CVIndependent

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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Brett Newton

Ladies and gentlemen, the state of the local craft-beer scene is … puzzling.

I've racked my brain for ways that I can approach this topic, and I’ve decided to just write what comes to mind. I wonder if it will get me in as much trouble as last year's version of this column did. (Caring if it gets me in trouble, however, is something I cannot bring myself to do.) I've done something unusual for me and made a resolution for the new year: I’m trying a more Buddhist approach, to not let what could or should be happening (in my opinion, of course) cause me to suffer over what actually is happening. I don’t want my hopes for the craft-beer scene to overshadow what good exists here.

With that ominous foreword, let's get this show on the road.

There have been some positive changes over the last year. Before I began writing this, Will Sperling at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club announced a barrel-aged beer festival, also featuring ciders and meads, coming in March. Some of the participants should include De Garde, Mumford, Bottle Logic, Bagby Beer Company and Superstition Meadery (which makes world-class meads like the Peanut Butter Jelly Crime, which is life-altering in its deliciousness). This is, by far, the best news for the valley's beer scene, as we were deprived of the Rhythm, Wine and Brews festival last year (for a laughable reason). However, the RWB, Props and Hops, and Brew in LQ festivals are really just get-togethers that also include some craft beer, if I'm being honest.

This past year has seen an influx of some great breweries' beers ending up in stores and on tap in select places. I've noticed expanded lists of beer—like some of Bottle Logic's barrel-aged releases—at places like Whole Foods, which stocks all of the beer cold. I cannot stress how important that last point is. I just wish the Tap-In Taproom inside the Whole Foods would get beer on draft that’s half as good as what's on the shelves.

(Remember, Brett: Concentrate on what is and not what should be.)

In other news, there was a somewhat comical game of musical chairs in the local brewery world. This is the spot where I should note that I work for one of the local breweries, and I don't like to mention names when discussing them in this column due to a possible appearance of bias. I feel like I'm just as hard—if not harder—on my own brewery than the others, but I'd rather just avoid the whole issue. That being said, strap in for this roller coaster: A long-time head brewer went over to another local brewery. The former brewery then promoted someone with minimal experience to the position of head brewer, and then proceeded to hire a head brewer from a different local brewery to be the assistant brewer. I wish I were making this up as some sort of Twilight Zone episode for my own amusement, but I am not. I hope it somehow leads to better beer from all the parties involved (and it tentatively seems to have done so for one of the parties). Stay tuned and decide for yourself; you'll just have to forgive my skepticism in this regard.

A series of beer dinners happened courtesy of the Juniper Table at the Kimpton Rowan in Palm Springs. I helped with one over the summer, and the food was fantastic. However, they made the common mistake of just picking some beers they liked and somewhat blindly pairing them with these amazing dishes. Overall, it turned out fine, but as far as beer-pairings go, it was less than ideal. This is a point I wish I could get to every chef who wants to put on a beer dinner: There is more to pairing beer with food than picking a beer, using it in the dish, and then pairing said beer with that course. I've been to events where the beer and the food was really well-paired, and it's a magical experience for which every chef and beer-lover should strive. The best part is that there are so many right answers to the question of what to pair with any given dish; the only limits are beer availability and one’s imagination. The desert really has some amazing restaurants of all stripes, and I would love to see a proper beer dinner in the near future. In fact, if I have my way, there may be one soon enough.

My last compliment and criticism is aimed at Eureka! Burger in Indian Wells. Last year, they changed some of the (in my opinion, far too many) "permanent" taps, and it resulted in the appearance of some beauties such as Modern Times' Black House coffee stout, Beachwood's Citraholic IPA, and Melvin's 2x4 double IPA. They then proceeded to put the permanent beers they replaced on their rotating taps and sell them on their "Steal the Glass" nights for months afterward.

As I've stated before, Eureka! is a place I frequent; I love the staff, the food, the whiskey, the cocktails and sometimes the beer that is on tap. However, I don't think they prioritize craft beer very highly (and I'm fairly certain it's not their leading moneymaker), and I don't think the people making the decisions on which beers to purchase know much about the subject. Despite all of this, it is still a place I recommend, and I hope they will eventually "get it." We now have considerable resources for bars here to have a killer craft lineup. The Amigo Room at the aforementioned Ace Hotel is leading the way in this respect.

I still have hope for our beer scene. It has grown a bit in the past year, including the opening of two small breweries, Desert Beer Company and Las Palmas Brewing. I have also seen some plans for another, larger brewery that I hope will happen sooner rather than later—but that is all I can say about that here. I bring it up only to say there is more change on the horizon, and I want to help build our craft-beer scene into something special and worthy of being in the shadow of the neighboring giants in Southern California. Higher standards, hard work, some imagination, some time and a bit of luck, perhaps, is all we need to get there.

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..

My regular readers (yes, some people tell me they are regular readers, without any prompting on my part—and yes, one of them is my mother; hi, Mom!) know I try to shy away from clichés in my column.

However, this month, I’m feeling the Christmas spirit, and I want to help those who are not as deep into craft beer find legitimately great gifts for the zythophile in their lives … so it’s time for a cliché: The Holiday Gift List.

I will limit this list to things I have experienced, either by myself or through friends, so I don’t lead anyone too far astray:

The Cap Zappa Beer Cap Launcher: I first saw this being used on a YouTube channel and immediately knew I needed to have one. It was surprisingly hard to track down a couple of years ago when I got mine, but now you can find many different kinds of fun, cap-shooting openers. My friend’s wife gave me a pistol-shaped version, which is now being employed at my taproom. They are simple but they bring a disproportionate amount of joy for the money.

