CVIndependent

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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

I walked into work at the beginning of a closing shift on the Friday of a hot, muggy week in the desert.

The past few Fridays had been slow, and my mood was already pensive with a side of rumination, because I’d just seen a woman whom I very much wanted to date at one time—but she was spoken for. I don't tend to walk around with this kind of feeling, but it comes a bit easier for me this time of year.

Summer is a strange time for me. Against all good sense, I wake as early as I can stomach, work out and hike the Bump and Grind trail in Palm Desert five or six days a week. In the summer, if you dislike gyms as much as I do, you simply have to get at it early, for the sake of your safety. For a night person like me, this leads to a mixed sleep schedule that is not exactly conducive to good mental health. I tend to languish and feel lonely. However, the view at the top of the trail, mindfulness meditation and a bit of beer help me at such times.

So far on this Friday, the first two had let me down. I was reserving the third option until later.

The taproom was relatively busy when I arrived, only to quickly clear out within the first 20 minutes of my shift. I thought I was in for a long night of crossword puzzles, finding new blends among the numerous beers on tap and—if my mindfulness wasn't on guard—lamenting the current state of my love life.

After about an hour, fellow “beertender” Kris decided it was probably best for him to call it a shift early and get on with his night. It was around this time I began to notice the temperature climbing in the taproom. My concern rose, because a series of triple-digit weather days combined with unseasonable humidity can overburden air conditioning systems.

But I could not dwell upon my fortune for long: The taproom saw a rush of people, and I found myself not only hustling to get people their beer flights (it's always flights when I'm alone!), but also relaying food orders to Marcel, who runs a very fine pop-up catering company called Gabino's Creperie that has been doing weekend stints at the taproom as of late. I'm always glad to do this, because his twist on crepes is unique and delicious—and most importantly, he hooks me up! But remembering multiple crepe orders along with beer orders is apparently a challenging task for this simple cicerone, and I soon fell behind.

Whenever rushes like this occur, I have a simple mantra: What's next? This is my best approximation of a Zen attitude: I want to just keep moving and slowly ticking things off of the constantly updating list of things I need to do. I also think of the tips. I wish I could say I was navigating around the taproom and the extra taps in the brewhouse with the mindset of a man tending a Japanese garden, but thinking of the extra pot of gold at the end of the sweaty rainbow helps me when "What's next?" fails.

When the little rush was over, I had time to think about the still-rising temperature. Maybe the A/C had just had it. The thermostat read 81. As I looked the thermostat, I heard a strange ambient noise down the hall: Our head brewer had left one of the doors to the brewhouse open, and all of the moisture-laden, oven-like air had been flowing freely into the taproom for two hours. I muttered a few general obscenities (which I also find helpful in stressful situations) and shut the door.

Also, I thought of poor Marcel: He was hustling to get his crepes made out there!

Throughout the evening, Marcel and I enjoyed the sweet, sweet refuge of one of the walk-in coolers in back. Despite all of the heat that comes with enduring the summers in our arid portion of Southern California, I would never trade it for the bitter, numbing cold that others in our country deal with in the winter. For a minute at a time, however, it is heaven and provides me with a welcome respite from my little whirlwind of a night.

Thirty minutes before closing time, and with the taproom climate beginning to return to something approaching comfortable, every customer had cleared out, leaving me to begin my closing duties. I realized that I hadn't thought for hours about the aforementioned woman (not counting that moment, of course). I took this as a victory.

Under the wire, a couple walked in and asked if it wasn't too late. I was in a relatively good mood, and they expressed how they’d raced in from Long Beach to enjoy our beer, so I couldn't deny them. I even gave them access to our exclusive “members only” taplist which includes an incredible non-barrel-aged version of our Black Widow Imperial Stout with vanilla and coconut, called "German Chocolate Cake." Yes, it is as good as it sounds. They were a lovely married couple, and we talked about the state of beer in Long Beach and the Coachella Valley. They thoroughly enjoyed their beer flights, picked up some special bottles to go, and graciously left a generous tip while thanking me profusely. Needless to say, it's hard to remain in your own shit mentally when this happens.

I finished my closing chores with the help of our English style pale ale, locked up and walked out to my car. It was close to midnight, and my car's thermometer read 98. I cursed the ridiculous amount of golf courses in the area for holding this heat in the valley this late at night. My car's climate control was quickly set to 65, and I drove home thinking about my miniature roller coaster ride of a night.

As soon as I peeled off my work clothes and threw water on my face, I went to my fridge and grab a Gravity Check Session IPA from Kern River Brewing to wash the whole day down.

