As the weather heats up and invaders pour into the desert dressed … uh, however you’d describe the attire of people who attend Coachella (it’s hard to describe, but you know them when you see them), you might be thinking of getting out of town. If you’re like me, that trip will almost certainly include a stop at a taproom or two.
What follows are some places within a two-hour drive that offer great beers. Some of them have been mentioned in this space before, but I’m mentioning them again, because I’m regularly surprised when I mention a brewery and am met with blank stares. Let’s start close and radiate further outward as we go.
Craft Lounge in Beaumont is an excellent choice for a quick getaway that is typically less than two hours of driving, round trip. It’s the closest craft-beer bar I can think of that genuinely cares about what’s on tap and in stock. They generally concentrate on beer (and occasionally mead and cider) made in Southern California, giving you a chance to try stuff you might not want to drive further for simply based on hearsay. Last time I was there, I enjoyed my Lightest One from Enegren Brewing on a warm day on the makeshift patio out back while eating quesadillas from the food vendor posted there that day. Even if you are incredibly diligent about visiting every taproom you come across, at least half of the tap list on a given day will likely contain beers you haven’t heard of, from breweries you might never have heard of. They also do fun things like trivia nights and the like. Go, enjoy, and hope that one day, the desert can once again support a craft-beer location like this.
Outward we go to Rancho Cucamonga and Sour Cellars. I was first exposed to Sour Cellars at the Ace Hotel a few years back at one of their inexplicably timed summer beer festivals. Owner/brewer/blender Bryan Doty was there serving two of his barrel-aged sour ales. The best of the two was a collaboration with Mikkeller Brewing (the one in Europe, not the one in San Diego … it’s confusing) that was world-class. I was floored and have tried to seek out his beers ever since. Doty has focused on the relatively lost art of the lambic (although you’re not supposed to call it that outside of the Zenne Valley in Belgium; it’s “Belgian-style sour ale” or “lambic-style ale” to you, sir or madam), and his pursuit is our gain. Two beers worth noting, as copied from the website: One is Pyrotechnic Pleasantries, a 5.9% alcohol by volume blend of 54 months barrel-aged brown ale, 26 months barrel-aged golden sour ale, 19 months barrel-aged saison, and six months barrel-aged spontaneous fermentation golden sour ale, re-fermented with strawberries—and conditioned since May 2021. Another is the Whisker Splitter, a 7.1% ABV collaboration with Honey Pot Meadery that’s a spontaneous fermentation golden sour ale brewed in February 2020, aged in oak wine barrels for one year, and double-aged in mead rye whiskey barrels for another 17 months—and conditioned since July 2022.
Sour Cellars is just a little more than an hour drive from here, people. Go and try anything that piques your curiosity. The fact that beer like this is possible in the Inland Empire is truly incredible to me, and I wish Sour Cellars nothing but continued success and support.
Onward to Orange County, where new breweries just keep opening. It would almost be cheating to mention Green Cheek Brewing Co. here, because I have mentioned them many times before and will continue to mention them to anyone who cares. They just make incredible beer, no matter the style. I am lucky enough to have, in my fridge right now, cans of a Czech pils, an English-style bitter on nitro, and a New Zealand IPA (which is kind of a cousin to the California IPA; it’s essentially a light malt bill that gets out of the way of the incredible flavors in hops from New Zealand). The latter contains huge aromas and flavors of passion fruit, papaya and guava—without any fruit coming anywhere near the beer.
A newer brewery in the area, Radiant Brewing Co. in Anaheim, was brought to my attention by a friend, and I’ve been very pleased to try a number of very well-made, tasty beers. From bright, crisp IPAs to German-style lagers to a “golden bitter” on nitro, Radiant’s beers have made my taste buds sing, and I look forward to my next visit. Similarly, Everywhere Beer in Orange is another impressive brewery. I’ve tried a handful of their beers so far and have been very impressed. I recommend them without having had a chance to visit the brewery myself, because I am that confident you’ll enjoy it. Both Radiant and Everywhere share similar roots in that their owners worked at The Bruery in Placentia. The Bruery has had an incredible track record of former brewers moving on to open incredible breweries of their own—and these two are no different.
Here we are, at the end of my allotted space, and we haven’t even reached a coastline. This leaves San Diego and Los Angeles out of the picture. I’ve also left out Temecula, which itself is worth a whole column, because it really is its own beer scene, and it has been for many years. If there is a brewery I missed that you think deserves some attention, let me know.
Until that time, give as many of these places as you can a visit—and keep them alive and thriving.