CVIndependent

Sun09202020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Let me tell you about a drink—a wine, technically—that is older than our species. It’s not made from grapes, and the bulk of the work to make it isn’t even done by humans, but by honey bees.

Yes, I am talking about mead.

The honey bee separated from its parent species around a million years ago. Worker honey bees collect pollen and, more importantly, nectar. Nectar is a sugary substance that fuels the bees, with the surplus being converted into honey via osmosis, to store and feed the entire colony. While yeast is omnipresent in the environment and is as hungry for that sugar as the bees are, the osmotic pressure of honey makes fermentation by yeasts and bacteria almost impossible: Think of honey as a desert for yeast cells. This, combined with smaller contributing factors, makes sealed honey immortal—it can be safely consumed thousands of years after it was made.

But evolution has a funny way of finding niches in what evolutionary philosopher Daniel Dennett has termed Design Space, often in the form of an "arms race." While doing my research, I came across this fascinating tidbit: Some yeasts evolved to become osmotolerant. This means that the yeast can perform in environments that are high in sugars and low in water. I bring this up, because it seems that these osmotolerant yeasts became the yeasts that humans eventually unwittingly (because yeast wasn't identified until the 19th century) harnessed to make beer and wine

The first humans to stumble across mead would have likely done it by accident. An essay on the website of Medovina Meadery in Colorado (authored with the help of Dr. Garth Cambray, founder of Makana Meadery in South Africa) suggests an interesting scenario: "The origins of mead can be traced back to the African bush more than 20,000 years ago. Feral bees were well established; elephants roamed the continent, and weather patterns were seasonal. … (These weather patterns) would eventually cause hollows to rot out the crown of the Baobab and Miombo trees, where the elephant had broken branches. During the dry season, the bees would nest in these hollows, and during the wet season, the hollows would fill with water. Water, honey, osmotolerant yeast, and time, and voila—a mead is born."

As nomadic tribes spread out of Africa and into the Mediterranean, they took bees with them, and mead would become a conscious (and treasured) process. The first known recipe for beer is the Hymn to Ninkasi in ancient Sumer, and it includes honey—likely because unmalted grain is not as efficient for brewing, and the sucrose and fructose in honey would work just fine for those purposes. Ancient Greece referred to it as ambrosia, "the nectar of the gods." It's referenced in ancient Chinese, Indian and Egyptian documents, some of which date back 4,000 years. Norse mythology and culture is littered with its mention. Think Beowulf and the slaying of Grendel inside Heorot, the great mead hall of King Hrothgar. Yes, mead was a very big deal for a very long time.

Sugar cane was brought back to Europe by Marco Polo, and honey became less and less of a source for sugars (outside of the monasteries that required beeswax and used the honey to make mead as a by-process). Then came industrialization. The Medovina essay says: "Prior to the mechanized extraction of honey, the honeycombs were simply crushed to remove the honey. This left loads of honey-laden, crushed beeswax which could most easily be processed by rinsing the honey out of the wax with warm water. And what became of the honey water? Mead, of course. Mechanized extraction meant less left over comb and less honey water for mead-making, and a general decline in the craft." Mead has become a highly artisan concern ever since.

This would be a very sad column if it ended there. Thankfully, mead is in the midst of a comeback, of sorts. Homebrewers have led this charge, thanks to their curiosity about all things fermentable.

My first mead experience was the serviceable Chaucer’s Mead (out of Santa Cruz) I picked up in the wine aisle at a grocery story. Some of my more mind-blowing experiences with mead have come thanks to my oft-cited friend and brewer, Chris Anderson.

"For me, mead-making was merely the next natural evolution in fermentation exploration,” he says. “It came after 20 years of beer-making, and at a point where I was feeling like I had tried just about everything in brewing. It’s extremely easy to make mead, but it does require a bit of patience for the lengthy aging process, which can take a year or more."

Anderson’s tropical mead was my favorite—and he went all out on it.

"It was kind of a joke, but it was special," he explains. "I opted for Christmas Berry and Lehua honey, both from Hawaii, and Miele Amaro (bitter honey) from Sardinia. The fruits that I employed were all grown on our property on Oahu: passion fruit, papaya, mango and pink guava. This was by far the best mead that I have ever made, and it garnered gold in the few competitions that I entered it in."

If you have not experienced meads, it is a bit easier to do than it was even a couple of years ago. Locally, Golden Coast Mead in Oceanside is a couple of hours away from the Coachella Valley (and a great place to go to escape the last gasps of summer here). Moonlight Meadery out of New Hampshire has been making wonderful meads for years, which can be found on select craft-beer shop shelves and purchased via their site for shipping.

