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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

While it’s always a great time for a delicious craft beer, it’s also fun to celebrate beer with others—and the upcoming months bring an array of awesome beer festivals where people celebrate in style.

Beer weeks and festivals celebrate the culture and community of craft beer and give fans options to enjoy new and special brews. Here are just a few beer events to put on your calendar:

San Marcos: Stone 21st Anniversary Celebration and Invitational Beer Festival, Aug. 19: Hailed as one of the godfathers of craft-beer events, this is not your average beer festival. It’s not only the largest craft-beer festival in Southern California; the beers are carefully selected to include some of the finest and rarest beers around.

Seattle: Washington Beer Collaboration Festival, Aug. 19: Washington celebrates collaboration and creativity by featuring 25 unique collaboration beers from 50 different Washington breweries. Stay tuned for the pairings. The second annual two-day outdoor event is presented by the Washington Beer Commission.

Philadelphia: Labor Day Volksfest, Sept. 2-4: Willkommen bei freunden! Every Labor Day Weekend, the Cannstatter Volksfest Verein hosts a lively three-day party. Celebrating German heritage since 1873, this is the oldest Volksfest in the United States.

Sacramento: California Craft Beer Summit and Summit Beer Festival, Sept. 7-9: Experience two full days of beer education, networking and tradeshows for brewers, retailers, distributors and craft-beer lovers at the convention center on Sept. 7 and 8. On Saturday, Sept. 9, enjoy a plethora of California craft beers at the largest beer festival on the West Coast, with more than 160 California craft breweries.

Charleston: Charleston Beer Week, Sept. 9-16: The fifth annual Charleston Beer Week celebrates the South Carolina’s city’s craft beer community, from brewer to bartender and keg to glass. The city now boasts 19 production breweries, four brewpubs and numerous craft beer-focused pubs and restaurants. Keep a look out on the website for a list of 48 sudsy events across the city.

Big Bear: Big Bear Oktoberfest, September-October: Held among pine trees, mountains and Big Bear Lake, this is one of the longest running Oktoberfests in the country. Guests are treated to authentic German entertainment, brats, knockwursts and German beers in a beautiful alpine setting.

Denver: Great American Beer Festival, Oct. 5-7: The Great American Beer Festival is the premier U.S. beer festival and competition. In its 30th year, the 2016 GABF competition awarded 286 medals to some of the best commercial breweries in the U.S. Want another reason to visit? With more than 3,500 different beers from over 700 of the nation’s finest breweries, the event is listed as one of the top 1,000 “places” in the U.S. to visit before you die.

San Diego, San Diego Beer Week, Nov. 3-12: From “Bikes, Brews and Brats With Green Flash” and a “Beer Train Trolley Tour” to “Hops on the Harbor With Flagship Cruises and Belching Beaver Brewery” and a “Rare Beer Breakfast,” this 10-day craft-beer celebration features events like no other.

Greater Palm Springs: Coachella Valley Beer Week, Nov. 10-19: Established in 2015 by yours truly, CVBW is a craft-beer celebration featuring festivals, dinners, tours, tastings and meet-the-brewer nights in and around Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indio and La Quinta.

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were you surprised by the Wicked Weed buyout?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Beer

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

Like IPAs? You aren’t alone.

According to the Brewers Association, IPAs accounted for less than 8 percent of the craft beers sold in 2008. As of August 2015, 27.4 percent of beers sold were IPAs.

That’s a huge amount growth—and the popularity of IPAs continues to rise: According to the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference, by the end of 2017, the IPA category is projected to have grown to one-third of the nation’s total volume of craft beer.

The bitter brew has grown to new, different and stronger heights. To dive deeper into the popular style, I spoke with three amazing Southern California craft brewers.

First: Mitch Steele, until his departure on June 30, was the head brewmaster at Stone Brewing, and is the author of IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. IPAs account for more than 50 percent of Stone Brewing’s sales!

What are some of your favorite hops to brew with and why?

