CVIndependent

Sat12152018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go forth; stay vigilant; and drink wisely!

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

Published in Beer

There was a time not too long ago when I cringed at the sight of a raspberry wheat or berry blonde beer. I thought these beers were too dainty, too affected—and frankly, not worth my money.

However, I’ve changed my tune in recent years—and I am not alone.

Let’s look at just one beer category, flavored IPAs, for evidence. In 2015, sales of “tropical-flavored” IPA increased by 250 percent, according information presented to the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia in May 2016. According to market-research firm Mintel, in 2010, 15 percent of new beers introduced were flavored. In 2015, 27 percent of beers to come onto the market were flavored.

But fruit has not been relegated to just IPAs. Brewers are also infusing pale ales, saisons and even stouts with fruit from the farm—grapefruits, oranges, lemons, limes and so on.

Take San Diego brewer Ballast Point’s Pineapple Sculpin, for example. Since Ballast Point’s purchase by Constellation, this beer and its relatives—Habanero Sculpin and Grapefruit Sculpin, introduced in 2014—are more widely available. This is a very good thing.

Some of these juicy new beers have come about thanks to experimental hops with aromatic qualities, which pair better with fruits. Brewers are also developing styles that are better able to carry the fruit flavors. As fruit beers have gotten better, they’ve not only won over some hard-core beer-drinkers like me; they’ve brought more non-traditional beer-drinkers into the craft-beer world.

Take New Belgium’s Citradelic Tangerine IPA, launched in January 2016, as another example of a popular, widely available fruit-forward beer. The sweet, tangy orange character intertwines nicely with the hops—including Citra, citrusy Mandarina Bavaria, tropical Azzaca and fruity Galaxy hops. On top of all this, the brewers add tangerine-infused orange peel to the brew.

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. is the local brewer that’s been using fruits in its beers the most. CVB’s Chris Anderson is not only an award-winning brewer; he knows his way around a kitchen. He served as executive chef at Moose’s Tooth and Café Europa in Anchorage, and headed culinary operations for the Tatitlek Corporation for seven years.

“I’ve seen more and more brewers using locally grown fruits, and fruits indigenous to their local areas,” Anderson said. “Fruit beer is certainly becoming more popular. It used to be said that it was a ‘chick beer.’ At CVB, we sell a ton of fruit beers and fruited sours to men.”

Anderson said he’s definitely seen fruit beers bring newbies into the craft-beer world.

“Customers are continually looking for variety; brand loyalty is a thing of the past,” Anderson said. “Fruit beers are in the footbridge realm for many non-craft-beer people. These folks might find a banana hefeweizen or passion-fruit farmhouse ale more inviting than a fresh double IPA.”

Hopped-up IPAs often work well with fruit additions, thanks to complementary hops like the lemony Sorachi Ace and the grapefruit-hinted Cascade—but it’s not just IPAs that Anderson likes when it comes to fruit.

“I think just about any beer can work fruited as long as it marries and doesn’t conflict,” he said.

Of course, there is an art to brewing and noting the citrus qualities within hops. Yes, fruit is good, and fruit in beer can be awesome—but adding too much or not understanding thresholds or blending could lead to an awful brew. No fruit, however delicious, can turn an ordinary beer into something super-tasty. But when you start with a great beer, fruit can make it even better—creating perfect sippers for warmer days.

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

Coachella Valley’s 100-plus-degree thirsty season continues well into September, so there’s no better time than now to review new and returning classic summer craft beers that can quench our thirst—in the most delicious way possible.

Almanac Dogpatch Sour: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sours are perfect for hot weather. They’re refreshing, brisk and—in the case of Almanac’s Dogpatch Sour—bright. This barrel-aged wild ale (above) is a hazy reddish-orange pucker bomb. Paying tribute to the Flanders red style, this complex and sophisticated beer offers notes of cherry, apple, candy, earthy funk and wine.

Ballast Point Fathom: Want the hop-smacking goodness of an IPA melded with the clean, bready notes of a lager? Here’s one of the best IPLs on the market. With the hop profiles of a West Coast IPA and lager yeast, this brew, with 7 percent alcohol by volume, offers tropical and easy-drinking goodness. Hints of grapefruit and citrus blend with honey and pine bitterness to create a hot-weather favorite.

Enegren Brewing Lagertha Pilsner: This refreshing, clean pils hails from Moorpark, Calif. Brewed with German pilsner malt and Saaz and Mosaic hops, it’s a perfect pils to sip during the summer season. Brewing a light beer with a perfectly balanced hop profile and clean yeast flavor isn’t easy, but Enegren does it wonderfully, with just a touch of funk.

