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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Picture it: North Park. San Diego. 2018.

(Sorry, I’ve been watching The Golden Girls lately. Actually, I’m not sorry; that show is brilliant.)

The Coachella Valley, while a wonderful place, is a little short on craft-beer experiences—although some of us are working to make that less true. In the meantime, thirsty desert-dwellers have some great options within a few driving hours—including a neighborhood in San Diego called North Park.

Located off Interstate 805 just south of the 8, North Park is bursting with places to ingest and imbibe all sorts of delicious food and drink. One of my all-time favorite places to have a beer (or four) is Toronado San Diego. I tagged along with my friend Justin, who got more epic tattoo work done by Adam Hathorn at Big Trouble Tattoo (conveniently located next door to and upstairs from the bar). Toronado is a satellite bar of its namesake in San Francisco; the SF location has been open 30 years and is classified by LocalWiki’s site as “a dive bar for beer snobs.” I sadly have never been, but fortunately, the North Park location—which opened almost 10 years ago—is much more accessible to me. I wouldn’t call it a dive, but it’s definitely no-frills: You have a board above the bar teeming with breweries and beer names, and very knowledgeable staffers (such as the lovely Laura) to guide you through your beer experience. Don’t know what you might like? Let her know what you desire, and she will set you up with something to make your taste buds tingle. One of my favorite things about the bar is its devotion to local breweries: If a brewer is right in their neighborhood, they usually don’t bother, but if the brewer is elsewhere in the larger San Diego area, and that brewer produces quality stuff, Toronado will welcome it.

Beyond San Diego, Toronado offers classic beers from Belgium, like the beautiful Rodenbach Grand Cru, in all its blended-vintage, tart, malty glory. Yes, the bar also often carries the infamous Pliny the Elder Double IPA, from Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa. I love Russian River, but take my advice, and try some San Diegan hoppy beers—and you might find that Pliny isn’t as good as you thought. For instance, on my most recent visit, the Hop Swingers IPA—a hazy IPA collaboration from Carlsbad’s Burgeon Beer Company and San Clemente-based Artifex Brewing—blew my mind with its richly tropical and resinous aroma and flavor. On that same trip, I was happy to be joined by and have a great conversation with my good friend James, who lives within walking distance of the bar. (I am deeply jealous yet also relieved that I don’t live that close, for fear that I might end up there too much.) He had a Dark Strong Ale from Belgium called Affligem Noël—a Christmas-spiced abbey-style ale full of flavor.

Enough of my romance with Toronado: There are other places to explore if you’re not as inclined as I am to plant your butt on a bar stool for an entire afternoon. You could go a little down the street and hit the Rip Current Brewing tasting room, and try one of many diverse beers. Belching Beaver Brewery also has a satellite tasting room, and around the corner from that, Tiger!Tiger! is a wonderful place to get a craft beer or two on tap, alongside some inventive bar food. I mean, sausage poutine fries? Come on!

A really fun place to kill time is the Coin-Op Game Room. Play your way through dozens of arcade games—with the help of a great craft-beer selection! A personal favorite is a small bottle shop/tap room franchise called Bottle Craft. The store’s tap list is unique, and you can sip on tasters and nosh charcuterie while perusing bottles and cans of (what for desert residents would be) very hard to find beer. I picked up a bottle of insanely good beer from Brouwerij Boon called Mariage Parfait. This “gueuze” lambic is one of the best: It is a blend of 95 percent 3-year barrel-aged beer, with 5 percent young (less than a year old) lambic. There is also a cherry version of this called a Kriek. Don’t be fooled by the strange Flemish language; these beers are delicacies, pure and simple. I also was able to try the “Forged Series” of four coffee imperial stouts on which Bottle Craft and Mason Ale Works collaborated. Conveniently, they carried a four-pack of cans of each variant. (As good as this place is, the Little Italy location is even better.)

There are some other places I should mention that are just a short Lyft ride away; unfortunately, I don’t have the room to go too deeply into them all:

Modern Times Brewing has two locations: the brewery taproom (complete with a coffee bar serving their delicious coffee), and a North Park tasting room. The beer is great all around—and the décor offers an interesting hipster aesthetic (including chandeliers made from tumbleweeds containing interwoven Christmas tree lights). Both locations can get quite busy.

North Park Beer Co. is located right across the street from Bottle Craft and offers great beer and food from the Mastiff Kitchen, which is an offshoot of the Mastiff Sausage food trucks. They expand out from just serving sausage here, but trust me: The sausage is legit. What’s better with beer than meat in tube form?

Blind Lady Ale House in the nearby Normal Heights neighborhood has a lot—beer, pizza, charcuterie … OK, that’s not a lot, but within those confines, a whole world of flavors are contained. Try some of their own Automatic Brewing beers—made in an impossibly small space at that location.

Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park (yes, friendly faces everywhere) is another classic beer bar in San Diego that rivals Toronado. Indeed, it is a dive bar for beer snobs. The last time I visited, Melvin Brewing from Alpine, Wyo., was holding one of the 2x4 Days—celebrating the release of its incredible 2x4 Double IPA by taking over many taps, showing nothing but martial-arts movies on the TVs, and giving out swag like logo bandannas and ninja star-shaped coasters. The bartender dressed as a ninja really sold it for me, as did the showing of Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman.