That’s a loaded question. For the past several years, I’ve really liked Citra. I think it’s a wonderful hop. We have done a lot of work with Australian and New Zealand hops, (like) Galaxy. … (Stone is) doing a collaboration brew with Heretic and Beachwood, and we’re using a new hop called Idaho 7, which I think has a lot of potential; it’s a new American variety. It’s got a lot of really nice citrus and piney character to it. … Centennial has have been one of my favorites. We’re doing a pilsner using Sterling in it, which I think is … absolutely a wonderful hop.

Do you think the overall growth in the industry and better drinkers’ palates have affected the popularity of IPAs?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s all anybody drinks, by in large. … I think people have gotten used to the taste of hops in their beer, and they enjoy it. It’s an acquired taste; I don’t think it’s any different than coffee. Most people don’t like them the first time they try them. At this point, craft is becoming—I don’t want to say mainstream, but a lot more popular than what it had been, and I think people are embracing the hop character and looking at. … We’re always looking for new flavors to get out of hops, and I think that’s a big part of it.

What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in IPAs?

Two things right now really stand out. No. 1 is the fruit IPA thing—the IPAs with added fruit, which only makes sense, because a lot of these new hop varieties that are out there produce flavors that are reminiscent of peach, pineapple and grapefruit and all that. So to actually augment the hop flavor with a fruit—it’s not new, but it’s really has taken off within the past year. … The other one would be the whole New England IPA—unfiltered IPA, really opaque versions of IPA. They’ve really gone to another level. There’s a lot of debate among brewers as to whether it’s a good thing or not. Most brewers are trained that you’ve got to have a clear beer when you serve it in the glass. This kind of flies in the face of that. You can’t deny the popularity of the beer.

What do you like about single-hop beers and that trend?

We do a lot of single-hop beers in small batches. … It’s a great way to really understand how a particular hop works in a beer, because so many beers are brewed with blends of hops. If you really want to get a feeling for what the hop is really all about, you’ve got to brew a single hop and do something fairly intensely hopped.

Do you have an overall philosophy in brewing IPAs? Has it changed or morphed over the years?

Yeah, I think it has evolved since Stone. I think a couple things have changed. I think the amount of hops used in a dry hop has gone up across the board with all brewers. It used to be that if you were using three-quarters of a pound of hops per barrel, you were dry hopping pretty aggressively. Now there are a lot of brewers who are using two pounds per barrel on a regular basis. That’s kind of something that I’ve embraced. …  By using four or five different varieties of hops, as flavored hops, if you do run into a crop issue with one of them, or the beer sells a heck of a lot more than you anticipated, and you can’t get one of the varieties, it’s a little easier to make a substitution than if it’s a single-hop IPA or one or two hops in the IPA. … (For me), the past four years have been about discovering new hop varieties and putting them in our beers. That’s been our main focus. In the past, it was, ‘OK what hops can I get?’ And I’ll build our beers around that. And now, it’s like, ‘OK, I want to build a beer around this hop.’”

What do you love about IPAs?

I like being challenged with the flavor. When you get an IPA that just captures that really brilliant intense hop flavor and hop aroma, it’s liquid gold to me. I love hoppy beers. They don’t have to be IPAs, but I love IPAs, because I know I’m always going to get a pretty intense hop character, and that’s going to teach me something.

What would you tell homebrewers out there who are interested in brewing IPAs?

Minimize crystal malt usage in the recipe. Sweet IPAs aren’t as drinkable as dry IPAs—and then the other thing is when the beer ages, the crystal malt corrodes, and the flavor totally masks the hop character. I would say it’s OK to use hops that aren’t traditionally used in IPAs, and have some fun with that; that’s how we discovered Sterling. It’s considered a noble type hop, and we threw it in an IPA and it’s just absolutely incredible. … You’re going to learn something either way, whether it turns out great or not.


Ben Cook is the president and master brewer at Hangar 24 in Redlands. While Hangar 24’s ever-popular and refreshing Orange Wheat makes up 55 percent of the company’s beer sales, Hangar’s Betty IPA makes up much of the rest. After a popular first release, the Double Betty was recently re-released.