Growlerwerks Carbonated Growlers: A growler, for the uninitiated, is a to-go container for beer on tap. I have a love/hate relationship with growlers—and by “love/hate,” I primarily mean “hate.” They’re not a great medium for beer—but they are a great way for a brewery taproom to make money. Even assuming the growlers are properly cleaned and carbon-dioxide-purged before being filled with beer, that beer really should be consumed the same day you open the growler. What if you just wanted a pint? Well, Growlerwerks provides the solution with the use of a replaceable carbon dioxide cartridge housed under the cap, with a dial above it to regulate the pressure. The upshot of all this: You’ll have a 64- or 128-ounce miniature keg sitting in your fridge with a spigot at the bottom. Plus, they look really sharp. I’ve never not seen one start a conversation at the taproom when they are brought in to be filled. For about $150-$200, you can seriously impress the beer-lover in your life.

The Rare Beer Club: I wish I could say that my experience with this club comes through my own subscription, but alas, this is a little too expensive for my budget. A friend of mine has a wife who was loving enough to get this for him, and I’ve benefited from rummaging through the built-up collection of bottles from the club. My verdict? It’s fantastic. Some of the beers are true rarities that I will probably never get my hands on again—some because they are incredibly hard to acquire, and others because they were one-offs, never to be brewed again. Like the Biere De Goord from Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales; it’s a saison-style ale with kale, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, green tea and peppercorns. Does that sound weird? Yes. Did it taste good? Hell yes—and I’ve never had another beer like it. The best part is that, if you loved one of the beers you were sent that month (and that’s two, four or six bottles of each, depending on the subscription level) and absolutely need more, you can buy more. This is just the tip of the iceberg for customization, too. You can replace upcoming beers with ones you loved in the past, if available, or add more of any beer to the next shipment. As I write this, I’m pondering what I need to cut out of my life financially in order to accommodate one of these memberships. Beer is technically food, right?

Brewery memberships: Some breweries offer yearly memberships that include discounts, exclusives and beer allocations. The terms obviously vary from brewery to brewery, but the gist is that you sign up; pay the requisite fee; and reap the benefits. There are breweries that offer little more than special glassware for you to use while at the taproom, plus a discount. Others offer first cracks at the latest beer releases, discounts, member parties and more. The Bruery in Orange County is the first brewery I can remember doing this, more than a decade ago, and now that brewery offers many tiers of membership that can be paid for in myriad ways. The Bruery went through a lot of growing pains while ironing out flaws in the membership models—and other breweries have learned by example when it comes to making their clubs.

But let me repeat myself: Not all brewery memberships are created equal. I’ve even seen breweries sell memberships to people before opening their doors. This is as pure of an example of caveat emptor as you are going to find, and I wish you luck and success if you decide to do this. My recommendation is to partake in the clubs of established breweries; if possible, speak with current members of the club to gauge worthiness.

Now feel free to cut and paste this list into your letter to Santa … and let’s hope he brings me that Rare Beer Club membership rather than the coal I probably deserve.

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..

The influx of clueless drivers with Washington-state license plates indicates we are nearing the tourist season here in the desert. (Side note to those drivers: If you miss a turn, that's your problem and no one else's. Take the loss, and find a safe place to turn around.)

Seeing as I work at a brewery taproom, this column is a somewhat selfish endeavor: It’s a brewery-goers’ guide to taproom etiquette. This isn't coming from an angry place—at least not totally. I would like to arm the consumer with useful advice that could enhance the experience without much effort. Let's jump right in:

• "Is (NAME OF BEER) good?" or, alternately, "What's good?" I happen to be honest to the point of being too blunt sometimes, but this question is weird: I work for the brewery. What do you think I am going to say to this? I will often sarcastically respond with, "No, they're all bad, in fact," before trying to ascertain what the customer's preferences are. Do yourself a favor, and ask for a sample. Most places will be happy to give you a splash so you can decide for yourself. Don't be afraid to set it aside and ask for a sample of something else if you didn't enjoy it.

• "What's new?" Despite my massive intellect and faultless memory, I can't remember the last time you visited the brewery. Please feel free to do that work for me, and I will be glad to help you out accordingly.

• “What's the hoppiest beer you have?" I dedicated a whole column to IBUs (international bitterness units) and why they're IBUseless to the consumer. (Get it? I've been waiting to use that one.) The "hoppiest beer" question is loaded and not easy to answer. Hoppiness can include flavor, bitterness and/or aroma. Do you want an old-school West Coast hop bomb with a bitter underbelly, or do you want a double-dry-hopped, super-fragrant hazy IPA that has a much more restrained bitter finish? Huge imperial stouts are often very hoppy, but that's not the first thing you take away when tasting one. I'll do my best here, but I need you to meet me halfway if you want your needs properly fulfilled.

• "(Looks at the beer list, which does not include a particular style.) Do you have (that particular style)?" This is pretty self-explanatory: If it ain't on the board, it ain't available. At my taproom, there are 20 beers on tap. Is that not enough? Instead, tell me what you like, and I will help you find something similar. Also: If you have a sight issue, feel free to let your beertender know, and we'll happily be your eyes.

• "Do you have wine/cider/etc.?" I personally don't mind this question much (although, to repeat—if it's not on the board, it's not available), but I do find it amusing when people get indignant that the taproom I work at doesn't have these things. Who's surprised when they go to a brewery that we only have beer? The answer, sadly, is a non-zero number. If licensing were simpler, we might actually serve those other things, too. Can you tell this is getting cathartic for me?

