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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

“There is good living, where there is good beer.”

Since I started writing about beer, this has been my mantra—and, of course, good food is part of good living, too.

There’s more synergy between the beer and food worlds than ever before. Brewers have produced a range of delicious beers to suit nearly every kind of food. The Brewers Association reports that the number of breweries in the U.S. just passed 5,000—a record high. That means there’s a ton of beer-and-food-pairing potential! Therefore, it’s no surprise that restaurateurs are increasingly recognizing the versatility of craft beers—and their various complex favors—when it comes to food pairing.

“Dr.” Bill Sysak is respected around the world for his encyclopedic knowledge of beer styles and flavor profiles. Dr. Bill, as he’s known in the craft-beer community, is the co-founder and CEO at Wild Barrel Brewing Company and the former craft beer ambassador at Stone Brewing Co. He suggests matching strength with strength: Strong-flavored foods demand assertive beers. And for crying out loud, taste things first!

“I’ve always been a proponent whenever possible of knowing the flavor profiles of both the beer and the food, personally, versus just reading about it,” says Dr. Bill.

Grains like wild rice or polenta pair well with clean and crisp Bohemian-style pilsners or American amber lagers. The complementary grain flavors balance hops while staying light on the palate.

Love sour and funky beers? Try them with rich meats and root vegetables. Combining these flavors brings out umami.

While filet mignon is classically paired with pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon, a rich stout has the potential of bringing out flavors that one won’t taste with wine. Brown ales are also bold enough to complement roasted meat.

That said … breaking the rules is totally OK—and even encouraged! Discover what works together on your palate.

Wes Lieberher, the executive chef at Beer Belly in Los Angeles, is a rule-breaker, as well as a food and beer lover. You must try his beer-braised octopus. He’s putting his own twist on what’s popular; for example, he created a French dip with duck and duck au jus. When it comes to pairing, he tends to experiment with what’s available.

“I leave it open,” Lieberher says. “We switch our taps so much, so there’s always a different beer, so there could always be a slightly different flavor to it, which is kinda cool.”

As for breaking rules: He pairs his beer-battered fish and chips, a lighter dish, with a hoppier IPA, rather than the lighter pilsner used in the dish.

“A lot of people will say, ‘This goes with this,’” Lieberher says. “I won’t cook with an IPA, but IPAs will go great with something I’m using a lighter beer with.”

More and more, brewers, restaurateurs and chefs are using what’s available to them locally. This tends to lead to better natural pairings.

“I was one of the first major people at my level—beer-and-food pairers—to talk about regionality,” says Dr. Bill. “Back when water was bad for you, people had to have whatever (alcohol was available in the) area of the world they lived. … In the Grape Belt, they drank wine with their meals, or diluted wine for their children. In the Grain Belt, everybody drank beer or mead or cider.

“If you had to eat the same kind of food sources every day, and the only beverage you had to wash it down with made you say ‘yuck’ every time, those styles wouldn’t survive, right? You would find the styles that work well.”

Julia Herz wrote the book on beer pairing. No, really: She co-authored Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide From the Pairing Pros with Gwen Conley. Herz is the Craft Beer Program director at the Brewers Association and a certified cicerone.

“The localization movement isn’t just isolated to food,” she says. “That’s where we became aware of it—from the slow-food movement, farm to table—and now it’s farm to keg to tap! We’ve got brewers thinking like chefs.”

While beer has reclaimed its place at the dinner table in some places, many restaurants still put only wine in the spotlight. Herz believes it’s time that more of the 115,000 people in the U.S. craft-brewing community speak up with a simple request: “Dear restaurateurs: It’s time to have your menu present beer in the same manner as food and wine.”

Herz suggests trusting the waiter or beer-server if you’re at a restaurant that has a respectable-looking beer menu

“Go to establishments that hang their hat on pairings. Have them be your guide,” she says. “If they have wine pairings, it’s a good place to push them and ask them about beer pairings.”

But to repeat: The one definitive source for what beer works well with what food is your own palate. Experiment and embrace your inner anarchist.