“People appear to not be getting enough IPAs,” he said. “The Betty, since inception, has seen double- and triple-digit growth. … Often, it’s fun for brewers to see what we can do and push the limits on the alcohol and hop character we can fit into a beer, while making it still a really tasty beer—and not just, you know, a mess.”

Do you think the overall growth in the industry and better drinkers’ palates have affected the popularity of IPAs?

Yeah, absolutely, I mean, we were even resistant to it a little bit. We brewed so many different styles of beer. I think last year, when we were really focusing on top-line growth, we brewed more than 50 different styles of beer, using local ingredients … and then you go brew just a standard IPA, and it flies off the shelf. So, IPAs for sure are where the consumers are still at. … People have evolved to want more—more flavor, more bitterness, more hop profile, and so they moved onto IPAs, and haven’t quite started venturing out a lot more yet. People are getting into sours and other categories, but right now, the numbers pop: IPAs and IPA variants dominate.

What do you like about single-hop beers and that trend?

We used to do one. Our regular flagship IPA was called Columbus IPA. I like them, because … you can see what brewers are doing, so from a technical standpoint, I think they’re a lot of fun. I think they’re great to taste; it’s great for the brewers to drink them and know what that hop tastes like when it’s only in that beer. … Sometimes, it’s challenging to get those beers to have the same complexity and depth as beers that have multiple hop varietals in them. But you also have some amazing single hop beers; it’s just harder. It does make it a little more special.

Besides your own beer, what are your go-to IPAs right now?

I don’t think about beer like I used to. That would have been a really good question to ask toward the beginning of my beer career. But now, it’s not really a thought that enters my head, because it just depends on where I’m at. I’m never at a bar and ask, ‘Do they have this?’ It’s more of a, ‘What’s on tap?’ Then I look at what’s available, and if I’m drinking an IPA, I’ll look at the IPA list. If there’s anything I’ve never heard of … I’ll do a quick little search online and make sure I’m not diving into something I shouldn’t be diving into. My favorite beer is the one in my hand. That’s the joy of craft beer—there are all these varieties.

What are your thoughts on experimental hops and new or trendy hops like Citra and Mosaic? Do you have a process on choosing what hops to use with which beers?

I think that it’s fun, and it allows us to be innovative. I know brewers love it; the consumers love it. Experimental hops are a win for everyone. I hope the growers keep going down that path, and it appears they are. The more hops we have, the more we can differentiate ourselves and offer the consumer the variety they’re looking for.

What would you tell homebrewers out there who are interested in brewing IPAs?

Experiment. I think that’s what it’s all about. Do weird stuff that no one has ever done. Have fun experimenting, don’t stay within the standard practice and the standard amounts. Have fun with it.


Kyle Smith, the master of brewing for Kern River Brewing, focuses on IPAs. The category makes up 75 to 80 percent of the company’s craft-beer sales. Last year, the brewery produced close to 2,000 barrels. This year, it’s on pace to brew between 6,000 and 7,000 barrels.

What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in IPAs

I’m seeing really aggressively hopped beers. It’s hard to find some of the balanced IPAs anymore. Don’t get me wrong; there are some really, really good ones out there, obviously. … (Drinkers) don’t want a bad IPA, where 10 years ago, we may not have known the difference. It’s kind of hard to find a bad IPA any more. Everybody’s palate is diverse now and can figure out, ‘Hey, this doesn’t work,’ or, ‘Wow, this really works,’ which is awesome.

Besides your own beer, what are your go-to IPAs right now?

There are so many good ones out there now. Anything from Russian River—you can’t go wrong. Where we’re at, since we’re so rural, I never see Russian River up here, so if I can pop a Blind Pig, I’m pretty stoked. I just had the new collaboration … from Noble (and) Cellarmaker, Dank You for Being a Friend. That was an awesome IPA. Societe Brewing—anything from those guys. A good stand-by is Sierra Nevada Torpedo; you can’t go wrong with that beer.

Do you have an overall philosophy in brewing IPAs? Has it changed or morphed over the years?

