CVIndependent

Sun05192019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

I walked into work at the beginning of a closing shift on the Friday of a hot, muggy week in the desert.

The past few Fridays had been slow, and my mood was already pensive with a side of rumination, because I’d just seen a woman whom I very much wanted to date at one time—but she was spoken for. I don't tend to walk around with this kind of feeling, but it comes a bit easier for me this time of year.

Summer is a strange time for me. Against all good sense, I wake as early as I can stomach, work out and hike the Bump and Grind trail in Palm Desert five or six days a week. In the summer, if you dislike gyms as much as I do, you simply have to get at it early, for the sake of your safety. For a night person like me, this leads to a mixed sleep schedule that is not exactly conducive to good mental health. I tend to languish and feel lonely. However, the view at the top of the trail, mindfulness meditation and a bit of beer help me at such times.

So far on this Friday, the first two had let me down. I was reserving the third option until later.

The taproom was relatively busy when I arrived, only to quickly clear out within the first 20 minutes of my shift. I thought I was in for a long night of crossword puzzles, finding new blends among the numerous beers on tap and—if my mindfulness wasn't on guard—lamenting the current state of my love life.

After about an hour, fellow “beertender” Kris decided it was probably best for him to call it a shift early and get on with his night. It was around this time I began to notice the temperature climbing in the taproom. My concern rose, because a series of triple-digit weather days combined with unseasonable humidity can overburden air conditioning systems.

But I could not dwell upon my fortune for long: The taproom saw a rush of people, and I found myself not only hustling to get people their beer flights (it's always flights when I'm alone!), but also relaying food orders to Marcel, who runs a very fine pop-up catering company called Gabino's Creperie that has been doing weekend stints at the taproom as of late. I'm always glad to do this, because his twist on crepes is unique and delicious—and most importantly, he hooks me up! But remembering multiple crepe orders along with beer orders is apparently a challenging task for this simple cicerone, and I soon fell behind.

Whenever rushes like this occur, I have a simple mantra: What's next? This is my best approximation of a Zen attitude: I want to just keep moving and slowly ticking things off of the constantly updating list of things I need to do. I also think of the tips. I wish I could say I was navigating around the taproom and the extra taps in the brewhouse with the mindset of a man tending a Japanese garden, but thinking of the extra pot of gold at the end of the sweaty rainbow helps me when "What's next?" fails.

When the little rush was over, I had time to think about the still-rising temperature. Maybe the A/C had just had it. The thermostat read 81. As I looked the thermostat, I heard a strange ambient noise down the hall: Our head brewer had left one of the doors to the brewhouse open, and all of the moisture-laden, oven-like air had been flowing freely into the taproom for two hours. I muttered a few general obscenities (which I also find helpful in stressful situations) and shut the door.

Also, I thought of poor Marcel: He was hustling to get his crepes made out there!

Throughout the evening, Marcel and I enjoyed the sweet, sweet refuge of one of the walk-in coolers in back. Despite all of the heat that comes with enduring the summers in our arid portion of Southern California, I would never trade it for the bitter, numbing cold that others in our country deal with in the winter. For a minute at a time, however, it is heaven and provides me with a welcome respite from my little whirlwind of a night.

Thirty minutes before closing time, and with the taproom climate beginning to return to something approaching comfortable, every customer had cleared out, leaving me to begin my closing duties. I realized that I hadn't thought for hours about the aforementioned woman (not counting that moment, of course). I took this as a victory.

Under the wire, a couple walked in and asked if it wasn't too late. I was in a relatively good mood, and they expressed how they’d raced in from Long Beach to enjoy our beer, so I couldn't deny them. I even gave them access to our exclusive “members only” taplist which includes an incredible non-barrel-aged version of our Black Widow Imperial Stout with vanilla and coconut, called "German Chocolate Cake." Yes, it is as good as it sounds. They were a lovely married couple, and we talked about the state of beer in Long Beach and the Coachella Valley. They thoroughly enjoyed their beer flights, picked up some special bottles to go, and graciously left a generous tip while thanking me profusely. Needless to say, it's hard to remain in your own shit mentally when this happens.

I finished my closing chores with the help of our English style pale ale, locked up and walked out to my car. It was close to midnight, and my car's thermometer read 98. I cursed the ridiculous amount of golf courses in the area for holding this heat in the valley this late at night. My car's climate control was quickly set to 65, and I drove home thinking about my miniature roller coaster ride of a night.

As soon as I peeled off my work clothes and threw water on my face, I went to my fridge and grab a Gravity Check Session IPA from Kern River Brewing to wash the whole day down.