“We all aren’t the same tasting type, and we’re not all going to perceive what we taste as the same,” Herz says. “So it’s all about the journey—experimenting and being able to articulate to yourself or to others what you did and didn’t like.”

Thankfully, people are taking her advice. As of March 2016, nearly half of craft-beer drinkers surveyed said they drink craft with food more now than they did a couple of years ago.

Make no mistake: Beer is king and should have a place at the dinner table. When combined, the sales of wine ($37.5 billion) and spirits ($69 billion estimated) in the United States barely surpass the sales of beer ($101.5 billion—$19.6 billion from small and independent U.S. craft brewers). This tells us there is unmistakable potential.

Cheers, and bon appétit!

Published in Beer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I recently rented out my room through AirBNB to a Smog City Brewing Co. employee. Located in Torrance, the 5-year-old brewery has quickly developed a cult following for its quality, flavorful beers. I was giddy when he brought with him a dozen of Smog City’s delicious stouts, IPAs and sours.

That same weekend, I stayed in La Quinta, at Jim Lefebvre’s house. I got to sip on some Hoptonic IPA with a baseball legend.

I learned more about baseball in that one weekend than I had in my entire life. The 1965 National League Rookie of the Year while he played for the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, Lefebvre was named to the All-Star Game in 1966. He played in Japan from 1973-76, then returned to the big leagues as a coach. He managed the Seattle Mariners, the Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers, and managed China’s national baseball team during the Beijing Olympics.

His charisma and his passion for the game are astounding. He believes in developing better players through better planning, tools, collaboration and teaching.

“Kids love to have something to be challenged to,” he said. “They want to have incentives to be rewarded. … Every single player I know had to deal with some form of adversity to prove to people they can play. When somebody challenged them (that they could not do a certain thing), they did it. That’s what we have to create in our sport. That’s my whole objective and my whole movement. Let’s get the coaches involved. Let’s get them to train certain techniques in the player development program and then make it happen.”

Nothing is more American than baseball and beer. And with the sudsy craft-beer revolution in full force, there’s no need to drink beer for the masses: You can now enjoy Clayton Kershaw’s curveball while sipping a craft beer.

The clocks have sprung forward; spring training is more than halfway finished; and Major League Baseball’s regular season begins April 3. If you head down Interstate 10 to see a game, you’ll be glad to know that Dodger Stadium added craft beer to its lineup in 2013 and has continued to add Los Angeles craft offerings.

Goose Island and Golden Road will likely have the largest presence at Dodger Stadium. Pro-tip: Golden Road’s Better Weather IPA and Ballast Point Brewing’s Grapefruit Sculpin are great choices for tailgating, because cans are easily portable.

For smaller craft options, check out the loge-level concourse and the relatively new Think Blue Bars. The taps rotate, but past sightings included Fireman’s Brew Brunette, Eagle Rock Brewing’s Revolution XPA, Dudes’ Brewing, Stone Brewing Co. Arrogant Bastard Ale, Anchor Brewing Company Anchor Steam Beer, El Segundo Brewing’s Blue House Citra Pale Ale and Angel City’s Witbier. Confirmed craft brews for the 2016 season include Firemans Brew Blonde and Brunette.

Down in Orange County, Angel Stadium also has a nice selection, offering craft beers such as Bootlegger's Brewery Palomino American Pale Ale, New Belgium Brewing Ranger, Stone Brewing Co. Arrogant Bastard Ale and Hangar 24 Brewery Betty. (Hangar 24 also offers its Ballpark Beer, a blend of a classic pilsner with an American wheat beer.)

Of course San Diego’s PetCo Park is also in on the craft scene with San Diego locals like Ballast Point, Alesmith, Mike Hess, Karl Strauss, Coronado, Lost Abbey and Stone. Don’t miss Stone’s rooftop beer garden at the ballpark, with 12 different beers on tap.

Back at Dodger Stadium, here are some awesome nearby craft-beer spots to check out:

Sunset Beer Company is in Echo Park at 1498 Sunset Blvd. It’s tucked away in a nondescript mini mall, so you could easily miss it—but with more than 800 craft bottled beers (with only a $2 bottle/corkage fee) for purchase and 12 rotating taps, it’s definitely worth a visit.