My philosophy is always, when it comes to actual brewing, I like to go heavy on the later additions, which gives you more of a floral aroma. Also, I try to stay away from the caramel malts. I’ll use a little bit, but be real sparing, because after a while, the caramel malts will stand out more than the hops. … If it’s a single IPA, I really enjoy keeping it mid-range alcohol content, somewhere between 6 and 6.5 percent. I feel like it’s a little bit more drinkable.

What do you love about IPAs?

I love the amazing aroma that comes off from the floral hops that we use, and then also a little bit of a bitterness and the balance of the malt. That’s what we kind of strive for in our IPAs. It’s more of a balance-forward IPA, not just strictly hop-forward—there’s just a little bit of a malt balance also.

What are your thoughts on experimental hops and new or trendy hops like Citra and Mosaic? Do you have a process on choosing what hops to use with which beers?

We use a lot of those hops. We use a lot of Mosaic in our session IPAs. … We do a series of experimental IPAs called Think Tank. We rotate a different hop just to see what kind of profile it has. I enjoy a lot of those hops. Citra has been around for a while. Some of the newer experimental hops … we’ve used a few. They seem to be a little muddled; they seem to be a cross between all these different flavors. … With Kern’s Think Tank series, we are able to experiment at the pub … and get feedback from the locals.

Published in Beer

Great beer and excellent music go hand in hand—so it’s no wonder that craft beer is becoming a bigger deal each year at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, aka Coachella.

Not only did the Craft Beer Barn delight beer fans for the third year in a row; this year’s festival included a smaller rare beer barn, craft beer cocktails and a cabin speakeasy by the Houston Brothers.

Also present were all three of Coachella Valley’s local breweries, including La Quinta Brewing Co.—just weeks before taking home a gold medal at one of the world’s biggest beer competitions. (More on that later.)

As I enjoyed the second weekend of the festival, seeing all of the great beer together with all of the renowned musicians got me thinking about pairings: Which brew goes best with which music?


Prince

Prince was at Coachella in spirit, after passing away on April 21, the day before the second weekend of the festival began. Coachella’s palm trees were awash with Prince’s trademark purple hue. Ice Cube even wore a purple bandana and purple sneakers in tribute.

Before LCD Soundsystem performed, the three massive main-stage screens played the entirety of Prince’s version of Radiohead’s “Creep,” recorded in 2008 on that very stage.

Prince’s music crossed genres; he was a master architect of funk, rock, R&B and pop. He went against the grain and refused to bow to big record labels during his nearly 40-year history of artistry.

Because Prince is such a legend, it’s virtually impossible to pair him with just one beer. However, the brewery that comes to mind is Stone Brewing. The 20-year-old San Diego brewery has gone against the grain since unleashing Arrogant Bastard Ale upon the world in November 1997.

Fast-forward to 2014, when Stone announced plans to become the first American craft brewer to own and operate a brewery in Europe. Much like Prince refused to bow down to big business, Stone’s founders just announced a project called True Craft—an effort to invest in craft breweries which are dedicated to remaining true to the definition of craft beer, as an “alternative to being bought or pushed out by Big Beer.”


LCD Soundsystem

The icons offered tribute to Prince by leading off their set with a joyous, funky version of “Controversy,” lifting both spirits and feet off the ground. The anti-cool—yet infinitely cool—electro-rock group also played “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” and “Dance Yrself Clean,” creating a grin-inducing dance party. James Murphy’s Brooklyn demeanor, electro-rock dancing and serious singing all contributed to what was a triumphant return. Murphy proved his comedic talent as well when, over a simple drum beat, he cavalierly proclaimed that he was present at every key moment in underground music.

I found myself memorized and swaying aggressively when a young, dreadlocked hipster came up beside me. His eyes were wide, overwhelmed by the sensation of the beautiful music. “I didn’t know about these guys; they’re amazing!” he said.

I giggled. “Yes, yes they are.”

Pair with: The Bruery’s Confession. Not quite beer, not quite wine, this unique and effervescent wild ale is perfect for the wild and collaborative band. Confession is a sour blonde ale that is blended and fermented with juice pressed from Riesling grapes.

