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 firstname.lastname@example.org.