On May 1—National Homebrew Day, in a cruel bit of irony—the world lost Joshua Kunkle.
A pillar of both the local homebrewing community and the local craft-beer community as a whole, Joshua was a dear friend to many. He was in the process of moving to the Central Coast with his fiancée, Roxanna Garcia, where they were soon to be married. He died in a car crash on Interstate 10.
Joshua touched many lives across the Coachella Valley with his kindness, humility and generosity. He was president of the Coachella Valley Homebrewers Club for many years, selflessly giving his time and fulfilling every commitment with stoic resolve and enthusiasm.
“It’s because of his leadership that the club still exists,” said Brett Newton, the club president before Joshua (and this publication’s beer columnist). “He would always find a way to contribute, even when no one else could.”
Jose Lopez is a fellow club member. “His passion for homebrew pretty much kept the club alive as longtime members were leaving,” he said.
Chris Anderson left the club in 2013 to help start Coachella Valley Brewing Co., which at the time became the Coachella Valley’s second craft brewery.
“Without Josh Kunkle, there would be no Coachella Valley Homebrew Club,” Anderson said. “As hard as I worked to grow the club, Josh worked even harder. He was the one person who remained as the cohesive glue that essentially kept the club together.”
The loss of Joshua is also felt across the library community. He was a senior librarian for the Beaumont Library District, a position he had just vacated in advance of his move up north. He previously worked at College of the Desert, was a branch manager at the Cathedral City Public Library, and spent many years volunteering with the Friends of the La Quinta Public Library. He frequently conducted free homebrew classes at the La Quinta Library.
On social media, the Beaumont Public Library noted: “Josh had a wide impact on the local library communities in the Beaumont and Coachella Valley region, and his support for libraries extended beyond the professional.”
Roger Bell, who worked with Joshua at College of the Desert, described him as “passionate, compassionate, supportive and professional.” He added: “Joshua’s passion for learning was interwoven in everything he did. His compassion for teaching students was overflowing. He was a supportive and professional co-worker, freely sharing his knowledge and skills. Joshua was a friend to all, and he will be dearly missed.”
Brett Newton mentions in his column this month that Joshua often helped him with research, assisting with both his library and homebrewing expertise. I can relate; he was a leading resource for many of my beer-related writings for various publications. I could text him or email him at any time—and I would always get a prompt response. In fact, it was such a habit that the thought occurred to me several times while writing this piece.
There’s a sad irony to one of the stories Josh helped me write. It was the most harrowing and touching story I’ve written prior to this one.
Will Campbell, a homebrewing friend of Joshua’s, was killed by a speeding driver while riding his bicycle in December 2018. Joshua and a couple of other club members worked to finish the last beer Campbell had been making—and then entered it into a regional competition. It made it all the way to a national final, and as such, it was brewed for commercial release by Melvin Brewing. It was a fantastic moment for Campbell’s family and friends as the Homebrewers Club came together to help create a moment of legacy.
Who knew that we’d now be in the same position with Josh?
His efforts to help others across the homebrew community knew no bounds. He always seemed to have time and an ear for everyone. He constantly offered up his own equipment—and would even come to your house to get you started.
“Josh was a great proponent of the CV Homebrewers Club,” said Devon Sanchez, who joined the club before opening Desert Beer Company. “He showed me a thing or two about homebrewing and what he wanted to bring to new and interested enthusiasts.”
Respected widely for his technical expertise, Joshua won many awards of his own. One notable award-winning beer was commercially brewed at Coachella Valley Brewing in 2014. Uncle Kunkle Imperial Honey Robust Porter was a robust, deeply complex behemoth at 8.3 percent alcohol by volume.
“It was the best damned brown porter ever made in the valley,” said Chris Anderson. As a commercial beer, it appears on the global rating app UnTappd. Several people gave the beer a maximum 5.0 rating. With characteristic humility, Joshua Kunkle gave it a 4.5.
Dario Guerra is an owner of Joshua Tree Brewery. “He was always experimenting on different flavors and techniques,” he said about Joshua. “When I wanted to work on different flavors, like prickly pear or bacon, he would have an idea or a technique to steer me in the right direction.”