And this is where I found you, dear reader.

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 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

Whether you’re new to craft beer or are already familiar with some of the best and brightest brewers across our 50 states, this non-comprehensive and unofficial list of 25 great craft beers is a good start.

Keep in mind there are now more than 5,000 breweries nationwide, so this is just a taste of all the amazing beers available. In no particular order:

1. AleSmith Old Numbskull: American Barleywine (11 percent ABV)

This barleywine has won three Great American Beer Festival awards and two World Beer Cup medals. It’s extremely well-balanced and full-bodied, and can be paired with anything from roasted meats and stews to a variety of pungent cheeses.

2. Allagash White: Witbier (5 percent ABV)

Spiced with a special blend of coriander and Curaçao orange peel, this Belgian-style wheat beer has won numerous awards, including gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2015, and gold at the World Beer Cup in 1998, 2010 and 2012. Clove, banana and orange notes dominate the taste, but in a deliciously balanced and subtle way.

3. Allagash Black Ale: Belgian-Style Stout (7.5 percent ABV)

Allagash brews some of the most delicious craft beers on the market. Technically, there is no such thing as a traditional Belgian stout, but the good folks at Allagash don’t always necessarily follow the rules. This beer is a little easier to drink than some regular stouts and finishes clean.

4. Bell’s Expedition Stout: Russian Imperial Stout (10.5 percent ABV)

Chocolate, dark fruits, coffee and molasses come together in this warming, super-smooth and complex beer. This is one of the best Russian imperial stouts on the market, and one that gets even better with age.

5. Brauerei Aying Ayinger Celebrator: Dark Doppelbock (6.7 percent ABV)

This is a full-bodied beer showing off notes of caramel and toasted malts, and mild notes of dark fruit. Touches of alcohol warmth give it a gorgeous, long finish.

6. Cigar City Guava Grove: Farmhouse Ale (8 percent ABV)

This award-winning brewery brews Guava Grove in tribute to Tampa, Fla.’s fruity nickname. It’s made with a French strain of Saison yeast, with a secondary fermentation with pink guava puree. With this beer, experience barnyard flavors, carbonation, guava (of course), pepper, citrus, watermelon, clove and wheat.

7. Deschutes The Abyss: American Double/Imperial Stout (11 percent ABV)

You’ll want to dive into The Abyss at least once, thanks to its nearly immeasurable depth and complexity. This is barrel-aged for 12 months in bourbon, Oregon oak and pinot noir barrels.

8. Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA: India Pale Ale (9 percent ABV)

It’s named after the amount of time it’s continuously hopped, providing smack-you-in-the-face hop bitterness, while a good amount of malt sweetness provides balance. Notes of pine, pineapple and honey lend to its drinkability.

9. Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA: American IPA (7.5 percent ABV)

This is pretty darn close to a perfect beer, in my book. The bouquet is crammed with Pacific Northwest hops. Notes of lemon, pineapple, papaya and pine give it a juicy and resinous quality.

10. Founders KBS: Imperial Stout (12.4 percent ABV)

This world-class beer is available starting this month (April), so mark your calendars. Take your time to fully taste all of the layers: coffee, brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla, licorice, charred nuttiness and bourbon. After sitting in oak bourbon barrels for a year, KBS emerges with a boozy sweet bourbon profile.

11. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout: Imperial Stout (13.8 percent ABV)

From the bottle: “The original bourbon barrel aged Stout”; “Since 1992”; “Stout aged in bourbon barrels.” It smells like a bourbon dessert with sweet caramel up front. The complex notes include plums, figs and milk chocolate. This is decadence in a glass.

12. Green Flash Palate Wrecker: Double IPA (9.5 percent ABV)

The appropriately named Imperial IPA has thick, sticky, chunky lacing and pistol-blazing intense bitterness. The pineapple, mango and grapefruit sweetness perfectly balance with the insanely high number of IBUs.

13. Jolly Pumpkin La Parcela: Pumpkin Ale (5.9 percent ABV)

This is a perfect fall beer (that’s also good now!) with notes of pumpkin, cinnamon, brown sugar, chocolate, caramel, lemon zest, sour cherries and toast. This isn’t your average pumpkin ale, as it finishes with a refreshing tart sourness.

14. Kern River Brewing Citra: Imperial IPA (8 percent ABV)

This citrus-forward beer is almost faultless. There are lingering notes of lemon cake, candied mango and chocolate-covered strawberries. Citra is bright and fresh with a creamy mouth-feel.

15. Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale: Pale Ale (7.5 percent ABV)

The balance between malt and hop makes this wheat ale outstanding. With grapefruit, pine, mandarin and a hint of wheat malt sweetness, the flavor is bright and clean, with an excellent harmony of citrus hops and sweet malts.

16. Pizza Port/Lost Abbey Cuvee de Tomme: American Wild Ale (11 percent ABV)

The brewery made famous for brewing amazing Belgian-style beers decided to brew an unconventional sour brown ale in 1999. Made from four fermentable sugars, it is fully fermented before being placed in bourbon barrels, where it ages for one year with sour cherries. Think cherry, oak, vanilla, bourbon and brown sugar.

17. Russian River Pliny the Elder: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Beer-drinkers have been known to stand in line to enjoy this limited-supply double IPA. This is the easiest IPA to imbibe. It’s powerful, fragrant and amazingly complex, yet very smooth and clean. It’s worth the hype.

18. Saison Dupont: Saison (6.5 percent ABV)

This must-try beer is a top fermentation beer, with re-fermentation in the bottle. Since 1844, this beer has been brewed at La Brasserie Dupont’s farm-brewery. Hints of banana, pineapple, tropical fruit, pear and black pepperfinish with a German hop flavor. In the background hangs a light screen of barnyard funk.

19. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: American Pale Ale (5.6 percent ABV)

This is a homebrewer’s dream that turned into one of the most iconic beers in the craft-beer world. A generous amount of premium Cascade hops give the pale ale its fragrant bouquet and spicy flavor. Its piny and citrus-hop aroma comes with a slightly dry finish.

20. Stone Brewing: Imperial Russian Stout (10.6 percent ABV)

Go ahead and enjoy this decadent, black-as-night beer now, or age at cellar temperature. Or buy two and do both! This is heavy on dark fruits, molasses, chocolate, coffee and licorice, with a hint of alcohol burn.

21. The Alchemist Heady Topper: Double IPA (8 percent ABV)

Brewed out of Vermont, this is a world-class beer. The scent is a burst of tropical hops like pineapple, mango, grapefruit and peach. A hoppy start flexes and finishes into a malty finish, while staying incredibly smooth.

22. The Bruery Black Tuesday: Imperial Stout (19.2 percent ABV)

Released on the final Tuesday of October every year, this beer is The Bruery’s take on a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout. The nose is typically all dark chocolate, roasted coffee, toasted oak and bourbon. Despite its decadence and booziness, it’s wonderfully smooth.

23. 3 Floyds Zombie Dust: Pale Ale (6.2 percent ABV)

This intensely hopped undead pale ale pours peachy gold and gives off big aromas of citrus and tropical fruits. The taste is toasty buttered breadiness, and ripe tropical fruitiness. This is an exceptional beer.

24. 3 Floyds Dark Lord: Russian Imperial Stout (15 percent AB)

This RIS is brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar. Not for the faint of heart, Dark Lord is among the most opaque and black stouts on the market. What you smell is delivered in the taste—dark chocolate, cherries, plums, caramel, roasted malt and burnt sugar.

25. Victory Prima Pils: German Pilsner (5.3 percent ABV)

This signature pils is brewed with heaps of whole flower European hops and fine German malts. You may notice grass, cracker and pepper notes on the nose, and pear, white grape and hoppy bitterness in the taste. Enjoy it alone or with seafood or burgers.

Published in Beer

Like IPAs? You aren’t alone.

According to the Brewers Association, IPAs accounted for less than 8 percent of the craft beers sold in 2008. As of August 2015, 27.4 percent of beers sold were IPAs.

That’s a huge amount growth—and the popularity of IPAs continues to rise: According to the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference, by the end of 2017, the IPA category is projected to have grown to one-third of the nation’s total volume of craft beer.

The bitter brew has grown to new, different and stronger heights. To dive deeper into the popular style, I spoke with three amazing Southern California craft brewers.

First: Mitch Steele, until his departure on June 30, was the head brewmaster at Stone Brewing, and is the author of IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. IPAs account for more than 50 percent of Stone Brewing’s sales!

What are some of your favorite hops to brew with and why?

That’s a loaded question. For the past several years, I’ve really liked Citra. I think it’s a wonderful hop. We have done a lot of work with Australian and New Zealand hops, (like) Galaxy. … (Stone is) doing a collaboration brew with Heretic and Beachwood, and we’re using a new hop called Idaho 7, which I think has a lot of potential; it’s a new American variety. It’s got a lot of really nice citrus and piney character to it. … Centennial has have been one of my favorites. We’re doing a pilsner using Sterling in it, which I think is … absolutely a wonderful hop.

