CVIndependent

Sat12152018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I have a lot on my mind. However, I will spare you from all but the beer things on my mind. I thought the best way to handle this would be to kinda-sorta do this à la Larry King’s odd USA Today column from some years ago: I’ll just hit on random topics that don’t necessarily have any relation to each other besides the overarching theme of craft beer.

In other words, I was lazy and didn’t come up with a one-topic column idea.

Now that I have raised your expectations to such a soaring height ...

• I want to give a shout-out to Andrew Smith and his Coachella Valley Beer Scene blog and Facebook page.

In 2011, I created the Facebook page, and after mentioning Schmidy’s Tavern (R.I.P. … you are missed), the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club, and Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse, I quickly ran out of things to post about the beer scene. While there is still a long way to go in our beautiful valley, there is fortunately much more of a beer scene now, and Andrew gets in there and does great write-ups of what he finds. Check him out at cvbeerscene.com and on the aforementioned Facebook page.

• Modern Times Beer is killing it. Not literally, mind you: They’re vegan through and through, as the bottles and cans state.

If you have somehow missed the company’s beer until now, you must have been hiding out. It’s happily in many places in the valley, packaged and on tap. In the past year or so, the people there have opened The Dankness Dojo in Downtown L.A. and The Belmont Fermentorium in Portland. Both places have brewhouses and pump out wonderful beers which end up at the other facilities for you to try. From what I’ve experienced so far, Portland’s strength is in big, dark beers, and the Dojo seems adept at IPAs of all stripes. Another location in Encinitas and a swim club in Anaheim are in the works.

In August, I went to Modern Times’ fourth annual Festival of Dankness. It’s a hoppy beer festival, and notable brewers from all over the country are invited to pour. Situated at Waterfront Park in San Diego with an excellent view of the ocean, Coronado Island and downtown San Diego, the festival has been a wonderful respite from the awful August heat here in the desert. It has gotten better and better every year.

It serves as a reliable measure of what’s trending when it comes to IPAs. This year, sour IPAs made a big showing. Brut IPAs, mentioned in a previous column, popped up at a few booths as well, the most interesting of which was at Brouwerij West out of San Pedro. Of course, hazy IPAs and milkshake IPAs were prevalent. Eugene, Ore.’s Claim 52 Brewing had my favorite with its strawberry milkshake IPA. Strawberries and lactose only added to the hop flavors and didn’t step all over them and become a sweet mess. Cellarmaker Brewing in San Francisco brought a phenomenal hazy IPA called Double Mt. Nelson. This year’s Nelson Sauvin hop harvest seems to have made up for last year’s lackluster version, and the beers that have been popping up using them have been stellar. That includes Modern Times’ own Space Ways. It’s one of the best hazy IPAs I’ve had, period, and it’s still on the shelves in cans here and drinking wonderfully.

With every passing year, Modern Times continues to make me a bigger fan. I recommend them to you wholeheartedly.

• Speaking of IPAs, I want to give my opinion on some of these sub-styles.

Sour IPAs have been kettle-soured similarly to a Berlinerweisse or gose; the tartness and liberal amounts of hops evoke the flavors of fruit juice. The examples I’ve tried so far have been fun, but I am still a bigger fan of dry-hopped kettle sours. It’s a subtle distinction, but it can be encapsulated thusly: The sourness of sour IPAs is there to support the hop flavors, while dry-hopped kettle sours are sour ales with hop aromas and flavors to support it. It’s a distinction without a difference, but my palate can certainly tell. Almanac Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales make great examples of the latter style.

I have finally tried a few brut IPAs and have not been terribly impressed. I was very excited when I first began hearing about them, but the beers have not met my expectations. It seems like the process that makes these beers so dry also strips away much of the aroma and flavor of a normal IPA. But there is nothing wrong with subtlety, and I will continue to try new examples of the style with an open mind. There is currently a brut IPA on where I work—a shout out to all my co-workers at Coachella Valley Brewing Company … even you, Uncle Ben—and it is honestly the best I’ve tried.

From time to time, I have good ideas. One of my latest was an idea for a coconut bock. I conceived of the recipe (with some serious inspiration from Gordon Biersch’s excellent Heller Bock) with the help of our head brewer, and the team did a brilliant job executing this one. It should be on tap soon if it isn’t already. I’m calling it Coconut Toast, because that is the experience of drinking it. Definitely tell me what you think of my baby when you try it.