If I’m in the North Park area, you’ll likely find me parked at Toronado, planning my next move from there ... if there is one. Happy hunting!

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

Published in Beer

There’s been a turn toward the wild and less-predictable side of beers over the past several years—and the sour-beer spectrum is evolving into a maze of conflicting substyles.

Kettle sours vs. barrel-aged sours? Berliner weisse or gose? What about dry-hopped American kettle sours?

Sour beers are refreshing and delicious during hotter months, but I’m going to go against the yeasty grain and delve into sours now that fall has arrived. What some non-beer-drinkers may not know—I’m looking at you, drinkers of only wine—is that sour beers can be perfect substitutes for wine. This is good news, considering that we’re coming up on the celebratory time of year with Thanksgiving feasts and holiday parties.

The bright, wild, vibrant world of sours offers a wide range of flavors and intensity—meaning they’re perfect for pairing with rich dishes. Many sour beers are fermented using a strain of Brettanomyces yeast, or Brett, for short. Although winemakers consider it a spoiling agent, brewers embrace the funky, flavorful yeast strains that help make sours, well, sour.

Here’s a primer on some of the terms you’ll hear in the world of sours.

Lambic beers: All lambics are spontaneously fermented with naturally occurring wild yeast. They are the only beers fermented via wild, airborne yeast. In other words, no yeast is added by the brewers. This rare style is produced in a very small region of Belgium. Fruit lambics are made by adding whole fruit, fruit pulp or fruit juice to a batch as it ages in oak casks.

Gose: Not to be confused with gueuze, gose is a traditional German-style unfiltered sour wheat beer. Goses are often viewed as perfect summer beers—but let’s face it: Summerish days are still lingering in the Coachella Valley. Characterized by ingredients such as coriander and salt, the German-style gose dates back to medieval Germany. Modern-day gose is usually light and crisp with a touch of sourness.

Flanders red ale: These come from West Flanders, Belgium. English brewmasters had established schedules of aging and blending for their ales in the 17th and 18th centuries, and it’s believed that Flanders brewmasters took this blending practice and ran with it. Flanders reds are aged in barrels or foeders for 8 to 18 months and are more red-wine-like because of black cherry, red currant and orange flavors. Flanders brown ales are more of a modern interpretation. I am a fan of the Duchesse de Bourgogne Brouwerij Verhaeghe. This 6 percent alcohol-by-volume mahogany brown sour is faintly tart with balsamic notes, and is punctuated by rich fruit astringency, plentiful oak and modest vanilla. I also recommend the Bruery Terreux Oude Tart. Aged in red-wine barrels for up to 18 months, this 7.5 percent ABV Flemish-style red is also available with fruit additions of cherries, boysenberries and raspberries.

As for other sour-style beers: The following are worth picking up for your next get-together or celebration:

• 8 Wired Gypsy Funk

• Beachwood Blendery Coolship Chaos

• Boulevard Love Child #8

• Casa Agria Heritage Gold

• Cigar City Lactobacillus Guava Grove

• Crooked Stave St Bretta Citrus Wildbier

• Firestone Walker SLOambic

• Funkwerks Raspberry Provincial

• Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa

• Mikkeller Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse Raspberry

• Oud Beersel Oude Kriek Vieille

• Societe The Thief

• Track 7 Chasing Rainbows

Mistletoes aren’t the only place appropriate for puckering up. Thanks to sours, lip-smacking boozy flavors are perfect just about any time.

Published in Beer

India pale ales—you know them as IPAs—may still be the best-selling beer style, but many of us prefer the darker side of things.

Yes, stouts are perfect as the nights begin to get just a little longer; it’s a great time to enjoy oatmeal-y, chocolate-y, coffee-flavored deliciousness in a glass.

For my money, here are some of the best stouts in the world right now:

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: With more than 12,000 votes and a 4.5 rating (out of 5) on BeerAdvocate.com, this is arguably the best stout in the world. Coming in at 12.8 percent alcohol by volume, the beer offers hints of caramel, bourbon and dried fruit on the nose. This is a full-bodied, smooth stout with flavors of vanilla, oak and yet more bourbon. It’s the epitome of the imperial stout style—a beautifully crafted beer.

Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout: Of the most widely known stouts in America, “KBS” is also one of the best, with a 100 BeerAdvocate.com score. This world-class imperial stout is brewed with a hint of coffee and vanilla, then cave-aged in oak bourbon barrels for an entire year. KBS shines with bold flavors throughout—and the flavors ramp up a couple of notches as the beer warms. 

“You put the right beer in the right barrel, and you’re going to create some pretty interesting flavors,” says Founders brewmaster Jeremy Kosmicki, according to the Founders website.

Firestone Walker Parabola: This barrel-aged beast also has a world-class 100 score from BeerAdvocate.com, and is also aged for a full year in bourbon barrels. With this 14 percent ABV Russian imperial stout, prepare for flavors of sweet, dark berries; oak-y cask vanilla; and malt complexity. The licorice and molasses notes help create a perfectly balanced and amazingly flavorful stout. This is a fantastic nightcap!

While we’re talking about stouts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to mark your calendars for Nov. 2, when stout-lovers across the world will celebrate the delicious, dark beer on the Seventh Annual International Stout Day. Full disclosure: I created the day!

