CVIndependent

Mon05202019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Brett Newton

As I type this, I’m taking shelter from the wind that is offering another merciful reprieve from the inevitable heat to come. When the heat does arrive, you can bet I’ll be looking to get the hell (no pun intended) out of the Coachella Valley when I can. Thankfully, there are many escape options, all within a two-hour drive—many with treats for the craft-beer lover.

Julian is a little mountain town, founded by a former Confederate soldier; Julian later saw a gold rush started by the find of a former slave. It’s about 100 miles from the Coachella Valley, a good way to the northeast of the more densely populated parts of San Diego County. The first I heard of the town was due to the opening of Julian Hard Cider, which is fitting because—as many area signs will inform you—the town is known for its apple pies. There was also the lesser-known Julian Brewing Company that was started by Vince Marsaglia (co-founder of Pizza Port Brewing) and Tom Nickel (owner of the legendary O’Brien’s Pub in San Diego). I visited 2013 and was very impressed by the handful of highly drinkable beers they had on tap. During a tour of their three-barrel brewhouse, the highlight was the view of the horse next to a tree on the hill from the nearby window. To call it “rustic” would be to exaggerate.

That same year, Tom Nickel sold his stake in the company and opened Nickel Beer Company just a few minutes away. Julian Brewing Co. eventually closed (only to be reopened in 2017), while Nickel continued to take inspiration from local ingredients and was able to sell his wares at his own bar to boot. I was finally enticed to drive up to the brewery three years ago with a newsletter’s promise of “wet hop” ales. “Wet hops” are hops harvested from the bines (fun fact: hops grow on bines, not vines) in the fall and thrown into the kettle (or “dry-hopped” in the tanks … somehow, that is not an oxymoron). Wet hops give off different characteristics than their dried and pelletized counterparts—usually bright grassy flavors, but it can run the gamut. When you find a good one, the difference is noticeable, and the hop flavors and aromas seem a little more alive. Nickel didn’t disappoint: I tried at least four different beers all utilizing the wet hops, and every one was tasty and very quaffable.

When the latest newsletter promised beers using South African hops (a newer and brilliant hop-growing region whose hops are locked down pretty tightly thanks to AB InBev—truly the evil empire of the beer world) and a collaboration with New Hampshire’s Moonlight Meadery, I figured it was a good time to take another drive up the mountain. This was the Monday after the last weekend of the shitshow we’ve come to endure every year called Coachella, so I decided to head the opposite way, past the Salton Sea and up through Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I like to try to work for my beers if possible, so I hiked up to Cuyamaca Peak (a mere 20 feet from being the highest peak in San Diego County). It’s paved, but the views—even of the once fire-ravaged landscape—are well worth the haul. After a bite to eat at the top (thank you, TKB Bakery and Deli, for making the beautiful sandwiches that you do!), it was time to head back into Julian and claim my prizes.

As you pull up to the brewery, you see just how small it is and how bucolic its surroundings are. The patio seating area is almost as large as the entire building in square feet. But as we craft-beer fans know, it’s not the size of the ship, but the motion in the brew kettle.

I began with a few tasters to get the lay of the land. There was just too much I wanted to try, and a two-hour drive home awaited me. I tried the aforementioned pale ale containing the very tropical South African hop goodness. I can’t find this beer’s name (I failed to record it), but there is a wet hop version, and the hops for that were acquired from Star B Ranch in nearby Ramona.

Meanwhile, Dark Side of the Moonlight was decadent. This is the previously mentioned meadery collaboration; it’s a imperial honey porter using more than 100 pounds of local avocado honey which is dangerously drinkable for its 10.3 percent alcohol by volume. The grapefruit version of their Volcan IPA was filled with citrus character without being too big of a bitter bomb. But the winner of the Get in My Growler Prize was the Tahoma IPA. Tahoma hops were new to me (but then again, most hops are; there is a dizzying number of strains, with more coming out all the time); they impart a wonderful melon and bright citrus aroma and flavor. With the delicious malt base underneath, this got me ordering a full glass to accompany my view of the scenery.

A few beers I wanted to try, but couldn’t, are worth mentioning here. On the on the list is the Pickel Weisse. From their website: “Our Berliner Weisse is blended with our house made Spicy Garlic Dill Pickel Juice to create a very unique beer with a definitive pickle flavor and aroma. Great with Bloody Mary mix. Four percent alcohol.” I really want to try it and need to drop what I’m doing the next time it goes on tap. Sour Apple Pie Ale has me thirstily curious as well.

