CVIndependent

Mon09162019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Spring is in full bloom—and so is beer-festival season!

Beer weeks and festivals celebrate the culture and community of craft beer and give fans options to enjoy new and special brews—and there are a lot of these special events coming up in places that are fairly close by.

The Brewers Association celebrates American Craft Beer Week May 11-17. You can enjoy this craft-beer celebration just about anywhere: Many craft-beer establishments are celebrating with rare beers, dinner menus or specials.

During ACBW, celebrate with Angelinos at the sixth annual Los Angeles Vegan Beer and Food Festival (www.veganbeerfest.com). It takes place Saturday, May 16, at Rose Bowl and will feature a vegan smorgasbord, the best of the region’s craft beer and live music. It’s put on by Tony Yanow and Nic Adler—the same guys who brought craft culinary selections to Coachella. Tickets cost $50 to $80 and include unlimited pours of more than 100 beers from 65 breweries, as well as access to food that can be purchased from 40 vendors.

The first Paws for Rhythm and Brews will be held Saturday, June 6, a little closer to home—at the Idyllwild Nature Center (www.arfbeerfest.com). Proceeds go to the Animal Rescue Friends of Idyllwild (ARF), a grassroots rescue group on the mountain; tickets are $25 in advance. Paws for Rhythm and Brews is also holding what’s believed to be the first homebrew competition in our neighboring mountain community; registration closes on May 24, and winners will be announced at the festival. Not only can you escape the desert heat for a weekend; you can help a great cause. ARF’s mission is to rescue animals that have been abandoned or lost, or whose owners are no longer able to care for them. Janice Murasko put together the fest with her husband, Robert Hewitt.

“All of our dogs are kept with foster families, so we don’t have a kennel. All of them go with different fosters until they’re adopted,” she said. “We do have a small cattery; we can have up to 10 cats at a time. … We survive on very small grants, donations and fundraisers. … We have a veterinarian who comes up once a month, because there are no vets on this mountain.”

So it’s a great cause, and a great time as well: There will be awesome barbecue, live blues, a stein-holding contest, and wine for those who don’t drink beer. There will even be free shuttles from town to the event!

A bit bigger and farther away: LA Beer Week is returning June 20-28. Festivities begin on Saturday, June 20, with the LA Brewers Beer Week Kickoff at a new location: Exposition Park’s south lawn. Tickets are $45 and selling fast. If you miss out on the kickoff event, there will be more than 200 events spread around various bars, restaurants, retailers and breweries during the week.

I recently spoke with acclaimed brewer Victor Novak, now with Golden Road Brewing, about LA Beer Week. The Los Angeles brewery recently announced plans to open a second location, in Anaheim.

“I love doing outside events,” he said about LA Beer Week. “… We have great sales people, but it’s not the same as having a brewer on site at a festival for someone to talk shop and give people more detail on how the beer is produced.

Golden Road will be brewing its seasonal IPA, Heal the Bay. Proceeds go to various environmental projects in Southern California. Novak will also be brewing a special brew for a Star Wars-themed “May the 4th Be With You” event: The Hudson Porter, an imperial porter with rye, will be transformed to Java the Hudson after Novak and his team add vanilla beans and cocoa nibs, and later coffee, to the brew. Novak is hoping they will have some available for L.A. Beer Week.

“To have the brewer presence there, I think, is huge,” he said. “(Events) are not only fun for us; it is nice to interact. We’re a great community. Now we see the other brewers, and get people’s feedback on what we’re doing right then—good and bad. If they have an issue, I’d rather they tell me, than read about it on Beer Advocate or something.”

Also: A bucket-list beer festival would have to be the Firestone Walker Invitational, held in Paso Robles on Saturday, May 30. Even brewers like Novak love it. Unfortunately, it’s already sold out, so mark your calendars for next year.

“If someone were able to get hold of one (ticket), that is the must-attend,” Novak said. “It’s so huge and so hard to get into, as a brewer and an attendee. It’s beautiful up there, and you can go wine-tasting. It’s classic California.”

If you’d rather head farther south, don’t miss Escondido’s Stone Sour Fest, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, June 28 (www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1171599). A $49 ticket includes a commemorative glass, 15 3-ounce tasters and more than 100 amazing beers from which to choose. I’ll be there with a bus full of Coachella Valley locals. Pucker up!

In August (keep your eyes open for the exact date), keep a look out for the Blue Palms Brewhouse Seventh Anniversary in Hollywood (www.everfest.com/e/blue-palms-anniversary-los-angeles-ca). It’s one of the coolest beer parties in So Cal.

Lucky for us, there are plenty of events at which we can enjoy a variety of Southern California beers. Of course, every day is a good day for beer!

Published in Beer

A little more than three decades ago, Coors Banquet Beer was the best beer that American breweries had to offer.

It was brewed with Rocky Mountain spring water near Golden, Colo., and was only available in the West. President Eisenhower had supplies of it airlifted to the White House via Air Force One. Keith Richards would keep cans onstage; Clint Eastwood and Ray Charles even sang a duet praising the beer. Heck, bootlegging Coors was part of the plot line of Smokey and the Bandit.

Yep, there even were Coors connoisseurs. I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in.

In 1974, a story in TIME magazine, “The Beer That Won The West,” told the tale of one enterprising fella who made weekly runs with a refrigerated truck from Denver to Charlotte, N.C.—making a nice profit along the way. A different fella, named Tom Del Sarto, witnessed this beer bootlegging firsthand, as a promising Coors salesman back in 1978.

More than 35 years later, Del Sarto is still in the beer business, working as the director of sales at Coachella Valley Brewing Co. His beer career actually began in 1975, when he was just 18 years old.

“I actually made a wrong turn looking for my summer job, and they told me that it wasn’t there any more. So, as I was driving back home, I thought, ‘What do I do now?’” he recently told me as I sipped a Lost Abbey Red Poppy Ale.

It was then that Tom saw a Coors distributor sign and stopped—only to discover that his baseball coach was working there. His coach gave him a shot—and that ‘wrong turn’ turned into a 25-year career with the same distributor. Del Sarto began in Redwood City, Calif., in the recycling department. At 20, Tom was promoted to district supervisor, managing a team of five people. By 23, he was the youngest sales manager in the country for Coors. By 29, Tom was the vice president, general manager and partner of Coors West/South Bay Beverage.

Tom learned the business from the bottom up, and worked with the godfather of the business: Bob Franceschini, Bay Area beverage distributor and president of Coors West Regal Beverages. Between Prohibition and 1976, Coors was available in only 11 states, all in the West. It wouldn’t even reach all 50 states until it landed in Indiana in 1991.

Del Sarto’s first big sell was a truck full of Coors Banquet to a liquor store in Millbrae, Calif., in 1978. After lining up the cases along the building and leaving, Tom’s intuition told him to drive back—when he caught the owner restacking the coveted beer in a different truck to resell back East.

Del Sarto said the biggest difference between selling beer in the ’70s and ’80s and selling it today is volume: Today’s craft-beer landscape has brought consumers many, many more choices, meaning distributors carry more beers from more breweries than ever before. To help meet this demand, Del Sarto also consults for two Northern California premium-brand distributors.

“I train distributor management on how to get the most out of suppliers,” he said. “When I have my CVB hat on, I’m the supplier getting the most out of the distributor. So it’s an easy thing to transition, to do both sides.”

Del Sarto handled the agreement for distributor Young’s Market Company to distribute CVB’s Desert Swarm, Kölschella and Monumentous throughout California.

The beer world’s three-tier system requires beer to go through a middle-man—the distributor, or wholesaler. The distributor does on-the-ground sales and marketing for the producer, and sells the beer to retailers, all while making sure breweries are well-represented.

“Brand loyalty is a big thing,” Del Sarto said. “The problem is keeping people from switching to another beer of the week. … It’s all about the consistency of the liquid. I think we’re making better beers than we ever have created. I think the choices are awesome, and people are starting to understand it.”

As of last November, there were more than 3,200 beer brewers in the country. On March 16, the Brewers Association revealed that in 2014, for the first time ever, craft brewers achieved a double-digit (11 percent) share of the marketplace. It’s been a challenge for some distributors and wholesalers to adapt to and accommodate the rapidly growing craft-beer industry.