• Do you know what English bitter ales are? They’re really not that bitter and lean toward the malty side, but the name has made it extremely difficult for the styles (ordinary, strong, extra strong) to catch on in America. It is a travesty, too, because it’s such a lovely, sessionable style. The same goes for old ale style (though it’s decidedly not sessionable). It is not a great name, but a well-made example is such a thing of beauty. Alesmith, North Coast and Deschutes are the only craft breweries I can think of off the top of my head that regularly make old ales (and they make them well, I would add). Belgian styles seem to have largely fallen out of favor, too, and this might be the biggest tragedy. Some might think Belgian ales are all high ABV affairs, but it’s just not true.

The witbier retains popularity here, with Shock Top and Blue Moon being made by the big breweries. There are incredible versions of this in craft beer. Allagash White and Avery White Rascal are two of the finest, and they’re very true to the classic Belgian counterparts (St. Bernardus Wit being my favorite in the world). The lower-ABV Belgian abbey single style is an absolute gem, and we don’t see much of it here from Belgium, because it doesn’t travel well. The same goes for English bitters. It’s not that brewers won’t make these styles; they just do them in small batches knowing that they won’t sell well. I guess I’ll just need to make more money and travel to these places regularly in order to get my fix.

• While I’m on the subject of styles, I’d like to point out my disappointment in America on this front. No, I’m not saying American beers are largely disappointing. That would be insane (though it is not hard to find breweries making terrible, flawed beer). We are living through a craft beer boom, and it’s so much fun. What I am saying is that whenever there is an “American” version of a European style—be it an IPA, pilsner, stout, porter, barleywine, etc.—it essentially means the ABV and the hops are pumped up to a large degree. There is just no creativity in that.

American barleywine sucks. There, I said it. It is a pale shadow of the rich, complex, malty, delicious English counterpart.

Please, craft brewers of America, I beseech you: STOP OVER-HOPPING THESE STYLES. When I can’t tell the difference between an American Barleywine and an imperial IPA, you have failed.

End of rant.

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

Published in Beer

It’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

Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out for Life Breaks Records

If anyone ever needs proof that the residents of the Coachella Valley are a rather generous lot, look no further than the results of the Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out for Life (DOFL) fundraiser back in April.

First, a recap of how DOFL works: On one chosen day per year, restaurants across the Coachella Valley agree to donate at least 33 percent of their sales—from one particular meal, or from everything—to the Desert AIDS Project.

On April 26, 75 local restaurants participated, raising a whopping $280,000 for DAP—an increase of $50,000 from last year. An estimated 10,000 valley residents went to these 75 restaurants that day.

“You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a ‘badge of honor’—the ‘I Dined’ stickers given to diners at participating locations,” said event manager George Nasci-Sinatra, according to a news release.

That’s impressive. However, it’s even more impressive when these numbers are put into context.

Dining Out for Life is a nationwide (plus Canada!) campaign held the last Thursday in April every year by various HIV/AIDS service organizations. Representatives of all of these campaigns gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the North American Dining Out for Life Conference in July to compare notes. Well, it turns out that even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smallest markets participating in Dining Out for Life, we rank No. 2 (!) in terms of money raised.

“Only Denver, which had three times more participating restaurants, raised more funds this year,” said Darrell Tucci, the chief development officer for DAP. “To be the smallest market in population driving the second-largest results is absolutely extraordinary and something we should all be proud of. Other markets have more participating restaurants, but no other market can boast the level of commitment shown by restaurants in greater Palm Springs.”

The main reason for the local Dining Out for Life’s success is the sheer generosity of local restaurants: In fact, the Top 3 restaurants in the country (plus Canada!) in terms of the total amount of money donated are here—Spencer’s Restaurant, Lulu California Bistroand Trio Restaurant, in that order. They raised a combined total of $61,679.

It’s also worth noting the sacrifice of some smaller restaurants that elected to give 100 percent or more of the day’s proceeds to DAP: Townie Bagels, Holiday House, The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, Ristretto and Rooster and the Pig. Heck, the wait staff at Rooster and the Pig even donated their tips for the day to DAP.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I’m personally a supporter of the Desert AIDS Project; the Independent does business with DAP; and George Nasci-Sinatra and Darrell Tucci are good friends of mine.)

Will the Coachella Valley be able to top these fantastic results during the next Dining Out for Life, on Thursday, April 25, 2019? Stay tuned.