Here are a few of my favorite places to enjoy stouts, as well as a few of my favorite stouts to enjoy, in and around the Coachella Valley:

Coachella Valley Brewing Co. (30640 Gunther St., Thousand Palms) will be celebrating Stout Day with a newly released stout; the details will be announced soon.

La Quinta Brewing Co.’s Koffi Porter is a 6.3 percent ABV beer brewed with dark-roasted, chocolate and crystal malts. After fermentation, brewmasters add coffee beans from Rancho Mirage’s Koffi. This renowned beer has taken home the bronze in both the 2014 World Beer Championships and the 2016 Los Angeles International Beer Competition. It will be on tap at both locations (77917 Wildcat Drive, Palm Desert; and 78065 Main St., No.100, La Quinta) for Stout Day.

King Harbor Brewing Summer Stout: Redondo Beach’s King Harbor is known for its Swirly stout, and the brewery occasionally releases an imperial stout in the winter, but this year, Tom Dunbabin and his brewing team decided they wanted to develop a Summer Stout—with a chocolate and roasted-malt profile, a subtle refreshing character, a lower alcohol by volume and a clean finish. Expect to see this beer and other King Harbor brews around the Coachella Valley this fall and winter—and if you’re feeling like a road trip, King Harbor will be hosting a Stout Day event at the brewery on Nov. 2.

The Beer Hunter (78483 Highway 111, La Quinta) is not to be confused with the beer writer named Michael Jackson, who used the moniker The Beer Hunter, and was the best beer writer the world has known; he passed away in 2007. I am talking about the sports bar in La Quinta that is stepping up its game with new and bigger selections, as well as its own white-label beers that are brewed locally. Stop in on Nov. 2 to celebrate Stout Day!

Want to stay in to celebrate stouts? I have found the selections of craft beer at Total Wine and More, Whole Foods, Jensen’s Foods and Bristol Farms to all be fantastic. Pour your own stout flights, and have guests pick their favorites!

International Stout Day gives stouts their day in the spotlight, which they so rightly deserve. On Nov. 2, be sure to login and rate your stouts, and check in where you’re celebrating, on Untappd! Every year, the app offers up special badges for celebrating the holiday.

Enjoy!

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

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

On April 1, Dennis and Kathleen Ford will celebrate the third anniversary of their purchase of Schmidy’s Tavern in Palm Desert.

Under the Fords, Schmidy’s has become one of the Coachella Valley’s most welcoming local-music venues, and has developed a great reputation among beer-lovers thanks to its impressive selection of craft beers and good food.

That’s why it’s heartbreaking to many that on that third anniversary—barring a miracle or sudden change of plans—Schmidy’s Tavern will close.

“As of April 1, 2016, Schmidy’s Tavern will be closing our doors for good,” Dennis Ford said in a Feb. 8 statement on Facebook. “We do not have a lease and have not had one for a year now. Our landlord wants to raise the rent 112 percent, and we simply cannot afford that. We have been paying 50 percent more for the past year, and it has taken its toll.

“We cannot continue like this.”


Several days after the announcement, Dennis and Kathleen Ford sat on the patio of Schmidy’s and discussed the anguish they were feeling—anguish they largely blamed on the landlord, Realty Trust Group of Wildomar, Calif.

“Our original lease expired a year ago this month. We’ve been month to month ever since,” Dennis Ford said. “I tried to negotiate a new lease with them back in December 2014, and they weren’t responsive. When they finally did respond, there was a 112 percent increase. I sent them the counteroffer that December, and didn’t hear back until March 2015, after the lease expired. They’ve been stuck on this number, and that’s something as a small business we just can’t absorb. I can’t sell enough beer to justify a 112 percent rent increase.

“For the last year, we’ve been paying 50 percent more. Anytime you’re month to month, you pay a higher rate. It’s to the point where it’s not worth it anymore. We have to do something before we die a slow and painful death and become completely broke.”

Dennis Ford said the problems with the lease have roots in the Great Recession.

“The original owner opened this place in 2009 and had an original lease in place,” he said. “In 2010 or 2011, during the heart of the recession, everyone was struggling, and they renegotiated their lease down to a certain dollar amount for the balance of the lease. When we came in and bought the place, we assumed that was the lease (with) the dollar amount that was renegotiated.

“When the lease expired, they went back to what they were getting at the end of the lease, before it was renegotiated. They’re trying to make up the money they lost when they renegotiated, and from what I see around here, that (lower) renegotiated rent amount should be the rent.”

Dennis Ford explained how they came to own the bar.

“We lived in Carlsbad for 25 years, and I worked in a manufacturing company. (The company) relocated to Dallas, and we moved to Dallas and lived there for about four years,” he said. “I ended up actually leaving the company after 20-something years, and we wanted to move back to California. We talked about buying a bar for years and always wanted to do that. We decided to move here, and instead of looking for jobs, we looked for a place to buy, and found this on a business-for-sale website. We’ve always liked it out here, and when we lived in Carlsbad, we would come out here whenever we could.

“We saw this place. The price was right. It wasn’t doing a lot of business at the time, but we saw the potential in it, and we thought, ‘What the hell? Let’s give it a shot!’ On April 1, 2013, we took over. Three years to the day we took over, we’ll be closing.”

