CVIndependent

Thu09192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Ladies and gentlemen, residents of and visitors to the Coachella Valley: The state of craft beer in our fine desert community is … meh.

Let's start where it makes the most sense: Our breweries. I'm going to need to leave much to the imagination here, because I work for one of them, and that presents a conflict of interest. As my colleagues and bosses will attest to, I would never root against any brewery here. I am a fan of craft beer first, and if all of our breweries were pumping out only great beer, that would mean more great beer for me to try. Alas, this is not the case … but it is actually trending in that direction.

The truth is that there is room for all three current local breweries to grow when it comes to beer quality. Brew great beer, and I (and many others) will show up—I promise you. This is not really competition, because as I previously stated, more great beer is more great beer. That seems to reach critical mass in some cities; repeat this process, and sooner than you'd think, you find yourself in a beer mecca. It feels like San Jacinto and San Gorgonio keep more than just rain away from our valley sometimes, I'm afraid. 

OK, that was a little dark … not everything is being kept away. Local beer hero and friend Chris Anderson had a hand in opening Woody's Moreno Valley, which is connected to Woody's Palm House in Palm Springs. It is housed where P.H. Woods once was, which was once connected to Babe's Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage. Now that "Six Degrees of Separation" is done, what makes this relevant is that the beer is on tap at the Palm Springs location. I recently tried the IPA and the pilsner, and I can happily report that they were delicious. This is not a surprise, seeing that Chris—founder and former head brewer at Coachella Valley Brewing Co.—was involved. He pulled a brewer over from Hangar 24 to head the operation now, and I'm looking forward (with my usual managed expectations, of course) to some more good beer from them.

More good news: Desert Beer Company will be opening this year. This is the work of former CVB taproom manager Devon Sanchez and will be located in Palm Desert, not far from La Quinta Brewing's brewery. As a former co-worker, you’d think I would know more about this, but I do not. Perhaps this is by his design, but whatever the case, I do wish him all the luck in the world. Say it with me once more: More good beer in the valley is a good thing.

Bottle shops are still wanting here. Total Wine and More seems to be the best place to get beer, but some of the local beer distributors can be very lax when it comes to rotating stock—and you are very much in danger of buying out-of-date beer if you are not diligently checking the dates on the packaging. While not in the Coachella Valley, Sam's Market in Joshua Tree deserves mention as the people there curate a great selection of craft beers from all around Southern California. Alas, the fact that you have to drive 50 minutes from the middle of the valley to find a proper craft-beer selection is not flattering to our beer scene.

If you have never set foot in a place that has a large and almost overwhelming (in the best way) selection of beers, stop by La Bodega next time you are in Riverside. Can the local market support something like that? That is a great question. I can't really crunch any numbers without doing some intense research, but if you asked me to venture a guess, I’d lean toward saying yes—a very caveat-laden yes. It would have to be done right (i.e., not by some people with money and a faint familiarity with beer who want to try and “get in on the action” but instead end up half-assing it), and it would need to be in the right location. In other words, it would be an uphill battle. There's an idea for the name of the store: Sisyphus' Stone. Inspiring, I know.

Beer bars are pretty much the same as they were a year ago. Eureka! Indian Wells gets my craft-beer dollar more than any other, and not because it is one of the closer places to get a craft on tap in relation to where I live. It's a little pricey (compared to their location in Redlands, even) and the selection needs some serious curation, though.

There are definitely other places worth mentioning. Dead or Alive Bar is one of my favorites when I'm in Palm Springs. Christine Soto is mindful of her smaller but interesting selection of beers. Then there’s the unique vibe of the place and the fact that I almost always get sucked into a good conversation with her, her bartenders and/or strangers when I'm there. The guest taps at La Quinta Brewing's satellite taprooms are often good and worth checking out, as is the "Chalkboard" at the Yard House.

I now want to take a few deep breaths here, apologize and explain: I am frustrated and searching my soul for reasons to live up to my desire to help grow a legitimate craft-beer scene in the Coachella Valley. I love this area, and consider myself as being from here, having moved here when I was a young lad in 1987. I have family and friends here. Look around you: It's beautiful. But I'm going to need you to meet me halfway here. There are only so many blows to the head I can take from bashing it against this figurative wall before I have to say, "Enough!" and walk away. Together, we could do a lot. If you have never attended a top-tier beer dinner, I wish I could gift you that experience. We certainly have the high-quality cuisine here, and there is so much world-class beer within a two-hour drive that it would be eminently possible, to say the least. Is anyone willing to try?

This is a cry for help. I have helped put together some dinners like this, and I want to do many more. I just need a handful of people here that give enough of a shit. Let's do this, Coachella Valley. I love you and don't want to need to leave you to make my dreams come true.

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

Published in Beer

I have a lot on my mind. However, I will spare you from all but the beer things on my mind. I thought the best way to handle this would be to kinda-sorta do this à la Larry King’s odd USA Today column from some years ago: I’ll just hit on random topics that don’t necessarily have any relation to each other besides the overarching theme of craft beer.

In other words, I was lazy and didn’t come up with a one-topic column idea.

Now that I have raised your expectations to such a soaring height ...

• I want to give a shout-out to Andrew Smith and his Coachella Valley Beer Scene blog and Facebook page.

In 2011, I created the Facebook page, and after mentioning Schmidy’s Tavern (R.I.P. … you are missed), the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club, and Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse, I quickly ran out of things to post about the beer scene. While there is still a long way to go in our beautiful valley, there is fortunately much more of a beer scene now, and Andrew gets in there and does great write-ups of what he finds. Check him out at cvbeerscene.com and on the aforementioned Facebook page.