For more information as the 2019 date draws nearer, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings.


The Ace Hotel and Swim Club Celebrates Its Annual Craft Beer Weekend.

It’s become a summer tradition for Southern California beer-lovers: The Ace Hotel and Swim Club's Seventh Annual Craft Beer Weekend will take place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4 and 5.

The weekend’s big events are a Craft Beer Festival from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, featuring entertainment, food and unlimited tastings (!) from some of the top craft breweries from SoCal and beyond; and a beer brunch at 11 a.m. on Sunday, featuring six beer-inspired and beer-paired courses—plus starting and ending beers, too.

Passes for the Saturday festival are $35, and the Sunday brunch will set you back $55—or do both for just $70. Attendees who book a room for the weekend get into the festival for free.

Get tickets and more info at www.acehotel.com/calendar/palmsprings/craft-beer-weekend-18.


In Brief

The Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, at 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage, has announced it has adopted new technology from a company called ORCA Digesters, Inc., that turns food waste into water. This will keep an estimated 624 tons (!) of food out of landfills each year. Awesome! … The Libation Room is now open at 73750 El Paseo, in Palm Desert. The new cocktail bar promises a speakeasy type of vibe; check it out Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 p.m. on. For more information, call 877-869-8891, or visit www.libationroom.com. … The Manhattan in the Desert in Palm Desert, at 74225 Highway 111, has apparently closed. The Palm Springs location, at 2665 E. Palm Canyon Drive, is still alive and kicking. … One of the most happening outdoor-dining spots in downtown Palm Springs has been temporarily closed for a “facelift.” The patio at Tropicale, at 244 E. Amado Road, was closed on July 9 for a remodel that “should take about three weeks,” although the indoor bar and dining room remains open during construction. Depending on how that goes, and when you’re reading this, it may have reopened already! Call 760-866-1952 with questions.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

When I ponder beer history, two things stand out: the use of hops, and the invention of the drum roaster.

The former happened 800 to 900 years ago, give or take. Antiseptic agents are needed in the fermentation of beer to keep the good microflora in and the bad out. Brewers didn't know this—Louis Pasteur’s discoveries happened years later—but they did know that without certain things, beer could turn out poorly. Before hops became widely used, bitter herbs and spices were used for this purpose. Scotland has a tradition of using heather; in fact, you can still find some beers with heather on shelves if you go to the right places. Hops just wound up being more efficient and suitable for beer flavors. More about hops later.

As for the patenting of the drum roaster in 1818: Englishman Daniel Wheeler may have singlehandedly changed the course of beer history more than any other individual (outside of Pasteur, perhaps). Inspired by the process of roasting coffee, he set about adapting it for kilning and roasting malts using indirect heat. Before the roaster, malt was spread on a metal floor, and a fire (often fueled by coke, a coal residue, although wood and coal were sometimes used) was lit underneath. This led to grains on the bottom being scorched while some on top remained relatively green—with a lot of smokiness imparted into the grain. With Wheeler's invention, a variety of reliably kilned and roasted grains could be produced to augment the much more efficient pale malt used as a beer's base. This resulted in an explosion of different styles in Europe—so the next time you're drinking a nice stout, Vienna lager, Schwarzbier or almost any other style, raise that glass to Daniel Wheeler. 

This all brings us to the present, and current beer trends.

Hazy (or officially, New England) IPAs and pastry stouts are in vogue and don't look to be losing any popularity. The names of these styles pretty much tell the stories: The hazy IPAs are made hazy by the combination of an English yeast—which traditionally doesn't allow for dry beers, but has a light, fruity ester as a byproduct—with additions such as oats or wheat, not to mention the haze from the ridiculous amounts of hops added. Unlike many West Coast IPAs, though, they are usually only slightly bitter. The low-bitterness trend has leaked into the West Coast styles now, and I'm a huge fan of this. As with some crazes, things can get a little nutty; I've heard stories of people standing in line at breweries for hours (or paying people to stand in line for them as surrogates), only to promptly leave when the beer released announced is "only," say, a coffee porter. While I personally find many "hazies" and pastry stouts to be rather similar (I can't tell you how many times I've had some combination of cinnamon, maple syrup, coffee and maybe fruit in the stouts), they have excited many people who weren't all that into craft beer before.