The Fords didn’t originally intend for Schmidy’s to become a music venue; they just wanted it to be a regular neighborhood bar, and had no plans to have live music at all. However, in time, Schmidy’s became one of the most-welcoming music venues for local bands.

“About a month and a half after we took over, we had Caxton and Burning Bettie play here,” Dennis Ford remembered. “One of my old bartenders who was here after we just bought it was friends with Caxton. He had arranged it and left. Christina (Reyes) from Caxton got hold of me and asked, ‘Are we still doing the show?’ And I said, ‘Why not?’

“They came in and did it on a Saturday night—and the place was packed. I thought, ‘Wow, this might be something.’ Being as naïve as I was at the time, I thought if you brought any band in here, this place would be packed. I’d bring in cover bands, and there would be 10 people, and I realized that wasn’t working. I don’t know how, but somehow, it just evolved, using original bands. That’s when I realized that was the key to this place: You get three local bands a night, and that’s three fan bases. Cover bands don’t have a fan base. We had no idea that it’d turn into what it did.”

The Fords also had no idea Schmidy’s would become one of the valley’s most-liked craft-beer purveyors.

“I knew nothing about craft beer when I took over this place, and I’m still not a craft-beer drinker. I don’t care for it myself, and I drink Coors Light,” Dennis Ford said with a laugh. “We have it because of a bartender we had, and he knew craft beer. When he left five weeks into us owning it, it was basically up to me to decide what beers to bring in. … That was tough, because I knew nothing about it. I’ve learned a lot about it over the past three years.

“I don’t like (craft beer), but I know a lot about it.”


Many local bands have a love for Schmidy’s; the bar was the site of the first public shows for more than a handful of them. Jack Kohler, of War Drum, also runs his own promotion company, named Fortune Finder Music Group. He recently started booking shows at Schmidy’s after leaving The Hood Bar and Pizza.

“I think Dennis and Kathy are really genuine toward local bands,” Kohler said. “We do local acts most of the time—and it’s tough to do all local all the time. Dennis and Kathleen have always been about equal-opportunity toward bands and letting them play: rock, rap and hip hop, whatever—everyone has a chance

“Now with this venue closing, it’s a very critical wound to the scene, because this is another original local music venue being thrown under the bus. I know that there are other venues such as The Hood Bar and Pizza and Bart Lounge, and (local promoter) BB Ingle is going to open up something where he does live and local entertainment, but Schmidy’s was crucial for bands to play at, and there’s a lot of history there. A lot of bands have cut their teeth at Schmidy’s, for sure, and it’s going to be very damaging when it closes.”

Dennis Ford said his reputation in the local-music community is a great source of pride.

“That’s the one thing I’m most proud of with this place: I’ll give anyone a chance,” he said. “You don’t have to be an established name to play here. It doesn’t matter to me, and we do all genres. We’re the only place that did that. We had a Motown show here where the average age was 65, and it was so full in here at $20 a head that we had to turn people away. We had metal, country music and whatever else.”


Schmidy’s has also been willing to open its doors to good causes. During a recent open-mic night at Schmidy’s that Blasting Echo frontman Josh Heinz hosts on a weekly basis, he talked about the support Schmidy’s offered him for his annual Concert for Autism.

“Schmidy’s, to me, is Dennis and Kathy, and their role and their warmth toward the music community,” Heinz said. “They provide a place to play for a lot of bands that some of the other places wouldn’t let in—not because the bands are bad bands, but because they’re young. They did underage shows and would let them play in the afternoons and early evenings. No other place would do that.

“Dennis and Kathy were 100 percent supportive of the autism benefit and me doing it. They let us come in here and would donate some of their receipts at the end of the night to the cause. It’s very nice to have owners of a bar like that, because not a lot of venues are that nice. That comes from experience of more than 20 years of my playing in Memphis and playing here.”

It wasn’t just Heinz’s autism cause that Schmidy’s helped out; many other local charities and people who had fallen on hard times found a helping hand at Schmidy’s. Just one example: When Musicians Outlet in Palm Desert burned down last year, the Fords hosted a benefit show.

“When we saw what happened to Musicians Outlet, we were like, ‘Oh my god! I can’t believe that happened!’” Kathleen Ford said. “We’re a small business, and that would crush us if that happened to us. That’s why we did that.

“We also did one benefit where we helped a young kid with leukemia.”

While the Fords didn’t originally intend for Schmidy’s to become a local music venue, Dennis Ford said it was never a question whether Schmidy’s would give back to the community.

“To me, that’s something that needs to happen. People come here and spend their money, and if someone needs something, we give back,” he said. “Pretty much all of the benefits we’ve done, we’ve donated anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the bar sales that night to that particular cause. For one, it makes you feel good, and two, you get publicity out of it—and you can’t buy that kind of publicity.

“A local musician named Rob Lawrence is putting together a benefit we’re doing in March for abused and abandoned animals. Kathy and I love animals, and it’s something I wanted to do. When I made the decision to shut down, I didn’t want to look like we were raising money and keeping it for ourselves before closing down and leaving. I don’t want to touch the money, because I don’t want anyone saying anything. But I enjoy doing benefits for genuine causes.”