Just 1.2 miles away from the stadium, also on Sunset Blvd. (2141 Sunset Blvd.), is the ever-popular craft beer bar Mohawk Bend. With 70 taps that include beers like Kern River’s Just Outstanding IPA, Bottle Logic Recursion 8.0, Mother Earth Cali Creamin’ cream ale with vanilla and Refuge Blood Orange Wit, there’s something to please every palate.

Beer. It’s always been American as baseball, and now the craft revolution has taken hold not just in our breweries, bars, grocery stores and homes, but also in the stands. America’s national pastime’s beer lineup is now a whole lot tastier.

Play ball!

Published in Beer

The craft-beer industry has long been on top of the latest trends and technology when it comes to helping people create, find and enjoy the best beer possible.

In other words … when it comes to craft beer, yes, there’s an app for that. In fact, here are five applications I recommend for beer-lovers both geeky and curious.

Untappd: Drink socially. That’s the mantra of Untappd. Imagine a beer app that’s a combination of Facebook, FourSquare and Yelp. With Untappd, you check in by both location and beer type. If the beer you’re drinking isn’t listed, you can add it yourself. In Yelp fashion, there’s a great five-bottle-cap rating system. Taking a page from Facebook, Untappd allows users to “friend” other beer-drinkers and say “cheers” regarding friends’ beer check-ins. The app also recommends other beers based on the style you’re enjoying. Drink new beers and unlock some awesome achievement badges! Yes, with this app, you’re rewarded for your beery curiosity and willingness to expand your palate. On the brewery side, Untappd allows beer-makers to engage with fans and grow an audience.

Untappd started five years ago and now boasts 3 million users worldwide—and the makers recently announced a strategic merger of Untappd and Next Glass, another alcohol-based tech startup. This means more updates, awesome features and even more badges. This is a world-class social community for beer-drinkers.

When you join, make sure to connect with me at untappd.com/user/epeters. We can enjoy a beer together online!

BreweryMap: What do you get when you combine geeky algorithmic mapping with craft breweries? This awesome app! You can search by location or plan a trip. In fact, Wired.com recently called BreweryMap a “great beer trip planner.” Enter your starting address and your destination, and find all of the craft breweries along your route!

TapHunter: While TapHunter shares some similarities with BreweryMap, this app specifically focuses on local watering holes and—you guessed it—their taps. TapHunter sends alerts when your favorite beer goes on tap. Founded in San Diego in 2009, TapHunter allows users to search for beers by location, brewery or name. With this app, you can learn about the latest trends, check the current lineup of brews at a specific bar, and help update tap lists—earning points and winning prizes along the way. As with Untappd, TapHunter allows users to share findings through social media. You can also use the app to discover great local bars, restaurants, tasting rooms and now bottle shops. This is a must-use app for bar owners: This app can keep menus up-to-date and let fans know about any changes!

iBrewMaster 2: Considering getting into brewing? Well, this is widely regarded as the premier brewing application. iBrewMaster 2 allows you to manage the entire brewing process, as well as add, edit and manage your own recipes. The app comes complete with pre-loaded recipes—and you can even purchase up to 280 more. When you start the brewing process, the app will tell you the estimated original and final gravities, alcohol content, IBUs, color and calories. The app is unique in that it makes a distinction between recipes and batches: A brewer can brew recipes more than once, but batches are often not the same. Here, for example, you can enter a base recipe for an imperial stout and then keep a list of the batches you’ve brewed with that recipe. One of the goals of good beer-making is to be able to brew a delicious batch of beer, the same way, every time. This feature helps with that. As they cleverly say, technology never tasted so good.

BJCP: Even if you’re not studying to become a certified craft-beer judge, the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) is a great tool to learn more about beer styles, as written by the brewers’ association. Beer is not only fun and delicious; it’s serious business. Take note: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines mark a major revision from the 2008 edition. The industry is moving fast, and brewers are pushing limits and creating new styles and hybrids. This app is updated with a plethora of information regarding emerging craft-beer-market trends, modern brewing ingredients and sensory characteristics. Learn more about the numerous beer styles, and get better at recognizing the appearance, aroma, flavor and mouth-feel of a beer.

