CVIndependent

Sat12152018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Craft beer tends to be very communal. Fans get together for tastings and “bottle shares.” We often trade with people across the country for beers we might not be able to acquire otherwise. We also love our beer festivals. A well-conceived and well-executed craft-beer festival is a beautiful thing—even if you leave wishing you had been able to try yet more beers that you missed.

I love the Coachella Valley. I moved here in 1988, although it took a little getting used to. (We got here in August when it was 100-plus degrees.) I grew up hiking around the cove and enjoying its gorgeous views—and met many friends I still know to this day. That said … our local beer festivals can’t quite match the exemplary festivals found in other parts of Southern California.

I recently attended, for the fifth straight time, the Firestone Walker Invitational, at the Paso Robles Event Center. Most of you are familiar with Firestone’s quality beers. Even its 805—an American Blond, the beer style I despise most—is high-quality. Firestone has been a paragon of craft-brewing; the company doesn’t compromise, yet it continues to have success in the industry. It should come as no surprise that the eponymous beer festival is of similar mettle.

The “Invitational” portion of the festival’s name means exactly what it says: Firestone invites the breweries its management wants there. Some of those choices shift around. This year, some popular and upcoming breweries got their first invitations—including many from California. Monkish, Highland Park, Societe and Alvarado Street were among the first-timers. If you haven’t had a chance to drink any beer from these breweries, I very much recommend stopping in if you are anywhere within reach.

I began my day at The Bruery’s booth and decided I’d start off with a bang by getting a pour of the Double Barrel Black Tuesday with Tahitian vanilla added. Checking in at 20.5 percent alcohol by volume (that is not a typo), you’d think it’d be boozy, but the brewery based in Orange County has been making Black Tuesday and its variants for many years now and knows what it is doing. Sure, it was big, but it had some lovely dark fruit, chocolate, vanilla, oak, molasses and bourbon flavors. Later, I had the Bruesicle: Mango Fire, a blended sour ale with mango and habaneros. It’s a wonderful time when you can get so many different flavors in a glass.

From there, I set out to get some food in me so that I could last the entire festival. Happily, part of the ticket fee goes toward hosting many local food vendors. Did I mention that all the food vendors and breweries compete for the most festival-goer votes on the well-designed and useful phone app that accompanies the fest? This makes for some incredibly creative and delicious results. I first hit up a booth that made cold-smoked salmon tacos. This went well with the Pleroma Raspberry Creme Brulee sour ale that the Swedish brewery Omnipollo topped with soft-serve ice cream—a smart choice, considering the high for the day was 95 degrees. My other favorite food vendors included some amazing ahi wonton tacos from Firestone’s own Paso Robles restaurant; a bite of pork belly with a fava bean and blackberry puree atop a potato chip from The Hatch Rotisserie and Bar; and a simple but delicious bratwurst with sauerkraut, potato salad and three kinds of mustard from a vendor with a name I honestly can’t recall. Did I also mention beer was being served at this festival?

Walking around the grounds and listening to the various bands, I found some favorite beers as well. One favorite: The Rare Barrel out of Berkeley brought Alchemy and Magic—a golden sour ale with cucumber, juniper and rosemary aged in gin barrels. It’s so unique and absolutely delicious.

Yet another beautiful thing about the festival is that it’s often the brewers themselves out there pouring beers and milling around. I chatted with Rare Barrel head brewer Jay Goodwin (a former Bruery brewer) about the beer and his processes as I sampled it. He then poured me a taste of another oak-aged watermelon sour called Raging Waters. For me, it doesn’t get much better than that kind of immersive experience.

More favorites included a perennial pourer at the fest by the name of Beachwood BBQ and Brewing from Long Beach. My friend Julian Shrago and his crew make incredible beer; the Vanilla Fudge (which tasted just like the name suggests) and Brandy Barrel System of a Stout (a variant of his annual Coffee Imperial Stout with spices) were both winners. Beachwood’s sister brewery, Beachwood Blendery, was pouring a number of its brilliant sours alongside Julian’s beers. The muscat grape sour was phenomenal.

I’ve come to rely on Revolution Brewing from Chicago to bring some of the best barrel-aged beers at the festival every year—and this year, the brewery outdid itself with a double-barrel (bourbon and rye) cherry version of the gorgeous V.S.O.J. Barleywine, and a coffee version of the barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout called Cafe Deth (pronounced Deeth, after brewer Josh Deth and the beer off which it’s based, Deth’s Tar). They were even willing to mix the two for amazing results.

This year’s biggest discovery was a brewery out of Greeley, Colo., called WeldWerks. Five beers were on tap, and all were very well-done. It got my vote for best brewery, and I will be trying to find its beers by hook or by crook. If I were to pick only a couple to showcase, they’d be the Peach Pie Berliner weisse (a light, tart wheat ale), and the Mexican Medianoche imperial stout, aged in Woodford Reserve rye whiskey barrels for 20 months and then further aged with cinnamon sticks, cacao nibs and vanilla beans.

There are so many more beers I could talk about, with so many more experiences, but I think you get the point. The Firestone Walker Invitational is a superior beer-festival experience that I will never miss so long as I am able to make it; if that includes bending heaven and earth to do so, I will. This festival should be a template for any local Coachella Valley festival. The atmosphere at the Invitational is such that breweries that don’t bring their “A game” or that run out of beers early are put on notice publicly … and deservedly so.

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

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

Whether you’re new to craft beer or are already familiar with some of the best and brightest brewers across our 50 states, this non-comprehensive and unofficial list of 25 great craft beers is a good start.