While LCD Soundsystem may be best known for the effect the band has on the dance floor, Confession is best known for the effect it has when flavors reveal themselves on the tongue.


Disclosure

This electronic music duo is definitely one of the cleanest stage acts you’ll see live. Disclosure wowed the crowd by welcoming AlunaGeorge singer Aluna Francis to the visually brilliant stage. “Moving Mountains” and “When a Fire Starts to Burn” brought awesome roars from the audience. Simply put, Disclosure was the ultimate crowd-pleaser.

Pair with: El Segundo Citra Pale Ake. Nearly every craft-beer-drinker I know loves this beer. With notes of guava, grapefruit peel, mango and peach, what’s not to love? It’s refreshing, bright and taste-bud-pleasing.


N.W.A.

The Coachella lineup simply listed Ice Cube. But after he asked, “Is there a doctor in the house?” the surviving members of N.W.A. performed together for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Before Dre arrived—wearing all black with the Prince symbol on his shirt—Ice Cube had the N.W.A. vibes in full force with “Fuck tha Police” and “Straight Outta Compton.” It was loud, aggressive and totally awesome.

Pair with: Three Weavers’ Hops Needs Friends. With a bold emphasis on hoppy bitterness, this IPA from the Inglewood brewery (not far from Compton) is loaded Idaho 7 and Azacca hops, giving it bursts of pineapple, orange and strawberry flavors—loads of “California Love.”


Guns N’ Roses

I would blast GnR in my Walkman in the mid ’90s as I got ready to swim the 100 freestyle at my high school’s swim meets. Therefore, I was beyond excited to see this large-than-life band.

Sure enough, many 35-to-55-year-olds rocked like it was 1987. Duff played his powerful licks from a white bass adorned with a purple decal featuring Prince’s symbol. He sang The Damned’s “New Rose”—which was extra-cool, since the psychedelic punk legends had just played before GnR.

But it was Slash’s astounding guitar solos and Axl’s wailing falsetto that really drew in the crowd. Despite Axl being confined to a throne due to a leg injury, the band members delivered a mind-blowing set—and, of course, Axl dedicated it to Prince.

Guns N’ Roses didn’t need a special guest, because the band made sure the night ended with a bang.

Pair with: Faction Brewing’s Something Different IPA. This IPA is hopped with Centennial, Citra and Experimental 07270 varieties. With aromas of pine resin and notes of grapefruit, spice and tropical fruit, this beer is highly rated. Another pairing option: Try pairing GnR with Modern Times Infinity Beach, a sour IPA with grapefruit zest coming in at 7.2 percent alcohol by volume. This is a special-release beer that is kettle-soured with three lacto strains before fermentation with Modern Times’ Brett blend, resulting in loads of flavors and in-your-face, citrusy awesomeness.


La Quinta’s Big Medal

La Quinta Brewing brought the Sundaze Session IPA and Poolside Blonde to Coachella—but it was another beer that would earn the Palm Desert-based brewery one of the beer world’s highest honors a couple of weeks later.

On May 6, La Quinta won the gold medal in the Wood- and Barrel-Aged Beer Category at the World Beer Cup for the Bourbon Barrel Aged Koffi Porter. It bested a whopping 66 entries to take top honors.

The brewery takes its popular coffee porter and ages it in bourbon barrels for approximately four months. The coffee used is from local icon Koffi, roasted in Rancho Mirage.

I chatted briefly with Skip Madsen, who is now the brewmaster at La Quinta Brewing. He lived in Seattle for more than 20 years and brewed at Pike Brewing, Boundary Bay Brewing, Big Time Brewing, American Brewing Company and his own company, Water Street Brewing.

Madsen started brewing in the desert in January. Since then, he’s introduced the new Even Par IPA, which comes in at 7.2 percent ABV—pun intended, as 72 marks even par at many golf courses. The beer is brewed with Mosaic, Simcoe and Citra hops.