I feel like I could copy and paste the “Our Beers” section, and most of them would be on my wish list, but I think you get the point that I’m trying to make here: You should take your own trip up the mountain, and see for yourself.

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..

Prime barbecue season is upon us—and barbecuing lends itself to Mexican food.

I’ll never look down my nose at Mexican mass-produced beer—it’s better overall than American mass-produced beer, in my opinion—but an even better sensory experience can be had with Mexican cuisine if you step up the beer game. To put it bluntly: You can do better than beers where the ads instruct you to put a wedge of lime in the bottle. (Why didn’t they just add that when they were brewing?) But I digress.

Instead of just listing pairings of entrées and beer styles, it would be more helpful to summarize some of the most-common ingredients in Mexican cuisine, and explain why they might be better partners with certain types of beers:

Corn: This is a staple in both Mexican food and beer. That distinct corn flavor and sweetness make Mexican beer styles an obvious choice for pairing. A lot of Mexican beer (excluding the brews from the excellent Mexican craft breweries burgeoning at the moment) consists of German-style pilsner with corn; the darker stuff is Vienna lager with corn. Corn adds sugar to a beer with almost no body, making the finished beer drier, and usually imparting at least a hint of corn flavor. The Belgians have been doing something similar with candi sugar (made from beets) to dry out their stronger beers and make them devilishly drinkable.

Pork: German beer was basically designed around the stuff, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more natural pairings than pork and most German styles. This has to do with malt: Many German styles call for malt to be kilned in such a way as to create melanoidins. Melanoidins are what give you that distinct browned-bread character—the same flavor you can get from searing pork or beef (not to be confused with caramelization). I think you can see why, say, a German bock is a no-brainer for pairing with pork.

Cheese: I mention cheese more for its texture than anything. (This is not to say that traditional Mexican cheeses are necessarily mild.) This one is more about mouthfeel, and crisper or higher-strength beers (or both in one, perhaps) will help scrub the palate. This is equally important with the next ingredient …

Beans: Frijoles are a massive staple, and mouthfeel is again the most-important factor to consider here, as there are also likely to be other flavors to deal with in any particular dish that includes or comes with beans.

Chiles: I am a huge fan of spice, and there are some very noteworthy things to take into account when pairing beer with spicy food. The first is that alcohol accentuates capsaicin (the stuff that makes chiles burn), and so do hops. This does not mean that you should never pair a triple IPA with spicy chicken tinga, but it does mean you should be aware that you’re throwing a bit of gasoline on that fire when you do. Malty, less-crisp beers help here, so consider English styles when up against spiciness. It works for Indian cuisine, too.

Now that we are armed with some fundamentals, let’s tackle actual pairings with specific dishes. One thing I haven’t covered yet is seafood. Ceviche is one of my favorites; while refreshing on its own, it can be exponentially so when paired with the right beer. A Belgian witbier and a German hefeweizen are both great choices. A citrusy pale ale is also not a bad idea, but beware of oily fish, as hops turn that flavor combination into metallic unpleasantness.

Carnitas is another beautiful thing to behold; I already mentioned one pairing (bock), but a Munich dunkel lager will do just as well.

Good chicken mole is hard to come by locally (if I am missing out on a place where they do it right, please contact me), which is a shame, because a nice porter or dry Irish stout will do wonders with it. Craft breweries have long caught on to Mexican chocolate flavors; you can try pairing with one of those, but instead, I recommend supporting the mole flavors and letting them do that work with your beer. Along those lines, if you’re looking to try something lighter that can still match the intensity of this dish, try a German schwarzbier: It’s a black lager that shares some darker beer flavors of chocolate, coffee and dark fruit, but without any roasty quality, and with a bit of a fire-extinguishing effect if the mole is up there in spice.

A few parting thoughts, before I send you on the path to sabor. One is that it is generally a good idea to match intensities with beer/food pairings. Another consideration is whether you want to complement, contrast or combine. This takes much more explanation, and the best way to do that is to read up on the subject. I wrote a column a while back on pairing beer and food that covers some of it, but if you want more depth, I would highly recommend Beer Pairing: The Essential Guide From the Pairing Pros by Julia Herz and Gwen Conley, or The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver, one of the very few master cicerones. Both are great guides and are very good at getting you to be more mindful when it comes to pairing any beverage with food, never mind beer.