When the subject of retirement came up, Dennis and Kathleen Ford laughed. “In your dreams,” Kathleen said to Dennis, laughing.

That laughter temporarily masked the fact they’d just endured one of the toughest weeks of their life, and that Schmidy’s closing has taken a financial toll on the family. The Fords said they had already decided what to do after they close Schmidy’s doors on April 1 (barring a miracle).

“Three months ago, we knew we had to pick a date. April is our worst month, because everyone is going to Coachella and Stagecoach,” Dennis Ford said. “There might be a small glimmer of hope that we’ll be able to stay open or find somewhere else, but I’ve been telling everyone, ‘I hope for the best, but expect the worst.’

“We own a house in Dallas, Texas, and we’re moving back. We have grandkids down there in Houston, and Kathy wants to be closer to them, and we’re a little closer to my family in Illinois—and my parents aren’t getting any younger. It just seems like the right thing to do to go back there. Unfortunately, we’ll probably have to find jobs, and there are no jobs out here. My experience is in manufacturing, and there’s not any of that here—and tons of it down there. I would love to open up another bar, because it’s so much cheaper to do business down there. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. because of the amount of money we’re losing here by closing up.

“People ask, ‘Why don’t you sell it?’ No one is going to buy this place without a lease.”

The Independent left several messages with the Realty Trust Group requesting to talk to somebody for this story, but received no response.


In Schmidy’s Tavern’s final days, the Fords plan to thank the local bands that have played there by bringing them in for a marathon series of events.

“We’ve just been so immersed in the music scene here, and I feel like we’re letting these local bands down,” Dennis Ford said. “I can’t help but feel it’s my fault, and at the same time, I have to look out for what’s best for Kathy and me. We put our retirement into this place.

“The day that I made the announcement we were closing, I went home at 2 in the afternoon. I couldn’t be here. I jumped on my bike and went for a ride, and I thought, ‘I want to have a blowout month of March.’ I want to get all the bands who have ever played here back in here during the month of March. I stopped, and I sent Jack (Kohler) a text to try to get every band that ever played here.”

For more information on Schmidy’s Tavern, located at 72286 Highway 111, Suite J3, in Palm Desert, call 760-837-3800, or visit the Schmidy’s Tavern Facebook page. Schmidy’s will host the End of the World Festival from Thursday, March 24, through Sunday, March 27, to celebrate Schmidy’s brief but powerful local-music legacy, and to support the Fords. Watch the event’s Facebook page for details.

Local beer weeks celebrate the culture and community of craft brewers across the U.S. These events give the beer-lover a chance to taste a variety of rare and new beers, meet area brewmasters and hang out with fellow beer-drinkers.

Featuring local breweries, pubs and restaurants at their best, beer weeks allow attendees to experience a “beercation” filled with gastronomic pairings, rare tastings, beer dinners and festivals showcasing thoughtfully crafted suds.

While the Coachella Valley may not have as many breweries as, say, Los Angeles or San Diego, the rate at which the craft-beer revolution has taken hold and demanded attention here is impressive. Two award-winning Coachella Valley breweries—Coachella Valley Brewing Co. and La Quinta Brewing Co.—are celebrating their second anniversaries this year, while Rancho Mirage’s Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse has taken home a lot of notable craft-beer awards—including the 2015 California State Brewery of the Year honor from the California State Fair.

Therefore, it’s time for our area to have a beer week of its own: Introducing Coachella Valley Beer Week, to be held Nov. 13-22.

CVBW is a 10-day, valley-wide celebration aimed at attracting beer and foodie tourism. It focuses on our fantastic local breweries as well as surrounding Southern California craft brewers. It will feature festivals, beer dinners, tours, pub/restaurant crawls, tastings and more. Full disclosure: I am one of the two founders of the week; Brent Schmidman, aka Schmidy, is the other.

We will be kicking off the week with the Beer Goddess Brewmasters’ Dinner on Friday, Nov. 13, at the Purple Room in Palm Springs. Chef Jennifer Town is preparing the perfect menu, using a handful of Southern California craft beers. Mingle and chat with some of your favorite brewmasters, the Beer Goddess (aka me!) and chef Jen; then sit down for a delicious dinner while the brewmasters head to the stage to talk about their beers. The cost is $69 per person.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, join us for the first Indio California Barbeque State Championship and Festival, at the Lights at Indio Golf Course. The festival, put on the city of Indio and various groups, will include a sanctioned state barbecue championship contest featuring up to 50 of the best pit-masters in the state, all competing for a prize pool of up to $10,000. Of course, great barbecue will also be sold to the public. Additional activities include a local “King of the Desert” BBQ competition, live music, games, craft beer and more. Entry is free and open to the public.

After the festival, head over to Coachella Valley Brewing Co. for a rare event: the “Below Sea Level” Hi Low Beer Release. This Guinness World Records contender is believed to be the first and only beer brewed at the lowest elevation in the country. CVB’s brewmaster Chris Anderson and Brent Schmidman brewed this 13.6 percent alcohol-by-volume imperial blonde stout in Death Valley, Calif. No tickets are required.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, join us in Palm Springs for the Beer Goddess Buzz Crawl, aboard the one and only free Palm Springs Buzz bus. Take a ride around Palm Springs, and savor favorite craft beers at some of the most swanky Palm Springs bars and restaurants. Buzz Crawl pick up will be approximately every 15 minutes at each stop. Stay as long as you want at any location, or make it a night and hit our top favorite craft stops from these participating locations: Workshop, Trio, Bar, Fame Lounge, Matchbox, Gyoro Gyoro, the Hacienda Cantina and Beach Club, the Ace Hotel and the Purple Room.

