Another year has passed us by, so it’s time to take what has become my customary look at the state of the local craft-beer scene.
This has always been a tricky task—especially in 2020 and 2021, for obvious reasons, but now we are all out and about again, spreading communicable diseases like it’s 2019. It’s also tricky because of the challenge of trying to find a way to write about craft beer in the desert while being positive.
Why do I care about being positive? It’s partially because of a suspicion I have that there are people who think I’m being a curmudgeon. I maintain that I just call it how I see it, and I won’t have my standards pummeled into submission by mediocre (or worse) beer. Nonetheless, I set out to be constructive and hopefully more positive than I have been in the past.
First off, there are two breweries I won’t say much about due to my associations with them. I have a complex history with Coachella Valley Brewing Co., and today, I’m much less excited about the company than I was when I invested in it at its inception. It is a different place, and in my admittedly biased opinion, I think it has lost much of its personality. However, head brewer Eric Beaton is quite capable, so I recommend you go decide for yourself where it stands among the valley’s breweries, because I shall not.
Next up is my place of work: Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewery. I won’t say much because of the conflict of interest, but I will say I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished since I began working there in October 2021. Again, I say: Come by, and decide for yourself.
Now on to the breweries I can fully evaluate.
Last year saw the addition of Luchador Brewing to our corner of Southern California, when the Chino Hills brewery opened its second location in Cathedral City. My first impression, when I went a week or so after its opening, was not good: The IPAs all tasted similarly generic, whether they were labeled “West Coast,” “hazy” or “double IPA.” I had a couple of lagers that were unimpressive and somewhat flawed. There was a blood orange wheat ale that was only all right. The best thing I had that day was the food and a fruity seltzer slushie.
The good news is that things seem to be improving; I recently tried a brown ale that was much, much better than anything I tried the first time around. I usually give a brewery a grace period when it opens for various reasons, and I have hopes that Luchador is finding its way. The location itself is very cool, with tons of lucha libre decorations and TVs showing all kinds of wrestling. You can be sure there will be more on Luchador in this column down the line.
The next two breweries are places I have not had high opinions of in the past—Desert Beer Company and La Quinta Brewing Co. I hadn’t been to either brewery in many months, so in the interest of fairness, I recently went and tried a selection of beers at each.
I began at DBC and asked for recommendations from a former co-worker. He gave me a couple, and I picked the other two for my flight. The pilsner was very fruity and a little sweet (this is not to style), while the wheat ale with peaches wasn’t even as fruity as the pils; that said, neither were bad beers in and of themselves. The unfiltered IPA was solid and reminiscent of old-school IPAs in that it was piney, citrusy and resinous, with a hefty bitter backbone. But the standout was the schwarzbier—it was excellent. There wasn’t much dark fruit, but the roasty chocolate flavor was great, and the beer finished very well. I will definitely have a full pint in the future. This was an auspicious start to the evening.
Next was La Quinta Brewing. I picked four beers to try and hunkered down. In the past, I’ve been met with many disappointments … but on this day, the brewery redeemed itself: I was stunned, in the best way possible. The barrel-aged Koffi Porter was a bit overbearing as far as the barrel character was concerned, but it tasted good. The Märzen was solid; the Tan Line Brown Ale was back to its former glory—toasty and well-balanced. The best beer of them all was the Cactus Prick Hazy Pale Ale. It wasn’t hazy at all—but this was a positive: It was full of passion fruit aroma and flavor, was crisp, and left me wanting more. I ended up with a pint of it as I pondered how great these La Quinta Brewing beers were overall.
Las Palmas Brewing remains a gem in downtown Palm Springs that I visit for a beer whenever I’m out that way and have time. I dedicated whole columns to both Las Palmas and Taproom 29 at Spotlight 29 Casino, so I won’t spend too much time on them other than to say they are both still worth a visit.
So it turned out that I was needlessly worried about my ability to be positive about the local breweries. The ones I worried most about have stepped up their games considerably—and I couldn’t be happier.
I fully believe in the adage that a rising tide raises all ships. More good beer can spur everyone else on to greater heights of brewing—and we can all win. As long as the beer speaks well for the valley, we have a chance of one day creating a really good beer culture, much like San Diego and Portland did decades ago. It can be done—but only if we hold high standards for our local craft beer.