Do you think the overall growth in the industry and better drinkers’ palates have affected the popularity of IPAs?

Yeah, absolutely. It’s all anybody drinks, by in large. … I think people have gotten used to the taste of hops in their beer, and they enjoy it. It’s an acquired taste; I don’t think it’s any different than coffee. Most people don’t like them the first time they try them. At this point, craft is becoming—I don’t want to say mainstream, but a lot more popular than what it had been, and I think people are embracing the hop character and looking at. … We’re always looking for new flavors to get out of hops, and I think that’s a big part of it.

What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in IPAs?

Two things right now really stand out. No. 1 is the fruit IPA thing—the IPAs with added fruit, which only makes sense, because a lot of these new hop varieties that are out there produce flavors that are reminiscent of peach, pineapple and grapefruit and all that. So to actually augment the hop flavor with a fruit—it’s not new, but it’s really has taken off within the past year. … The other one would be the whole New England IPA—unfiltered IPA, really opaque versions of IPA. They’ve really gone to another level. There’s a lot of debate among brewers as to whether it’s a good thing or not. Most brewers are trained that you’ve got to have a clear beer when you serve it in the glass. This kind of flies in the face of that. You can’t deny the popularity of the beer.

What do you like about single-hop beers and that trend?

We do a lot of single-hop beers in small batches. … It’s a great way to really understand how a particular hop works in a beer, because so many beers are brewed with blends of hops. If you really want to get a feeling for what the hop is really all about, you’ve got to brew a single hop and do something fairly intensely hopped.

Do you have an overall philosophy in brewing IPAs? Has it changed or morphed over the years?

Yeah, I think it has evolved since Stone. I think a couple things have changed. I think the amount of hops used in a dry hop has gone up across the board with all brewers. It used to be that if you were using three-quarters of a pound of hops per barrel, you were dry hopping pretty aggressively. Now there are a lot of brewers who are using two pounds per barrel on a regular basis. That’s kind of something that I’ve embraced. …  By using four or five different varieties of hops, as flavored hops, if you do run into a crop issue with one of them, or the beer sells a heck of a lot more than you anticipated, and you can’t get one of the varieties, it’s a little easier to make a substitution than if it’s a single-hop IPA or one or two hops in the IPA. … (For me), the past four years have been about discovering new hop varieties and putting them in our beers. That’s been our main focus. In the past, it was, ‘OK what hops can I get?’ And I’ll build our beers around that. And now, it’s like, ‘OK, I want to build a beer around this hop.’”

What do you love about IPAs?

I like being challenged with the flavor. When you get an IPA that just captures that really brilliant intense hop flavor and hop aroma, it’s liquid gold to me. I love hoppy beers. They don’t have to be IPAs, but I love IPAs, because I know I’m always going to get a pretty intense hop character, and that’s going to teach me something.

What would you tell homebrewers out there who are interested in brewing IPAs?

Minimize crystal malt usage in the recipe. Sweet IPAs aren’t as drinkable as dry IPAs—and then the other thing is when the beer ages, the crystal malt corrodes, and the flavor totally masks the hop character. I would say it’s OK to use hops that aren’t traditionally used in IPAs, and have some fun with that; that’s how we discovered Sterling. It’s considered a noble type hop, and we threw it in an IPA and it’s just absolutely incredible. … You’re going to learn something either way, whether it turns out great or not.


Ben Cook is the president and master brewer at Hangar 24 in Redlands. While Hangar 24’s ever-popular and refreshing Orange Wheat makes up 55 percent of the company’s beer sales, Hangar’s Betty IPA makes up much of the rest. After a popular first release, the Double Betty was recently re-released.

“People appear to not be getting enough IPAs,” he said. “The Betty, since inception, has seen double- and triple-digit growth. … Often, it’s fun for brewers to see what we can do and push the limits on the alcohol and hop character we can fit into a beer, while making it still a really tasty beer—and not just, you know, a mess.”

Do you think the overall growth in the industry and better drinkers’ palates have affected the popularity of IPAs?

Yeah, absolutely, I mean, we were even resistant to it a little bit. We brewed so many different styles of beer. I think last year, when we were really focusing on top-line growth, we brewed more than 50 different styles of beer, using local ingredients … and then you go brew just a standard IPA, and it flies off the shelf. So, IPAs for sure are where the consumers are still at. … People have evolved to want more—more flavor, more bitterness, more hop profile, and so they moved onto IPAs, and haven’t quite started venturing out a lot more yet. People are getting into sours and other categories, but right now, the numbers pop: IPAs and IPA variants dominate.