Keep in mind there are now more than 5,000 breweries nationwide, so this is just a taste of all the amazing beers available. In no particular order:

1. AleSmith Old Numbskull: American Barleywine (11 percent ABV)

This barleywine has won three Great American Beer Festival awards and two World Beer Cup medals. It’s extremely well-balanced and full-bodied, and can be paired with anything from roasted meats and stews to a variety of pungent cheeses.

2. Allagash White: Witbier (5 percent ABV)

Spiced with a special blend of coriander and Curaçao orange peel, this Belgian-style wheat beer has won numerous awards, including gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015, and gold at the World Beer Cup in 1998, 2010 and 2012. Clove, banana and orange notes dominate the taste, but in a deliciously balanced and subtle way.

3. Allagash Black Ale: Belgian-Style Stout (7.5 percent ABV)

Allagash brews some of the most delicious craft beers on the market. Technically, there is no such thing as a traditional Belgian stout, but the good folks at Allagash don’t always necessarily follow the rules. This beer is a little easier to drink than some regular stouts and finishes clean.

4. Bell’s Expedition Stout: Russian Imperial Stout (10.5 percent ABV)

Chocolate, dark fruits, coffee and molasses come together in this warming, super-smooth and complex beer. This is one of the best Russian imperial stouts on the market, and one that gets even better with age.

5. Brauerei Aying Ayinger Celebrator: Dark Doppelbock (6.7 percent ABV)

This is a full-bodied beer showing off notes of caramel and toasted malts, and mild notes of dark fruit. Touches of alcohol warmth give it a gorgeous, long finish.

6. Cigar City Guava Grove: Farmhouse Ale (8 percent ABV)

This award-winning brewery brews Guava Grove in tribute to Tampa, Fla.’s fruity nickname. It’s made with a French strain of Saison yeast, with a secondary fermentation with pink guava puree. With this beer, experience barnyard flavors, carbonation, guava (of course), pepper, citrus, watermelon, clove and wheat.

7. Deschutes The Abyss: American Double/Imperial Stout (11 percent ABV)

You’ll want to dive into The Abyss at least once, thanks to its nearly immeasurable depth and complexity. This is barrel-aged for 12 months in bourbon, Oregon oak and pinot noir barrels.

8. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA: India Pale Ale (9 percent ABV)

It’s named after the amount of time it’s continuously hopped, providing smack-you-in-the-face hop bitterness, while a good amount of malt sweetness provides balance. Notes of pine, pineapple and honey lend to its drinkability.

9. Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA: American IPA (7.5 percent ABV)

This is pretty darn close to a perfect beer, in my book. The bouquet is crammed with Pacific Northwest hops. Notes of lemon, pineapple, papaya and pine give it a juicy and resinous quality.

10. Founders KBS: Imperial Stout (12.4 percent ABV)

This world-class beer is available starting this month (April), so mark your calendars. Take your time to fully taste all of the layers: coffee, brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla, licorice, charred nuttiness and bourbon. After sitting in oak bourbon barrels for a year, KBS emerges with a boozy sweet bourbon profile.

11. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: Imperial Stout (13.8 percent ABV)

From the bottle: “The original bourbon barrel aged Stout”; “Since 1992”; “Stout aged in bourbon barrels.” It smells like a bourbon dessert with sweet caramel up front. The complex notes include plums, figs and milk chocolate. This is decadence in a glass.

12. Green Flash Palate Wrecker: Double IPA (9.5 percent ABV)

The appropriately named Imperial IPA has thick, sticky, chunky lacing and pistol-blazing intense bitterness. The pineapple, mango and grapefruit sweetness perfectly balance with the insanely high number of IBUs.

13. Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela: Pumpkin Ale (5.9 percent ABV)

This is a perfect fall beer (that’s also good now!) with notes of pumpkin, cinnamon, brown sugar, chocolate, caramel, lemon zest, sour cherries and toast. This isn’t your average pumpkin ale, as it finishes with a refreshing tart sourness.

14. Kern River Brewing Citra: Imperial IPA (8 percent ABV)

This citrus-forward beer is almost faultless. There are lingering notes of lemon cake, candied mango and chocolate-covered strawberries. Citra is bright and fresh with a creamy mouth-feel.

15. Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale: Pale Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

The balance between malt and hop makes this wheat ale outstanding. With grapefruit, pine, mandarin and a hint of wheat malt sweetness, the flavor is bright and clean, with an excellent harmony of citrus hops and sweet malts.

16. Pizza Port/Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme: American Wild Ale (11 percent ABV)

The brewery made famous for brewing amazing Belgian-style beers decided to brew an unconventional sour brown ale in 1999. Made from four fermentable sugars, it is fully fermented before being placed in bourbon barrels, where it ages for one year with sour cherries. Think cherry, oak, vanilla, bourbon and brown sugar.

17. Russian River Pliny the Elder: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Beer-drinkers have been known to stand in line to enjoy this limited-supply double IPA. This is the easiest IPA to imbibe. It’s powerful, fragrant and amazingly complex, yet very smooth and clean. It’s worth the hype.

18. Saison Dupont: Saison (6.5 percent ABV)

This must-try beer is a top fermentation beer, with re-fermentation in the bottle. Since 1844, this beer has been brewed at La Brasserie Dupont’s farm-brewery. Hints of banana, pineapple, tropical fruit, pear and black pepperfinish with a German hop flavor. In the background hangs a light screen of barnyard funk.

19. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: American Pale Ale (5.6 percent ABV)

This is a homebrewer’s dream that turned into one of the most iconic beers in the craft-beer world. A generous amount of premium Cascade hops give the pale ale its fragrant bouquet and spicy flavor. Its piny and citrus-hop aroma comes with a slightly dry finish.

20. Stone Brewing: Imperial Russian Stout (10.6 percent ABV)

Go ahead and enjoy this decadent, black-as-night beer now, or age at cellar temperature. Or buy two and do both! This is heavy on dark fruits, molasses, chocolate, coffee and licorice, with a hint of alcohol burn.