Because of the massive volume of breweries in the state, California also allows self-distribution with no limits as to production size. Breweries like Russian River and Kern River take advantage of this, as does Escondido’s Stone Brewing Co., which operates a self-distribution network that carries more than 30 craft and specialty brands to Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. In fact, Stone’s Greg Koch and Arlan Arnsten started the Craft Beer Wholesalers Symposium in 2004—and like the craft-beer industry itself, it continues to grow.

“The generation that is kind of moving this, it’s a pretty big age group,” Del Santo said. “They don’t want to be sold to; they want to make their personal selections. They want to work with their buddies and say, ‘Hey, such and such is on tap over here, and you need to try it.’ That, to me, is much more powerful.”

Just as Del Santo was saying this, Anheuser-Busch’s advertisement criticizing the craft-beer industry came on TV.

“What is the chance of that?!” he said, laughing about the commercial that first aired during the Super Bowl.

There’s a reason Anheuser-Busch is on the defensive: Sales of mass-market beers like Budweiser, Old Milwaukee and Miller Genuine Draft have slumped. For example, Michelob Light sales have fallen from more than 1 million barrels in 2007 to around 350,000 barrels in 2012, according to BeerInsights.com. Budweiser sales have been declining for more than two decades.

On the flip side, Forbes magazine this year announced two craft beers from California breweries—Ballast Point’s Sculpin IPA, and North Coast’s Old Rasputin—made its list of the 30 best beers available in Brazil.

What a difference 30 years can make.

As for the future, Del Sarto thinks the next big opportunity for the craft-beer industry is in the Spanish-speaking market. He also predicts that innovative packaging and styles will continue to be hot.

We all have our favorite beers and breweries, but what if someone asked about your favorite distributor? A bewildered stare would likely follow. But think about this: Distributors are the go-between that brings delicious craft beers to the bars and stores that carry them—enabling consumers to easily purchase the savory suds.

In other words, thanks to talented beer-lovers like Del Sarto, the beer-bootlegging era is history.

Published in Beer

What is a hop? Why should we care?

This is why: They lead the way toward flavorful, delicious beers like Pliny the Elder, Stone IPA, Dogfish Head 60 or 90 minute IPA, Tröegs Nugget Nectar, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA and Green Flash Imperial IPA.

Hops can inspire legends. They contain two types of acids—alpha and beta, which act as natural preserving agents by killing or hindering the growth of various bacteria. British brewers took advantage of this in the 16th century by brewing intensely hopped beers (which eventually became known as India pale ales, or IPAs) in order to prevent spoilage on their long journey to the colonies in India.

We’re in the thick of harvest season now. Hop plants sprout in the spring, and harvest starts in August, continuing into October. After harvested, hops can be used fresh, but are often dried for long term storage.

The craft-beer industry in the United States is as large as it’s ever been, and new hop strains and small hop farms have sprouted as a result. The craft brewing industry used an average of 1.3 pounds of hops, per barrel, as of the end of 2013.

Despite the new farms, however, there has been concern about hop shortages. The craft-beer revolution (craft brewers use far more hops than corporate brewers do proportionally), debilitating drought and the popularity of IPAs and double IPAs (which rely on temperamental aromatic hops) have made many hop varieties more scarce in the U.S. According to the Hop Growers of America, the average price for a pound of hops was $1.88 in 2004. In 2013, the price jumped to $3.59 per pound.

Bittering hops usually have a high alpha acid content. Aroma hops, with low-to-medium alpha levels, mainly offer characteristic hop aromas. Demand for these aroma hops continues to increase: Almost 42 percent of U.S. hop acreage was dedicated to aroma hops in 2012. A year later, that number had risen to an estimated 63 percent—and is expected to continue to increase.

The price increase in hops is one of the reasons many brewers have started producing “single-hop” beers. Another reason: Single-hop beers honor the hop varietal. Each hop variety possesses unique flavors, whether piney, floral or citrusy. Much like adding spices to a meal, hops add the seasoning to a beer—and singling out hops lets them shine on their own.

As Boston Beer President C. Jim Koch once stated, “Hops are to beer what grapes are to wine.”