What do you like about single-hop beers and that trend?

We used to do one. Our regular flagship IPA was called Columbus IPA. I like them, because … you can see what brewers are doing, so from a technical standpoint, I think they’re a lot of fun. I think they’re great to taste; it’s great for the brewers to drink them and know what that hop tastes like when it’s only in that beer. … Sometimes, it’s challenging to get those beers to have the same complexity and depth as beers that have multiple hop varietals in them. But you also have some amazing single hop beers; it’s just harder. It does make it a little more special.

Besides your own beer, what are your go-to IPAs right now?

I don’t think about beer like I used to. That would have been a really good question to ask toward the beginning of my beer career. But now, it’s not really a thought that enters my head, because it just depends on where I’m at. I’m never at a bar and ask, ‘Do they have this?’ It’s more of a, ‘What’s on tap?’ Then I look at what’s available, and if I’m drinking an IPA, I’ll look at the IPA list. If there’s anything I’ve never heard of … I’ll do a quick little search online and make sure I’m not diving into something I shouldn’t be diving into. My favorite beer is the one in my hand. That’s the joy of craft beer—there are all these varieties.

What are your thoughts on experimental hops and new or trendy hops like Citra and Mosaic? Do you have a process on choosing what hops to use with which beers?

I think that it’s fun, and it allows us to be innovative. I know brewers love it; the consumers love it. Experimental hops are a win for everyone. I hope the growers keep going down that path, and it appears they are. The more hops we have, the more we can differentiate ourselves and offer the consumer the variety they’re looking for.

What would you tell homebrewers out there who are interested in brewing IPAs?

Experiment. I think that’s what it’s all about. Do weird stuff that no one has ever done. Have fun experimenting, don’t stay within the standard practice and the standard amounts. Have fun with it.


Kyle Smith, the master of brewing for Kern River Brewing, focuses on IPAs. The category makes up 75 to 80 percent of the company’s craft-beer sales. Last year, the brewery produced close to 2,000 barrels. This year, it’s on pace to brew between 6,000 and 7,000 barrels.

What are some of the latest trends you’re seeing in IPAs

I’m seeing really aggressively hopped beers. It’s hard to find some of the balanced IPAs anymore. Don’t get me wrong; there are some really, really good ones out there, obviously. … (Drinkers) don’t want a bad IPA, where 10 years ago, we may not have known the difference. It’s kind of hard to find a bad IPA any more. Everybody’s palate is diverse now and can figure out, ‘Hey, this doesn’t work,’ or, ‘Wow, this really works,’ which is awesome.

Besides your own beer, what are your go-to IPAs right now?

There are so many good ones out there now. Anything from Russian River—you can’t go wrong. Where we’re at, since we’re so rural, I never see Russian River up here, so if I can pop a Blind Pig, I’m pretty stoked. I just had the new collaboration … from Noble (and) Cellarmaker, Dank You for Being a Friend. That was an awesome IPA. Societe Brewing—anything from those guys. A good stand-by is Sierra Nevada Torpedo; you can’t go wrong with that beer.

Do you have an overall philosophy in brewing IPAs? Has it changed or morphed over the years?

My philosophy is always, when it comes to actual brewing, I like to go heavy on the later additions, which gives you more of a floral aroma. Also, I try to stay away from the caramel malts. I’ll use a little bit, but be real sparing, because after a while, the caramel malts will stand out more than the hops. … If it’s a single IPA, I really enjoy keeping it mid-range alcohol content, somewhere between 6 and 6.5 percent. I feel like it’s a little bit more drinkable.

What do you love about IPAs?

I love the amazing aroma that comes off from the floral hops that we use, and then also a little bit of a bitterness and the balance of the malt. That’s what we kind of strive for in our IPAs. It’s more of a balance-forward IPA, not just strictly hop-forward—there’s just a little bit of a malt balance also.

What are your thoughts on experimental hops and new or trendy hops like Citra and Mosaic? Do you have a process on choosing what hops to use with which beers?

We use a lot of those hops. We use a lot of Mosaic in our session IPAs. … We do a series of experimental IPAs called Think Tank. We rotate a different hop just to see what kind of profile it has. I enjoy a lot of those hops. Citra has been around for a while. Some of the newer experimental hops … we’ve used a few. They seem to be a little muddled; they seem to be a cross between all these different flavors. … With Kern’s Think Tank series, we are able to experiment at the pub … and get feedback from the locals.

Published in Beer