21. The Alchemist Heady Topper: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Brewed out of Vermont, this is a world-class beer. The scent is a burst of tropical hops like pineapple, mango, grapefruit and peach. A hoppy start flexes and finishes into a malty finish, while staying incredibly smooth.

22. The Bruery Black Tuesday: Imperial Stout (19.2 percent ABV)

Released on the final Tuesday of October every year, this beer is The Bruery’s take on a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout. The nose is typically all dark chocolate, roasted coffee, toasted oak and bourbon. Despite its decadence and booziness, it’s wonderfully smooth.

23. 3 Floyds Zombie Dust: Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV)

This intensely hopped undead pale ale pours peachy gold and gives off big aromas of citrus and tropical fruits. The taste is toasty buttered breadiness, and ripe tropical fruitiness. This is an exceptional beer.

24. 3 Floyds Dark Lord: Russian Imperial Stout (15 percent AB)

This RIS is brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar. Not for the faint of heart, Dark Lord is among the most opaque and black stouts on the market. What you smell is delivered in the taste—dark chocolate, cherries, plums, caramel, roasted malt and burnt sugar.

25. Victory Prima Pils: German Pilsner (5.3 percent ABV)

This signature pils is brewed with heaps of whole flower European hops and fine German malts. You may notice grass, cracker and pepper notes on the nose, and pear, white grape and hoppy bitterness in the taste. Enjoy it alone or with seafood or burgers.

Published in Beer

I would like to shove the year 2016 into the anals of time—I mean right up into the bowels of the space-time continuum.

Not only did we lose Gene Wilder, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Alan Rickman, David Bowie, George Michael and Carrie Fisher (I’m weeping again); record temperatures are taking hold as climate change accelerates. And then there’s the fact that a minority of Americans elected a climate-denying, misogynist, racist, egotistical guy who’s clearly not qualified for the job.

On the upside … 2016 did give us some amazing new beers.

Behold—some of the year’s best winter beers.

Bell’s Winter White Ale: This is a lovely wheat alternative to your normally heavy and dark winter beers. It’s low in alcohol at 5 percent and has some of those delicious clove and fruity aromas that are reminiscent of the holidays. Try it with eggs Benedict, omelets or cranberry-apple cobbler. It is available through the end of January.

Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper: This “winter warmer” appeals to those who just want a dark, strong Russian imperial stout without barrel-aging or added spices or fruit. This is one seriously naughty but nice beer. Flavors of heavily roasted grain, espresso, molasses, roasted malt and light bourbon make this beer the real deal.

Pyramid Snow Cap: A rich, full-bodied winter warmer crafted in the British tradition of holiday beers. This deep mahogany-colored brew balances complex fruit flavors with a refreshingly smooth texture, making Snow Cap a highly drinkable and desirable cooler-weather drink.

Samuel Adams Winter Classics Mix Pack: This is a nice starter for beer-lovers who are just discovering craft beer. Though it can change from year to year, the pack often contains Boston lager, Old Fezziwig ale, winter lager, holiday porter, black lager and cranberry lambic.

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale: This is a true classic for hop-heads, having been on the market since 1981! Beyond a pretty significant bitterness at 62 IBUs, this beer is dry-hopped, which elevates the hops in the aroma and the flavor. When you’re drinking Celebration, you’re drinking a bit of history.

Great Divide Hibernation Ale: Great Divide cellars Hibernation until late October. A lengthy aging process gives Hibernation a malty richness, a complex hop profile and a hearty warming character. Hibernation is a lively treat that really beats the winter chill. This scrumptious, collectible and imminently cellar-able ale has won four Great American Beer Festival medals and is fantastic with grilled beef tenderloin.

Stone Xocoveza: This “Mexican hot chocolate” packs a delicious punch of bittersweet cocoa, cinnamon, Mostra coffee, pasilla peppers and vanilla. It was first brewed in 2014 with San Diego homebrewer Chris Banker after his recipe won Stone’s annual homebrew competition. Craft-beer drinkers clamored for more, and it quickly became a cross-country sensation. Drink it fresh or age it at cellar temperature. Try it with bacon-wrapped figs or tiramisu.

Avery Brewing Old Jubilation: We all need more feelings of jubilation in 2017. This winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and aromas of mocha, toffee and darker cracker malts. It has chocolate flavors, with residual sugar notes of blackstrap molasses and fig, and a wisp of smokiness.

Scaldis Noel Premium: This is how the Belgians make a winter warmer. This beer is rich with lots of malt, and though malt dominates, the complexity from the wilder yeasts Belgians tend to use, plus the unusual practice of aging this beer with hops flowers, gives this brew unique flavor and character.

Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve: Rogue’s annual holiday offering is a variation on the classic Saint Rogue Red, with double the hops—including Chinook, Centennial and a mystery hop called Rudolph from head brewer John Maier. This holiday elixir is brewed with a variety of malts, coastal water and Maier’s proprietary top-fermenting Pacman yeast.

Brasserie d’Achouffe N’Ice Chouffe: This Belgian specialty ale is a 10 percent alcohol-by-volume slow-sipper. N’Ice Chouffe is brewed with thyme and Curaçao orange peel, and has a candy-sweet malty aroma with cherries and apples. It has a strong finish but is superbly well-balanced.

Telegraph Brewing Winter Ale: With hints of cinnamon, allspice, caramel, vanilla and sweet ancho chilies, this spiced dark ale is inspired by Mexican hot chocolate. It has a 7.7 percent ABV; make sure to let this warm up a bit to bring out the flavors.

