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 2×4 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.