And this is where I found you, dear reader.

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

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

The Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience is coming up on Saturday, March 3. It seems to grow each year; the 2018 edition will feature the addition of the Stone Temple Pilots and a tiki bar.

I’ll take “How to Get People Very Drunk” for $200, Alex.

Now seems like a good time to share with you some tips and etiquette for beer festivals in general—especially how to get through them without making an absolute mess of yourself.

Before I get to specific survival tips, I want to take you on a trip back in time—20 years ago, to be exact. I was a young lad taking his first overseas trip. I had been studying both the German language and German beer, and wanted to immerse myself in both.

I got a job with a family just south of Munich helping them out with household and horse-stable chores. I ended up staying two months and learned much in that time. I learned how to drive a crazy Citroen 2CV with a gear shift that came out of the dashboard. I learned how to argue a point during an Uno card game in German. Most importantly, though, I learned how to drink. When I first got there, I went to a neighborhood event called a Stadlfest where they cleared out a barn and threw an extremely stereotypical German party, with kegs of delicious local beer, dimpled liter mugs, and people standing on benches, swaying back and forth to polka and drinking songs. I couldn’t believe this actually existed.

While drinking my first liter there, I noticed a group farther down my table eyeing me and commenting. I asked, in my best German, what was wrong. They said I was drinking too fast. I let them know (as if my accent didn’t already give me away) that I was American, and that my pace was normal in the U.S. They then laid on me the single best piece of alcohol advice I have ever received: Start slow, and slowly ramp up over the course of the night—and by the end, you can be gulping. (The wonderful word for this in their language is “schlucken.”) By the end of my stay, I had found those same people again—and was able to last much longer, with far lighter consequences.

I tell you all that for the obvious corollary with beer festivals: Start slow, and by the end, you can enjoy much more, all while being upright and at much less of a risk of making a fool of yourself. I’ve seen far too many people get excited at the beginning of a festival, going wild trying every strong beer they can—and ending up puking or passed out somewhere halfway through. DON’T BE THAT PERSON.

Armed with this advice, you already have an advantage. But there is definitely more you can do. Some of these tips may seem obvious, but one never knows …

Eat before and during the festival. It’s a fact that alcohol absorption can be slowed with food in your gut. Something as simple as yogurt with granola, salmon, chicken or spaghetti can do that for you. This does NOT mean you can drink the same amount without getting as drunk as you would with an empty stomach. Food just delays the buzz; your liver will have to process all that alcohol regardless. Most festivals have a food component which makes it easy to take a little break, refuel and …

Drink some water. This is the one tip that is the most obvious, but the easiest to forget while in the middle of your festival fun. Every festival I have ever attended has a drinking-water station. Alcohol dehydrates you. I don’t care how many times you have to pee; you will be a lot better off after the dust has settled if you regularly drink water. If you can carry around a bottle, do that. Water also has the nice bonus of serving as a palate cleanser between beers.

Dump that beer. Well, drink a little first … but if it’s no good, dump it. This is easy at outdoor festivals like the above-mentioned RWB. If you’re indoors, there will be places for you to pour out what you don’t want—often with water for you to rinse your glass. Even if you enjoyed a certain beer, but maybe got a little too much of it, dump it. (If the brewer is staring at you, you might want to wait it out and dump it elsewhere furtively.)

Be friendly and meet people. This can be hard for some people who are more introverted (it sure is for me sometimes), but at these festivals, you can meet brewing-industry people, knowledgeable drinkers and people who are downright nice and interesting, from many walks of life. It is one thing that makes craft beer beautiful—the people you meet while drinking. Beer also helps greatly to lubricate social situations.

This also has a flip side: Don’t be a dick. Do your best to watch your glass and prevent spillage; apologize to people you bump into (while trying your level best to avoid doing so); and freely share your experience with the beers you’ve tried so far. By doing so, other people will talk about beers you might want to try—while giving you a break when you can eat or hydrate.

Plan ahead: Festivals will post a list of the breweries attending—and sometimes even the beers being served. Make a road map of the things you must try that might go quickly, and follow that as closely as possible. Try not to make this your bible, though: I have often planned out the first hour of a festival only to be blissfully waylaid by friends or other interesting beers. Festivals are about having fun, after all.

I don’t think I need to add that you should arrange for someone sober to drive you to and from the festival … do I?  I guess I just did. See the advice above about not being a dick.

Go forth to that beer festival confidently, and make my German friends and drinking mentors proud! Prost!

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

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer