CVIndependent

Sun02252018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Brett Newton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing a column about the history of beer is a much more daunting task than one might expect.

As I stated in my last column, beer is the oldest alcoholic beverage recorded in history. In fact,The Hymn to Ninkasi,"circa 1800 B.C., a tribute to the Sumerian women whose responsibility it was to brew beer, is one of the earliest writings that we still have today. They brewed beer by baking bappir (a honey bread), crumbling it in water, and allowing it to ferment, with the addition of honey and/or dates. The unfiltered beer then had to be drunk through a straw with a filter—much like the South American yerba mate tea.

Allow me to digress here and offer a plausible theory of how the first beer came to be discovered. I say "discovered," because brewers are stewards of the yeast or bacteria that make sugary wort (the fermentable, hoppy brew at the end of the brewing process) into glorious beer; they do their best to make a suitable environment for the yeast to do their business. I submit that the first "brewers" (circa 5,000 B.C.) probably didn't brew at all, but instead carelessly left a bowl of grains out in the open, allowing rainwater to collect inside. Or perhaps they prepared a hot cereal of some kind, and the same thing happened. After a period of a couple of weeks or so, someone was brave—or desperately thirsty—enough to stick in a straw and take a hit. (My hunch is that, knowing humans, it was on a dare.) The result was a slightly euphoric feeling, and eventually, someone figured out how to improve the process.

You may laugh, but animals and insects were in on the act long before homo sapiens was. Certain species either have a high tolerance for alcohol in overly ripe fruit, or eat said fruit and enjoy a good buzz.

Let us move to ancient Greece and Rome. As wine grew to prominence, beer remained the alcoholic drink of the lower classes. In northern Europe, beer reigned—mostly due to climate. Without refrigeration, hot weather sours beer quickly, while in cooler climates, beer can be fermented for much of the year. Therefore, you can imagine a sort of "grape/grain" line dividing Europe latitudinally. This largely remains true today, with some notable exceptions. Beer also afforded people a safe beverage in places where the water source might have been "compromised."

Our friend humulus lupulus, aka the hop, comes into the picture around the 9th century A.D. in writing, but it would take another 200-300 years before it became the preferred bittering and antiseptic agent in beer. Keep in mind, bacteria and yeast were not known about until Louis Pasteur in the 19th century. Brewers just knew that, with hops, their beer was less likely to be undrinkable. Climate also shows its influence here: Hops thrive between the 35th and 55th latitudes in both hemispheres. This plays out in history, with places like Scotland and Ireland having much more malt-forward beers (though in the case of Scotland, this was as a slight to England, where most of the hops were grown), and places like the Czech Republic and Germany having more crisp, hoppy lagers. The makeup of the water in every region played a big part as well.

And then there's Belgium. Since this is a "brief" history, I must restrain myself from heaping effusive praise on Belgian beers and their histories. What I will mention is that it all began in the 12th century with monks in abbeys seeking to brew something potable. What then ensued was the creation of some of the most elegant, subtle and exciting beers in the world. If you have any interest in learning more about Belgian beer history, ignore the books (for now); get to the nearest beer store; and start making your way through the country's beers. Just avoid the fake beers like Stella Artois and Leffe. They are corporate black parodies of Belgian beer.

England and Germany also deserve mention. Germany is responsible for the invention of lagering (cold storage during a slower fermentation period than an ale, with a different type of yeast), as well as Noble hops. England invented the porter, stout and pale ale, among others—and amassed a huge empire that helped make beer well-known.

From these two brewing cultures, we move to America. Native American tribes were making a form of beer before Europeans arrived that used maize and birch sap. Once settlers came, brewers often had to make do with native ingredients—like a different type of malt, grains like maize, and hop varietals such as Cluster hops. The result was a much drier, lighter-bodied beer. German immigrants eventually used these ingredients to their advantage to create what is now known as the Pre-Prohibition Pilsner. After Prohibition, a few of the surviving breweries took this style and used even more corn and other lower-protein adjuncts to create a more-diluted version. Then they added marketing to sell this as the working man's drink.

Several ghastly decades later, some breweries began to appear and make beer that, well, tasted good. A man who is widely considered to be the godfather of craft beer is Fritz Maytag. He purchased the Anchor Brewing Co. in 1965 and quietly began brewing tastier beer. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law making homebrewing legal. Not long after, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. introduced the world to its Pale Ale. It was its day's "hop bomb." Piney, citrusy, bitter and vastly different from everything else on the shelves, it spurred more creativity. Around the same time, Jim Koch and his Boston Beer Company began to brew Samuel Adams and introduce drinkers to forgotten styles in America.