Happily, lagers have seen a resurgence. Last summer, I discovered several very drinkable pilsners from breweries that mostly trade in IPAs, stouts and kettle sours. (Think Berlinerweisse—a light, tart wheat ale originating from Germany.) Mexican lagers have come along for this ride, which makes sense, because not only is this a cherished style of our friends to the south of us; the style is also very similar to a pilsner, with the exception of the use of corn or maize to dry the beer out and add a touch of their flavor. Firestone's Pivo Pils and Firestone Lager (a take on the Munich helles style) is leading this charge, and I'm all for it. Lagers are subtle and can be surprisingly diverse, but they are also much more difficult to get right and take much longer in a brewery's tanks to make. More time in tanks leads to less tank space for new beer, which leads to a potential loss of profit if not planned carefully. While a hazy IPA can take less than two weeks to reach your glass, a lager can take anywhere from six weeks to three months. As a fan of Old World beer styles that don't really get the time they deserve here in America, I wholeheartedly look forward to more of this trend.

Now comes the tough part: Predicting the future. To do so, I sought some help.

First, I turned to my friend and one of the most talented and knowledgeable people I know when it comes to beer, master brewer Chris Anderson.

"I think the IPA will continue to be the hottest style in craft beer,” he said via email. “I think more spin-offs of this most popular style on the planet will be the norm. Brut IPA and Southwest IPA are two relatively new styles gaining traction."

Julian Shrago, head brewer at Beachwood BBQ and Brewing in Long Beach (which I cannot recommend enough), agrees. “‘Brut IPA' is a new style that originated in the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re brewed with a special enzyme that allows them to be almost 100 percent attenuated. I like this idea, and it seems to be an interesting contrast to hazies."

I have personally not yet tried this "hop champagne,” but I am looking forward to this being a lovely, spritzy showcase for some of the incredible new hop varieties that keep emerging, as well as the old standby hops we love. The Southwest IPA style Anderson mentioned is an IPA using agave syrup to dry the beer out and possibly add some earthy notes; these beers often are made with Southwest-themed hops such as El Dorado and Amarillo.

Anderson also sees both uncertainty and excitement—not just the craft-beer industry, but in the alcohol and spirits industry in general: "The millennial craft beer drinker is most definitely not a loyalist like the previous generations were. On Monday, they may have a cocktail; Tuesday or Wednesday, a glass of wine; Thursday and Friday, a beer—but not the same brands from week to week. Throughout the weekend, maybe they will consume some cannabis and not touch any of the aforementioned alcoholic beverages when doing so. This will continue to fuel diversity in the varying alcoholic beverage industries and will also continue to make all of these sectors ultra-competitive."

A friend of mine who is the director of the hop division of a very large hop concern (who wishes to go unnamed for this article) weighed in.

"I feel that the consumer is now more educated in craft beers, thus being open to different styles and flavor profiles,” he said. “For example, I see sour beers gaining in popularity; perhaps it’s the refreshing nature, relieving the palate from the hop grenades of IPAs and pale ales.

“Furthermore, barrel-aged beers are on the rise, and people are willing to pay the $20-per-bottle price point for these complex, rich and sophisticated libations. Fruit additions are increasing as well, from powders, purees, concentrates, skins/peels to actual fruit; there are more and more of them on the tap or on the shelf."

When it comes to hops, he sees this fruity trend following—in the flavors and aromas of newer strains of hops. However, he sees the hop industry moving more toward bolstering pest and mildew resistance.

"A major focus of hop-breeding will be on pest/disease resistance varieties,” he said. “The grower is facing immense challenges from pest pressure, such as an increasingly pesticide-resistant mite, to new aggressive strains of powdery mildew. Growers are also conscientious of the need to reduce the use of conventional pest control chemicals (and move) to more biological/natural methods." This is where genetic engineering can really do some wonderful things, despite some people's irrational distrust of the technology.

While we’ve now examined beer’s past, present in future … one thing I didn't mention is glitter beer. That was intentional. There is one very easy thing about the future to predict, however: I’ll soon be at the fridge to get a beer to fill my glass.

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 dislike IBUs. Allow me to explain.

Approximately a decade ago, hops were king in the craft-beer world. People could not get enough, and breweries were finding ways to jam more hops into beer (double dry-hopping, for example). This led to all sorts of excesses.