• Wearing cologne/perfume/heavy scents. This might be the rudest thing you can do when visiting any place where you are drinking or eating. A large part of our olfactory experience is determined by our noses. We all have different thresholds for different aromas, but bathing in patchouli (which is ALWAYS gross, incidentally) is just rude when you're in a confined space attempting to enjoy craft beer. Some of those perfume scents can crawl up one’s nose and heavily affect one’s taste experience. You would be equally vexed by someone smoking or vaping nearby while you were trying to enjoy beer. Trust me: The people around you will appreciate the lack of perfume in general if you dial it back, or get rid of it all together. (I personally think most perfumes smell like what the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would spit out if asked to produce a perfume.) This goes doubly for body odor. This should go without saying, but your commitment to not wearing deodorant should not be anyone else's problem. And patchouli doesn't cover that up, either (and its association with body odor probably turned me sour on that scent to begin with).

• Dirty growlers: Most breweries offer to-go containers of various sizes, called growlers, that can be filled and refilled with beer. I can’t believe I need to say this … but you should clean them when you're done. Yes. That might be the most absurdly obvious thing I've ever written. Beer left sitting in a container can quickly become a robust environment for bacteria and mold. We do clean and sanitize the growlers we're about to fill, as it's in the brewery's best interest to not give out tainted beer, but if I see mold, I'm sending that growler back empty. There is no way I'm going to chance infecting a sanitized beer line with that. This isn't a labor-intensive process: All you need to do is give a growler a very good rinse with water when you have finished the beer, and either wash it out with scentless dish soap, or stick it in the dishwasher for a simple hot rinse, before letting it dry out completely. I used to have a half-joking, half-morbid curiosity for the scents that could emanate from growlers, but I have since been cured of that. Leaving a dirty growler in a car in the desert summer heat makes it less of a container for beer and more of a small microbiome.

While some might view this list as snobbery, much of this is just common sense. Taproom employees should be able to guide the uninitiated beer-drinker to a pleasant experience, although I understand that not all breweries are created equal. It would be helpful to keep these things in mind so that you can have knowledge at your disposal—and enjoy your time at any taproom as fully as possible.

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..

When my wine counterpart in these pages, Katie Finn, suggested that we pull a beverage version of Trading Places—where she curated a list of wines for me to taste while I returned the favor with a list of beers—my first thought was, “I’m clearly the Eddie Murphy in this movie analogy, right?”

And then I thought it would be a wonderful way for me—a wine-eschewing philistine who thinks beer is far more exciting—to expand my horizons and sample a wine list curated by a sommelier. After months of trying to coordinate my weird schedule with hers, we finally got together at the house of a mutual friend. We also invited some of our friends to help (and in my case, unload some of their awesome beer cellars for the occasion)—and then we proceeded to try to impress each other.

When putting together my list for Katie, I wanted to showcase one of beer’s greatest strengths: its diversity of styles and flavors. This is trickier than it may seem to those who know how vast beer’s flavor spectrum can be. What I didn’t know is that she had the same thing in mind for me.

Trigger warning: What I’m about to do with these descriptions might make wine connoisseurs cringe. I ask for your forgiveness in advance.

Birichino Malvasia 2018 Bianca: This is a white from Monterey County. Once I got over my usual reaction to white wine (“uh, yeah ... smells like white wine!”), I started picking up on a mild spiced-pineapple aroma. Following that down the gullet (offended yet, wine people?) were floral aromas like rose and jasmine. What I really appreciated about the experience was the acidic, dry finish. I’m not a fan of sweeter wines or ciders; I always enjoy the ones that jump off the palate and don’t cloy in the aftertaste. The touch of warmth in the back of it all didn’t hurt, either. We were off to a decent start.

Forge Cellars 2015 Les Alliés Dry Riesling: I know Riesling is a German grape that makes a white wine, but my knowledge essentially ends there. What I learned from this one, out of the Finger Lakes in New York, was that wines from this grape can be very pleasant—with oak, citrus, orange blossom and another dry, acidic finish.

Sans Liege Groundwork Grenache Blanc: Paso Robles is no stranger to me, because of Firestone Walker’s magnificent brewery and invitational festival that I attend every year. (See my column about my trip last year for more on that.) But Paso Robles is primarily a wine region, even if I’ve successfully (and unconsciously) ignored any of its products until now. This had a floral, alcohol aroma up front with a warming, sweet vanilla finish. It was slightly acidic at the end. It was not my jam.

B Vintners Black Bream Pinot Noir: Now to the color of wine I’ve enjoyed the most when I’ve experienced wine: red. This South African pinot had aromas and flavors of oak and blackberry cheesecake, along with a slight smokiness, a dry finish and some tannic astringency (a drying sensation on the palate). I can only imagine this would pair very well with a cheesecake, but I will defer to Mrs. Finn on that.

Tommasi Rafael 2016 Valpolicella Classico Superiore: As a side note, if beer names ever get this protracted, I’m going to switch professions. As for the wine: This was an Italian dark fruit bomb, with prunes, plums, a hint of cherries—and a dry finish. It’s almost as if she deliberately picked drier wines in anticipation of my aversion to sweet drinks.

Bodegas Atalaya Alaya Tierra 2015: This was the show-stopper for me and my friend Jose. I’ll just show you what I wrote down as I tasted it, verbatim: “Jammy nose. Blackberry and currant. But the first taste is sweet. Then wood. Then hugely herbal. Big sage flavor. Tobacco. I would almost guess this was not oak, but some more exotic Brazilian wood instead.” I was floored—and kind of sad—that no one had showed me a wine with this much character and range before now. Katie generously gave me the remainder of the bottle to take home—and you’d better believe I finished it.

We also covered an “orange” wine, and I took notes regarding the reason it is called that. (It’s white wine, but the skins are kept in during fermentation, like with reds or rosés … but why have a beer guy explain this when you can read Katie’s illuminating column on this subject instead?) Unfortunately, I apparently neglected to make any notes of the bottle that she opened. Hey, I was drinking wine AND beer. What do you want from me? Professionalism?