“I like to do all kinds of styles, but I’m known as an IPA guy,” he said.

This marks Madsen’s third World Beer Cup medal—and La Quinta’s first.

Up next for La Quinta: Some new beers and possible bottling of the now-renowned Bourbon Barrel Aged Koffi Porter, likely around the holidays.

Published in Beer

Belgium is reportedly home to 195 breweries, 93 beer firms and five gueuzeries.

But you don’t need to visit Belgium to enjoy the country’s amazing beers.

The season of beer festivals is upon us in full force; the Coachella Valley may not be the home of as many festivals as our neighbors in Los Angeles or San Diego—but you can always make a day trip to one of those aforementioned cities.

That’s what I’ll be doing on Sunday, May 15. Join us as we head out on the party bus from the Coachella Valley to Belgian Fest 2016, at Stone Brewery World Bistro and Gardens at Liberty Station in San Diego for a wonderful day of Belgian brews paired with delicious dishes. The bistro opened in May 2013 in Point Loma’s now-historic Naval Training Center.

More and more craft beer lovers have descended upon the desert, and a loyal group of us are planning a second annual trip down to Stone Brewery. Last June, we chartered a bus and took a trip down to Stone’s headquarters in Escondido for the Stone Sour Fest.

This year, prepare for dubbels, tripels, quadrupels, wits, saisons, lambics, gueuzes and Flanders-style red ales—all without taking a trip to Brussels.

A $125 ticket includes:

  • A round trip luxury bus tour; the motor coach leaves from Coachella Valley Brewing Co. at 9 a.m.
  • Breakfast at CVB before departing.
  • A bottle share on the bus.
  • Stone Belgian Fest admission.
  • A commemorative glass.
  • All tasters are on draft, and Belgian-inspired food dishes at the event are included.

The second annual Stone Belgian Fest is held at the hip gastropub and brewery, which encompasses more than 23,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor dining and bars.

Food stations will be set up throughout the gardens. Enjoy Flemish carbonnade (with caramelized onions and beer-braised Belgian beef) or croquettes—with a thick, creamy beer-cheese filling! Don’t miss the dessert station, featuring apfelstrudel, Belgian chocolate raspberry truffle tarts and a waffle bar.

While Belgian beers may account for only 1 percent of all beer produced in the world, they have an unrivaled heritage and display some of the greatest diversity among the original beer styles.

A partial list of what will be poured at the festival:

  • Brasserie D’Achouffe La Chouffe, an outstanding Belgian pale ale with notes of Belgian yeast, caramel and brown sugar.
  • Cascade Brewing Barrel House Kriek Ale, a gold-medal-award-winning barrel-aged and sour beer from Portland, Ore. This “Belgian Flanders Style Red Ale” is re-fermented with a blend of fresh whole Northwest cherries and then hand-bottled.
  • Dogfish Head/Victory/Stone Saison du BUFF, a collaboration between the three award-winning breweries. Sam from Dogfish, Greg from Stone and Bill from Victory joined forces to create the Brewers United for Freedom of Flavor (BUFF). The saison is brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme—with the same recipe at each brewery. The 2016 release will be from Stone.
  • Epic Brainless on Peaches. Utah’s Epic took the award-winning Brainless Belgian, added organic peach puree, and aged it in French chardonnay casks from Sawtooth Winery. This is delicious and perfect in warm weather.
  • Mikkeller / To Øl Juicebag Barrel Aged Grand Marnier—a collaboration and a treat. To Øl is a gypsy brewery out of Denmark, while Mikkeller’s Mikkel Botg Bjergso is one of the most innovative and cutting-edge brewers in the world. Find notes of chocolate, apricots, sour raisins and red berries.
  • Off Color Brewing Apex Predator, an outstanding farmhouse ale with a solid aroma of banana, melon and lemons.
  • Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad With Cherries: Think clove, banana, cherries, vanilla, bubblegum, fig and brown-sugar complexity—done beautifully.
  • Stone 11.11.11 Vertical Epic Ale: What can I say … this one goes to 11! This 9.4 percent alcohol by volume ale is brewed with Anaheim chiles from New Mexico’s Hatch Valley, plus whole cinnamon sticks.
  • The Bruery Tart of Darkness is a sour stout aged in used oak barrels that previously housed Bruery beers such as Sucré or Black Tuesday. “Sour stout” may sound weird, but it’s nothing short of amazing: It starts like a tart wild ale and finishes like a dark roasted stout, with gorgeous complexity in between.
  • The Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme, an 11 percent ABV American wild ale aged in bourbon oak barrels with sour cherries for one year, giving it layers of vanilla and sourness. This is a big beer; pair with one of the dessert dishes.

