we don’t know. Do you know what I mean?

Anyway … if you are a curious person with a thirst for knowledge, you can dive in and become less and less ignorant, no matter your interest level in craft beer. Now, start getting that fresh, beautiful beer from that store or bar into your mouth.

Happy hunting!

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

It wasn’t that long ago that IBUs were all that mattered.

International bitterness units were all the rage as IPAs ascended to the top of the craft-beer mountain, and the higher IBU count, the better—if you wanted to prove yourself as the top “hophead” in your beer peer group. Bitterness was king, and the counterbalance was a big, thick, malty backbone that sometimes made it feel like you were drinking a burlap sack.

IBUs are scarcely an afterthought these days, as new catchphrases emerge to fill the mouths of craft-beer aficionados everywhere. One of those phrases—one I hear more and more often every day, in fact—is the word “juicy.”

Juicy is now often used in reference to a beer, usually a Northeast-style IPA, that is particularly fruity or tropical in flavor, and actually drinks sort of like a juice as much as it does a beer.

As in, “Try this mango-infused Northeast IPA, dude. It’s juicy!”

Those Northeast IPAs have gained a lot of traction in the craft-beer world, so I expect this term to become even more common. But my first thought when I heard the phrase some time ago was that beer is a liquid, which is, by nature, “juicy,” right? Heck, a lot of beer names now are starting to incorporate the word “juicy,” which will ultimately render it meaningless. But it’s fun for now. I guess.

Another one I keep hearing, usually in reference to crisp, refreshing, less-complex beers, is “crushable.” In other words, it’s a beer one can drink quickly as a thirst-quencher. It has good flavor, yes, but it isn’t the kind of flavor you sit and ponder while taking notes you’ll later use in your Untappd review; rather, it’s the kind of flavor you enjoy in the moment, in a more-fleeting way.

As in, “Try this hoppy wheat beer, dude. It’s crushable!”

This one is also known as “quaffable.” I’m pretty sure they’re interchangeable, so if you are the type who likes to zig when everyone else zags, feel free to revert to the classic phrase. “Sessionable,” which refers to beers lower in alcohol, comes into this ballpark as well, so you have lots of options to use at your next bottle swap.

Oh, yeah, and there’s “bottle swap.” That’s where you and a bunch of your beer-nerd friends come together; everyone brings an interesting bottle or two; and everyone tastes everyone else’s beer. I once brought a “40” of Miller High Life to a bottle swap as a joke. No one found it funny but me.

Another descriptive phrase I’ve been hearing for a while now is “drain pour”—as in, you just opened a beer and carefully poured it into a snifter to savor as you read your favorite Hemingway novel, but it is so tragically bad that you stop in your tracks and simply pour it down the drain. Next! As in, “I tried that maple banana scotch ale, dude. Drain pour.”

This one is at the height of beer snobbery because, well, who throws away beer? (OK, OK, I’ve done it. But not many times.)

Another derogatory phrase is “shelf turd.” I don’t hear this one as much, but I suspect it will come into its own as craft beer continues to grow into mainstream consciousness. Think of a shelf turd as this: a beer brewed in large quantities that can easily be obtained at your local Ralph’s. It might not even be a bad beer, but to the average beer snob, it has no value because of its ready availability, so it sits on the shelf and slowly goes stale. Or, heck, it might just be bad to begin with.

As in, “Dude, don’t take that Walmart shelf turd to the bottle swap!”

Shelf turds are sort of the opposite of “whales,” or as it is sometimes spelled in beer geekdom, “whalez.” (Come on, really?) A whale is a difficult-to-find, highly desirable beer that craft-beer nerds will actively seek out, sort of like Ahab did with that other whale. They might even stand in long lines to get it, and it will be cherished like a family heirloom, often gathering dust for months or years before being consumed, and bragged about in online beer forums.

As in, “Dude, I’m not trading you my whale for your crushable shelf turds!”