This is where IBUs enter into the more mainstream picture. IBUs (International Bittering Units—it sounds ridiculously over-important, but it’s indeed a thing), as you might have guessed, measure how bitter a beer is ... kind of. Hops contain compounds called alpha acids that make beer bitter during the boil through a process called isomerization. The longer the beer is boiled, the more bitter the beer is, given the same hop strain. (Some strains contain more alpha acids than others.) Hops are vitally important, as this bitterness can counterbalance the otherwise sweet wort that is to become beer later on. Hops also contribute flavors and aromas when added later in the process; they’re antiseptic, which helps keep bad bacteria out; and they are “cousins” to cannabis.

The brewer then dips in the IBU Detector and finds out the exact number. Actually … no, they don’t.

When an IBU is provided on a beer’s label or a brewery’s menu, that is a theoretical number, in all likelihood. One of the biggest misunderstandings about the IBU is that it somehow measures perceived bitterness. It actually measures the amount of iso-alpha acids in the beer. In order to do that accurately, spectrophotometry needs to be employed. This means chemistry and a lab and that is prohibitively expensive. Instead, brewers generally rely on a formula that is a rough approximation. If I typed out that formula here, it would make you feel like you were back in your high school algebra class.

Brewers use this calculation to help them with quality control—and that’s a good thing. However, at some point years ago, IBUs captured craft-beer fans’ imaginations. Some brewers then set about making beers with as many IBUs as they possibly could. Mikkeller Brewing (whose beers I have enjoyed for years) planted their flag in this trend with a 1,000 IBU beer. I tried it … and it wasn’t great. The thing is, anything over about 110 IBUs is not discernible by the human palate—so this was just pure wankery, and it really confused many beer-drinkers.

The biggest reason why this is all so inane is the aforementioned fact that IBUs only tangentially have to do with perceived bitterness. Some malts contain bitterness just from the malt itself—never mind roasted malts or any other potentially bitter additions (herbs, for example). A huge, malty imperial stout can have a high level of IBUs, but perceptually, the beer can be quite malty on balance. People come into the taproom where I work with the idea that they need to know which beer has the highest IBUs—and therefore will be the hoppiest. For one, what does “hoppiest beer” even mean? Secondly, that’s not at all how it works anyway.

All of this nonsense needs to end. I am not blaming consumers here; it is not their fault. They like hoppy beers, and they want to try more. They hear about this measurement (It’s gotta be accurate, too, right? I mean, it’s printed right there on the label!) so they go in search of the beer with the highest amount of these IBUs.

Free yourselves from the thought of IBUs, people. Stop torturing yourselves with math. Enjoy the beer in your glass at that moment. Much happiness and enjoyment will come to you.

And go away, IBU. You are not needed anymore.

Published in Beer

Picture it: North Park. San Diego. 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• 8 Wired Gypsy Funk

• Beachwood Blendery Coolship Chaos

• Boulevard Love Child #8

• Casa Agria Heritage Gold

• Cigar City Lactobacillus Guava Grove

• Crooked Stave St Bretta Citrus Wildbier

• Firestone Walker SLOambic

• Funkwerks Raspberry Provincial

• Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa

• Mikkeller Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse Raspberry

• Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

• Societe The Thief

• Track 7 Chasing Rainbows

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

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

Published in Beer

During Coachella, I tasted a lot of delicious craft beer, both in the Craft Beer Barn and at the Rare Beer Bar, the latter headed by Jimmy Han, owner of Los Angeles’ Beer Belly. One of my favorite discoveries: Wicked Weed Marina, a blonde sour ale that is aged in wine barrels—with more than one pound per gallon of peaches and apricots.

Just days later came the announcement that Anheuser-Busch InBev had bought the Asheville, N.C.-based Wicked Weed. It became the latest of 20-plus former craft breweries that are now owned by corporate brewers. I say “former,” because the Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as small, independent and traditional—with less than 25 percent ownership by a non-craft brewer.

What does this all mean? I spoke to Julia Herz, the Brewers Association’s Craft Beer Program director, and Mitch Steele, the former brewmaster of Stone Brewing who is now the founder, brewmaster and COO of New Realm Brewing, coming soon to Atlanta.

There are a lot of feelings on both sides as far as craft breweries “selling out.” What are your thoughts?