Firestone Walker Anniversary XX 2016: It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since brothers-in-law Adam Firestone and David Walker established their brewery in a converted shed at the back of the family vineyard. This is a limited release, and here’s why: 17 winemakers convened in late August to help create the blend for XX, combining 250 oak barrels and five different beers including Parabola, Stickee Monkee, Velvet Merkin, Bravo and Helldorado. The resulting brew is silky-smooth, with molasses and rich brown sugar, and touches of cinnamon spice and brandy soaked cherries.

Enjoy now—or age for four years to celebrate a new president!

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

With the help of nature’s unpredictability, experienced brewers are adapting traditional European techniques to bring bursts of tart and tangy flavors to beers.

Yep. We’re talking about sours.

In the mid-19th century, when beer was aged and shipped in wooden barrels before the advent of refrigeration, nearly all beer was, to some extent, sour.

Today, good sours can take up to two to three years to produce. But the wait is worth it: All hail Pediococcus, Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces. The remarkable flavors in sour ales can be attributed to these wild yeast strains.

We recently spoke to people at three Southern California breweries that are helping lead the sour resurgence.


The Bruery: A Chat with Benjamin Weiss

Benjamin Weiss is the marketing director of The Bruery, in the Orange County community of Placentia. The Bruery celebrated its seventh anniversary in May.

Benjamin became a professional brewer at The Bruery in 2008, just two years after starting to homebrew in Los Angeles. He eventually became the brewer on the infamous Black Tuesday beer.

What’s your background brewing sours?

I just drank them. Brewing them is pretty much the same as anything—you’re just fermenting slightly differently. … Most of our sours are aged in a used wine barrel. (With) most of them nowadays, actually, primary fermentation starts in an oak barrel, then we rack into smaller oak barrels.

Do you have favorite wineries from which you like to get your barrels from

No. … We get the barrels from wineries, but we’re really using a neutral barrel. We clean them out … so as long as they’re newer, solid barrels, we’re happy with them.

What do you love about sours?

I’ve loved sours since I’ve first tried them back in my homebrew meeting about 10 years ago. … When you have a good sour, there’s something complex and delicious about it. Most of our sours are not purely lactic fermentation. They’re not just one note. It’s hard to describe; it’s almost a clean sour taste … also the funkiness that you can get from different strains of Brett (Brettanomyces) that comes with time. … I find them just fascinating.

What do you think of the resurgence in popularity of sours?

It’s crazy. I was just commenting to one of my co-workers that, we were at some festival … five years ago. Every single person that came up to you, you had to explain what a sour beer was. … Now, almost everyone walks up and says, “Oh, you have a sour beer?” It’s completely the opposite, at least with the beer crowd. It’s still a very, very small segment of beer. But within the craft-beer aficionado community, it’s increasingly more popular.

What are some of your favorites from The Bruery?

One of my favorites we make is Rueuze, our kind of gueuze style. … It’s gotten a little bit better every year. It has that funky character that I like. Gueuze is a type of lambic made by blending young (1-year-old) and old (2- to 3-year-old) lambics, which is then bottled for a second fermentation. Rueuze is a blend of sour blonde ale from several of their oak barrels, some of which have been aging several months, some several years. Notes of apricots, peach, lemon and bright barnyard funk flavors come through—perfect for summer.

What are some of your upcoming plans?

We’re launching a tasting room for Bruery Terreux (in Anaheim) hopefully at the end of this year, if not early next year. … Bruery Terreux is a newish brand, loosely translating to “Earthy Bruery” in French. Developed by Patrick Rue of The Bruery, it’s a new space that focuses solely on their farmhouse-style ales fermented with the wild yeasts.


Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks: A Brewery in Wine Country

The “accidental” story of Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks is beautifully tasty. The story of renegade brewers Matt Brynildson, Jim Crooks (“Sour Jim”) and Jeffers Richardson has grown from humble beginnings in 2005 to a program that produces more than 1,500 barrels annually in Buellton, just south of Paso Robles.

This innovative and unprecedented barrelhouse is the birthplace of several of the wildly coveted beers being poured annually at the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival, held every May. Their Agrestic (2014) began as the brewery’s DBA; it then goes through a “chrysalis” process involving 87 percent French and 13 percent American oak barrels, and a proprietary collection of micro flora. It spends 14 months there. This sour leans towards the punker, tropical and oaky side of things.

The Sour Opal is an American Gueuze style with a titratable acidity (T.A.) of 6.6 g/L. Currently, no other brewery that I know of divulges this information. With their home in wine country, Firestone Walker has adapted traditions and techniques from winery friends.

I spoke to Jeffers, the director of Barrelworks (aka the “Barrelmeister”).

What’s your fascination with sours?

I love how it contributes depth and complexity to beer. Acidity adds a whole new dimension of flavor to beer … and plays teasingly with wild yeast and oak, when those components are involved.

How long have you been experimenting with sours?

My palate has been experimenting with acidified beers since 1985, when I lived in Brussels and first tried them. But I didn’t become comfortable with wild beer production until I teamed up with Jim. I’m old school. I was indoctrinated in the ways of clean beer practices. Once we were given our own padded room, and the inmates were allowed to run it, I was more comfortable. Jim, on the other hand has been a certifiable experimenter of sours for some time.


Coachella Valley Brewing: Pucker Up in the Desert

On a local level, Coachella Valley Brewing Co.’s Chris Anderson has been brewing up a sour program in Thousand Palms over the past year.

This sour program at CVB is taking off. Anderson hinted the brewery might be expanding its sour program outside of the current space in the near future.

The new Profligate Society will feature upcoming sours, cabernet-barrel-aged Epineux Poire prickly pear wild ale, cabernet-barrel-aged Cassis Noir black currant sour ale and cabernet-barrel-aged Flame Rouges wild ale. Less than 500 bottles of each beer will be released to Profligate members.