Have you heard the term “dank”? It’s an off-putting word to begin with, which might just be appropriate when describing a big beer that hangs heavy on the palate. Think a thick, sticky, double IPA with lots of harsh bitterness that may or may not taste and smell a bit like cannabis. As in, “Dude, this imperial IPA is so dank that it’s like drinking a burlap sack!” (In weed circles, dank means righteous smoke.)

OK, that’s enough to get you started—assuming you don’t already use these terms regularly—and there are way too many to include in one column. But by this time next year, there will no doubt be a dozen more making the rounds, so be on the lookout for Part II. Cheers.

This piece was originally published in LEO Weekly.

Published in Beer

There’s been a turn toward the wild and less-predictable side of beers over the past several years—and the sour-beer spectrum is evolving into a maze of conflicting substyles.

Kettle sours vs. barrel-aged sours? Berliner weisse or gose? What about dry-hopped American kettle sours?

Sour beers are refreshing and delicious during hotter months, but I’m going to go against the yeasty grain and delve into sours now that fall has arrived. What some non-beer-drinkers may not know—I’m looking at you, drinkers of only wine—is that sour beers can be perfect substitutes for wine. This is good news, considering that we’re coming up on the celebratory time of year with Thanksgiving feasts and holiday parties.

The bright, wild, vibrant world of sours offers a wide range of flavors and intensity—meaning they’re perfect for pairing with rich dishes. Many sour beers are fermented using a strain of Brettanomyces yeast, or Brett, for short. Although winemakers consider it a spoiling agent, brewers embrace the funky, flavorful yeast strains that help make sours, well, sour.

Here’s a primer on some of the terms you’ll hear in the world of sours.

Lambic beers: All lambics are spontaneously fermented with naturally occurring wild yeast. They are the only beers fermented via wild, airborne yeast. In other words, no yeast is added by the brewers. This rare style is produced in a very small region of Belgium. Fruit lambics are made by adding whole fruit, fruit pulp or fruit juice to a batch as it ages in oak casks.

Gose: Not to be confused with gueuze, gose is a traditional German-style unfiltered sour wheat beer. Goses are often viewed as perfect summer beers—but let’s face it: Summerish days are still lingering in the Coachella Valley. Characterized by ingredients such as coriander and salt, the German-style gose dates back to medieval Germany. Modern-day gose is usually light and crisp with a touch of sourness.

Flanders red ale: These come from West Flanders, Belgium. English brewmasters had established schedules of aging and blending for their ales in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it’s believed that Flanders brewmasters took this blending practice and ran with it. Flanders reds are aged in barrels or foeders for 8 to 18 months and are more red-wine-like because of black cherry, red currant and orange flavors. Flanders brown ales are more of a modern interpretation. I am a fan of the Duchesse de Bourgogne Brouwerij Verhaeghe. This 6 percent alcohol-by-volume mahogany brown sour is faintly tart with balsamic notes, and is punctuated by rich fruit astringency, plentiful oak and modest vanilla. I also recommend the Bruery Terreux Oude Tart. Aged in red-wine barrels for up to 18 months, this 7.5 percent ABV Flemish-style red is also available with fruit additions of cherries, boysenberries and raspberries.

As for other sour-style beers: The following are worth picking up for your next get-together or celebration:

• 8 Wired Gypsy Funk

• Beachwood Blendery Coolship Chaos

• Boulevard Love Child #8

• Casa Agria Heritage Gold

• Cigar City Lactobacillus Guava Grove

• Crooked Stave St Bretta Citrus Wildbier

• Firestone Walker SLOambic

• Funkwerks Raspberry Provincial

• Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa

• Mikkeller Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse Raspberry

• Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

• Societe The Thief

• Track 7 Chasing Rainbows

Mistletoes aren’t the only place appropriate for puckering up. Thanks to sours, lip-smacking boozy flavors are perfect just about any time.