A personal favorite that I have not yet had a chance to visit resides in Arizona, Superstition Meadery. They make an incredible mead called Peanut Butter Jelly Crime, and yes, it tastes like the liquid version of the best PB&J you've ever had. They've gotten into hazy hopped meads recently, and the results are delicious.

However you can find it, mead is worth trying out—and hopefully, it will be made more interesting with the knowledge I've imparted here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

The influx of clueless drivers with Washington-state license plates indicates we are nearing the tourist season here in the desert. (Side note to those drivers: If you miss a turn, that's your problem and no one else's. Take the loss, and find a safe place to turn around.)

Seeing as I work at a brewery taproom, this column is a somewhat selfish endeavor: It’s a brewery-goers’ guide to taproom etiquette. This isn't coming from an angry place—at least not totally. I would like to arm the consumer with useful advice that could enhance the experience without much effort. Let's jump right in:

• "Is (NAME OF BEER) good?" or, alternately, "What's good?" I happen to be honest to the point of being too blunt sometimes, but this question is weird: I work for the brewery. What do you think I am going to say to this? I will often sarcastically respond with, "No, they're all bad, in fact," before trying to ascertain what the customer's preferences are. Do yourself a favor, and ask for a sample. Most places will be happy to give you a splash so you can decide for yourself. Don't be afraid to set it aside and ask for a sample of something else if you didn't enjoy it.

• "What's new?" Despite my massive intellect and faultless memory, I can't remember the last time you visited the brewery. Please feel free to do that work for me, and I will be glad to help you out accordingly.

• “What's the hoppiest beer you have?" I dedicated a whole column to IBUs (international bitterness units) and why they're IBUseless to the consumer. (Get it? I've been waiting to use that one.) The "hoppiest beer" question is loaded and not easy to answer. Hoppiness can include flavor, bitterness and/or aroma. Do you want an old-school West Coast hop bomb with a bitter underbelly, or do you want a double-dry-hopped, super-fragrant hazy IPA that has a much more restrained bitter finish? Huge imperial stouts are often very hoppy, but that's not the first thing you take away when tasting one. I'll do my best here, but I need you to meet me halfway if you want your needs properly fulfilled.

• "(Looks at the beer list, which does not include a particular style.) Do you have (that particular style)?" This is pretty self-explanatory: If it ain't on the board, it ain't available. At my taproom, there are 20 beers on tap. Is that not enough? Instead, tell me what you like, and I will help you find something similar. Also: If you have a sight issue, feel free to let your beertender know, and we'll happily be your eyes.

• "Do you have wine/cider/etc.?" I personally don't mind this question much (although, to repeat—if it's not on the board, it's not available), but I do find it amusing when people get indignant that the taproom I work at doesn't have these things. Who's surprised when they go to a brewery that we only have beer? The answer, sadly, is a non-zero number. If licensing were simpler, we might actually serve those other things, too. Can you tell this is getting cathartic for me?

• Wearing cologne/perfume/heavy scents. This might be the rudest thing you can do when visiting any place where you are drinking or eating. A large part of our olfactory experience is determined by our noses. We all have different thresholds for different aromas, but bathing in patchouli (which is ALWAYS gross, incidentally) is just rude when you're in a confined space attempting to enjoy craft beer. Some of those perfume scents can crawl up one’s nose and heavily affect one’s taste experience. You would be equally vexed by someone smoking or vaping nearby while you were trying to enjoy beer. Trust me: The people around you will appreciate the lack of perfume in general if you dial it back, or get rid of it all together. (I personally think most perfumes smell like what the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would spit out if asked to produce a perfume.) This goes doubly for body odor. This should go without saying, but your commitment to not wearing deodorant should not be anyone else's problem. And patchouli doesn't cover that up, either (and its association with body odor probably turned me sour on that scent to begin with).

• Dirty growlers: Most breweries offer to-go containers of various sizes, called growlers, that can be filled and refilled with beer. I can’t believe I need to say this … but you should clean them when you're done. Yes. That might be the most absurdly obvious thing I've ever written. Beer left sitting in a container can quickly become a robust environment for bacteria and mold. We do clean and sanitize the growlers we're about to fill, as it's in the brewery's best interest to not give out tainted beer, but if I see mold, I'm sending that growler back empty. There is no way I'm going to chance infecting a sanitized beer line with that. This isn't a labor-intensive process: All you need to do is give a growler a very good rinse with water when you have finished the beer, and either wash it out with scentless dish soap, or stick it in the dishwasher for a simple hot rinse, before letting it dry out completely. I used to have a half-joking, half-morbid curiosity for the scents that could emanate from growlers, but I have since been cured of that. Leaving a dirty growler in a car in the desert summer heat makes it less of a container for beer and more of a small microbiome.