If you’d rather stay in one place that evening, head over to Eureka Burger in Indian Wells for “Nite of the Barrels 1.” This is an evening of learning, featuring one of the most popular craft beer styles: wine-barrel-aged beers. Taste a variety of California beers with their accompanying wine varietals, and compare the nuances. A variety of cheeses and crackers will be included in the tasting. Make sure to reserve your seat; watch the Coachella Valley Beer Week website for details.

Experience a sushi craft-beer dinner like none other on Monday, Nov. 16, at Palm Springs’ Gyoro Gyoro. Unlike most sushi restaurants, Gyoro Gyoro has a nice selection of not only American craft beers, but Japanese craft beers. More information will be available soon, so watch the website.

On Thursday, Nov. 19, head back to Eureka Burger for “Nite of the Barrels 2.” Bourbon-barrel-aged craft beers have a unique complexity that is full of flavor and perfect for cooler evenings. Come taste these complex beers alongside the very same bourbons that were aged in those barrels. Note the similarities, and see how the beers pick up different flavors and nuances from the bourbons.

On Friday morning, Nov. 20, come hit some balls with your favorite brewmasters from various breweries! You don’t need to be a great golfer to participate in the Brewmasters Shotgun Golf Event; everyone’s welcome. Get paired with a brewery team, and enjoy free pours as you play to win various prizes and awards. Cigars and snacks are also available. It costs $120, and there’s limited availability, so reserve soon!

On Friday evening, Nov. 20, the largest area guest-bartender brewfest will commence. This mini-block party will feature eight Southern California breweries and eight local charities. Watch the website for details.

That same night, head to Indio to check out live music and live ale at the Tack Room Tavern’s Caxton-n-Cask event. Sip local cask ale from our three local breweries while listening to one of our favorite local bands, Caxton. The breweries will be adding special ingredients, using some of the oldest and traditional methods of secondary fermentation, to create these amazing one-time cask ales.

On Saturday, Nov. 21, don’t miss out on the annual Props and Hops Craft Beer Festival at the Palm Springs Air Museum. Last year, we put together a rare in-flight beer-tasting in a vintage World War II airplane—and we’re doing that again this year! Enjoy more than 30 craft breweries, great food and live music, all while taking in the Palm Springs mountain views.

More events are being added, so watch the website for updates, changes and additions. Be a part of the first ever Coachella Valley Beer Week, and find out what makes our valley a great part of the craft beer revolution!

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

It’s time to take a look back at another glorious year for the craft beer industry. The year that was 2014 wasn’t just great for beer; it was a push-the-envelope, challenge-the-palate, variety-exploding year.

In November, there were more than 3,200 breweries in the United States, with more than 2,000 in the planning stages, according to the Brewers Association. The majority of Americans now live within 10 miles of a craft brewer.

So, what were some of the largest and inspiring stories and trends of 2014?

Transporting American Craft-Beer Culture to the Old World

History was made in July 2014, when Green Flash became the first U.S. craft brewery to begin making and selling fresh beer in the European market. The San Diego brewery started selling its signature West Coast IPA, brewed and bottled at traditional abbey brewery St-Feuillien, in Belgium.

Around the same time, Escondido’s Stone Brewing Company announced plans to open a Stone facility in the old world: America’s 10th-largest craft brewer will build and operate a brewery and beer garden in Berlin, Germany, with an expected opening in late 2015. The Brewery’s “Stone Groundbreaking Collaborations” campaign on Indiegogo earlier this year had a stated goal of $1 million; the brewery wound up bringing in more than $2.5 million.

These two breweries make in-your-face, West Coast style IPAs. This speaks volumes about the craft beer drinker’s voice and the recent global domination of American craft beer.

This brings me to the next obvious trend.

India Pale Ales (IPAs) Remain the Most Favored Craft-Beer Style

These hop-laden beers have come full circle: IPAs are up 47 percent by volume and 49 percent by dollar sales, according to the Homebrewers Association. The style was the most-entered category at the Great American Beer Festival in September.

Because of the massive popularity, a new, more “sessionable” version of the IPA is now favored by many. At less than 5 percent alcohol by volume, session beers are easier to sip by the six-pack. Try Stone Go To IPA, Firestone Walker Easy Jack, or—one of the newer Los Angeles beers on the block—Three Weavers Stateside, a 4.5 percent session IPA.

Canning Continues to Get More Craft Beer Into More Places

Tin is in!

Can are cheaper to produce, and require less energy to cool down. Less packaging means packing more beer in less space, which reduces a brewery’s carbon footprint.

According to CraftCans.com, there are now 453 breweries with more than 1,600 craft brewed canned beers now available across the United States.

As a matter of fact, the airlines are getting in on the craft canned trend. In early December, Delta Air Lines began stocking carts with a selection of regional craft beers from breweries like Ballast Point, Lagunitas Brewing and Stone Brewing.

