I didn’t find 2021 to be a great year, but let me count my blessings: I have a new job; I have my family; my friends and I are all still alive; and I have a lovely Vienna lager from Enegren in my glass as I write this.
Unfortunately, I really can’t mention much about the local craft-beer scene in my list of blessings.
The good news is that it still exists, with most of it surviving the pandemic thus far. Unfortunately, as the pandemic continues (if there were only a shot or something that one could take to combat all this!), these businesses will continue to suffer, because people don’t come in as often. I know I haven’t been going out. This can lead to a vicious cycle, where fewer customers means a bar’s beer selection gets weaker and weaker, making it less and less likely that my friends and I will go.
What I’m trying to say is this: The scene needs some help.
Let’s begin with the breweries. I will do something I’ve never done before in this column and list the local breweries in order according to beer quality. I have ties to many of these places—but ultimately, the measure of a brewery is what’s in my glass when I’m there.
1. Coachella Valley Brewing Co.: Head brewer Eric Beaton knows what he’s doing—he was the brewing manager at Hangar 24 in Redlands before coming here in 2019—and that shows in the beers. CVB has had a bumpy road since letting go of founding brewer Chris Anderson, and it hasn’t quite made it back to the place where it was when Chris manned the brewstand, but Eric’s beers are solid. I think the taproom vibe could use an upgrade, though, but I was an employee there for four years, so this could be a subconscious “familiarity breeds contempt” thing.
2. Las Palmas Brewing: This small, plucky brewery makes some nice stuff. Any place that makes a good Belgian-style table beer and a saison—and has them on tap at the same time—has my heart. Stop in and check them out. They also do wine, I am told, but there is another columnist for this publication who would be preferable to turn to regarding that.
3. Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewery: This would have been at the bottom of my list up until a couple of years ago, when Juan Higuera (formerly of Coachella Valley Brewing) began brewing there. The flagship beers have all been cleaned up, and some of them are even better than they were when they were at their previous best in the distant past. Full disclosure: I now work at Babe’s as a bartender and resident certified cicerone. Babe’s also has the added benefit of fantastic food and a full bar, but we’re talking beer here.
4. Desert Beer Company: Devon Sanchez has made his own thing in north Palm Desert, and his brewery has a loyal local following. Unfortunately, some of the beers I have tried were flawed; more than one contained diacetyl, a compound that likely signals incomplete fermentations. Others were fine but just not my bag. They did do a great tamarind saison collaboration with Las Palmas. I certainly haven’t had everything Desert Beer Company offers, however, and if you like the beer, don’t let me stop you.
5. La Quinta Brewing Company: If we were talking about the brand new, beautiful brewery, or the nice satellite tap rooms, or the great guest taps one can often find at those taprooms, La Quinta Brewing would be at the top of the list. We are talking about the beer, however, and I have been disappointed by and found flaws in much of what I’ve had in recent years. I did not do research on recent releases, so I recommend going to the new brewery in Palm Desert—again, it’s lovely—to try for yourself. La Quinta is the most successful of all these breweries, and I am rooting for them, in no small part because their locations are some of the best spots to get a beer in the area.
There is at least one more place in the valley that offers house beers, and that is Taproom 29 in the Spotlight 29 Casino. From what I understand, there are plans to brew onsite eventually, but at the moment, their own beers are contracted out to another brewery. I have not been yet, due in large part to the continuing pandemic, but friends tell me the guest taps are well-curated, and the whiskey selection is great. In the new year, I will be looking to talk with the person who started it—but please go yourself, and let me know what you think.
As for craft beer bars … there really is very little to say here. I’ve mentioned the great liquor stores that have taken to stocking interesting beers (University Village Food Mart and Ranch Market and Liquor), and they are still worth checking out. The Amigo Room at the Ace Hotel has a solid (but pricey) craft lineup—but there is a precipitous fall-off from there. Eureka! in Indian Wells used to be pretty good, but … well, I’ve just given up on their beer selection. It’s clear that it’s probably the least-profitable of the things they do, and they act accordingly.
If you operate a bar that has a great beer selection, please reach out to me so that I can give you some well-deserved love. Similarly, if you want some guidance for creating a superior tap list, reach out to me, and I will be overjoyed to help you.
I truly am rooting for everyone to make, and serve, great beer here. Great beer often leads to more great beer—and everyone wins.