My main takeaways from this experience were: If you ever get a chance to have a talented and thoughtful sommelier choose a wine flight for you, definitely step on board, even if you’re normally not a wine-drinker; and wine is not a restricted by its limited ingredients, as I mistakenly thought. The Alaya Tierra proved that to me, and I’ll be interested to see what more wine can accomplish as it strikes out into uncharted and nontraditional areas more and more. Who knows? One day, you may find me writing a wine column. But it won’t be this day.

Thanks, Katie! Let’s do this again.

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..

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came

In 2008, I was in the midst of a major life transition. I was a musician who had retreated from the wasteland that was the Los Angeles music scene a year previous, and was I wondering what my next move would be. Beer had always been a love of mine, so I found myself alongside my cousin Josh, attempting to brew it at home.

Our first beer was an IPA, and while it turned out drinkable, it wasn't great. I needed help, and deep within the recesses of Yahoo! Groups, I found the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club. I contacted the club's founder and was invited to a bar in Palm Desert for the award ceremony of a local homebrew competition run by the bar's proprietor.

That proprietor's name is Brent Schmidman, and his bar was Schmidy's Tavern.

Schmidy (this is, after all, how we refer to the man) hails from Nebraska, and in his words, he was fortunate enough to spend a little time as a Marine stationed in San Diego at Camp Pendleton when not in Asia. It was then he fell in love with Southern California.

"I loved the weather, and coming from the Midwest, this was perfect year-round," he said.

He found himself starting a maintenance business in Orange County, where the stress of the job eventually got to him—so he sold it and moved to the Coachella Valley. Why the desert? "I had been coming out here so I could get back down to earth … being from the Midwest and not used to Orange County craziness."

He decided to take some previous experience with the hospitality and beverage industries into a sales position with a local drinks distributor, where he developed a love for "microbrew." After eight successful years with the distribution company, Schmidy was ready to move on.

"I decided I would open a place that would focus on the locals, and because of my passion, craft beer had to be a part of that," he said.

He emphasized his desire to concentrate on the year-round desert residents. "The premise was to focus on locals. Of course, tourists were welcome, too, but really, (it was) for the community to have a place to go—kind of like a modern-day Cheers," he explained. After some searching, he found a location in Palm Desert that would be the home of Schmidy's Tavern, beginning in 2008.

Then in 2010 came Jonas Wilby, the Stone Brewing Company bartender-turned-local representative for Stone Distributing Company.

"They presented an offer to me to move out there and launch Stone Distributing,” Wilby said. “I would be the everyday distribution rep and work alongside all the customers in all facets: stores, chains, restaurants and bars."

He quickly paid a visit to Stone's only IPA tap handle in the valley—at Schmidy's Tavern—only to find it wasn't on tap anymore. "I was like, ‘God dang! We lost this handle!’" Jonas said. "I eventually got a chance to sit down (with Schmidman) and … we talked about the different brands in our portfolio, about cold storage and cold delivery. And we could guarantee to have super-fresh inventory." This, combined with the amount of driving this would save Schmidman, led to an important partnership.

Shortly thereafter, Schmidy had an idea: "I said to Jonas, 'I want to build the craft-beer scene, and I want you to help me. … I'm going to pay for the beers, and we will give free samples. I just want to educate people.' We started it once a week. The first weeks we did it, we couldn't give it away!"

Added Wilby: “There were people sitting at the bar, drinking a Bud Light, saying, 'No, I'm good. I don't want to try that,' like I was trying to poison them.”

But with persistence, Beer School, as Schmidy dubbed it, started to gain momentum and eventually boomed. The last Wednesday of every month, for $20, you'd get four-ounce pours of four beers, alongside four courses of food—and at the end, a specially made cask that Schmidy acquired for the occasion would be tapped, and everyone would get a pour. Soon enough, Schmidy's had to turn people away.

Before founding Coachella Valley Brewing Co. in 2013, Chris Anderson used his culinary background to help Schmidy with the dinner menus.

"(Schmidman) and I really had an ability to create some unique, innovative and often incredibly well-thought-out beer and food pairings together. They were often beers and foods that you probably wouldn't see normally in the valley," Anderson said.

Said Schmidman: "We got real creative about it and thought outside the box and did crazy stuff. That was what it was about: to create an experience with beer that would be memorable. Then people realize beer is not just something you guzzle down while you're mowing the lawn."

Beer School became a "tent pole" event, even bringing in industry people to help out on occasion. 

"Because we had a set time, and it was an event,” Wilby said, “I was able to go out when I was talking to other accounts, even if it was a new account, and I'd be like, 'Hey, you gotta come out to Beer School to see what the desert beer scene is really like.'"

A group of beer-lovers were working at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club at the time, including chef Jennifer Town, who would later be the guest chef at multiple Beer Schools.

In 2013, Schmidman sold the tavern, and Beer School eventually fizzled out. Schmidy’s Tavern itself closed in 2016, after the landlord significantly raised the rent on the space.

"I don’t think you will find another person as passionate, driven and hungry as … Brent,” Anderson said. “He put in the time and effort to make that place a beer destination. He knew that it was going to be a big effort, and it worked. I often would see him in the morning, and he would still be there in the office working well into the night.”

There has not been a local craft-beer bar like Schmidy's Tavern since.

"What was in my head throughout this whole time was spreading the love for craft beer and spreading the culture, one beer at a time," Schmidy said. "I'm proud of what we did … I don't know if it would be the same now or not."

I'd like to raise a toast to Schmidy's Tavern. Here's to hoping we get something as good back here in the desert soon.

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..

Last month, I said my next column would be about a “craft-beer institution from the past that still has not been matched in this valley”—and it seems I lied. I will bring that to you soon, but I want to make sure I take the time necessary to do it well.