• Modern Times Beer is killing it. Not literally, mind you: They’re vegan through and through, as the bottles and cans state.

If you have somehow missed the company’s beer until now, you must have been hiding out. It’s happily in many places in the valley, packaged and on tap. In the past year or so, the people there have opened The Dankness Dojo in Downtown L.A. and The Belmont Fermentorium in Portland. Both places have brewhouses and pump out wonderful beers which end up at the other facilities for you to try. From what I’ve experienced so far, Portland’s strength is in big, dark beers, and the Dojo seems adept at IPAs of all stripes. Another location in Encinitas and a swim club in Anaheim are in the works.

In August, I went to Modern Times’ fourth annual Festival of Dankness. It’s a hoppy beer festival, and notable brewers from all over the country are invited to pour. Situated at Waterfront Park in San Diego with an excellent view of the ocean, Coronado Island and downtown San Diego, the festival has been a wonderful respite from the awful August heat here in the desert. It has gotten better and better every year.

It serves as a reliable measure of what’s trending when it comes to IPAs. This year, sour IPAs made a big showing. Brut IPAs, mentioned in a previous column, popped up at a few booths as well, the most interesting of which was at Brouwerij West out of San Pedro. Of course, hazy IPAs and milkshake IPAs were prevalent. Eugene, Ore.’s Claim 52 Brewing had my favorite with its strawberry milkshake IPA. Strawberries and lactose only added to the hop flavors and didn’t step all over them and become a sweet mess. Cellarmaker Brewing in San Francisco brought a phenomenal hazy IPA called Double Mt. Nelson. This year’s Nelson Sauvin hop harvest seems to have made up for last year’s lackluster version, and the beers that have been popping up using them have been stellar. That includes Modern Times’ own Space Ways. It’s one of the best hazy IPAs I’ve had, period, and it’s still on the shelves in cans here and drinking wonderfully.

With every passing year, Modern Times continues to make me a bigger fan. I recommend them to you wholeheartedly.

• Speaking of IPAs, I want to give my opinion on some of these sub-styles.

Sour IPAs have been kettle-soured similarly to a Berlinerweisse or gose; the tartness and liberal amounts of hops evoke the flavors of fruit juice. The examples I’ve tried so far have been fun, but I am still a bigger fan of dry-hopped kettle sours. It’s a subtle distinction, but it can be encapsulated thusly: The sourness of sour IPAs is there to support the hop flavors, while dry-hopped kettle sours are sour ales with hop aromas and flavors to support it. It’s a distinction without a difference, but my palate can certainly tell. Almanac Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales make great examples of the latter style.

I have finally tried a few brut IPAs and have not been terribly impressed. I was very excited when I first began hearing about them, but the beers have not met my expectations. It seems like the process that makes these beers so dry also strips away much of the aroma and flavor of a normal IPA. But there is nothing wrong with subtlety, and I will continue to try new examples of the style with an open mind. There is currently a brut IPA on where I work—a shout out to all my co-workers at Coachella Valley Brewing Company … even you, Uncle Ben—and it is honestly the best I’ve tried.

From time to time, I have good ideas. One of my latest was an idea for a coconut bock. I conceived of the recipe (with some serious inspiration from Gordon Biersch’s excellent Heller Bock) with the help of our head brewer, and the team did a brilliant job executing this one. It should be on tap soon if it isn’t already. I’m calling it Coconut Toast, because that is the experience of drinking it. Definitely tell me what you think of my baby when you try it.

• Do you know what English bitter ales are? They’re really not that bitter and lean toward the malty side, but the name has made it extremely difficult for the styles (ordinary, strong, extra strong) to catch on in America. It is a travesty, too, because it’s such a lovely, sessionable style. The same goes for old ale style (though it’s decidedly not sessionable). It is not a great name, but a well-made example is such a thing of beauty. Alesmith, North Coast and Deschutes are the only craft breweries I can think of off the top of my head that regularly make old ales (and they make them well, I would add). Belgian styles seem to have largely fallen out of favor, too, and this might be the biggest tragedy. Some might think Belgian ales are all high ABV affairs, but it’s just not true.

The witbier retains popularity here, with Shock Top and Blue Moon being made by the big breweries. There are incredible versions of this in craft beer. Allagash White and Avery White Rascal are two of the finest, and they’re very true to the classic Belgian counterparts (St. Bernardus Wit being my favorite in the world). The lower-ABV Belgian abbey single style is an absolute gem, and we don’t see much of it here from Belgium, because it doesn’t travel well. The same goes for English bitters. It’s not that brewers won’t make these styles; they just do them in small batches knowing that they won’t sell well. I guess I’ll just need to make more money and travel to these places regularly in order to get my fix.

• While I’m on the subject of styles, I’d like to point out my disappointment in America on this front. No, I’m not saying American beers are largely disappointing. That would be insane (though it is not hard to find breweries making terrible, flawed beer). We are living through a craft beer boom, and it’s so much fun. What I am saying is that whenever there is an “American” version of a European style—be it an IPA, pilsner, stout, porter, barleywine, etc.—it essentially means the ABV and the hops are pumped up to a large degree. There is just no creativity in that.

American barleywine sucks. There, I said it. It is a pale shadow of the rich, complex, malty, delicious English counterpart.

Please, craft brewers of America, I beseech you: STOP OVER-HOPPING THESE STYLES. When I can’t tell the difference between an American Barleywine and an imperial IPA, you have failed.

End of rant.

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

Published in Beer