All hop varietals come in one of two forms:

Whole-leaf hops: During harvest, whole dried hop cones are removed from the plants, dried and compressed into bales. Leaf hops are believed to have greater aromatic qualities and are often used after fermentation in dry-hopping. To increase hop aroma, leaf-hop additions can be made at end of a boil so more of the volatile oils are captured. There are some downsides to whole-leaf hops: Because leaves will absorb some water from the wort, there will be a volume loss. Leaves can also clog equipment.

Pellets: Dried hop cones are shredded, compressed and extruded into pellets. They are the craft-beer-industry standard, because of the advantages in measuring, storage and shelf life. They stay fresher longer, because they have less surface area to oxidize. There’s also higher extraction due to more exposable surface area. However, because of the drying, they tend to lose some of their aromatic quality.

Hop varieties are chosen for the properties of bitterness, flavor or bouquet that they lend to the beer, helping to balance the sweetness of malt sugars. Beer would be annoyingly sweet without it.

The most widely used American-style hops include:

Cascade: One of the most popular varieties, this hop has a moderate bitterness level and a fragrant, flowery aroma. It’s typically used in West Coast ales. The iconic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale propelled the Cascade hop. Other notable cascade beers include Deschutes Brewery’s Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Anchor Brewing’s Liberty IPA.

Chinook: With a high (11-13 percent) acid range, Chinook has distinctive pine and spicy flavors. The alluring pine-and-grapefruit aroma makes it popular in American-style pale ales.

Amarillo: Used primarily for aroma, these medium-bittering hops come from Washington. They give off unique flowery, citrus notes and are commonly used in American IPAs, American ales and wheat beers. To taste a single-hop Amarillo beer, pick up a Rogue’s Yellow Snow IPA, Noble Ale Works Amarillo Showers, or Mikkeller Single Hop Amarillo IPA.

Centennial: A relatively new hop on the market, Centennial is often used for highly hopped pale ales and IPAs. Notable Centennial beers include Bell’s Brewery’s Two Hearted Ale and Flying Dog Brewery’s Centennial Single Hop Imperial IPA.

Galaxy: This hot, newish Australian-grown hop variety showcases grassy, citrus and passion-fruit notes. It can be found in beers like Anchorage Brewing’s Galaxy White IPA or Noble Ale Works’ Galaxy Showers Imperial IPA.

Citra: This widely popular aromatic hop resulted from a cross-breed of several varieties from the United Kingdom, Germany and the U.S. After Sierra Nevada introduced Citra in 2009 in the Torpedo IPA, it quickly became one of the beer world’s most-sought-after hops. It’s spotlighted in Three Floyds Zombie Dust and Kern River Citra. Also try Ventura-based Surf Brewery’s Shaka Citra Session IPA.

If you’re looking for a locally brewed and refreshing “hop bomb” of a beer, try Coachella Valley Brewing Co.’s newly released Coriollis Effect. It’s a wet-hop imperial IPA brewed with fresh Sorachi Ace and Amarillo hops. CVB also incorporated a ton of Southern Hemisphere hops; in fact, this beer includes nearly 10 pounds of hops per barrel.

Coachella Valley Brewing purchases hops from seven countries and works with 10 different brokers to get their much-needed bittering flowers.

“We even buy farm-direct from growers in Yakima and Willamette valleys,” said Coachella Valley Brewing's Chris Anderson.

Just for fun, Anderson grows about 16 varieties of hops on his personal property.

Tests done on hop oils have found more than 400 different compounds. That’s a lot of flavor potential. It proves that hops not only put the bitter in beer—but the character in the craft.

Published in Beer

It’s been the best of times … it’s been the beeriest of times.

My appreciation for craft beer began developing while I attended San Diego State University in the mid-’90s. Rearrange the letters in SDSU, and you get SUDS. Coincidence? Or divine inspiration?

Either way, The Beer Goddess was meant to be.

It was in the ’90s when Stone Brewing Company released the in-your-face Arrogant Bastard—blowing all of the San Diego beer-drinkers’ minds. I often hosted small dinner parties with my college friends. I started switching from Keystone Light and Bud Light (we all have to start somewhere, right?) to Bass, Sam Adams Boston Lager, Pete’s Wicked Ale and, of course, Stone’s Arrogant Bastard.