To make up for it, I’m writing about a place—and its beer festival earlier this month—which is vying to become the aforementioned institution’s long-awaited successor.

The Ace Hotel and Swim Club Palm Springs opened in 2009. The Ace folks renovated “a mid-century desert modern former Westward Ho with a Denny’s” into a hipster paradise. The hotel bar, the Amigo Room, includes many craft-beer taps. In the early years, the Ace and the Amigo had a great rag-tag staff of people who cared about craft beer and strove to put the best beers they could get on tap. From this, the Craft Beer Weekend emerged. As small as it has been in square footage, Craft Beer Weekend has consistently been one of the better beer festivals in the Coachella Valley.

The cherry on top? It’s in the dead of summer.

Will Sperling was recently hired as the food and beverage manager for the Ace Hotel from his former position as general manager at Mikkeller DTLA, a juggernaut of a craft-beer bar. It was subsequently announced that this year’s Craft Beer Weekend, which took place Aug. 3 and 4, would be two beer festivals on two consecutive weekend days, with a brewery list that would make even people who live in beer meccas turn their heads. When I saw the name De Garde Brewing on the list, I took notice, as it is perhaps my favorite sour-ale brewery in the country right now, and the beer is very hard to get hold of without trekking to the taproom in Tillamook, Ore. (yes, the place with the cheese). I reached out to Sperling to get his thoughts on the festival and the future of craft beer—not only at the Ace, but in the Coachella Valley overall.

“One of the main things I want to do is bring out a bunch of new breweries to the desert,” Sperling told me during an interview at the King’s Highway diner inside the Ace. “And it’s easy. I don’t know why people haven’t done it already. Los Angeles is right there.”

He listed additional breweries he wanted to bring out for the festival that just couldn’t make it, like Highland Park Brewery in L.A., and 3 Floyds Brewing in Indiana. To my knowledge, these two breweries’ beers have never been served here in the desert. He had to “settle” for the likes of Bottle Logic Brewing, Horus Aged Ales, Pizza Port Brewing and Mumford Brewing, among others. Many of these breweries had their head brewers pouring at the festival.

I met Jeff Bagby, former director of brewing operations at Pizza Port—and San Diego brewing royalty—at the festival pouring Bagby Beer Company’s true-to-style and gorgeous beers.

“Last year’s festival, there were 40 or so breweries here,” Sperling said. “This year, there were less than 30. … I’ve cut out all the filler—not necessarily bad beer, but I don’t want any beer that you can find in local grocery stores. It defeats the purpose of putting on a beer festival. I want to bring beer that no one has ever seen before. And the cool thing is that I’ve ordered multiple kegs for the event that will be on in the Amigo Room for a little while after the event, so people can come and enjoy them … in normal-sized glasses.” (The last part of that quote will be understood by people who read last month’s column.)

Sperling has the bona fides to back up what he says. Before opening Mikkeller DTLA, he headed Lantern Hall in Brooklyn; worked at the famed Gramercy Tavern in New York City; and managed The Craft Beer Company in London, on his home turf of England. What is interesting about this resumé is the timing: Every city he worked in was experiencing a huge upsurge in its local beer scene while he worked there.

I have a habit of asking people who move here from a major city—tongue in cheek, of course—why here? What would bring a boy from Kent in the southeast of England to our neck of the woods?

“I’ve been coming to the desert for a while,” Sperling said. “I used to come to the Ace, in fact, and hang out here if I just had a day off from L.A., and my wife and I could get away for the night. … We were looking to buy somewhere, and we couldn’t afford anything in Los Angeles. We had a little bit of money, and we wanted to invest in something—not necessarily somewhere we’re going to live forever, but something we could do that would give us a little back on an investment. So we bought this little cabin up in Twentynine Palms—an old, derelict cabin in the middle of nowhere, off a dirt road off a dirt road—and for the last two years, we’ve been fixing that up. It’s been a real joy. We go up there, and we don’t see any people.

“I knew a few people who worked here at the hotel, and I saw they had a position open to run the bar here. I thought, ‘Yeah, cool. Let’s get out of L.A. and try something different.’”

Craft-beer lovers will be reaping the benefits of his presence. I was while I was interviewing Will—drinking a pint of English-style pale ale from the unique Yorkshire Square Brewing out of Torrance.

In upcoming months, I’m going to be focusing on craft-beer culture, and how it is grown. You’ll be hearing more from Sperling and others regarding how we can raise the bar in the future. If you’re as interested in making this beautiful place we call home a better destination when it comes to beer … stay tuned.

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..

I occasionally have so much on my mind when it comes to craft beer that I just have to write about it all in one column. I did this last year in what I describe as a less-lazy equivalent of Larry King’s defunct USA Today column.

Rice lagers are all the rage right now for some reason. … What is the deal with those beer multi-packs? … How can Beaumont have a bottle-shop/craft-beer taproom and downtown Palm Springs not?

As repugnant as I find this kind of writing, there is some utility in this scattershot approach in that I get to dump all of my burning thoughts on current topics in the beer world while barely having to do any research. In other words, I get to have my lazy cake and eat it, too. So without further ado, let’s jump right in.

• Eureka! Indian Wells is pretty much my go-to craft-beer watering hole. I like the staff (Ari, you’re still the best!); the food is solid; it’s close to home; and it usually has some of the better beers on tap as compared to other places. It is within that loving context that I state the following to the higher-ups at Eureka!: Get your glassware game together! As I understand the situation: Someone at corporate HQ seems to have decided that the price of any given keg determines the size of the pour you get. This often leads to absurd serving sizes and prices. No pilsner should EVER be served in a 13-ounce tulip glass. Not long ago, they were charging an absurd $15 for a 9-ounce pour of a Modern Times Nova Colony sour ale! This was a 7 percent barrel-aged blend of fruited sours. I don’t care if it was made with water from the Fountain of Youth; there is no way in hell I would consider paying that without at least a 13-ounce pour of it. Why are accountants choosing glassware?! It’s truly maddening, and Eureka! should be ashamed of themselves … but I doubt they can hear this over the piles of money they make on everything else at that place.