To reserve your ticket on the bus, contact Gary Grotsky at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

This isn’t a typical beer festival—this is a festival for beer geeks. This is a festival for foodies. This is a festival for Belgian beer lovers. Enjoy it with your fellow Coachella Valley craft-beer drinkers!

Published in Beer

It’s time to take a look back at another glorious year for the craft beer industry. The year that was 2014 wasn’t just great for beer; it was a push-the-envelope, challenge-the-palate, variety-exploding year.

In November, there were more than 3,200 breweries in the United States, with more than 2,000 in the planning stages, according to the Brewers Association. The majority of Americans now live within 10 miles of a craft brewer.

So, what were some of the largest and inspiring stories and trends of 2014?

Transporting American Craft-Beer Culture to the Old World

History was made in July 2014, when Green Flash became the first U.S. craft brewery to begin making and selling fresh beer in the European market. The San Diego brewery started selling its signature West Coast IPA, brewed and bottled at traditional abbey brewery St-Feuillien, in Belgium.

Around the same time, Escondido’s Stone Brewing Company announced plans to open a Stone facility in the old world: America’s 10th-largest craft brewer will build and operate a brewery and beer garden in Berlin, Germany, with an expected opening in late 2015. The Brewery’s “Stone Groundbreaking Collaborations” campaign on Indiegogo earlier this year had a stated goal of $1 million; the brewery wound up bringing in more than $2.5 million.

These two breweries make in-your-face, West Coast style IPAs. This speaks volumes about the craft beer drinker’s voice and the recent global domination of American craft beer.

This brings me to the next obvious trend.

India Pale Ales (IPAs) Remain the Most Favored Craft-Beer Style

These hop-laden beers have come full circle: IPAs are up 47 percent by volume and 49 percent by dollar sales, according to the Homebrewers Association. The style was the most-entered category at the Great American Beer Festival in September.

Because of the massive popularity, a new, more “sessionable” version of the IPA is now favored by many. At less than 5 percent alcohol by volume, session beers are easier to sip by the six-pack. Try Stone Go To IPA, Firestone Walker Easy Jack, or—one of the newer Los Angeles beers on the block—Three Weavers Stateside, a 4.5 percent session IPA.

Canning Continues to Get More Craft Beer Into More Places

Tin is in!

Can are cheaper to produce, and require less energy to cool down. Less packaging means packing more beer in less space, which reduces a brewery’s carbon footprint.

According to CraftCans.com, there are now 453 breweries with more than 1,600 craft brewed canned beers now available across the United States.

As a matter of fact, the airlines are getting in on the craft canned trend. In early December, Delta Air Lines began stocking carts with a selection of regional craft beers from breweries like Ballast Point, Lagunitas Brewing and Stone Brewing.

On a local level, La Quinta Brewing started canning in February 2014 with The Can Van. New painted cans that are now making their way into stores.

The Rise of American Wild Ales

Sours are made by introducing bacteria and/or wild yeast strains into the beer. And the results? Think bright, tart, funky and mysterious. Building off classic Belgian and German styles, U.S. breweries are harnessing wild yeast, creating beers with novel dimensions of aroma and flavor.

Coachella Valley Brewing started a sour program when they first opened their brewery, more than a year ago. CVB’s sours will be offered in small allotments for Fault Line Society members, and in the tasting room in 2015, starting with Framboys, a boysenberry raspberry framboise. Keep an eye out for Flame Rouges, an American wild brewed with red flame raisins. Both are aged in port and cabernet wine barrels.