I discovered more taste. I discovered more depth. And dammit, it was good.

However, it was in 2008 when I began to pour my mind and passion into writing about the craft of craft beer. That summer, I received an email from my older brother that our dad was in the hospital, suffering from a fever that wouldn’t subside. We had recently celebrated his 70th birthday on the lake in Westlake Village. I took many trips to the hospital, and began researching his sudden condition—Felty’s syndrome.

He passed away 17 days later. It was devastating. I felt like my world was literally tipped on its axis.

My father was my hero. He spent most of his life as an entrepreneur, growing his company, Franklin Telecom, and later Franklin VoIP. He later became one of the founding fathers of phone-to-phone voiceover IP. He instilled dedication, passion and innovation in all of his five children.

One week later, I was laid off from my project-management job in Culver City. Not knowing how I was going to pay my high Los Angeles rent, and wanting to call my dad for advice, I felt lost. I started feverishly applying for jobs.

My boyfriend at the time and I were living in our new place—a warm, 1930s-style townhome near the Wilshire Corridor. He witnessed my anguish and tried everything to keep my spirits at a manageable level. It was then he suggested I start writing about beer.

I thought it was a funny idea at first—and it was the first funny thing I had heard in more than a month. (Even though it was just six years ago, beer wasn’t quite the widespread and celebrated hobby it is today.) In an attempt to steer my mind toward learning something culinary and crafty, I took his advice and dove headfirst into research and blogging.

I first wanted to figure out an angle, or at least a personality, for my new blog. I started jotting down tag lines, cute sayings and titles. Nothing resonated. Nothing stuck. So I just started attending beer events and writing. I soaked it in like a sponge.

After a family call to talk about how my father’s business would be handled, I recall staring at a plaque that was awarded to him and his company. I dazed at it, motionless, for about 10 minutes as my eyes welled. He named the company Franklin Telecom after his idol, Ben Franklin. His name was Frank.

That was it. Ben Franklin also appreciated beer! I wanted to tie this extraordinary founding father into the tone of the blog, because he was my dad’s idol.

There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking,” was one of many Franklin quotes. You’ll see a spin off to this quote on TheBeerGoddess.com: “There is good living, where there is good beer.”

It was placed there not just an acknowledgement of my recently departed father, but as an appreciation of how he exuded a passion for living life to the fullest. It’s a constant reminder of how lucky I was.

This year, I’ll be celebrating six delicious, fascinating, entertaining and humbling years in the world of craft beer. Beer is an integral part of the lives of many communities. Hundreds of breweries use local foods and spices that are indigenous to their areas. Craft beer tells a story of the land, of the area and of the brewers.

I’ve met numerous culinary, creative and passionate people along the way, from brewers and bloggers to the folks marketing the beer—and, of course, the craft-beer consumers themselves.

It’s not about drinking more (a concern I think my mother had early on—now she’s one of my biggest fans). It’s about drinking well. It’s about creating something from the earth. It’s about feeding our economy, one small business at a time. It’s about the people. It’s about giving U.S. consumers more choice.

I choose beer with innovation, style, integrity, quality and character. I advocate and celebrate what’s become known as the “craft beer revolution.”

Ben Franklin also once said, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.”

Join me as I celebrate The Beer Goddess’ 6 Pack Sixth Anniversary, starting at 7 p.m., Saturday, June 21, at Schmidy’s Tavern, 72286 Highway 111, in Palm Desert. We’ll feature a special collaborative brew between Coachella Valley Brewing Co. and me; there will also be live music and all sorts of fun.

Why haven’t you heard of any of the anniversaries until now? I haven’t celebrated the past years. I was too busy trying to write something worth reading.

Published in Beer

In 2013, New Belgium Brewing, the Fort Collins, Colo.-based purveyor of libations like Fat Tire and Ranger, whipped up exactly 792,292 barrels of beer. Considering each barrel is capable of filling somewhere in the range of 60 six-packs, that production made for plenty of happy drinkers (including, on more than one occasion, yours truly).