• A lot of people, especially brewers, are expressing excitement over craft rice lagers to me. Rice lagers are the Mexican lagers of last summer in that it’s the current "in thing" to say you love. Listen, I know taste is subjective, and a well-made beer is a well-made beer (especially with lager styles like this where there isn’t any place to hide if you botched the brew), but I have to say: Just go drink your Modelo or Budweiser. That’s clearly what you want. I’m going to stick to pilsners to get that full, crisp, unadulterated lager experience. This doesn’t mean I think corn and rice have no place in craft beer—anything is game, but I think we can be more creative than this, can’t we?

• Beer multi-packs suck. I can’t tell you how many of them I have come across that have special, one-off beers that I would love to try, along with one or two common, flagship beers (out of a usual four, that is; these are generally 12-packs that usually include three bottles each of four different beers). Samuel Adams, I can get your Boston Lager EVERYWHERE. I could be in the middle of the Mojave Desert, stumble across a random gas station, and reasonably assume I can get your Boston Lager. Whose idea was this, and why has it proliferated for so long?! I have seen multis with all core brands—that, I can understand. Still … I ask that everyone please join me in not purchasing another multi-pack until breweries stop doing this.

• I am very happy for Beaumont for getting a place like The Craft Lounge where people can buy some nice bottles and try some great beers on tap, all in the same spot. But … how did Beaumont get such a place before Palm Springs did? I’m tempted to leave this at that—the Larry King inside of me wants to (wait, that doesn’t sound right)—but I will add that I wouldn’t be so disappointed by this if it weren’t so typical. Why can’t we have nice things?

I would also like to take this opportunity to get out in front of anyone who is of a like mind: A couple of people confronted me about a recent column regarding the state of the beer scene in the Coachella Valley with the complaint that I should do something about it. Do you honestly think I’m not? One of the main reasons I took on the mantle of beer columnist for the Independent is to try to whip up interest, put spotlights where I think they’re deserved (good or bad), and act as a bit of a lightning rod to push the scene forward.

Do I think this has happened? I honestly cannot say. I feel like I’m shouting into the void about these things at times, while at other times, I feel honored that anyone is reading this and taking anything away from it. In any case, it isn’t all up to just me. Do you have ideas for what can be done here?

Next month’s column will be about a craft-beer institution from the past that still has not been matched in this valley; I’m writing it in the hopes that it can rally people to the cause of creating more of a craft-beer culture. Building a culture can be a slow and arduous task, but being in on the ground floor and looking around to nearby budding cultures is truly exciting. We aren’t even necessarily that far way, yet we seem to be leagues from something substantial nonetheless. It’s going to take some work and some similarly impassioned people to get there.

This is my message in a bottle. It’s just that the bottle has beer in it.

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..

Gather ’round, kids, and I will regale you with a tale of a lion and a bear who came together many years ago for one purpose: making beer.

It all began around 1995. The big microbrewers at the time were Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams, while long-gone up-and-comers like Pete’s Wicked Ale were also making a splash. Most people had no idea what a stout or an IPA was. The aforementioned bear’s name is Adam Firestone, member of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and their vineyards; the lion is his brother-in-law David Walker, an Englishman who wanted a taste of home while living in California. Both were in the wine industry before opening Firestone Walker Brewing Company with a humble 24-barrel system. In 2001, they were able to buy out a professional-size facility from SLO Brewing Company (even though it was actually located in Paso Robles), which had filed for bankruptcy. It is still home to Firestone Walker Brewing Company, but with a wee bit of expansion through the intermittent years.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

On a gorgeous late spring day before the start of the annual Firestone Walker Invitational, I was honored to be escorted throughout the brewery compound by none other than the lion himself, David Walker. He greeted us private-tour recipients individually, introducing himself and then calling for us to walk across the street to the Visitor’s Center to begin the tour. Equipped with safety glasses, we marched upstairs to the top of the newly installed, $15 million brewhouse, with 200-barrel tanks, one of which is solely used to make the best-selling 805 Blonde Ale in 24-hour shifts, and which was under construction when I was there the year before.

After explaining the origins of the brewery and its journey from 24 barrels to what is projected for 2019 to be 500,000 barrels (1 barrel = 31 gallons), he led us down into the belly of the brewery, through a space at the bottom of some of the tanks and into a cold room where a labyrinth of pipes terminates. This is the older part of the brewery; Walker emphasized this by leading us into their old walk-in cooler that they kept in operation to remind them of their humbler origins. These are typically my favorite parts of many brewery tours due to the alluring smell of hop pellets all around—and this was no different.

Onward we trod into the next building in the compound. This one contained the packaging lines where the machinery moved ceaselessly to get the product into bottles, cans and boxes. David walked over to the canning line and grabbed cold cans of the latest in their Luponic Distortion IPA series for everyone in the group. This was great timing, as the beers we’d grabbed before the tour started were gone. (If you’re not envious of me yet, just keep reading.) We met a legendary character of Firestone’s history, Miguel Ibarra. After introducing Miguel (with a wry smile), Walker held up his hands—which had nine digits rather than the usual 10. Miguel joined him in showing the same amount. Everyone was clearly in on the joke, seeing as how Walker spent the next few minutes summarizing the ways in which Miguel operated the earliest incarnation of the brewery virtually on his own, sleeping on location between shifts.