What sours are on tap now?

The Peche, an American wild ale with locally grown white peaches and pediococcus, and lactic and multiple Brettanomyces cultures. Tasters are $3, and there’s only one keg left.

When did you start this, or think about starting to brew sours?

We immediately started getting into that mode when we had the capacity to store that type of a beer. We got a bunch of tanks dedicated just for making sour beers. That was probably about a year ago. That was the inception of the first couple sour bases that we use to make a couple different beers with a batch of different fruits.

How many tanks?

We have three right now. We immediately made a sour base, which is your run-of-the-mill wheat beer and used some really old hops, which is typical of sour beers. You want to use old, cheesy, skanky hops, rather than the real aromatic ones. You don’t want that to shine through in the beer. We aged it away; we use a special flora. We have an onsite laboratory. … We built our own culture, that we inoculate all the barrels with, as well as the wort.

What do you love about sours?

I don’t know. It’s kind of mysterious, you know? A little unorthodox. It’s the opposite of everything you’re told as a brewer, even the way the mash is done. The long aging … you still may not get really high quality results … and it’s all about blending, too.

Published in Beer

Here's to the corkscrew—a useful key to unlock the storehouse of wit, the treasury of laughter, the front door of fellowship, and the gate of pleasant folly. —W.E.P. French

Paso Robles’ Firestone Walker Brewing Company seems to have taken the words of W.E.P. French to heart, as evidenced by brewery’s fantastic barrel-aging program, called Barrelworks.

Firestone Walker Brewing is in the midst of rapid expansion. In late 2014, the brewery plans to open a taproom restaurant, pilot brewhouse and craft beer hub on Washington Boulevard in Venice. I first learned about these plans last year, when Firestone gave a group of Los Angeles beer bloggers (and me!) a sneak peek at their expansion plans, which also include the new, but already popular, barrel-aging program in Buellton.

The Firestone Walker folks—including co-founder David Walker—in May took beer journalists on a second trip to Paso Robles and the Central Coast; it’s about a five-hour drive from the Coachella Valley.

The trip’s first stop was at the place where Firestone began. At so-called Area 51, we were surrounded by 50 acres of land and grapes. I sipped beer on the back of a flat-bed farm truck, passing rows of vines glistening in the sunlight. I gave a nod of acknowledgement to the lamas and a scarecrow that were hanging out on the side of the dirt road.

This is the site of Firestone Walker’s original brewhouse. We were soon greeted by Andrew Murray, of Andrew Murray Vineyards, the current tenant. He happily handed out a crisp and fruity white wine called E11even; it was delicious in the hot afternoon sun.

Walker and Jeffers Richardson talked about Firestone Walker’s humble beginnings. “This is where it all began” said Jeffers, one of Firestone Walker’s original brewers and the director at Barrelworks. Walker joked that their beers weren’t always delicious.

We were led back to camp after the tour for a wonderful group meal. It’s here that we were introduced to Bretta Rosé, a deliciously puckering blend of fresh raspberries and Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks Bretta Weisse beer.

Firestone Walker’s master blender, Jim “Sour Jim” Crooks, explained the beer’s genesis.

“We’re down in Barrelworks in early 2013, and Jeffers and I were kinda like mad scientists: ‘What could we do to make this beer really interesting?’” Crooks said.

Crooks started cold calling fruit farmers and vendors. He got in touch someone at Driscoll’s up the road. The call went well: He said he ran out yelling, “Jeffers! You won’t believe this! We just landed 1,000 pounds of raspberries for free!”

The result is a gorgeous, complex and expertly balanced beer. Following this little lovely was an experimental wine-beer hybrid called Zin Skin.

“Essentially, what the Barrelworks does it connects us back to that weird, artisanal beginnings that we so enjoyed,” he said. “It’s a complete folly. There’s an interesting cross-section of wine culture and beer culture.”

Sour Jim continued to talk about their sour discoveries and the roots of the operation. In 2011, David Walker toured Rodenbach brewery in Belgium. He came back to Jim and said with a giant grin, “I figured it out. I know what you’re doing! We’ll make it like something no one’s ever done!”

In 2012, things fell into place. By the end of 2012, Barrelworks went from 28 barrels to about 450 barrels of beer.

“What we’re doing down here is so craft; it’s so artisanal,” said Sour Jim “It is like roots. It really comes back to the roots of making beers, a lot of the lineage of lambics and sour beers. These are historic beers, a lot of them.”

Jeffers added: “The brewers are learning a lot from the wine makers. Barrelworks takes you back to cellaring, pre-Industrial Revolution. Barrelworks is a creative endeavor that is following and learning practices that have been missing in brewing a long time—but not in the wine industry.”


The next day, we traveled to Paso Robles, home of Firestone Walker Brewery. After a delicious lunch, we experienced a tasting session led by lab analyst Norm Stokes.

Norm and the Firestone team prepared an array of off-flavor Firestone tasters, either from increased aging or off temperatures. We tasted beers that had been aged three, thirty and 300 days. This “sensory analysis” exposed flavors not normally craved—cabbage, latex paint, butter and vinegar.

Head brewer Dustin Kral then led the group through the Firestone brew house. David Walker explained that the brewery walks a fine line, staying artisanal but growing to the levels that the public is starting to demand.

Soon, we were on the road again, traveling down another amazingly picturesque country lane in Paso Robles to a wonderful boutique winery that has also found a way to craft high-quality vodka, gin and other liquors via their free-run juice, called saignée.

Villicana Winery owners Alex and Monica Villicana distill the “prize juice”—as Monica refers to it—that is cast from the first grape crush to create damn-near-luxurious liquors. The result is Paso Robles' first craft distillery, Re:Find.