While some might view this list as snobbery, much of this is just common sense. Taproom employees should be able to guide the uninitiated beer-drinker to a pleasant experience, although I understand that not all breweries are created equal. It would be helpful to keep these things in mind so that you can have knowledge at your disposal—and enjoy your time at any taproom as fully as possible.

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

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

Last month, I said my next column would be about a “craft-beer institution from the past that still has not been matched in this valley”—and it seems I lied. I will bring that to you soon, but I want to make sure I take the time necessary to do it well.

To make up for it, I’m writing about a place—and its beer festival earlier this month—which is vying to become the aforementioned institution’s long-awaited successor.

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club Palm Springs opened in 2009. The Ace folks renovated “a mid-century desert modern former Westward Ho with a Denny’s” into a hipster paradise. The hotel bar, the Amigo Room, includes many craft-beer taps. In the early years, the Ace and the Amigo had a great rag-tag staff of people who cared about craft beer and strove to put the best beers they could get on tap. From this, the Craft Beer Weekend emerged. As small as it has been in square footage, Craft Beer Weekend has consistently been one of the better beer festivals in the Coachella Valley.

The cherry on top? It’s in the dead of summer.

Will Sperling was recently hired as the food and beverage manager for the Ace Hotel from his former position as general manager at Mikkeller DTLA, a juggernaut of a craft-beer bar. It was subsequently announced that this year’s Craft Beer Weekend, which took place Aug. 3 and 4, would be two beer festivals on two consecutive weekend days, with a brewery list that would make even people who live in beer meccas turn their heads. When I saw the name De Garde Brewing on the list, I took notice, as it is perhaps my favorite sour-ale brewery in the country right now, and the beer is very hard to get hold of without trekking to the taproom in Tillamook, Ore. (yes, the place with the cheese). I reached out to Sperling to get his thoughts on the festival and the future of craft beer—not only at the Ace, but in the Coachella Valley overall.

“One of the main things I want to do is bring out a bunch of new breweries to the desert,” Sperling told me during an interview at the King’s Highway diner inside the Ace. “And it’s easy. I don’t know why people haven’t done it already. Los Angeles is right there.”

He listed additional breweries he wanted to bring out for the festival that just couldn’t make it, like Highland Park Brewery in L.A., and 3 Floyds Brewing in Indiana. To my knowledge, these two breweries’ beers have never been served here in the desert. He had to “settle” for the likes of Bottle Logic Brewing, Horus Aged Ales, Pizza Port Brewing and Mumford Brewing, among others. Many of these breweries had their head brewers pouring at the festival.

I met Jeff Bagby, former director of brewing operations at Pizza Port—and San Diego brewing royalty—at the festival pouring Bagby Beer Company’s true-to-style and gorgeous beers.

“Last year’s festival, there were 40 or so breweries here,” Sperling said. “This year, there were less than 30. … I’ve cut out all the filler—not necessarily bad beer, but I don’t want any beer that you can find in local grocery stores. It defeats the purpose of putting on a beer festival. I want to bring beer that no one has ever seen before. And the cool thing is that I’ve ordered multiple kegs for the event that will be on in the Amigo Room for a little while after the event, so people can come and enjoy them … in normal-sized glasses.” (The last part of that quote will be understood by people who read last month’s column.)

Sperling has the bona fides to back up what he says. Before opening Mikkeller DTLA, he headed Lantern Hall in Brooklyn; worked at the famed Gramercy Tavern in New York City; and managed The Craft Beer Company in London, on his home turf of England. What is interesting about this resumé is the timing: Every city he worked in was experiencing a huge upsurge in its local beer scene while he worked there.

I have a habit of asking people who move here from a major city—tongue in cheek, of course—why here? What would bring a boy from Kent in the southeast of England to our neck of the woods?

“I’ve been coming to the desert for a while,” Sperling said. “I used to come to the Ace, in fact, and hang out here if I just had a day off from L.A., and my wife and I could get away for the night. … We were looking to buy somewhere, and we couldn’t afford anything in Los Angeles. We had a little bit of money, and we wanted to invest in something—not necessarily somewhere we’re going to live forever, but something we could do that would give us a little back on an investment. So we bought this little cabin up in Twentynine Palms—an old, derelict cabin in the middle of nowhere, off a dirt road off a dirt road—and for the last two years, we’ve been fixing that up. It’s been a real joy. We go up there, and we don’t see any people.

“I knew a few people who worked here at the hotel, and I saw they had a position open to run the bar here. I thought, ‘Yeah, cool. Let’s get out of L.A. and try something different.’”

Craft-beer lovers will be reaping the benefits of his presence. I was while I was interviewing Will—drinking a pint of English-style pale ale from the unique Yorkshire Square Brewing out of Torrance.