Further back in the same warehouse was a series of barrels interconnected via tubes. This is part of how the DBA (Double Barrel Ale) is made. It takes as its inspiration the tradition English cask ales, and Walker freely admits it was a way he could get the proper experience of his beloved Bass Ale closer to home. Other beers surpassed it in popularity over time, but you can still find it in their taprooms in its unfiltered state if you wish to sample it for yourself.

Next, we bypassed a long row of pallets of empty cans stacked about two stories high and entered the next building in the series, containing finished packages of their beer in various forms. It is here we stumbled across the path of brewmaster Matt Brynildson, who was coincidentally looking in on his Oaktoberfest barrels in the same room. Matt told us how they were doing a traditional lagering of their Märzen over the summer. Happily, he stayed with us through the next processing room and into a truly magical place: The Barrel Room.

A brief word about Firestone’s barrel program, straight from my brain and taste buds: It’s insanely good. From the barrel-selecting progress (overseen by Eric Ponce), to the masterful blending of their vaunted Anniversary ales, and the choices of beers that enter the barrels, it’s no surprise you can easily identify a barrel-aged beer from Firestone by taste alone. I promise you: This is no easy feat, and they are proud of it.

Finally, we walked up a flight of stairs to our tour’s termination. I asked how many actual barrels they had in the room, and Walker replied, "At the moment, about 2,000. But at the most, we’ll have only 3,000 at any given time. Despite our growth, we like to be able to keep a close eye on every barrel we have on hand and its contents." Brynildson then added that no one is allowed to move any barrel unless the aforementioned Miguel Ibarra is informed. It’s no wonder you can taste the character in any of their barrel-aged beers.

The tour ended with the opening of some bottles of their Napa Parabola. It’s a version of their Parabola imperial stout blended together after aging in various red wine barrels. What’s surprising is how much of the chocolate flavor in the beer is brought out despite what I expected to be a wine-dominated flavor.

Finally, Firestone does a collaboration every year to commemorate their incredible Firestone Walker Invitational beer festival. I discussed my 2018 visit in a column last year, and I make it a point to get tickets and go every year. This year’s beer was with Cigar City Brewing out of Tampa, Fla.: Los Leñadores is an imperial brown ale aged in high rye bourbon barrels and infused with African and Brazilian hardwood spirals. It was teeming with almond and pistachio flavors to go with the nutty, chocolate flavors of the beer.

Suffice it to say, I was impressed by the tour and continue to be impressed by Firestone—and that was only the beginning of my festival weekend. I told you the envy was coming.

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..

As I type this, I’m taking shelter from the wind that is offering another merciful reprieve from the inevitable heat to come. When the heat does arrive, you can bet I’ll be looking to get the hell (no pun intended) out of the Coachella Valley when I can. Thankfully, there are many escape options, all within a two-hour drive—many with treats for the craft-beer lover.

Julian is a little mountain town, founded by a former Confederate soldier; Julian later saw a gold rush started by the find of a former slave. It’s about 100 miles from the Coachella Valley, a good way to the northeast of the more-densely populated parts of San Diego County. The first I heard of the town was due to the opening of Julian Hard Cider, which is fitting because—as many area signs will inform you—the town is known for its apple pies. There was also the lesser-known Julian Brewing Company that was started by Vince Marsaglia (co-founder of Pizza Port Brewing) and Tom Nickel (owner of the legendary O’Brien’s Pub in San Diego). I visited 2013 and was very impressed by the handful of highly drinkable beers they had on tap. During a tour of their three-barrel brewhouse, the highlight was the view of the horse next to a tree on the hill from the nearby window. To call it “rustic” would be to exaggerate.

That same year, Tom Nickel sold his stake in the company and opened Nickel Beer Company just a few minutes away. Julian Brewing Co. eventually closed (only to be reopened in 2017), while Nickel continued to take inspiration from local ingredients and was able to sell his wares at his own bar to boot. I was finally enticed to drive up to the brewery three years ago with a newsletter’s promise of “wet hop” ales. “Wet hops” are hops harvested from the bines (fun fact: hops grow on bines, not vines) in the fall and thrown into the kettle (or “dry-hopped” in the tanks … somehow, that is not an oxymoron). Wet hops give off different characteristics than their dried and pelletized counterparts—usually bright grassy flavors, but it can run the gamut. When you find a good one, the difference is noticeable, and the hop flavors and aromas seem a little more alive. Nickel didn’t disappoint: I tried at least four different beers all utilizing the wet hops, and every one was tasty and very quaffable.

When the latest newsletter promised beers using South African hops (a newer and brilliant hop-growing region whose hops are locked down pretty tightly thanks to AB InBev—truly the evil empire of the beer world) and a collaboration with New Hampshire’s Moonlight Meadery, I figured it was a good time to take another drive up the mountain. This was the Monday after the last weekend of the shitshow we’ve come to endure every year called Coachella, so I decided to head the opposite way, past the Salton Sea and up through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I like to try to work for my beers if possible, so I hiked up to Cuyamaca Peak (a mere 20 feet from being the highest peak in San Diego County). It’s paved, but the views—even of the once fire-ravaged landscape—are well worth the haul. After a bite to eat at the top (thank you, TKB Bakery and Deli, for making the beautiful sandwiches that you do!), it was time to head back into Julian and claim my prizes.

As you pull up to the brewery, you see just how small it is and how bucolic its surroundings are. The patio-seating area is almost as large as the entire building in square feet. But as we craft-beer fans know, it’s not the size of the ship, but the motion in the brew kettle.