The leak in the dam became a deluge; new styles evolved; and the United States became the most exciting country in which to be a beer drinker. As of this writing, there are more than 5,300 breweries in the United States. This is up from 89 in 1978. And the end doesn't seem to be anywhere in sight.

One could look at all of this history and conclude that this is the best time and place for a beer-drinker to be alive. One could also pour a beer and raise a glass to celebrate this fact.

Cheers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, we’re going to go over some tips on how to buy beer.

Before you throw up your hands and say, “Please … what is there to know about buying beer?! You enter a store that sells it, and you buy it!”—let me explain.

If you drink mass-produced lager and are perfectly happy with that, you don’t need this advice. The one thing the “big boys” in the brewing industry are good at is making their beer exactly the same, every time, and getting it to you as fresh as possible, as often as possible. But if you are like me and love craft beer—in other words, you look forward to having your taste buds challenged and your mind blown—this advice will help.

I have some good and bad news for you. First, the bad: There is bad beer everywhere. The good news: There is excellent beer almost everywhere, and if you follow a few rules, you can greatly increase your chances of finding some great beer.

How am I qualified to tell you, the wise consumer, about this? I am what is called a certified cicerone. Think of it as the equivalent of a sommelier (a wine “expert”) for beer. I spent a year studying (after 23 years of exploring and learning on my own) for a 4 1/2-hour exam that only 33 percent of all test-takers pass. (This is only the second level of a four-level system of certifications, by the way.) In other words, when it comes to the subject of beer, you can go very deep.

Anyway, enough about my bona fides; let’s jump into the rabbit hole.

1. Beer goes bad at varying rates. A can or keg is ideal for protecting beer, because light, oxygen and heat are beer’s worst enemies. The brown bottle offers the next-best protection, followed by green and clear bottles, which provide almost no protection. Also, refrigerated beer is the best to buy. There are many reasons for this, but suffice it to say that beer stored in cold, dark places is preferable.

2. Check the dates. Many craft breweries stamp or print the bottling date somewhere on the packaging.

Hoppy beers are the first to go bad. This is due to the breakdown of the various hop compounds in the beer, as well as possible exposure to UV rays (Ever had skunky beer, anyone?) If that IPA is more than three months old, it probably isn’t what the brewer wanted you to taste—especially if it was not refrigerated or protected from light.

Three to six months is good for most other styles. There are major exceptions to this—for example, many Belgian trappist styles and sour ales last longer, as do stronger ales such as barley wines and imperial stouts—but a good way to look at it is this: The brewer would not have packaged and released the beer if he or she didn’t think it was ready to drink. I have saved enough bottles—and been subsequently disappointed—often enough to now seriously limit the number of beers I cellar.

3. Crowd-sourcing sites like BeerAdvocate are your friends. BeerAdvocate is a website that allows users to add, rate and review beers, as well as breweries and craft-beer bars. If you have any questions or are wondering what the beer you’re looking at in the store is, you can look it up there and get some generally thoughtful reviews.

Many places sell or serve craft with employees who can’t offer you much help—but luckily, you are armed with a powerful pocket computer that can access the vast information resource that is the Internet. Remember to consider the source, however.

4. Don’t be afraid to send that beer back. You might feel odd doing this—but a beer you’ve been served may be flawed. It may be the beer itself is no good and suffers from off-flavors; the keg may be old; or the lines that bring the beer to the tap may need cleaning. You don’t need to pay for a bad drink, and while a truly great beer bar will rarely, if ever, make these mistakes, they’ll gladly make up for it if they do.

And if a business reacts poorly when you send a beer back … be glad: You now know where not to drink in the future.

5. Take a chance. Many of the best beers I’ve ever purchased have been dice rolls when it came down to it. This does not need to happen as much as it did in the 1990s and 2000s—yes, I’m that old—because today, there are so many resources discussing so much beer from so many breweries. However, in some ways, this wealth information can be daunting, and even discouraging. If you’re afraid of looking ignorant … don’t be afraid. We’re all dreadfully ignorant about some things—so much so that there are things that we don’t even know that we don’t know. Do you know what I mean?

Anyway … if you are a curious person with a thirst for knowledge, you can dive in and become less and less ignorant, no matter your interest level in craft beer. Now, start getting that fresh, beautiful beer from that store or bar into your mouth.

Happy hunting!

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