Paradox Beer Company, Skully No. 25 (aka Salted Sumac Sour): I discovered thisat Stone’s Sour Fest, and it was in my top three at the festival. Skully No. 25 is a gorgeous sour golden ale brewed with sumac and sea salt, and aged in oak wine barrels. This unusually refreshing beer has lightly floral bright citrus and vivid acidic and salty notes, making it a savory summer beer. The sumac is a nice touch, giving the Skully No. 25 layers of flavors and lovely balance.

Sixpoint Jammer: This 4.2 percent ABV gose-style beer is balanced with citrus and made with hand-harvested sea salt from Netarts Bay, Ore. This hazy brew is a little tart, a little briny and a lot refreshing. It’s not your typical gose: With flavors of coriander, lemon pepper and sea salt, it’s well-balanced and drinkable. Fire up the barbecue, and grab a can of this sessionable beach beer.

21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon: This is summer in a can. The San Francisco brewpub starts by brewing a classic American wheat beer, and then puts it through a secondary fermentation using fresh watermelon. If you think watermelon won’t blend with well beer … think again. This is the quintessential summer beer, with the perfect amount of sugary sweetness—in other words, not too much. Pair the beer (pictured below) with a garden salad or a burger—or just good conversation.

Victory Summer Love Ale: German hops and pale malt blend beautifully into a flowery, hoppy blonde ale. Some grassy and earthy notes balance with light cracker and tropical-fruit (mango, orange, pear) flavors. Pair this with chicken, salads or pizza. Like other great summer seasonals, it’s available in 12-ounce cans for easy drinking.

Rogue Farms Honey Kölsch: This is a fantastic farm-to-glass beer: 119 colonies of local Oregon bees were fed; then the honey was uncapped, extracted, filtered and finally infused into this kölsch-style beer. The honey provides a natural sweetness and nicely balances with the malts. There’s a zesty citrus finish that cuts nicely through the honey, too.

Allagash White: Brewed with a generous portion of wheat and spiced with coriander and Curacao orange peel, this award-winning 5 percent ABV Belgian wheat beer is crisp, clove-y, fruity and spicy. Think banana, lemon and light malts. Whether or not you’re a wheat beer fan, this is a must-try, especially during warmer nights. It’s definitely one of the best wit beers on the market, and pairs perfectly with fish or a variety of cheeses.

Golden Road Hefeweizen: This is Los Angeles’ version of a Bavarian beer, brewed with locally grown organic citrus. The smell is full of yeast, with a hint of slightly bitter candy. After banana and clove notes, you’ll find tart citrus and a dry finish. Lemon is also present, offering a slight sourness. This is another canned summer beauty.

Odell Brewing St. Lupulin: This floral and earthy beer has characteristics of both an APA and an IPA. Available through September, this 6.5 percent ABV extra-pale ale is dry-hopped, giving it a clean, crisp finish. Caramel malts offer mild sugar notes, while a fruity bouquet of pineapple and melon shine through. This is another perfect summer brew.

SanTan Brewing Co. Mr. Pineapple: The brewery this year teamed up with Chiquita to use Rainforest Alliance certified pineapple juice to create a more-sustainable, socially conscious can of craft beer. The flavors include wheat malt, pears, bubblegum, pineapple and just the right amount of banana. It’s slightly dry with a juicy sweetness to balance.

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin: This is one of my favorites year-round. Mango, lime zest, peach, apricot and, of course, grapefruit shine in this 7 percent ABV IPA. The perfect blend of hops shares the spotlight with the grapefruit for a citrusy yumminess that will not disappoint.

Published in Beer

Located just 70 miles or so from the Coachella Valley, Temecula is known as Southern California’s wine country; the charming California town and surrounding area produce more than 50 different varietals of wine.

This is a great thing for the craft-beer industry. Brewers for years have been using wine-making techniques, like-barrel aging, to produce amazing beers. And today, the rolling hills and plateaus of the Temecula Valley are not just the home of fantastic wineries; they’re now home to some fantastic breweries, too.

Founded in 2009, Black Market Brewing Co. is the beer-maker that broke ground in wine country with the much-loved Hefeweizen. The Bavarian-style ale is a semi-crisp 5.0 percent alcohol-by-volume unfiltered wheat beer that pours a hazy, California sun yellow, and showcases unique fruit and spice characters like clove, orange peel, banana and sweet bread. Brewed in the spirit of the German purity law, the flagship beer won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival this year. It continues to be Black Market’s biggest-selling beer.

I spoke with Black Market’s lead brewer, Aaron Heyden, and asked him what it’s like to be a brewer in wine country.