The next time you have a chance to enjoy a Mexican dish, forget the typical Mexican lagers, and swing for the gustatorial fences. And, hey: Even if your pairing lets you down, you still have beer and Mexican food to comfort you. ¡Salud!

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..

For the casual craft-beer drinker, it’s difficult enough to simply keep up with all of the different IPAs that keep sprouting up. Is it a New England IPA or a milkshake IPA? What is a brut IPA? Or a Southwest IPA? What’s the difference between a hoppy sour ale and a sour IPA?

Thankfully, I’m here to muddy the waters by talking about obscure beer styles. Some of these have been resurrected by modern brewers who are just too damn curious and greedy (I mean that in the best way possible) to stick with known beer styles. Some brewers have even gone to great lengths to hunt down historical recipes or, at the very least, try to divine how the particular defunct style seems to have been made, and how it was supposed to taste.

What follows is a list of styles that you might need to go out of your way to try—or perhaps attempt to make it yourself.

Kentucky Common: Let’s start relatively local and recent with a beer that grew out of the influx of German and Irish émigrés into America in the mid-19th century. This is one of a small handful of styles that can claim to be truly American. Brewed with the native, protein-rich six-row malt and some native corn for smoothness, this beer is akin to a darker version of the American cream ale style. The darker, more-acidic malt additions would have likely been necessary due to the alkaline Kentucky water, something German and Irish immigrants would have known much about. However, there is a misnomer that this beer was soured using a sour-mash process typically used for American whiskey. This myth has been debunked, however, so if you come across a beer claiming to be a Kentucky common that is sour, you’ve been sold a false experience (but if the beer is pleasant, it shouldn’t be too hard to shrug off).

This style was not very shelf-stable, and it therefore became extinct around Prohibition. Thankfully, intrepid American brewers have revived the style to the point that the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) added it to their Historical Styles category in 2015. I have never come across one locally, so if you find one, let me know.

Oyster Stout: This is about as literal of a name as you can get for a beer style, folks: Bivalves are dumped into the mash during the brewing process. No joke. Oysters and stouts are a classic food pairing, so it isn’t hard to imagine that some wise-ass brewer decided to combine the two. Here’s where things get really interesting, though: This style might have begun as a myth and became a reality.

At one time, oyster shells were used by brewers as clarifying (referred to as "fining") agents in beer. I have Porterhouse Brewing Company in Dublin to thank for my first oyster stout experience. They refer to themselves as "the largest Irish-owned brewery.” This is accurate and also has the benefit of being a pithy jab at Guinness, which is owned by a multi-national company. But I digress. As odd as this style sounds, all that is really added is a briny quality to the overall beer, and Porterhouse’s version is a damn fine dry Irish stout to begin with.

For the curious, the best bet is to find Flying Dog Brewing’s version, called Pearl Necklace. It is nationally distributed, and I’ve seen it on the shelves more than once.

Grodziskie/Grätzer: This is an old Polish oak-smoked wheat ale originating from the town of Grodzisk. Under Prussian rule, it was known by its German name of Grätz (pronounced like "grates") and thus the beer style was dubbed Grätzer as it gained in popularity. The last Polish brewer of the style closed in the first half of the 20th century, but due to the current boom in craft beer curiosity, the style was revived and gained BJCP status in 2013. The style is brewed using oak-smoked raw wheat in the grain bill and was traditionally anywhere from 2 to 6 percent alcohol by volume. The resulting beer is an oaky, bready golden ale with a slight fruity, apple note and mild hop bitterness.

This is one where you are going to need to get lucky and either find one on a shelf somewhere or walk into a brewery that happens to have tried the experiment. I recall having one at Modern Times in San Diego, and buying a bottle from a European brewery off of the shelf at La Bodega in nearby Riverside. I enjoyed both—but smoked beers are not everyone’s cup of tea.

Steinbier: Onward to southern Austria, where a certain type of stone (or stein, in German) called greywacke abounds. Producing enough energy to convert the mash grains into sugars, and then to boil the resulting wort, was a difficult task for most of recorded history. However, amateur brewers found that if they used wooden vessels and heated greywacke stones to certain temperatures, they could drop those stones into the kettle and accomplish what was necessary.