Published in Beer

Bier ist gut. For those who don’t know German, here’s a rough translation: Beer frickin’ rocks.

It’s the 184th anniversary of Oktoberfest in Munich. In the 1800s, some beer-loving members of the German royalty decided to get hitched—and that’s how we ended up with the rich, amber and copper seasonals that are Oktoberfest-style beers. (It’s kind of like a really long, international game of telephone that started with a traditional German marriage and horse race, and ended with a bunch of people gathering to drink beer, roast sausages and wear some of the funniest outfits you’ll ever see.)

Even if you can’t make the trek to Munich for the pretzel-and-beer bacchanal, you can enjoy some of these fall beers while wearing lederhosen (or not). Oktoberfest-style beers, also known as Märzen, were originally brewed around March (März is the German word for March) and stored to be consumed in the fall, before modern refrigeration.

Here are some of the beers I’ll be enjoying this October.

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, 6.1 percent alcohol by volume: Every year, Sierra Nevada teams up with a different German brewer to craft a delicious Oktoberfest-style beer. This year, the brewery partnered with the legendary Brahaus Miltenberger to produce a delicious golden Märzen lager that’s balanced by traditional German-grown whole-cone hops.

Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen, 5.8 percent ABV: This brewery was founded in 1878 in the Bavarian village of Aying. This Oktoberfest Märzen is one of the most respected beers in this category.

Santa Fe Brewing Oktoberfest, 6 percent ABV: This classic German lager showcases the crispness of Munich malts mixed with Bavarian hops, giving the beer notes of lightly toasted grain and a bit of caramel sweetness—before a slightly spiced, floral hop finish.

Spaten Oktoberfestbier Ur-Märzen, 5.9 percent ABV: This brew features a toasted malt breadiness upfront, with a hint of sugar-cane sweetness. Few breweries in the city limits of Munich are allowed to serve beer there; the brews must conform to the age-old standard of Reinheitsgebot, or the Bavarian Purity Law. Like other authentic German beers brewed in Munich, Spaten pours an amber color and is crystal-clear.

Ninkasi Brewing Oktoberfest, 5.5 percent ABV: Celebrating the Pacific Northwest with Pisner malt and regional Sterling, Willamette and Mt. Hood hops, this seasonal beer highlights notes of toasty yet sweet pale grain, with some slight bitterness.

Hofbräu Original, 5.1 percent ABV: Enjoy this Munich helles lager-style beer brewed by Hofbräuhaus München in München, Germany. It has a crisp, clean aroma and taste, and is extremely easy-drinking. I remember chugging this style of beer in the legendary tourist mecca, the Hofbräuhaus. If you’re searching for a rich Oktoberfest beer … well, this isn’t it. Instead, it’s the beer you imagine when you think of those busty chicks roaming the beer halls holding five or six beers the size of your head.

Flying Dog Dogtoberfest Märzen, 5.6 percent ABV: Flying Dog uses 100 percent imported German ingredients for an authentic flavor. Specialty malts like Vienna, Munich 90, Munich 100 and Light Munich help make this brew a dark-amber color. Caramel flavor and spice make this a perfect fall beer. After winning the 2005 bronze, and 2008 and 2009 gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival in the German-Style Märzen category, this beer has become one to seek out. Besides, how can you not like beers that showcase the artwork of gonzo artist Ralph Steadman (best known for his work with Hunter S. Thompson) on the bottle?

Surly Brewing SurlyFest 2017, 6 percent ABV: This is not your typical Oktoberfest beer. Surly’s version is a dry-hopped rye lager with an earthy, biscuity flavor profile. Brewed with three different types of rye and one variety of American hops, the beer has a nice, peppery bite, with notes of caramel, and a decent amount of citrus and pine.

Left Hand Oktoberfest, 6.6 percent ABV: This beer-maker in Colorado starts brewing its Oktoberfest in the spring to achieve liquid bliss. With a gorgeous copper hue, Left Hand Oktoberfest is biscuit-y and, like many beers of this style, malty. The noble pedigree hops add a properly spicy, dry finish.