CVB will also be releasing Epineux Poire, an American wild brewed with locally foraged prickly pear cactus fruit. Persnickety, CVB’s persimmon sour, will also make an appearance next year. If the beers don’t sell out to the FLS members, the remainder will go on public sale.

“I think in 2015, you will see more and more of beer-style fusion,” said Coachella Valley Brewing’s Chris Anderson. “Think along the lines of a Belgian IPA. I think farmhouse ales, wild ales and Brett beers (created by a funky wild yeast) will all continue to be hot.”

The Rise of the Farm-to-Table Movement

The convergence of the slow-food movement and the craft-beer revolution has led to fantastic events and exhibits, like the Great American Beer Festival’s Farm to Table Pavilion. The Pavilion provided 28 pairings designed and prepared by small and independent breweries and chefs from around the country. Coachella Valley Brewing was specially selected to pour, and was also chosen to present a special “Farm to Glass” tasting for 200 people.

“I found that our beers were very unique and innovative compared to other breweries, and it inspired me to see more breweries jumping into the concept of farm to glass,” he said, referring to the use of more fresh, local ingredients in beers.

Farmhouse ales have also seen a huge spike in sales. With applications of new-wave hop varietals like Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado and Hallertau Blanc, more people are asking for those less-bitter beers and raising their glass to juicier brews.

Breweries, like CVB, are embracing agriculture and sourcing even more local fruits, vegetables and grains. More people are recognizing the compatibility of craft beer and contemporary cuisine, too, with more beer-and-food pairings. If in the Los Angeles area, stop by Hook and Plow. Locally, don’t miss Workshop Kitchen + Bar, which offers farm-fresh heirlooms, wild arugula, watermelon, champagne grapes and lemon cucumbers in season, along with a nice selection of Southern California craft beer.

Nano Breweries Continue to Open

When it comes to beer, size really doesn’t matter. Nano breweries, often started with a single batch of homebrewed beer, typically produce one batch at a time. They represent craft in the truest sense. Also referred to as pico breweries, nano brewers make beer on a three-barrel system or smaller. There were reportedly more than 300 breweries operating in the United States as of the summer of 2014 that would qualify as nano breweries.

San Diego’s Hess Brewing opened in 2010 and produced about 1.6 barrels of beer per batch. Mike Hess Brewing has since grown to include two locations: the original “nano” in the Miramar area, and a production brewery in North Park, San Diego.

Big Success for Local Breweries

In Rancho Mirage, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse celebrated a massive win this year when the brewery took home a medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The beloved restaurant and brewhouse nabbed its first-ever GABF medal in the “Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale” category for the Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale. Babe’s is also reportedly celebrating a 110 percent increase in off-site sales from 2013 to 2014.

Over at CVB, Tom Del Sarto, the director of sales, spearheaded distribution deals with Young’s Market Company to sell the brewery’s beers throughout California and now Arizona.

It’s a trend: More and more people are eschewing big, mass-market brands in favor of craft beer. Del Sarto noted the fall of Budweiser’s annual barrel sales from 30 million barrels in 2003, to 16 million in 2014. Meanwhile, the craft-beer industry has gone from selling 5 million barrels in 2003, to 16.1 million barrels this year. As a result, more craft beer is appearing in restaurants and grocery stores alike.

“National chains are giving more autonomy to regional stores as customers are seeking local brands, adding to the major breweries’ decline in volume," said Del Sarto.

La Quinta Brewing, as noted earlier, has also had a big year. Owner Scott Stokes said he’s been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance and support of craft beer in the desert in 2014.

“Just the attendance and success of this year’s Props and Hops Festival, compared to two years ago, illustrates the passion that desert residents have for craft beer,” he said.

He went on to add: “We’re proud to say that after only a year, La Quinta is the second-most-widely distributed craft beer in terms of bars and restaurants within the Coachella Valley, just behind New Belgium (Fat Tire).”

Bring on the next round, 2015!

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

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