JH: … It’s not happening in mass, right? Ninety nine percent of the 5,300-plus breweries are still independent and small. But as the purchases continue to happen … the Department of Justice issued a consent degree over (AB InBev’s) purchases in 2015 and 2016—Devil’s Backbone being a key one, which was approved, with some changes made, by the DOJ. … The more that the large, global brewers become a one-stop shop for brands and beer styles, the harder it is to make the marketplace fair, and for beer lovers to really get the choices that many beer-lovers desire.

MS: I think it’s really dangerous what’s going on right now, honestly. The problem is that the majority of the beer-drinking public doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the business practices of large brewers, and how it impacts small brewers. … When a brewery is buying tap space, which is technically illegal, small breweries can’t. Most small breweries won’t do it because they don’t want to do something that’s against the law, and they can’t afford to play that game, either. … When somebody who’s kind of a casual craft-beer fan walks into a bar, and sees all these beers that are “craft,” yet they’re all brewed at Anheuser-Busch, most of the time, (customers are) not going to register it’s not a small, independent brewer. When these brewers can potentially come in and sell a keg of beer for 50 to 60 percent of what a small craft brewer can, it really is damaging the ability of the craft brewers to sell their beer.

Were you surprised by the Wicked Weed buyout?

JH: … (In some respects), I am not surprised, because they (AB InBev) continue to make regional purchases in key beer markets of the country: Four Peaks in Arizona, Blue Point in New York, Los Angeles for Golden Road. These are very geographically, strategically made procurements. … Also, (as of now, the Wicked Weed) deal has not gone through. It’s an announcement from AB InBev that they are moving to make a partnership and bringing Wicked Weed into their brand portfolio. It’s still subject to review.

MS: Well, that surprised me. I’d go so far as to say that it shocked me. I thought they were in it for the long haul. I know (co-owners) Luke and Walt (Dickinson) pretty well, and I’ve brewed with them before, and we’ve hung out a lot. … I know Luke and Walt are part owners, but I don’t know what percentage they own. I know they had some big-time investors in that brewery, and it could have been mostly their decision, but who knows? But, yeah, it shocked me and disappointed me. Some of these are not a big surprise: You hear through the grapevine that some of these newer breweries are building themselves to sell … and they’re just trying to get their business to a point to where they’re attractive to a large brewer. … You know, when somebody comes and offers you a ridiculous amount of money, who’s to say you’re wrong for taking that and setting up your family for generations? You can’t really fault it. I just wish it didn’t happen.

Do you sympathize with any of these craft breweries after they explain themselves on social media? They say: “We had to do this because of distribution. The beer will stay the same.”

MS: Yeah. I worked with Budweiser for 14 years. This was back in the 1990s. People looked at Budweiser as the evil empire, but I dealt with the reaction from craft brewers all the time: “It’s lousy beer.” I’d get on my soap box and say, “Ya know, you may not like it, but don’t ever talk negative about the quality, because the people who brew this beer are as passionate about it as you are about yours.” But it’s a different company now. I certainly understand the backlash. I can relate to it because I dealt with it for a long time myself. … I think it’s a very uncomfortable feeling for most of them, because the craft-brewing business is so built on community and comradery. Now, all of sudden, you’re not in the club anymore. That’s a hard thing to swallow, especially when you’ve got so many friends in the business. … People who don’t have ownership in the brewery, and have no say in it—they’re just kind of there when it happens. Those are the people who I feel really bad for, because they had no say.

Do distribution laws and better access have anything to do with why they are selling?

MS: The whole access-to-ingredients thing, I think, is a little bit overplayed. If you’re a growing craft brewer, there are enough suppliers out there. If you work it hard enough, you can get what you need, with a few exceptions. For example, Galaxy hops—nobody can get Galaxy hops right now. Can a big brewer go in and get Galaxy hops? I don’t know if they can. … I think really the big advantage for a small brewer joining forces with a big brewer is the access to the technical resources, so they can understand what’s happening in the brewing process—be it really complex lab equipment or whatever. And then distribution access is huge. … Those are the things that really matter.

JH: Yes. As soon as you sell, you get instant access to things that those 99 percent of the 5,300 breweries don’t have. You get into a system in the network for better economies of scale, for purchasing raw materials and ingredients. You get instant distribution that cannot be matched. … The number of distributors over time continues to wane. Even though we have 5,300-plus breweries today, there are only 1,000-plus active distributors, and 500-plus of those are controlled by AB InBev. MillerCoors has several hundred as well. Distributors are amazing partners to beer, but it’s a matter of priority. How do they decide what they’re going to sell? When you’re an AB house … their first priority is likely those AB brands.