Trust me: These apps will better your beer-drinking experience. Find out what’s new in the craft beer world, and join the craft beer revolution—one app and one beer at a time.

Published in Beer

Dead or Alive Brings Fine Wine, Fine Beer and Fine Design to ‘The Curve’ Area

Christine Soto and Anthony Cioffi attended to Palm Springs High School together. After graduation, they went their separate ways, but in 2012, at their 10-year reunion, they reconnected—and started dating.

Today, they’re not only life partners; they’re business partners as well.

Cioffi works as a designer, and several years ago, he worked with Donovan Funkey to create the look of Bar, in downtown Palm Springs.

“That sort of sparked the idea for doing this,” Cioffi said.

The “this” of which Cioffi speaks is Dead or Alive, a charming-as-hell craft-beer and specialty-wine bar that opened in December at 150 E. Palm Canyon Drive, right next to El Mirasol in the midst of “the curve”—where South Palm Canyon Drive becomes East Palm Canyon Drive.

During a recent media tasting, Cioffi and Soto explained how they took more than a year to develop the idea and design for Dead or Alive. Design plays a big part in the bar’s vibe: A large, round, orange fixture at the end of the bar and a matching orb out front slowly change color and fade as the hours pass each evening and night, simulating a sunset. It’s impressive.

“Christine and I are very passionate about beer and wine, and wanted to create a place where people could come, get together, and discover new, great things,” Cioffi said. “The focus is on the product.”

As for that product: Dead or Live features an ever-changing assortment of craft beers—such as Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout ($9 for 13 ounces) and Coachella Valley Brewing’s sessionable Goze ($6.50 for 13 ounces)—and specially selected wines, such as Broc Cellars’ Love Red ($12 per glass) and Domaine Brazilier’s Methode Trad Brut ($9).

There’s nothing quite like this special little beer-and-wine bar anywhere else in the Coachella Valley. Check it out from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day, including holidays.

Visit deadoralivebar.com for more information.


New: Creamistry Opens in Palm Desert

“We specialize in fresh, made-to-order ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Our rapid freezing process provides the smoothest and creamiest frozen delights.”

So say the folks at Creamistry, a growing Southern California chain currently boasting a dozen or so locations—and one of the newest locations is right here in the Coachella Valley, at 73131 Country Club Drive, No. C1, in Palm Desert. It’s in the same area as Sherman’s and Bristol Farms.

Creamistry’s various locations have been receiving praise on the various online review sites, and some of the pictures being posted on the Palm Desert Creamistry Facebook bring to mind the word yummy. Check out that Facebook page at www.facebook.com/creamistrypalmdesert.


In Brief

The affiliation between Iron Chef Jose Garces and The Saguaro, located at 1800 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs, is coming to an end: As of the end of February, his menus will no longer be served at the hotel. Who knows what will come next at Tinto and El Jefe? Stay tuned. … Wanna gorge yourself while watching the Super Bowl? Consider heading to Tacos and Tequila at the Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. For $35 per person (plus tax and service charges), from 3 p.m. until the beginning of the fourth quarter on Sunday, Feb. 7, enjoy crispy chicken tacos, pulled-pork sliders, nachos, chops and salsa, and hot dogs with several topping choices. Also included: two beers or well drinks! Visit www.morongocasinoresort.com for more details. … KESQ News Channel 3’s Bianca Rae, the Best Local TV News Personality according to Independent readers, will be the host of the L’Affaire Chocolat: High Tea at the Classic Club, 75200 Classic Club Blvd., in Palm Desert, from 2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 21. Proceeds go toward the Dames D’Escoffier Scholarships for local women in the culinary and hospitality industries. Sparkling wine, tea sandwiches, mini quiches and more are on the menu—and to top it off, there’s a 25-foot chocolate dessert buffet featuring goodies from some of the town’s finest restaurants and bakeries. The cost is $75; call 760-895-9899 for reservations. … Newish to Palm Springs: Frankinbun, located at 540 S. Indian Canyon Drive. It’s a “gourmet sausage grill” that we happened to see as we zoomed by one day. We’ll be investigating this further, because … well, gourmet sausages. Mmmm. More info at www.frankinbun.com.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Some beer-drinkers and wine-drinkers have the idea that you must be loyal to one beverage or style.