On a local level, La Quinta Brewing started canning in February 2014 with The Can Van. New painted cans that are now making their way into stores.

The Rise of American Wild Ales

Sours are made by introducing bacteria and/or wild yeast strains into the beer. And the results? Think bright, tart, funky and mysterious. Building off classic Belgian and German styles, U.S. breweries are harnessing wild yeast, creating beers with novel dimensions of aroma and flavor.

Coachella Valley Brewing started a sour program when they first opened their brewery, more than a year ago. CVB’s sours will be offered in small allotments for Fault Line Society members, and in the tasting room in 2015, starting with Framboys, a boysenberry raspberry framboise. Keep an eye out for Flame Rouges, an American wild brewed with red flame raisins. Both are aged in port and cabernet wine barrels.

CVB will also be releasing Epineux Poire, an American wild brewed with locally foraged prickly pear cactus fruit. Persnickety, CVB’s persimmon sour, will also make an appearance next year. If the beers don’t sell out to the FLS members, the remainder will go on public sale.

“I think in 2015, you will see more and more of beer-style fusion,” said Coachella Valley Brewing’s Chris Anderson. “Think along the lines of a Belgian IPA. I think farmhouse ales, wild ales and Brett beers (created by a funky wild yeast) will all continue to be hot.”

The Rise of the Farm-to-Table Movement

The convergence of the slow-food movement and the craft-beer revolution has led to fantastic events and exhibits, like the Great American Beer Festival’s Farm to Table Pavilion. The Pavilion provided 28 pairings designed and prepared by small and independent breweries and chefs from around the country. Coachella Valley Brewing was specially selected to pour, and was also chosen to present a special “Farm to Glass” tasting for 200 people.

“I found that our beers were very unique and innovative compared to other breweries, and it inspired me to see more breweries jumping into the concept of farm to glass,” he said, referring to the use of more fresh, local ingredients in beers.

Farmhouse ales have also seen a huge spike in sales. With applications of new-wave hop varietals like Citra, Mosaic, El Dorado and Hallertau Blanc, more people are asking for those less-bitter beers and raising their glass to juicier brews.

Breweries, like CVB, are embracing agriculture and sourcing even more local fruits, vegetables and grains. More people are recognizing the compatibility of craft beer and contemporary cuisine, too, with more beer-and-food pairings. If in the Los Angeles area, stop by Hook and Plow. Locally, don’t miss Workshop Kitchen + Bar, which offers farm-fresh heirlooms, wild arugula, watermelon, champagne grapes and lemon cucumbers in season, along with a nice selection of Southern California craft beer.

Nano Breweries Continue to Open

When it comes to beer, size really doesn’t matter. Nano breweries, often started with a single batch of homebrewed beer, typically produce one batch at a time. They represent craft in the truest sense. Also referred to as pico breweries, nano brewers make beer on a three-barrel system or smaller. There were reportedly more than 300 breweries operating in the United States as of the summer of 2014 that would qualify as nano breweries.

San Diego’s Hess Brewing opened in 2010 and produced about 1.6 barrels of beer per batch. Mike Hess Brewing has since grown to include two locations: the original “nano” in the Miramar area, and a production brewery in North Park, San Diego.

Big Success for Local Breweries

In Rancho Mirage, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse celebrated a massive win this year when the brewery took home a medal at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The beloved restaurant and brewhouse nabbed its first-ever GABF medal in the “Belgian-Style Blonde Ale or Pale” category for the Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale. Babe’s is also reportedly celebrating a 110 percent increase in off-site sales from 2013 to 2014.

Over at CVB, Tom Del Sarto, the director of sales, spearheaded distribution deals with Young’s Market Company to sell the brewery’s beers throughout California and now Arizona.

It’s a trend: More and more people are eschewing big, mass-market brands in favor of craft beer. Del Sarto noted the fall of Budweiser’s annual barrel sales from 30 million barrels in 2003, to 16 million in 2014. Meanwhile, the craft-beer industry has gone from selling 5 million barrels in 2003, to 16.1 million barrels this year. As a result, more craft beer is appearing in restaurants and grocery stores alike.

“National chains are giving more autonomy to regional stores as customers are seeking local brands, adding to the major breweries’ decline in volume," said Del Sarto.

La Quinta Brewing, as noted earlier, has also had a big year. Owner Scott Stokes said he’s been pleasantly surprised at the acceptance and support of craft beer in the desert in 2014.

“Just the attendance and success of this year’s Props and Hops Festival, compared to two years ago, illustrates the passion that desert residents have for craft beer,” he said.

He went on to add: “We’re proud to say that after only a year, La Quinta is the second-most-widely distributed craft beer in terms of bars and restaurants within the Coachella Valley, just behind New Belgium (Fat Tire).”

Bring on the next round, 2015!

Published in Beer

Located just 70 miles or so from the Coachella Valley, Temecula is known as Southern California’s wine country; the charming California town and surrounding area produce more than 50 different varietals of wine.

This is a great thing for the craft-beer industry. Brewers for years have been using wine-making techniques, like-barrel aging, to produce amazing beers. And today, the rolling hills and plateaus of the Temecula Valley are not just the home of fantastic wineries; they’re now home to some fantastic breweries, too.