Published in Beer

It’s no secret that the scorching-hot weather can extend well into September and October here in the Coachella Valley. However, locals don’t need to fret or sweat—because crafty beach cities with more moderate temperatures are less than a couple of hours away.

I recently spent some time in Orange County’s beach cities—looking for some of the best places to enjoy craft beer, of course. Here are some of my findings.

The Laguna Beach Brewery and Grille (pictured below) is under new ownership, and I’m loving the Taco Tuesday specials—two tacos for $5 or $6, depending on whether you get fish, carne asada, chicken or pork. The inside bar and floor have a sleek look thanks to concrete and marble, and a handsome copper tank from Czechoslovakia sits near the kitchen. While it’s not filled with local suds yet, it should be serving beer in about six months. In the meantime, you’ll find taps from Laguna Beach Beer Company and several other local breweries. Chef Guillermo Sandoval comes from the Hilton Los Cabos Beach and Golf Resort; serving classic, contemporary and regional Mexican dishes comes naturally to him. Try pairing the delicious south-of-the-border fare with craft beers from Tijuana and Baja.

Newport Beach’s best-kept affordable dining secret is, of all things, a speakeasy-style tavern tucked away in the back corner of the city’s Whole Foods. Yes, really. If you’re not content with the 15-20 beers on tap at the Back Bay Tavern, grab a bottle from the Whole Foods store, and have them open it at the bar. Prices are indeed reasonable, and the place has a decent happy hour, with $2 off drinks and appetizers from 4-7 p.m. weekdays.

Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona Del Mar boasts a creative craft beer selection from breweries like Pumpkin, Russian River and Paradox Beer Company. The restaurant buys as much produce as possible from independent, local farms based on seasonal availability, giving this American gastropub a gourmet touch.

Also located in Corona del Mar, SideDoor puts the “gastro” in gastropub. The menu offers a little bit of everything. From the charcuterie station, the prime rib chili cheese fries and duck-liver pâté to the warm goose-confit salad and butternut squash with wild nettle pesto, the food at SideDoor will thrill casual foodies. The pub cycles through a draft beer selection often, with choices like Sierra Nevada Kellerweis and Ballast Point Watermelon Dorado. The seasonal small plates are portioned for sharing, and the menu changes daily.

For Great American Beer Festival Award-winning brews, head to Newport Beach Brewing Company. The second brewery to open its doors in Orange County—back in 1995, in case you were wondering—resides in the historic Cannery Village on the Balboa Peninsula. Fondly known as BrewCo, the brewery adheres to the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law), using only water, hops and barley in the production process. Bonus: BrewCo is just two blocks from the beach.

If you find yourself in Huntington Beach, head to the Speakeasy. Check out “Tap Tuesdays,” with $4 select draught beers all night. Just a little more than two miles away, Johnny’s Saloon has one of the best beer selections in town. It’s been voted one of the top dive bars in Orange County for years. Like an aging punk rocker, the dark, unpretentious pub sings to a different tune, with 181 craft whiskeys and 100 craft beers. Also: Slater’s 50/50 isn’t to be missed, especially if you’re a meat-loving craft-beer drinker like me. The restaurant’s namesake is its 50/50 patty—made of 50 percent ground beef, and 50 percent ground bacon. Pair a burger with one of the 100 beers on tap; after all, it’s always a good day for a burger and a beer. Every year, Slater’s 50/50 taps more than 1,000 different craft beers, which is saying something.

If you feel like heading west of Los Angeles rather than south, mark your calendars for late September and consider the BAM Fest, Beer, Art and Music Festival, in Santa Monica on Saturday, Sept. 24. With 18 open studios, arts activities and exhibitions—and, of course, beer from 42 breweries—the event is fun, and it supports a great cause: Proceeds help the 18th Street Arts Center, one of the top artists’ residency programs in the country.

Of course, one of the best things about getting away is coming home—and Coachella Valley residents are blessed to live in a place with fabulous pool parties, chill bars and impeccably designed hotels—as well as a wider craft-beer selection than ever before.

We’re lucky. Southern California residents have an amazing amount of variety and choice when it comes to craft beers—and in a matter of just hours, you can enjoy a cold one by the pool with views of palm trees and mountains and on the sandy beaches of Orange County. Either way, there is good living where there is good beer.

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