Well, let me introduce myself: My name is Erin Peters. I am a cross drinker—and I’m not the only one.

A visit to California’s Central Coast offers cross-drinkers like me the chance to compare some of the world’s best artisan beers and wines. I recently took a drive up to Paso Robles, and then further north to the Monterey area, to find out what craft beers are preferred by wine experts.

Midnight Cellars is a small-production, award-winning winery on the west end of Paso Robles. The boutique winery produces sustainably farmed Bordeaux grapes on 28 acres of hilly and limestone-rich soil. Midnight is known for making some of the best blends and big merlots. (Do not mention Sideways to the winemakers there!) Merlots are often viewed as gateway wines—kind of like pale ales are in the beer world. However, Midnight’s 2010 Estate Merlot transcends this stereotype: It’s big, bold and rich with dark fruit flavors.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Shelby at midnight told me how much she loves Sierra Nevada’s pale ale—still known as one of the biggest pale ales in the industry. There’s a nice balance in both this beer and this wine.

Just around the corner from Midnight is a gorgeous, upscale tasting room, serving old world varietal wines. Sextant Winery serves powerful zinfandel and petite sirah blends. The folks at Sextant claim it is the only winery in North America to cross-pollinate grenache and cabernet sauvignon, producing a big and bold caladoc. Bright Bing cherries and ripe blackberries are layered with dark fig, cinnamon and spicy cardamom notes. It’s delicious and poetically one-of-a-kind. Just don’t call it a blend.

Enthusiastic and knowledgeable server Kate Keller is a fan of local breweries like Central Coast Brewing, Libertine Brewing Company and BarrelHouse Brewing Company. BarrelHouse is a must-do when visiting the Central Coast—not just for the beer, but also for the beautiful views and inviting patio. The brewery typically has at least a couple fantastic sours on tap.

Monica Villicana not only runs a boutique winery, Villicana Winery, in Paso Robles; she and her husband, Alex, were the first in the area to distill spirits from the used grapes. Winemakers bleed a percentage of the free-run juice from red-wine grapes before fermentation to enhance the quality of the wines. Saignée is this French term meaning “to bleed,” and this juice is often discarded. By fermenting this bleed and then triple-distilling it, Re:Find Distillery has found a new use for saignée.

No surprise: Monica’s first choice of libations is wine. Then she’ll reach for liquors such as brandy, vodka or whiskey. While she’s not a big beer fan, she recently found one that she enjoys and can drink for a longer period of time: Central Coast Brewing’s Original Chai Ale. The spiced blonde ale from this veteran downtown San Luis Obispo brewery—it’s been open since 1998—comes in with a very manageable 4.9 percent alcohol by volume and has flavorful notes of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.

Her husband, Alex, will grab Firestone Walker’s Double Barrel Ale when he’s not enjoying his own cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels, merlots or syrahs. This American take on a British style beer has sweet malt flavors overlaying a slightly woody aroma. Villicana’s vintner likely enjoys the earthiness notes that highlight roasted bread, caramel and oak.

Traveling north on Highway 46, I stopped in Cambria, a lovely seaside village that oozes quaint, artistic expression. Here, you’ll find several wineries and what used to be called Cambria Beer Company. After a trademark dispute, the local brewery is now thriving as 927 Beer Company. Head brewer and president Aaron Wharton doesn’t have a taste for wine, but in true collaborative craft-beer-industry fashion, his patrons and friends bring him bottles and growlers of their beers to exchange with his own brews. Some of his favorites include Modern Times, Noble AleWorks, Rare Barrel and Alpine Brewing. In January, Aaron will start offering barrel-aged beers on a monthly basis.