The change of seasons from summer to fall is a beautiful thing, as the new season heralds the arrival of awesome seasonals that should not be missed.

Beers, bratwurst and babes … I mean, how could you go wrong?

Published in Beer

India pale ales—you know them as IPAs—may still be the best-selling beer style, but many of us prefer the darker side of things.

Yes, stouts are perfect as the nights begin to get just a little longer; it’s a great time to enjoy oatmeal-y, chocolate-y, coffee-flavored deliciousness in a glass.

For my money, here are some of the best stouts in the world right now:

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: With more than 12,000 votes and a 4.5 rating (out of 5) on, this is arguably the best stout in the world. Coming in at 12.8 percent alcohol by volume, the beer offers hints of caramel, bourbon and dried fruit on the nose. This is a full-bodied, smooth stout with flavors of vanilla, oak and yet more bourbon. It’s the epitome of the imperial stout style—a beautifully crafted beer.

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout: Of the most widely known stouts in America, “KBS” is also one of the best, with a 100 score. This world-class imperial stout is brewed with a hint of coffee and vanilla, then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year. KBS shines with bold flavors throughout—and the flavors ramp up a couple of notches as the beer warms. 

“You put the right beer in the right barrel, and you’re going to create some pretty interesting flavors,” says Founders brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki, according to the Founders website.

Firestone Walker Parabola: This barrel-aged beast also has a world-class 100 score from, and is also aged for a full year in bourbon barrels. With this 14 percent ABV Russian imperial stout, prepare for flavors of sweet, dark berries; oak-y cask vanilla; and malt complexity. The licorice and molasses notes help create a perfectly balanced and amazingly flavorful stout. This is a fantastic nightcap!

While we’re talking about stouts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to mark your calendars for Nov. 2, when stout-lovers across the world will celebrate the delicious, dark beer on the Seventh Annual International Stout Day. Full disclosure: I created the day!

Here are a few of my favorite places to enjoy stouts, as well as a few of my favorite stouts to enjoy, in and around the Coachella Valley:

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. (30640 Gunther St., Thousand Palms) will be celebrating Stout Day with a newly released stout; the details will be announced soon.

La Quinta Brewing Co.’s Koffi Porter is a 6.3 percent ABV beer brewed with dark-roasted, chocolate and crystal malts. After fermentation, brewmasters add coffee beans from Rancho Mirage’s Koffi. This renowned beer has taken home the bronze in both the 2014 World Beer Championships and the 2016 Los Angeles International Beer Competition. It will be on tap at both locations (77917 Wildcat Drive, Palm Desert; and 78065 Main St., No.100, La Quinta) for Stout Day.

King Harbor Brewing Summer Stout: Redondo Beach’s King Harbor is known for its Swirly stout, and the brewery occasionally releases an imperial stout in the winter, but this year, Tom Dunbabin and his brewing team decided they wanted to develop a Summer Stout—with a chocolate and roasted-malt profile, a subtle refreshing character, a lower alcohol by volume and a clean finish. Expect to see this beer and other King Harbor brews around the Coachella Valley this fall and winter—and if you’re feeling like a road trip, King Harbor will be hosting a Stout Day event at the brewery on Nov. 2.

The Beer Hunter (78483 Highway 111, La Quinta) is not to be confused with the beer writer named Michael Jackson, who used the moniker The Beer Hunter, and was the best beer writer the world has known; he passed away in 2007. I am talking about the sports bar in La Quinta that is stepping up its game with new and bigger selections, as well as its own white-label beers that are brewed locally. Stop in on Nov. 2 to celebrate Stout Day!

Want to stay in to celebrate stouts? I have found the selections of craft beer at Total Wine and More, Whole Foods, Jensen’s Foods and Bristol Farms to all be fantastic. Pour your own stout flights, and have guests pick their favorites!