In addition to his commitments in the Coachella Valley, Joshua worked closely with homebrew clubs in the high desert and Inland Empire. He’d show up on their brew days, attend their meetings and volunteer for their events. If he visited a local taproom, he’d inevitably wind up brainstorming with the brewer—or rolling up his sleeves to help.
“Josh was one of the most innovative and creative members of the Homebrew Club,” Jose Lopez said.
Lopez traveled with Joshua to Rhode Island—at their own expense—to represent Will Campbell’s beer and legacy. “He was a combination of Mr. Wizard and MacGyver with his vast array of homebrew experiments, award-winning recipes and custom-built homebrew gadgets,” Lopez said.
Chris Anderson said Joshua was a great person—period.
“Josh was always approachable,” Anderson said. “He was never a braggart despite his wealth of knowledge.”
Joshua had wisdom beyond his young 37 years—perhaps his librarian side was always in search of greater knowledge—and his intelligence and resourcefulness endeared him to many. He teamed up with Justin Allen as the “Brewed Man” half of the BeerDad and Brewed Podcast. Allen said Joshua aimed to be helpful “from helping you move a piano—he figured out a way to MacGyver it in and out of the U-Haul—to tutoring my daughter in math. Yes, picture Joshua at the kitchen table with a tween girl doing algebra. That was Joshua!”
Nobody I talked to could remember Joshua ever having a bad word for anyone.
“That dude would give you the shirt off his back to help you out,” said Pete Yakubek, the general manager at Coachella Valley Brewing Co.
Apparently that was no exaggeration, because Chris Anderson used the same analogy: “He was always willing to jump in to help anyone that needed it, even if that meant giving the shirt off of his own back.”
Charity and community have long been founding principles of the craft-beer movement, and Joshua lived that ethos to a level most of us never could.
“Josh was the epitome of what the craft-beer community is all about—creativity, sharing and enthusiasm in your work,” Yakubek said. “He demonstrated it all. We were always stoked when he came over to share his latest crazy ingredient beer with us.”
It should come as no surprise that the community has rallied in support of Joshua’s family. “BeerDad” Justin Allen has created a GoFundMe to help his loved ones with immediate expenses, and as I write, numerous breweries are working to re-create Joshua’s homebrew recipes so that the community may enjoy them one more time, with the proceeds going to the fund. As such, we’ll soon see Joshua’s beers on tap at Desert Beer, Coachella Valley Brewing, Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewery, Taproom 29 at Spotlight 29, and La Quinta Brewing.
However, it’s not just Coachella Valley’s breweries that are taking part in this tribute. In the High Desert, they’ll be joined by Joshua Tree Brewery and Yucca Public House. There will also be beers brewed at Idyllwild Brewpub, Brewcaipa in Yucaipa, and even by a brewer in Missouri. Jeremiah Cooper, at Kings Brewing in Rancho Cucamonga, plans to make Joshua’s beer an annual release.
The Craft Lounge, one of Joshua’s favorite spots in Beaumont, will hold “KunkleFest” on Saturday, May 29. Donated kegs and homebrew equipment will be part of a silent auction to add to the fundraising efforts. Additionally, Ed Heethuis at Taproom 29 intends to host an event around the various homebrew re-creations, as and when they become available.
This massive response speaks to the impact and legacy Joshua has left behind. Don Put, at Idyllwild Brewpub, said he’s brewing one of Joshua’s beers “to commemorate his contributions to the craft beer industry. I appreciate his passion for beer and his desire to spread the word.”
Desert Beer Company’s Devon Sanchez said he wants to be charitable, just as Joshua would have been charitable in a similar situation.
“He was a big driver of my brewery, the brewers of the Coachella Valley, and the homebrew club,” Sanchez said. “I want to brew his beer so that people can try one, and so that I can pay it forward to his friends, family and fiancée.”
When asked about his participation, Kings Brewing’s Jeremiah Cooper was succinct: “Josh was one of those people who meant what he said, and only said things to build people up. The world could use a lot more Joshua Kunkles.”
Joshua and I used to work in the same building one day a week, and what would start as a quick “hello” would regularly wind up running a whole hour. We wrote a few stories together, and it was always a pleasure to try one of his beers. Thanks to the forthcoming brewery efforts, I’m looking forward to trying some of Josh’s beers one more time.
As Joshua always posted on Facebook for birthdays: “Cheers, and a mighty pint to you, good sir!”