Down the street is tasting room for Moonstone Cellars. Server and “wineaux” Ron Panna tends to favor chardonnays and appreciates red varietals like petite syrah. Young petite syrah wines may have dark berry and plum fruit characteristics, as seen in the winery’s 2013 petite syrah, which is a club exclusive—and it’s fantastic. This wine is full of spice and dark fruit and demands a meal befitting its robust and full-flavored nature, such as rosemary leg of lamb.

When not sipping on wine, he seeks out beers like Lagunitas Sucks’ Brown Shugga. Brown Shugga is a whopping 10 percent ABV American strong ale that carries flavors of malt, dark fruit and brown sugar together beautifully. Many strong ales also have prominent notes of spice, just like syrahs.

Heading up Highway 1, in Big Sur Village, I came upon a cozy pub serving some of the best wings I’ve had in a long time. Maiden Publick House is a bit of a transcendental intersection, where locals, hippie campers and tourists enjoy brews among surrounding lush forests. The menu also lists nice beer pairings for the appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers and traditional favorites like shepherd’s pie or Monterey chicken. Choose beers from 12 taps or 70 bottles. Parish Pub in Santa Cruz owns Maiden Pub, giving them access to a nice beer selection.

Continuing north to Monterey, I stopped by Alvarado Street Brewery and Grill. The first thing I noticed were the delicious smells wafting from the main bar and kitchen. Thanks in part to access to pristine, local ingredients, the brewery has started a barrel-aging program utilizing zinfandel barrels from Joullian Vineyards in Carmel Valley. Now aging is the Kriek lambic with Brettanomyces—and 40 pounds of cherries. Alvarado’s approach to artisan craft beer nabbed them gold at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival: The Mai Tai PA was recognized in the international-style pale ale beer-style category. The beer lineup includes Saboteur saison, Super Rad! sour and Double Cone double IPA. The Super Rad! was, well, super rad—and their bacon and egg flatbread was positively scrumptious.

I later picked up a bottle of pinot noir from my dear friend Cathy. (I’ve known her since the fifth-grade!) She and her husband, Chris Weidemann, started Pelerin, a small artisan winery in Carmel Valley. Their wines are hand-harvested, gently tended and bottled without filtration. When not sipping on pinot noir or Rhone-style syrah, Chris and Cathy enjoy beers from the Monterey Coast Brewing Co. in Salinas. Chris enjoys mid-weight, moderately hoppy ales, and like most, enjoys craft beers from his local community. 

Here’s a quick guide that may help you match your beer preferences with your wine preferences:

  • Enjoy Chardonnay? Try wheat beers.
  • Like carménère? Try West Coast IPAs.
  • Drink syrahs or chianti? Try a porter.
  • If you enjoy merlot, pick up a pale ale.
  • Like riesling? You may also like Czech pilsners.
  • Shiraz or grenache-blend aficionado? Try a Belgium ale.
  • Is your go-to pinot noir? You should also try lambic or sour.

These are mere recommendations; after all, nothing beats your own palate.

Wine is known to be gorgeous, mysterious and sophisticated. Craft beer can portray a sense of worldly history, anarchy and fun. Enjoy both—and you can have it all.

Published in Beer

Coachella Valley’s 100-plus-degree thirsty season continues well into September, so there’s no better time than now to review new and returning classic summer craft beers that can quench our thirst—in the most delicious way possible.

Almanac Dogpatch Sour: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sours are perfect for hot weather. They’re refreshing, brisk and—in the case of Almanac’s Dogpatch Sour—bright. This barrel-aged wild ale (above) is a hazy reddish-orange pucker bomb. Paying tribute to the Flanders red style, this complex and sophisticated beer offers notes of cherry, apple, candy, earthy funk and wine.

Ballast Point Fathom: Want the hop-smacking goodness of an IPA melded with the clean, bready notes of a lager? Here’s one of the best IPLs on the market. With the hop profiles of a West Coast IPA and lager yeast, this brew, with 7 percent alcohol by volume, offers tropical and easy-drinking goodness. Hints of grapefruit and citrus blend with honey and pine bitterness to create a hot-weather favorite.