International Stout Day gives stouts their day in the spotlight, which they so rightly deserve. On Nov. 2, be sure to login and rate your stouts, and check in where you’re celebrating, on Untappd! Every year, the app offers up special badges for celebrating the holiday.


Published in Beer

What’s just as important as making good craft beer? Making sure it is available to the people who want to enjoy it.

Ever since the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, there has been a three-tier system of distribution for alcoholic products in the United States, overseen by the U.S. government.

The first tier is the supplier or producer—in the case of beer, a brewery. The second tier is the distributor or wholesaler, which purchases the product from the supplier, and then sells it to those in the third tier: the retailer—bars, restaurants and stores that sell the delicious products to consumers.

However, a new company is looking to disrupt this 80-plus-year-old distribution paradigm.

Liberation Distribution, aka LibDib, is offering what it calls the first three-tier web-based distribution platform. LibDib creates an opportunity for makers and retailers to work together directly—thus giving restaurants, bars and stores access to a larger variety of boutique craft libations.

Launched on March 22, the San Jose-based company has more than 250 accounts in California thus far, and has moved on to New York.

I spoke with Cheryl Murphy, LibDib’s founder and CEO.

What prompted you to start LibDib?

It’s really crazy, all of the industry consolidation that’s happening. … I spent 20 years in the wine business, managing wholesalers. … Every year, I would make numbers, but a distributor of mine would go out of business, or they’d get acquired, and then we would be at the bottom of the wrung at a giant distributor. It was like pulling teeth.

I had a little too much to drink one night when I was with my dad, who was my boss at the time. I was working at our family’s winery, and I said, “Ya know, you can’t do this based on the industry’s conditions. How can we be successful?”

When you take control of your own destiny, as a sales person, as a brand—that is when you can be successful. When you have a distributor in between that is beholden to larger companies … (you’re) not going to be top of mind.

My whole goal is to learn how we can facilitate legal three-tier sales. That’s really important: We are part of the three-tier system. But how can we enable small breweries, wineries and distilleries to do business with other small businesses—grocery stores, bars and restaurants—where there are thousands and thousands of them, without a giant company in between?

We built a two-sided web platform. For the maker, what we call our supplier, they can go in and put of all their materials online. … As a distributor, we collect the money. We pay the maker. We pay the taxes. We do all the things we have to do as a distributor. We take half the margin—that’s anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of whatever product you’re talking about. The maker is responsible for delivery.

It’s been really interesting so far. A couple of the breweries that we have, they were self-distributing. But now we’ve kind of brought them back into the three-tier system, because we’re taking care of a lot of the things that they don’t want to do: They want to go out and sell their brand. They want to make their beer. But they don’t want to collect. They don’t want to invoice. … We’re trying to make it easier for those guys, and we’re making it easier for the account side, because the accounts like to carry small-production craft products. But they don’t want to write 100 checks every month.

Small craft products don’t necessarily fit with the current model of distributors. (Distributors) are not going to make enough money on your brand, so why would they care? In working with us, you can have that direct fulfillment, but then still have the backend of the distributor—with one invoice and one check.

So, in essence, brewers are saving money and are able to get into more locations, without having to do the self-distribution work.

Exactly. A lot of breweries want to fulfill, because they want to have that complete control—over the temperature, over everything. But they don’t necessarily want to do all the other stuff the distributor does.

What’s your biggest group so far? Would it be restaurants, or bars, or retailers?

So far, it’s bars and bottle shops. We’re working on a couple of big deals. There’s a stadium that’s interested in working with us and having us get 15 or 20 taps—just totally unique, small-craft-beer stuff.

Have distribution companies taken notice yet?

Yes! I was very nervous about the wine and spirits folks, that they may not be happy about this. But for the most part, they’ve been pretty accepting. They recognize that with this consolidation, their bread and butter is their bigger suppliers. … Some of the little guys take away their time and effort from where they really make their money, so they like the idea.