But New Belgium also satisfied non-human consumers, too, by selling 64 million pounds of “spent grain”—the ingredients left behind after the brewing process—to beef and dairy farmers, who feed the porridge-like substance to their cows.

“For hundreds of years, brewers have had this great symbiosis with farmers,” says Bryan Simpson, New Belgium’s director of media relations. “It’s a very elegant system.”

While many operations give away their used grains, selling the stuff can be a lucrative sideline: Spent grain goes for about $50 per ton nationwide, and total annual sales add up to around $160 million (most of it to the big boys, Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors). Now, though, brewers claim this centuries-old harmony is threatened by new Food and Drug Administration rules that could make it harder for beer-makers to sell or donate their spent grain as cattle feed.

The proposed regulation stems from the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), legislation designed to prevent food contamination. That’s a worthy goal: Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks are distressingly common, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that 48 million people are sickened—and 3,000 killed—by food-borne illnesses annually. The FSMA seeks to reduce that toll through measures like increased inspections and quality control for food imports, and the law drew praise from food safety advocates when it was signed in 2010.

While no one disputes that our food safety systems are in need of overhaul, not everyone is enamored with the new law. In November, Mother Jones agriculture critic Tom Philpott warned that inflexible regulations could impose “a significant and possibly devastating burden to small and midsize (food producers).” One California farmer suggested the law was pushing a “sterility paradigm” that failed to recognize the health benefits of microbes.

No one is more apoplectic than brewers, whose anger is targeted at a proposed rule that would require animal-feed producers to identify and avoid potential contamination hazards. It’s not yet entirely clear what breweries would have to do to mitigate those contamination risks; while some beer-peddlers fear the FDA is going to force them to dry and pre-package their grains,Twin Cities Business reports the agency is primarily concerned with how the feed is stored and transported—in other words, the cleanliness of silos and trucks. While many small breweries, or brewers who donate their grains, would likely be exempt from some of the rule’s requirements, the Beer Institute, an industry lobby group, estimates that compliance could cost big operations more than $13 million.

In the West, home to seven of the 10 brewery-densest states, restrictions on beer-related activities are likely to be especially unpopular. Little wonder, then, that some of the heaviest pressure against the FDA has been leveled by Western politicians.

“I don’t know everything about beer, but I do know when a federal agency acts like it has had one too many,” quipped Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, who’s urging the agency to throw out its current proposal. And Sen. Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat, recently penned a letter to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking her agency to review whether feeding spent grains to cattle presents a legitimate public health hazard. (Although the contamination of cattle feed from spent grain is theoretically possible, beer industry leaders say there’s never been a recorded incident.)

The situation may even spur legislative action. Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican, is among the sponsors of the Sustainable Use of Spent Grains Act, which would exempt breweries from the rule. The grain issue is apparently so dire that it’s forced Gardner, introducer of the “Oil Above All” act, to sponsor a bill with “sustainable” in its title.

Not only would the FSMA regulation place a financial burden on breweries; New Belgium’s Simpson says it could produce unfortunate environmental consequences for an industry famous for its stewardship practices. Right now, New Belgium has a 99.9 percent diversion rate, meaning that practically none of its waste ends up in a landfill. If it becomes unprofitable to sell spent grain, though, the stuff could get thrown away—“a worst-case scenario,” says Simpson.

And what about the farmers who depend on the stuff? Justin Wertz, partner at El Dorado Cattle Co. in Durango, Colo., told the Durango Herald that without the free grain his company gets from nearby Ska Brewing, he’d likely go out of business. “It’s unbelievable, almost a complete feed,” he said. “It’s really high in protein as well as a bunch of other nutrients.”

Perhaps recognizing that you don’t mess with Americans’ beer and burgers, the FDA, has promised to submit a revision to the rule that’s “responsive to the concerns expressed.”

Ben Goldfarb is an editorial intern at High Country News, where this was originally published. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Published in Environment

Among the chic desert shops and restaurants of downtown Palm Springs, and mere steps from the Sonny Bono fountain, is an oasis for cigar-smokers, wine-enthusiasts and craft-beer-lovers alike.

