The diverse and impressive musical lineup makes the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival one of the most popular events in the world—but it’s the food and drink lineup that rounds out the experience for many festival-goers.
Nic Adler, who also puts on Eat Drink Vegan in Pasadena, has been curating the food at Coachella for four years. I recently had the chance to interview him.
How has the food and drink morphed at Coachella since your first year working on it?
In many, many ways. … There are a lot of things that happen back-of-house to make restaurants and vendors successful front-of-house. For many years, the vendors that we used—and still use—at Coachella have been used to vending at high-volume events. However, a lot of the restaurants that I brought in were not used to being in front of 100,000 people. They might do a food festival with 4,000 or 5,000 people, but nothing on the level of what we’re doing at Coachella. So, there was a lot of work to do … for us to understand how vendors work, what their needs are, and how to deal with chefs. Chefs are artists, and they’re used to very specific things. They know their kitchen. They know where everything is. They know that everything’s working. That’s not always how it works when you come out to a large festival like Coachella.
Putting together the right team to support these chefs, restaurants, bartenders and mixologists took a little bit of time.
All of our restaurants (from) year one struggled a bit. It took us some understanding on what people wanted. It took them (a while to) understand how to put out food in a way that was pleasing to the festival audience. Both of those things have come together, and they’ve kind of met in the middle. It’s made for really interesting, great food that’s visually beautiful, and food that is portable—bowls, wraps and things like that. It just took a little bit of time.
What are some of the restaurants that have been there since the beginning, that were super-successful, and people loved?
It’s interesting: We don’t do a lot of returning restaurants, although the ones that have returned have been there from very early on. Beer Belly would be one that has been with us since the very beginning. KazuNori in the Rose Garden has been there from the very beginning.
We really try to keep the food program (like Goldenvoice President/CEO) Paul Tollett keeps the music lineup: There are some (acts) that return. Maybe they take a year off, and they come back again; they get bigger and go to a bigger stage. We kind of look at the food program in a similar way: We need to have these big names that people recognize, and then we’ve got to have a whole middle tier that people know. … And then we have a bunch of (vendors) that have never done anything like this before, and are kind of the new up-and-comers.
Are you actually the person who chooses the restaurants?
Yes, I do. I have a really solid team. I work closely with Lizzy Stadler, and between the two of us, we spend nine months searching out restaurants and chefs that we think would work well with the festival.
Where are most of the restaurants from? Do you have to stay kind-of local because of the equipment they bring?
Yeah. We do have a good amount from Southern California—but this is the first year that we’re really making a big transition to having Coachella be more of a national food program, so we have 2nd City from New York. In our Outstanding in the Field program, we have chefs from Miami, Chicago and New York. MatchaBar started in New York as well. We’re just trying to look around the country and see what’s happening and bring that to Coachella. We don’t do a lot of Coachella Valley restaurants—although we do have The Venue Sushi this year—only because this is also one of the busiest times of the year for those restaurants.
How many restaurants are at Coachella this year?
In total, in the food program, there are more than 150 restaurants and vendors. As far as our curated, featured restaurant lineup, there are more than 40.
I imagine you’re trying to cater to the organic and vegan crowd, too.
Yeah, being a passionate vegan myself. We have Ramen Hood doing ramen. We have Taqueria La Venganza. We have 118 Degrees. We have Strictly Vegan. I would say there are about 10 to 15 restaurants. Then you have a restaurant like Sumo Dog that is known for their crazy Japanese-style hot dogs, which has a separate grill (for making vegan food) inside of their restaurant. They have amazing vegan hot dogs. … Every vendor has to offer a vegetarian or vegan item on their menu.
How many craft breweries are there this year?
The Craft Beer Barn started four years ago. We’ve consistently had somewhere between 100 to 150 breweries as part of that program, and that includes the rare beer bar, which we introduced last year, where Jimmy (Han) from Beer Belly curates. He spends all year (curating); he’ll call me in September telling me how he got a keg of something, and that he’s hid it in the back of the cooler and wrapped it up. He gets these little gems all year long. … He’s really worked with the breweries to get special, unique kegs out there. That’s also because we invite so many of the breweries to come down: At any given time, there are 20 or 30 brewmasters or owners or technicians who are here onsite at the festival. When you’re walking through the Craft Beer Barn, and you look over and see the head brewer from one of your favorite breweries, that really makes a difference.
Last year, there was a big push for sours, and the IPAs are obviously always really big. This year, one my favorites has been the hazy IPA, the New England-style IPA. I can’t get enough of it. It’s got very little bite on it; it’s super-refreshing, but you still have all of that hop. It’s really exciting to learn about those beers.
We also have a tiki bar that’s something that’s new for the festival this year. I’m really excited to be working on that with the guys from PDT in New York … which stands for Please Don’t Tell. They really ushered in revival of the speakeasy. They’re known to be some of the best bartenders in the world there, and they’ve come out to Indio to be part of this tiki bar. It’s not on any map. We don’t tell anybody where it is. When you find it, you know it.
The Beer Goddess: Pondering Pairings of Music and Craft Beer at Coachella; La Quinta Brewing Nabs a Big MedalMay 17 2016
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.