Founded in 2009, Black Market Brewing Co. is the beer-maker that broke ground in wine country with the much-loved Hefeweizen. The Bavarian-style ale is a semi-crisp 5.0 percent alcohol-by-volume unfiltered wheat beer that pours a hazy, California sun yellow, and showcases unique fruit and spice characters like clove, orange peel, banana and sweet bread. Brewed in the spirit of the German purity law, the flagship beer won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival this year. It continues to be Black Market’s biggest-selling beer.

I spoke with Black Market’s lead brewer, Aaron Heyden, and asked him what it’s like to be a brewer in wine country.

“I think it’s good, because there’s already a built-in market for those who want to drink,” he said. “It’s natural that we get spillover from wine country.” In fact, Black Market is working on distribution in another part of California that’s big into wine—the Central Coast.

Aaron is a big fan of IPAs, with fresh hop aroma and flavor—and without the big bitter taste.

“I was always on the quest to make the best IPA,” he said. “It’s kinda hard to make really good IPAs. That’s a great test for a good brewery.”

Black Market currently produces 4,000 barrels annually; the goal is to boost that to about 10,000 annual barrels within the next five years.

Pouring an orange-red, the imperial red ale, called Invasion, is a delicious West Coast-style imperial with a whopping 9.9 percent ABV. Using Centennial and El Dorado hops, this brew gives off loads of flower and fruit flavors, like pear and stone fruit. Columbus hops give Invasion an earthy black pepper character.

Keep an eye out for Black Market’s Holiday 2014, a triple black rye IPA, coming out in December. This is a flavorful holiday version of Cascadian dark-style ale (also called a black IPA). It has a pungent aroma of citrus and resinous hops alongside spicy rye earthiness. The brewery is also working on a collaboration holiday brew withValiant Brewing, with smoked pine leaves and vanilla.

Less than a mile away from Black Market is Ironfire Brewery. This brewery’s goal is to build up its barrel-aging program, so if you love bourbon-barrel-aged beers and sours, this is a place to visit. 

John Maino and Greg Webb met at Ballast Point in San Diego and decided to start their own brewery in Temecula. They are on pace to produce somewhere between 1,600 and 2,000 barrels this year; the brewery will be able to max out at 8,800 barrels annually. The brewery plans on growing, having recently added a 60 barrel fermenters and a bright tank.

“We have bourbon barrels, Jack Daniel’s barrels, rye-whiskey barrels, white-wine barrels, red-wine barrels and cognac barrels. We have 30-year-old rum barrels. We have a very diverse collection of barrels,” said Webb, Ironfire’s vice president.

About a year after opening in 2012, the brewery released Collateral Damage. It is an imperial porter aged for 14 months in Maker’s Mark barrels. The Outcast Dead, aged six months in Tennessee whiskey barrels, is available now in the tasting room on draft and in bottles. Don’t miss the best-seller, the 51/50 IPA.

The brewery self-distributes in Temecula, because the owners want supporters to get to know them personally, and they want to make sure they offer the freshest beer possible.

Refuge Brewery is yet another great brewery in wine country. The folks there specialize in handcrafted small-batch Belgian ales. Back on tap are the Illusion IPA, a 6.5 percent ABV Belgian style IPA, and Mystique, a 9.8 percent ABV Belgian-style dark strong ale. Mystique is a sweetly decadent beer with dark burnt flavors and chocolate undertones. They hope to be bottling more specialty Belgian-style beers by the beginning of next year.

Refuge’s flagship Blood Orange Wit is Southern California sunshine in a glass. The brewery just canned the first full run of it on Nov. 13.

Glenn Wichert, the co-founder and vice president of brewery operations, explained why the brewery uses more than 200 pounds of blood oranges in every beer batch.

“It’s a lot of labor, but it really gives the beer that freshness,” he said. “It’s not always exactly the same, because the oranges are at different stages of ripening, but that’s what’s cool about it.”

Wichert said he loves the fact that wine barrels are at Refuge’s disposal on a consistent basis.

“Our Belgian beers age well in these wine barrels,” he said.

More bold flavors were introduced to wine-country palates when Wiens Brewing opened in November 2012. Weins Brewing Company just celebrated its two year anniversary with the release of several special beers that were all aged in bourbon barrels, and then blended for the year’s release.

Other beers include the Type 3 IPA, a tropical hop bomb with five different hops and four different malts. Another popular brew is the hoppy lager, the Millennium Falconers IPL, brewed with Millennium and Falconers Flight hops, which impart a crisp citrus and tropical flavor.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Wiens Family Cellars is known for big red wines like Refugio Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Grand Rouge.

While you’re in Temecula, also check out Aftershock Brewing, Bulldog Brewery, Electric Brewing Co. and Garage Brewing Co. If you don’t want to worry about driving, consider hiring the great folks at Brewery Tours of Temecula. Ask for Toby; you won’t be disappointed!

There is an old saying in the wine business: “It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine!” At the end of a long day in the field or in the cellar, many wine-makers turn to beer to quench their thirst. And in the Temecula Valley, there’s now plenty of both delicious beverages.

Below: Founded in 2009, Black Market Brewing Co. is the beer-maker that broke ground in wine country. Photo by Erin Peters.

Published in Beer

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