“I think it’s good, because there’s already a built-in market for those who want to drink,” he said. “It’s natural that we get spillover from wine country.” In fact, Black Market is working on distribution in another part of California that’s big into wine—the Central Coast.

Aaron is a big fan of IPAs, with fresh hop aroma and flavor—and without the big bitter taste.

“I was always on the quest to make the best IPA,” he said. “It’s kinda hard to make really good IPAs. That’s a great test for a good brewery.”

Black Market currently produces 4,000 barrels annually; the goal is to boost that to about 10,000 annual barrels within the next five years.

Pouring an orange-red, the imperial red ale, called Invasion, is a delicious West Coast-style imperial with a whopping 9.9 percent ABV. Using Centennial and El Dorado hops, this brew gives off loads of flower and fruit flavors, like pear and stone fruit. Columbus hops give Invasion an earthy black pepper character.

Keep an eye out for Black Market’s Holiday 2014, a triple black rye IPA, coming out in December. This is a flavorful holiday version of Cascadian dark-style ale (also called a black IPA). It has a pungent aroma of citrus and resinous hops alongside spicy rye earthiness. The brewery is also working on a collaboration holiday brew withValiant Brewing, with smoked pine leaves and vanilla.

Less than a mile away from Black Market is Ironfire Brewery. This brewery’s goal is to build up its barrel-aging program, so if you love bourbon-barrel-aged beers and sours, this is a place to visit. 

John Maino and Greg Webb met at Ballast Point in San Diego and decided to start their own brewery in Temecula. They are on pace to produce somewhere between 1,600 and 2,000 barrels this year; the brewery will be able to max out at 8,800 barrels annually. The brewery plans on growing, having recently added a 60 barrel fermenters and a bright tank.

“We have bourbon barrels, Jack Daniel’s barrels, rye-whiskey barrels, white-wine barrels, red-wine barrels and cognac barrels. We have 30-year-old rum barrels. We have a very diverse collection of barrels,” said Webb, Ironfire’s vice president.

About a year after opening in 2012, the brewery released Collateral Damage. It is an imperial porter aged for 14 months in Maker’s Mark barrels. The Outcast Dead, aged six months in Tennessee whiskey barrels, is available now in the tasting room on draft and in bottles. Don’t miss the best-seller, the 51/50 IPA.

The brewery self-distributes in Temecula, because the owners want supporters to get to know them personally, and they want to make sure they offer the freshest beer possible.

Refuge Brewery is yet another great brewery in wine country. The folks there specialize in handcrafted small-batch Belgian ales. Back on tap are the Illusion IPA, a 6.5 percent ABV Belgian style IPA, and Mystique, a 9.8 percent ABV Belgian-style dark strong ale. Mystique is a sweetly decadent beer with dark burnt flavors and chocolate undertones. They hope to be bottling more specialty Belgian-style beers by the beginning of next year.

Refuge’s flagship Blood Orange Wit is Southern California sunshine in a glass. The brewery just canned the first full run of it on Nov. 13.

Glenn Wichert, the co-founder and vice president of brewery operations, explained why the brewery uses more than 200 pounds of blood oranges in every beer batch.

“It’s a lot of labor, but it really gives the beer that freshness,” he said. “It’s not always exactly the same, because the oranges are at different stages of ripening, but that’s what’s cool about it.”

Wichert said he loves the fact that wine barrels are at Refuge’s disposal on a consistent basis.

“Our Belgian beers age well in these wine barrels,” he said.

More bold flavors were introduced to wine-country palates when Wiens Brewing opened in November 2012. Weins Brewing Company just celebrated its two year anniversary with the release of several special beers that were all aged in bourbon barrels, and then blended for the year’s release.

Other beers include the Type 3 IPA, a tropical hop bomb with five different hops and four different malts. Another popular brew is the hoppy lager, the Millennium Falconers IPL, brewed with Millennium and Falconers Flight hops, which impart a crisp citrus and tropical flavor.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Wiens Family Cellars is known for big red wines like Refugio Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Grand Rouge.

While you’re in Temecula, also check out Aftershock Brewing, Bulldog Brewery, Electric Brewing Co. and Garage Brewing Co. If you don’t want to worry about driving, consider hiring the great folks at Brewery Tours of Temecula. Ask for Toby; you won’t be disappointed!

There is an old saying in the wine business: “It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine!” At the end of a long day in the field or in the cellar, many wine-makers turn to beer to quench their thirst. And in the Temecula Valley, there’s now plenty of both delicious beverages.

Below: Founded in 2009, Black Market Brewing Co. is the beer-maker that broke ground in wine country. Photo by Erin Peters.

Published in Beer