Enegren Brewing Lagertha Pilsner: This refreshing, clean pils hails from Moorpark, Calif. Brewed with German pilsner malt and Saaz and Mosaic hops, it’s a perfect pils to sip during the summer season. Brewing a light beer with a perfectly balanced hop profile and clean yeast flavor isn’t easy, but Enegren does it wonderfully, with just a touch of funk.

Paradox Beer Company, Skully No. 25 (aka Salted Sumac Sour): I discovered thisat Stone’s Sour Fest, and it was in my top three at the festival. Skully No. 25 is a gorgeous sour golden ale brewed with sumac and sea salt, and aged in oak wine barrels. This unusually refreshing beer has lightly floral bright citrus and vivid acidic and salty notes, making it a savory summer beer. The sumac is a nice touch, giving the Skully No. 25 layers of flavors and lovely balance.

Sixpoint Jammer: This 4.2 percent ABV gose-style beer is balanced with citrus and made with hand-harvested sea salt from Netarts Bay, Ore. This hazy brew is a little tart, a little briny and a lot refreshing. It’s not your typical gose: With flavors of coriander, lemon pepper and sea salt, it’s well-balanced and drinkable. Fire up the barbecue, and grab a can of this sessionable beach beer.

21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon: This is summer in a can. The San Francisco brewpub starts by brewing a classic American wheat beer, and then puts it through a secondary fermentation using fresh watermelon. If you think watermelon won’t blend with well beer … think again. This is the quintessential summer beer, with the perfect amount of sugary sweetness—in other words, not too much. Pair the beer (pictured below) with a garden salad or a burger—or just good conversation.

Victory Summer Love Ale: German hops and pale malt blend beautifully into a flowery, hoppy blonde ale. Some grassy and earthy notes balance with light cracker and tropical-fruit (mango, orange, pear) flavors. Pair this with chicken, salads or pizza. Like other great summer seasonals, it’s available in 12-ounce cans for easy drinking.

Rogue Farms Honey Kölsch: This is a fantastic farm-to-glass beer: 119 colonies of local Oregon bees were fed; then the honey was uncapped, extracted, filtered and finally infused into this kölsch-style beer. The honey provides a natural sweetness and nicely balances with the malts. There’s a zesty citrus finish that cuts nicely through the honey, too.

Allagash White: Brewed with a generous portion of wheat and spiced with coriander and Curacao orange peel, this award-winning 5 percent ABV Belgian wheat beer is crisp, clove-y, fruity and spicy. Think banana, lemon and light malts. Whether or not you’re a wheat beer fan, this is a must-try, especially during warmer nights. It’s definitely one of the best wit beers on the market, and pairs perfectly with fish or a variety of cheeses.

Golden Road Hefeweizen: This is Los Angeles’ version of a Bavarian beer, brewed with locally grown organic citrus. The smell is full of yeast, with a hint of slightly bitter candy. After banana and clove notes, you’ll find tart citrus and a dry finish. Lemon is also present, offering a slight sourness. This is another canned summer beauty.

Odell Brewing St. Lupulin: This floral and earthy beer has characteristics of both an APA and an IPA. Available through September, this 6.5 percent ABV extra-pale ale is dry-hopped, giving it a clean, crisp finish. Caramel malts offer mild sugar notes, while a fruity bouquet of pineapple and melon shine through. This is another perfect summer brew.

SanTan Brewing Co. Mr. Pineapple: The brewery this year teamed up with Chiquita to use Rainforest Alliance certified pineapple juice to create a more-sustainable, socially conscious can of craft beer. The flavors include wheat malt, pears, bubblegum, pineapple and just the right amount of banana. It’s slightly dry with a juicy sweetness to balance.

Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin: This is one of my favorites year-round. Mango, lime zest, peach, apricot and, of course, grapefruit shine in this 7 percent ABV IPA. The perfect blend of hops shares the spotlight with the grapefruit for a citrusy yumminess that will not disappoint.

Published in Beer

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