“We bought 80 acres of dirt basically here in Paso in 1996,” Monica said, explaining the operation’s beginnings. “Between the two of us and our family and friends, we planted 13 acres of vines. … We make nine different wines in our 13-acre vineyard. Everything is pretty much estate here. We only produce about 2,000 cases annually.”

Here’s how that prize juice becomes delicious liquor: They collect the juice and bring it back to the winery. They ferment it into a high-alcohol rose. The high sugar fermentations produce glycerol, which has a heavy texture and sweetness. They then start a four distillation process.

“Distilling is about isolating the good alcohol and getting rid of the bad alcohol. … It’s in the second, third and fourth distillations that we really start to do the distillers’ craft to get the clean alcohol and introduce the vodkas and gins that we’re producing here,” Alex said.

If you haven’t visited Paso Robles, you’re missing out on a romantic California charm that envelopes you with magnificent rolling hills, artisan culinary cuisine, seasonal craft cocktails and, of-course, award winning craft beer. It’s great to see forward-thinking companies, like Firestone Walker and Re:Find, exude quality and collaboration in a stunning, old world setting.

Published in Beer

I like my beer like I like my men: tall, dark and handsome. And what is the darkest beer of them all?

Well, hello, stout!

Stout originally meant “proud” or “brave,” but morphed into “strong” after the 14th century—and this handsome, brave and strong beer now has its own day of celebration.

International Stout Day will be celebrated for the third year on Friday, Nov. 8. How did this boozy holiday come to be? I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of celebrating a beer style or locale. Just like vineyards and the resulting wines tell the story of the people, the weather and the land behind them, beer also tells a story about its creation. In 2011, I reached out to other beer bloggers and breweries—and the day was born.

The first stouts were produced in the 1730s. The Russian imperial stout was inspired by brewers in the 1800s to win over the czar. “Imperial porter” came before “imperial stout”; the earliest noted use of “imperial” to describe a beer comes from the Caledonian Mercury of February 1821, when a coffeehouse in Edinburgh was advertising “Edinburgh Ales, London Double Brown Stout and Imperial Porter, well worth the attention of Families.”

Guinness has been brewing porters since about 1780 and is famous for its dry or Irish stout. Oatmeal stout beer is one of the sweeter and smoother stouts—and the fact that we today have oyster stout and chocolate stout is proof that society is ever-evolving. (The first known use of oysters as part of the stout-brewing process actually happened way back in 1929, in New Zealand.)

Thanks to today’s craft-beer revolution, you’ll find an amazing array of stouts—perfect not only for a chilly day, but for pairing with gourmet meals. Thankfully, Coachella Valley breweries and bars are celebrating on Nov. 8 with a variety of special beers and special events.

Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse (71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 760-346-8738) will have two specialty stouts on tap: Anderson Valley’s Wild Turkey Bourbon Barrel Stout, and AleSmith Speedway Stout

To make the Bourbon Barrel Stout, the folks at Anderson Valley take their Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout and age it in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels for three months. Anderson Valley has an exclusive deal to get the barrels fresh from Wild Turkey’s “dumping room.” This ensures consistency and freshness in the barrel—and eventually, the beer. Despite the use of liquor barrels, the beer is on the lower side of the alcohol scale.

Alternatively, weighing in with an impressive 12 percent alcohol volume, the San Diego-born Speedway Stout starts with strong coffee and dark-chocolate sensations. Alongside sweet notes of molasses are alcohol heat and dark fruit undertones; this is a delicious beer.

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. (30640 Gunther St., Thousand Palms; 760-343-5973) will have Condition Black on tap. The black IPA is a marriage of stout and IPA styles—featuring the malt complexity of a stout, and the hop bitterness of an IPA. Using multiple dark-roasted malts like midnight wheat, barley, two dark crystal malts and chocolate malts, this Cascadian dark beer is a new style in and of itself. It’s not technically a stout—these beers typically lacks the roasted taste and body of a strong stout, but are much maltier than a typical IPA.

While Eureka! Burger (74985 Highway 111, Indian Wells; 760-834-7700) may be the new kid on the local restaurant block, the Indian Wells location of the Southern California chain is no stranger to craft beer and will join the festivities with stouts and barrel-aged stouts from breweries throughout the U.S. Stouts are always a tasty accompaniment to a juicy burger!

Stouts also make for a decadent pairing with a fine cigar, so visit Mel and the rest of the gang at Fame Lounge (155 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs; 760-320-2752) for a stout and cigar; they almost always have at least one on tap.

The craft-beer advocates over at Schmidy’s Tavern (72286 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-837-3800) in Palm Desert will be offering some savory stouts as well; their selection had yet to be announced as of our deadline.

While visiting these fine establishments, make sure you share your stout with your friends! Are you a member of Untappd? Log in and post what beer you’re drinking—and get the 2013 specialty Stout Day badge!

What other stouts should you look for and enjoy?

Brewery Ommegang’s Game of Thrones Take the Black Stout was released at the end of September and is available on draft and in 750-milliliter bottles. This stout is full of midnight wheat, roasted barley, Northern Brewer hops and chocolate malt. Check out the Ommegang website and click “find a beer” to see where it’s available.

• Founders Brewing can do no wrong. The world-class Kentucky Breakfast Stout is an imperial brewed with a massive amount of coffee and chocolates, then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for a year. The alcohol volume is 11.2 percent, so take your time, and savor this big beer. Smell the succulent scent of rich dark chocolate, plums, vanilla-cream, cherry, coffee and bourbon. The more you sip it, the more this perfectly aged beer will warm and reveal notes of bourbon and oak.