The unassuming Fame Lounge attracts tourists, locals and a fair share of cigar-aficionado celebrities. A wall of wine and beer, and spicy scents from the walk-in humidor greet visitors. My curiosity immediately led me to this herbaceous alcove. As a cigar newbie, I honestly didn’t know what to look for, but I found myself sniffing the various cigars as if I did. With the help of the owner, Mel Shaw, I learned I wanted a lighter, vanilla stogie with earthy and sweet woody undertones.

Fame owner Mel Shaw at the lounge's bar. (Photo by Sean Planck)Beyond the retail store—which features cigars, wines and an amazing selection of craft beers—lies a backroom lounge in the classic sense of the word: a living-room setting with comfy leather chairs and couches, dim lighting and a not a Bud Light drinker in sight. There were 10 tap varietals at the small bar in the corner; it was obvious the owner had a taste for the rare and specialized brews. To keep customers coming back, Shaw rotates the taps weekly. Whether you seek an Austrian Trappist like Engelszell Gregorius, or San Diego’s Karl Strauss 24th Anniversary Flanders-style Sour Red Ale, the quality selection doesn’t disappoint.

The ambiance caters to the true desert gentleman, but Shaw’s $10 beer and cigar “back room special” makes it easy for the novice to taste the sophisticated life. As a relatively new resident of the Coachella Valley, this was the Palm Springs I was looking for. It was a welcoming feeling. Pair an Indian Tabac Box Pressed Double Corona cigar with Allagash Fluxus on tap, and tell me you won’t be grinning like a kid with an ice-cream cone on a hot day.

Shaw obviously enjoys guiding people toward the perfect wine-and-cigar or beer-and-cigar pairing. He said matching lighter-flavored beer with a lighter-flavored cigar is a great way to start.

“Similar to beer, different flavor profiles, when you are drinking, how you’re drinking, how you’re pairing with food—it’s the same thing with cigars,” Shaw said. “A cigar will taste seven different ways during the day. If you smoke it early the morning, it will taste different than if you smoke it after lunch. It’s how your body reacts to the flavor.”

Shaw started smoking cigars in 1996 and opened the store in 2001. Fame has been in this Palm Canyon Drive location since January 2005. His consistent curiosity has made Fame one of the leading places in the Coachella Valley to enjoy not just a stogie, but a flavorful beer or wine. Shaw even had a shipment of cigars infused with Washington hops, specifically to pair with IPAs and hoppy pale ales. As a craft-beer writer, my mouth immediately dropped on the wooden bar when I heard this.

However, Fame isn’t the only cigar game in town. What’s the difference between Fame and the other cigar shops?

“I would classify them as cigar shops. Here, we enjoy cigars. It’s about the experience,” he said.

Just at that moment, my smoking cohort said, “Isn’t that John Salley from the Lakers looking at the wine over there?”

Yep, it was. After attending to his latest celebrity guest, Shaw rejoined us at the bar and embarrassedly chuckled as he told us about the time that Chris Noth, aka “Big” on Sex and the City, came into his lounge.

The cigar lounge owner was not a frequent viewer of the sexy show full of witticisms. When “Big” came casually walking into Shaw’s lounge, puffing on his own cigar, Mel politely asked him to put it out. As the other smoking patrons attempted to nudge Shaw with their eyes, Shaw smiled, as he had no idea who the “Big” man was.

Moments later, he glanced down at an issue of Cigar Aficionado, with none other than Chris Noth on the cover.

The scents, sophistication and overall surroundings bring to mind the concept of an old-school gentleman’s club. Fame keeps one foot anchored in this classic ideal, and the other in the contemporary world, while opening the eyes of its patrons to the appreciation of a good wine, a good beer and a good smoke.

Whether it’s a 2007 L'Aventure Estate Cuvee blend, a California craft beer or a multidimensional cigar, assuage your desire for rich flavors in an upscale, yet cozy atmosphere.

Fame Lounge is located at 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 3. For more information, call 320-2752, or visit www.fame-lounge.com.

The beer selection at Fame—both in the shop and in the lounge—is surprising and unique. (Photo by Sean Planck)

Published in Features & Profiles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Features & Profiles

Page 4 of 4