I began with a few tasters to get the lay of the land. There was just too much I wanted to try, and a two-hour drive home awaited me. I tried the aforementioned pale ale containing the very tropical South African hop goodness. I can’t find this beer’s name (I failed to record it), but there is a wet hop version, and the hops for that were acquired from Star B Ranch in nearby Ramona.

Meanwhile, Dark Side of the Moonlight was decadent. This is the previously mentioned meadery collaboration; it’s an imperial honey porter using more than 100 pounds of local avocado honey which is dangerously drinkable for its 10.3 percent alcohol by volume. The grapefruit version of their Volcan IPA was filled with citrus character without being too big of a bitter bomb. But the winner of the Get in My Growler Prize was the Tahoma IPA. Tahoma hops were new to me (but then again, most hops are; there is a dizzying number of strains, with more coming out all the time); they impart a wonderful melon and bright citrus aroma and flavor. With the delicious malt base underneath, this got me ordering a full glass to accompany my view of the scenery.

A few beers I wanted to try, but couldn’t, are worth mentioning here. On the list is the Pickel Weisse. From their website: “Our Berliner Weisse is blended with our house made Spicy Garlic Dill Pickel Juice to create a very unique beer with a definitive pickle flavor and aroma. Great with Bloody Mary mix. Four percent alcohol.” I really want to try it and need to drop what I’m doing the next time it goes on tap. Sour Apple Pie Ale has me thirstily curious as well.

I feel like I could copy and paste the “Our Beers” section, and most of them would be on my wish list, but I think you get the point that I’m trying to make here: You should take your own trip up the mountain, and see for yourself.

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..

Prime barbecue season is upon us—and barbecuing lends itself to Mexican food.

I’ll never look down my nose at Mexican mass-produced beer—it’s better overall than American mass-produced beer, in my opinion—but an even better sensory experience can be had with Mexican cuisine if you step up the beer game. To put it bluntly: You can do better than beers where the ads instruct you to put a wedge of lime in the bottle. (Why didn’t they just add that when they were brewing?) But I digress.

Instead of just listing pairings of entrées and beer styles, it would be more helpful to summarize some of the most-common ingredients in Mexican cuisine, and explain why they might be better partners with certain types of beers:

Corn: This is a staple in both Mexican food and beer. That distinct corn flavor and sweetness make Mexican beer styles an obvious choice for pairing. A lot of Mexican beer (excluding the brews from the excellent Mexican craft breweries burgeoning at the moment) consists of German-style pilsner with corn; the darker stuff is Vienna lager with corn. Corn adds sugar to a beer with almost no body, making the finished beer drier, and usually imparting at least a hint of corn flavor. The Belgians have been doing something similar with candi sugar (made from beets) to dry out their stronger beers and make them devilishly drinkable.

Pork: German beer was basically designed around the stuff, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more natural pairings than pork and most German styles. This has to do with malt: Many German styles call for malt to be kilned in such a way as to create melanoidins. Melanoidins are what give you that distinct browned-bread character—the same flavor you can get from searing pork or beef (not to be confused with caramelization). I think you can see why, say, a German bock is a no-brainer for pairing with pork.

Cheese: I mention cheese more for its texture than anything. (This is not to say that traditional Mexican cheeses are necessarily mild.) This one is more about mouthfeel, and crisper or higher-strength beers (or both in one, perhaps) will help scrub the palate. This is equally important with the next ingredient …

Beans: Frijoles are a massive staple, and mouthfeel is again the most-important factor to consider here, as there are also likely to be other flavors to deal with in any particular dish that includes or comes with beans.

Chiles: I am a huge fan of spice, and there are some very noteworthy things to take into account when pairing beer with spicy food. The first is that alcohol accentuates capsaicin (the stuff that makes chiles burn), and so do hops. This does not mean that you should never pair a triple IPA with spicy chicken tinga, but it does mean you should be aware that you’re throwing a bit of gasoline on that fire when you do. Malty, less-crisp beers help here, so consider English styles when up against spiciness. It works for Indian cuisine, too.

Now that we are armed with some fundamentals, let’s tackle actual pairings with specific dishes. One thing I haven’t covered yet is seafood. Ceviche is one of my favorites; while refreshing on its own, it can be exponentially so when paired with the right beer. A Belgian witbier and a German hefeweizen are both great choices. A citrusy pale ale is also not a bad idea, but beware of oily fish, as hops turn that flavor combination into metallic unpleasantness.

Carnitas is another beautiful thing to behold; I already mentioned one pairing (bock), but a Munich dunkel lager will do just as well.

Good chicken mole is hard to come by locally (if I am missing out on a place where they do it right, please contact me), which is a shame, because a nice porter or dry Irish stout will do wonders with it. Craft breweries have long caught on to Mexican chocolate flavors; you can try pairing with one of those, but instead, I recommend supporting the mole flavors and letting them do that work with your beer. Along those lines, if you’re looking to try something lighter that can still match the intensity of this dish, try a German schwarzbier: It’s a black lager that shares some darker beer flavors of chocolate, coffee and dark fruit, but without any roasty quality, and with a bit of a fire-extinguishing effect if the mole is up there in spice.

A few parting thoughts, before I send you on the path to sabor. One is that it is generally a good idea to match intensities with beer/food pairings. Another consideration is whether you want to complement, contrast or combine. This takes much more explanation, and the best way to do that is to read up on the subject. I wrote a column a while back on pairing beer and food that covers some of it, but if you want more depth, I would highly recommend Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide From the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley, or The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver, one of the very few master cicerones. Both are great guides and are very good at getting you to be more mindful when it comes to pairing any beverage with food, never mind beer.

The next time you have a chance to enjoy a Mexican dish, forget the typical Mexican lagers, and swing for the gustatorial fences. And, hey: Even if your pairing lets you down, you still have beer and Mexican food to comfort you. ¡Salud!

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..

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