How do you think you may ultimately affect the big beer buyouts? (Many small brewery owners are citing distribution struggles in their decisions to sell.)

There are so many small companies that need help with their distribution. I’m going after what I call the long tail of the industry—the (breweries) that couldn’t get distribution, even if they wanted it.

This is a totally different vertical, but do you consider yourself to be in any way similar to Airbnb?

In terms of posting your things once, and having people from all over the world able to see it, yes. It’s definitely like the Airbnb of alcohol distribution. It’s funny: (Venture capitalists) around here will tell us, “Don’t tell us you’re the Airbnb of anything.” But it gives people an idea. You can go in; you post your product; and buyers can see it and purchase it legally.

Published in Beer

While it’s always a great time for a delicious craft beer, it’s also fun to celebrate beer with others—and the upcoming months bring an array of awesome beer festivals where people celebrate in style.

Beer weeks and festivals celebrate the culture and community of craft beer and give fans options to enjoy new and special brews. Here are just a few beer events to put on your calendar:

San Marcos: Stone 21st Anniversary Celebration and Invitational Beer Festival, Aug. 19: Hailed as one of the godfathers of craft-beer events, this is not your average beer festival. It’s not only the largest craft-beer festival in Southern California; the beers are carefully selected to include some of the finest and rarest beers around.

Seattle: Washington Beer Collaboration Festival, Aug. 19: Washington celebrates collaboration and creativity by featuring 25 unique collaboration beers from 50 different Washington breweries. Stay tuned for the pairings. The second annual two-day outdoor event is presented by the Washington Beer Commission.

Philadelphia: Labor Day Volksfest, Sept. 2-4: Willkommen bei freunden! Every Labor Day Weekend, the Cannstatter Volksfest Verein hosts a lively three-day party. Celebrating German heritage since 1873, this is the oldest Volksfest in the United States.

Sacramento: California Craft Beer Summit and Summit Beer Festival, Sept. 7-9: Experience two full days of beer education, networking and tradeshows for brewers, retailers, distributors and craft-beer lovers at the convention center on Sept. 7 and 8. On Saturday, Sept. 9, enjoy a plethora of California craft beers at the largest beer festival on the West Coast, with more than 160 California craft breweries.

Charleston: Charleston Beer Week, Sept. 9-16: The fifth annual Charleston Beer Week celebrates the South Carolina’s city’s craft beer community, from brewer to bartender and keg to glass. The city now boasts 19 production breweries, four brewpubs and numerous craft beer-focused pubs and restaurants. Keep a look out on the website for a list of 48 sudsy events across the city.

Big Bear: Big Bear Oktoberfest, September-October: Held among pine trees, mountains and Big Bear Lake, this is one of the longest running Oktoberfests in the country. Guests are treated to authentic German entertainment, brats, knockwursts and German beers in a beautiful alpine setting.

Denver: Great American Beer Festival, Oct. 5-7: The Great American Beer Festival is the premier U.S. beer festival and competition. In its 30th year, the 2016 GABF competition awarded 286 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the U.S. Want another reason to visit? With more than 3,500 different beers from over 700 of the nation’s finest breweries, the event is listed as one of the top 1,000 “places” in the U.S. to visit before you die.

San Diego, San Diego Beer Week, Nov. 3-12: From “Bikes, Brews and Brats With Green Flash” and a “Beer Train Trolley Tour” to “Hops on the Harbor With Flagship Cruises and Belching Beaver Brewery” and a “Rare Beer Breakfast,” this 10-day craft-beer celebration features events like no other.

Greater Palm Springs: Coachella Valley Beer Week, Nov. 10-19: Established in 2015 by yours truly, CVBW is a craft-beer celebration featuring festivals, dinners, tours, tastings and meet-the-brewer nights in and around Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indio and La Quinta.

Published in Beer

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