In upcoming months, I’m going to be focusing on craft-beer culture, and how it is grown. You’ll be hearing more from Sperling and others regarding how we can raise the bar in the future. If you’re as interested in making this beautiful place we call home a better destination when it comes to beer … stay tuned.

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

Published in Beer

I occasionally have so much on my mind when it comes to craft beer that I just have to write about it all in one column. I did this last year in what I describe as a less-lazy equivalent of Larry King’s defunct USA Today column.

Rice lagers are all the rage right now for some reason. … What is the deal with those beer multi-packs? … How can Beaumont have a bottle-shop/craft-beer taproom and downtown Palm Springs not?

As repugnant as I find this kind of writing, there is some utility in this scattershot approach in that I get to dump all of my burning thoughts on current topics in the beer world while barely having to do any research. In other words, I get to have my lazy cake and eat it, too. So without further ado, let’s jump right in.

• Eureka! Indian Wells is pretty much my go-to craft-beer watering hole. I like the staff (Ari, you’re still the best!); the food is solid; it’s close to home; and it usually has some of the better beers on tap as compared to other places. It is within that loving context that I state the following to the higher-ups at Eureka!: Get your glassware game together! As I understand the situation: Someone at corporate HQ seems to have decided that the price of any given keg determines the size of the pour you get. This often leads to absurd serving sizes and prices. No pilsner should EVER be served in a 13-ounce tulip glass. Not long ago, they were charging an absurd $15 for a 9-ounce pour of a Modern Times Nova Colony sour ale! This was a 7 percent barrel-aged blend of fruited sours. I don’t care if it was made with water from the Fountain of Youth; there is no way in hell I would consider paying that without at least a 13-ounce pour of it. Why are accountants choosing glassware?! It’s truly maddening, and Eureka! should be ashamed of themselves … but I doubt they can hear this over the piles of money they make on everything else at that place.

• A lot of people, especially brewers, are expressing excitement over craft rice lagers to me. Rice lagers are the Mexican lagers of last summer in that it’s the current "in thing" to say you love. Listen, I know taste is subjective, and a well-made beer is a well-made beer (especially with lager styles like this where there isn’t any place to hide if you botched the brew), but I have to say: Just go drink your Modelo or Budweiser. That’s clearly what you want. I’m going to stick to pilsners to get that full, crisp, unadulterated lager experience. This doesn’t mean I think corn and rice have no place in craft beer—anything is game, but I think we can be more creative than this, can’t we?

• Beer multi-packs suck. I can’t tell you how many of them I have come across that have special, one-off beers that I would love to try, along with one or two common, flagship beers (out of a usual four, that is; these are generally 12-packs that usually include three bottles each of four different beers). Samuel Adams, I can get your Boston Lager EVERYWHERE. I could be in the middle of the Mojave Desert, stumble across a random gas station, and reasonably assume I can get your Boston Lager. Whose idea was this, and why has it proliferated for so long?! I have seen multis with all core brands—that, I can understand. Still … I ask that everyone please join me in not purchasing another multi-pack until breweries stop doing this.

• I am very happy for Beaumont for getting a place like The Craft Lounge where people can buy some nice bottles and try some great beers on tap, all in the same spot. But … how did Beaumont get such a place before Palm Springs did? I’m tempted to leave this at that—the Larry King inside of me wants to (wait, that doesn’t sound right)—but I will add that I wouldn’t be so disappointed by this if it weren’t so typical. Why can’t we have nice things?

I would also like to take this opportunity to get out in front of anyone who is of a like mind: A couple of people confronted me about a recent column regarding the state of the beer scene in the Coachella Valley with the complaint that I should do something about it. Do you honestly think I’m not? One of the main reasons I took on the mantle of beer columnist for the Independent is to try to whip up interest, put spotlights where I think they’re deserved (good or bad), and act as a bit of a lightning rod to push the scene forward.

Do I think this has happened? I honestly cannot say. I feel like I’m shouting into the void about these things at times, while at other times, I feel honored that anyone is reading this and taking anything away from it. In any case, it isn’t all up to just me. Do you have ideas for what can be done here?

Next month’s column will be about a craft-beer institution from the past that still has not been matched in this valley; I’m writing it in the hopes that it can rally people to the cause of creating more of a craft-beer culture. Building a culture can be a slow and arduous task, but being in on the ground floor and looking around to nearby budding cultures is truly exciting. We aren’t even necessarily that far way, yet we seem to be leagues from something substantial nonetheless. It’s going to take some work and some similarly impassioned people to get there.

This is my message in a bottle. It’s just that the bottle has beer in it.

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

Published in Beer

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