Firestone Walker Brewing’s Parabola is a whopping 13-percent-alcohol Russian imperial stout. Pouring a dark caramel-brown color, this delicately smooth stout has flavors of sweet malts, charred barrel notes, coconut, vanilla, bourbon spiciness and chocolate. The immense complexity is nothing short of artful. Watch for their “bottled on” dates—located on the necks or bottom left corner of the label. Buy a couple, and age one in a dark place to drink on next year’s Stout Day. It will take a little edge off the bourbon and round off the flavors. You won’t be disappointed.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is brewed every winter, and the imperial stout has won numerous awards. What makes it special? The addition of wheat and specialty malts, and the use of three mashes. Beginning with cocoa, caramel malt and dark fruit, the beer features roasted bitterness, and finishes with pleasing alcohol warmth—as the chocolate continues to send ribbons of its bouquet to the palate. This is a wonderful stout.

Southern Tier Crème Brulee is an imperial stout brewed with vanilla coffee beans. Yes, please! You’ll find vanilla, custard and brown sugar in the nose. Serve this in a tulip glass, snifter or oversized wine glass. Want to really dive into dreamy decadence? Enjoy this with bananas foster or over vanilla ice cream.

Foothills Sexual Chocolate Imperial Stout gets the Beer Goddess award for the coolest name. The famed imperial stout has been brewed since 2007; the original Sexual Chocolate contains nine different malts and four different hop varietals, in addition to its “chocolate”—organic Peruvian cocoa nibs. Foothills Brewing has been awarded seven Great American Beer Fest medals since 2006; three of those went to Sexual Chocolate, as did a World Beer Cup medal in 2010. Because this is a limited release, you may not find it in time for this year’s Stout Day—so keep an eye out for the new version that will become available for next Stout Day!

• The 2013 Stone Espresso Imperial Russian Stout is part of Stone’s “Odd Beers for Odd Years” program, which began in 2011; the series introduces new, or “odd,” versions of Stone Imperial Russian Stout in tandem with the classic version during odd-numbered years. Stone Imperial Russian Stout is one of the highest-rated Stone beers and has a “world class” score on BeerAdvocate.com. The beer features espresso beans from San Diego’s Ryan Bros. Coffee; Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele notes that the coffee enhances the perception of the chocolate. The taste is substantial, yet balanced. The 11 percent alcohol volume is just slightly noticeable. Pair it with a flavored cigar like Java Robusto or Camacho Triple Maduro.

• Deschutes’ The Abyss American Imperial Stout pours an obsidian black, after being aged in bourbon barrels and brewed with licorice and molasses. The 11-percent-alcohol beer has barrel-aged character, but it’s never overpowering. Light nuances of oak, vanilla and bourbon give it great complexity. It’s definitely on par with a fine dark rum or bourbon as a mature sipper.

• The 2013 version of Allagash Fluxus has citrus notes. The beer is brewed differently every year to commemorate Allagash’s anniversary, and this year’s Fluxus is a porter brewed with a blend of 2-row, coffee and chocolate malts, as well as blood-orange pulp and zest. Yes, I’m including a porter on the list. I won’t go off on a craft-beer-style lecture, but I will say that “stout” has typically meant a stronger version of porter. So, close enough.

Three Floyds Brewing’s Dark Lord Imperial Stout is like chocolate mousse in a glass. Wonderful for aging, Dark Lord boasts an alcohol volume of 15 percent. Sweet molasses, coffee bitterness, caramel notes and dark fruit come in waves, all while offering a nice sweetness and a velvety mouth feel. All bow before the Dark Lord! This is a phenomenal beer.

Ten Barrel/Bluejacket/Stone Suede Imperial Porter is a chocolaty, higher-alcohol porter that’s a perfect collaboration beer for Stout Day. Tonya Cornett from Bend, Ore.’s 10 Barrel Brewing Company wanted a beer she could put in the cellar and enjoy for years to come. So, pick up a couple of bottles; enjoy one on Nov. 8; and tuck one away for Stout Day 2014. The sturdy yet velvety base of imperial porter holds up beautifully with the addition of the avocado honey, jasmine and calendula flowers.

Cheers!

Published in Beer

Awards and medals for Babe’s brewing excellence adorn the dining room at Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse, in Rancho Mirage, like golf courses adorn the Coachella Valley.

Decades ago, Don Callender started a Southern California chain of American-style restaurants that was known for its pies, its fully stocked saloon and its salad bar. As the years passed, and the restaurant chain was sold and merged with other restaurants, Don had a slightly different vision of barbecue and beer.

It’s not as well known that Don was fascinated with craft beer. In the late ’90s, when the craft-beer revolution took hold, Don’s passion for these new styles led him to taste what Southern California brewers had to offer.

Don knew excellence when he tasted it. Strawberry blondes, pumpkin ales and fruit beers from upstarts like Belmont Brewing Company satisfied Don’s sweet tooth and culinary prowess. Don was also one of the first Californians to enjoy the Pasadena based Craftsman Brewing. The Marie Callender’s founder and craft beer aficionado drank their Heavenly Hefe and Orange Grove Ale, while brewing a legacy all his own.

Don opened two small breweries in 1998 and 1999. The first, P.H. Woods, was a popular BBQ and brewhouse with beer brewed by Hans Johnson. Johnson later came up with the award-winning craft beers for Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse, which opened in April 2002.

In 2001, as Don prepared to unfold his ultimate beer-and-barbecue concept, he and his manager, Arthur Vasquez, couldn’t foresee the volatile socioeconomic climate they were about to face. Just a few months before opening, the Sept. 11 attacks shook the core of America. Spending was down, and the slower, warmer months of the desert didn’t promise a hugely successful launch.

The most-pressing problem with opening a barbecue and craft-beer brewhouse in an area known for its spa resorts, art galleries, 60-something golfers and Rat Pack heritage was introducing the relatively new culinary art of craft beer. While nearby San Diego and Orange County were quick to catch on to the craft-beer calling, the gin-and-tonic crowd of the Coachella Valley was a little slower to heed the call.

