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.