“There were no hop heads out here,” Vasquez said—not smiling.

For several years, they pushed their light-to-medium beers. Vasquez carefully crafted the menus and tap offerings in order to please the Coachella customer.

The Honey Blonde Ale and Blackfin Lager caught on. But the passion to offer a bigger variety of microbrews smoldered inside Vasquez.

After all, Babe's Brewhouse has a beautiful, custom JV Northwest brew system with a hand-hammered, aged copper exterior, four fermenters and five serving tanks. Its massive functioning malt silo stands tall next to the restaurant's entrance and holds 15,000 pounds of malt. Coming in at a cost of just more than a half-million dollars, who wouldn’t want to show off what this thing can really do?

Hans Johnson (now with Blackstone Brewery in Nashville, Tenn., developed the recipes for the Honey Blonde Ale, Blackfin Lager and 29 Palms Pale Ale. Still served today and brewed by Scot Grabbe, the Honey Blonde Ale comes in at 5 percent alcohol by volume and has won bronze, silver and gold in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 medals in the Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition. Golden in color, light- to medium-bodied, this is a smooth beer with a subtle finish from the orange blossom honey.

Named in honor of the brave 29 Palms Marines, the pale ale is a deep, copper color with cascade hop floral aroma and sweet caramel malt notes. The Blackfin Lager has the most accolades, winning a bronze medal in the 2003 Australian International Beer Awards. Taking the gold in the 2009 and 2012 L.A. International Commercial Beer Competition, the dark German style beer has a hint of roasted barley and toffee sweetness.

Vasquez credited an assistant manager for giving him a nudge to expand Babe’s beer offerings.

“My assistant manager, Josh (Levish, who has a beer podcast at beermepodcast.com), he kind of brought it to my attention and said, ‘Art, there’s a lot more going on here with craft beer; we should start paying more attention,’” Vasquez said. “And I was kind of in this funk, and I said, ‘No, no, we gotta keep the product medium bodied.' That’s what’s selling.

“Y’know, I lost that spark from the ’90s. Then Stone (Brewing Co.) started doing their own distribution and so we started to bring in a few more things. … And by summer 2011, I said, ‘You know what? Eff this. We’re going to go big.’”

As the years passed, and the American craft-beer industry continued to grow, Vasquez and co. bumped Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse up to six taps. They featured two seasonals and made smaller four-to-five-barrel batches, so they could rotate the beers more often. They phased out Southern beers and offered more bombers and the likes of Flying Dog and Dogfish Head. Every seasonal was higher than 8 percent alcohol by volume, and they started wood-aging some of their beers.

In other words, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse was getting real with their beer. And it took off.

While the quality of their beef short ribs can’t be overstated, Vasquez has shown that he is serious about not just the quality of craft beer offered, but the quantity. Because of his passion and due diligence, Babe’s is now on the allocation list for Southern California-based Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Stone Brewing Co., so all of those breweries’ new and interesting releases are automatically sent to the brewhouse. Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse is one of only three places in the Coachella Valley to be on this special beer list.

Callender passed away in 2009, and while the restaurant pioneer and innovator may no longer be with us, it’s apparent that Vasquez, Babe's chief operating officer and executive chef, is committed to making sure that Don's spirit stays alive.

Budget-conscious beer-lovers will be pleased to find craft beer at half-price from 3 p.m. to closing on Monday. Even the growlers are half-off: Refill a 32-ounce growler for $7, or the 64-ounce growler for $9. Happy hour is Monday through Friday, from 3 to 6 p.m., and 9 to 11 p.m.

“The Cicerone” flight consists of four smaller beer tasters. Currently, you can enjoy the 58 Palms Imperial Pale Ale (7.2 percent alcohol), the Babe’s 10th Anniversary Ale (seasonal), guest Belgian draft Delirium Nocturnum (8.5 percent) and guest American draft Stone Brewing Co. 12.12.12. Vertical Epic (9.4 percent).

I’ve become a fan of the 10th Anniversary Ale. With eight malts, 50 pounds of Belgian rock candy, California cherries, blackberries, cinnamon sticks, allspice, and cherry-and-cinnamon bourbon-aged American oak, this beer is the perfect complement to slightly spicy barbecue during the chilly, winter months. The guest drafts were also impressive, proving that Art and the rest of the Babe’s team know more than your average restaurant about good beer.

Babe’s just renewed its 10-year lease and is starting to market the beer outside the brewhouse.

“I just want outside accounts in the Coachella Valley,” Vasquez said. … “I want people to know, when they’re coming here, if they don’t see our beers on tap, I want them to ask for it.”

And the gospel of Babe’s is spreading. LQ Wine has all of their bottled products. Grill-A-Burger in Palm Desert also carries their pale ale.

Love barbecue? Love beer? Love Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse.

Call to schedule a free tour of the brewery 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., December through June (excluding Wednesdays and Thursdays) or July through November (excluding Sundays and Mondays). Babe’s is located at 71800 Highway 111, in The River in Rancho Mirage. For more information, call (760) 346-8738, or visit www.babesbbque.com.

About the author: Erin Peters has been enticing beer drinkers since before beer blogging was really cool. (It’s cool, right?) She started down the carbonated path of intoxicating reviews and articles about craft breweries and the people behind the beer in 2008 and hasn’t turned back since. Erin studied journalism at San Diego State University. Rearrange the letters in SDSU, and you get SUDS. Coincidence—or, divine inspiration?

Below, from left to right: Erin Peters (the article's author), Arthur Vasquez and Scot Grabbe. Photo by Sean Planck.

Published in Features & Profiles