There are a few interesting upshots of this method. One is that the sugars instantly caramelize, and the stone adds a bit of smoke to the wort. Another is that you can get badly burned by this process if you try it without the proper precautions. (You might recall some videos you’ve seen of idiots operating turkey fryers without properly defrosting the turkeys.) Another interesting tidbit is that greywacke is a very important choice of stone, as it retains heat well without exploding when added to the kettle. You can imagine that this style was honed with pioneering brewers being badly burned or maimed.

A great example of the style is brewed on occasion by Port Brewing of San Diego and is appropriately called Hot Rocks Lager. The caramel and fruit flavors are nice, but it seems a long road to hoe for a style that really isn’t that exceptional.

Braggot: This is really a hybrid of two different things: beer and mead. If your sole experience with mead is reading Beowulf and wondering what in the hell a mead hall is, then you are missing out. Some of the best meads, nay, alcoholic beverages I’ve ever had have been thanks to my friend and liquid conjurer, Chris Anderson. When done expertly, it’s glorious. There was his orange blossom mead, a prickly pear mead, a tropical fruit mead made with Hawaiian Christmas honey (which he estimated probably cost him in the hundreds of dollars per bottle to make … and it tasted like it) and his infamous "Mega Mead"—a mead he made using a special satchel of fruits, herbs and spices that he "ice distilled" into a 33 percent nectar monster.

Sorry, I got distracted. Where was I? Ah, yes: Combine beer and mead, traditionally with added ingredients, and you have a braggot. It’s that simple. Most examples are heady and contain a fair amount of alcohol, so this is a great beer for sharing on a cold evening after dinner. I have not come across many examples of this style, and the one I remember most readily is Rogue Brewing’s Marionberry Braggot, which I found to be pretty tasty but far too simultaneously sweet and acidic. I hope to come across more examples so I can give this blended style a fair shake.

I’ve only scratched the surface here, so this subject looks to have the makings of a multi-part column. I’ve heard of and tried all of these styles before, but in researching them, I stumbled upon some fascinating, if not frightening, historical styles. Perhaps I’ll save those for Halloween.

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..

An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit. —Pliny the Younger (A.D. 61-113), author; imperial magistrate to Roman emperor Trajan; nephew and adopted son of the famed naturalist (among other titles) Pliny the Elder.

Almost two millennia later, a man named Vinnie Cilurzo began brewing what came to be considered the first double IPA, in nearby Temecula at his small brewery called Blind Pig. Cilurzo’s name for this beer was Pliny the Elder and was based on a wives’ tale of sorts that the historical Pliny had discovered and named wild hops (lupus salictarius, which were not actually hops, it turns out). The beer itself was undeniable: Despite being brightly dank, catty, citrusy and piney from the generous amount of hops added both during the boil and after, and being 8 percent alcohol by volume, it was all well-balanced with the beer’s malt foundation. “Deadly quaffable” would be how I remember it being when I first tried it.

Cilurzo eventually moved his operation up north to Santa Rosa and renamed his brewery Russian River Brewing Company. His beers, Pliny the Elder especially, have retained a hype that is impressive and mostly deserved since Elder was first brewed in 2000.

Imagine the hype, then, that developed for a triple IPA version of the beer, which Cilurzo dubbed Pliny the Younger: It was 10.25 percent ABV, copper in color, with even bigger hop flavors and a more-substantial malt backbone to match. This beer became legend for the very small amount brewed and allotted to select locations, mostly throughout California, in February.

I experienced the fervor some years back when I went with a group of my Coachella Valley Homebrew Club friends to the now-sadly defunct Barley and Hops Olde World Family Tavern in Temecula. After waiting in line for 30-60 minutes and drinking one of Russian River’s many gorgeous wine-barrel-aged sour ales, I finally got my allotted 10-ounce pour. This was about six years ago, but I remember it being very intense, with citrus and pine aromas and flavors, properly balanced out by the malt. It was hard to distinguish from a hoppy American barleywine—but it was a very nice beer. However, I have a weird habit of bringing much of the overall experience, including the hassle of obtaining the beer itself, to my opinion of a beer. So … was all the hoopla worth the chance to taste this beer?

I chose the word "chance" not incautiously: In many instances, you can find yourself arriving early at such events to find that many people arrived far earlier—with the beer running out before your turn. I experienced this at The Salted Pig gastropub in downtown Riverside a few years ago, and it drove home the point that I ought to figure the time and effort spent to obtain an experience into the overall equation. This is not to denigrate anyone involved, be it Russian River, the venues that serve Pliny the Younger, or the people for whom the equation “four hours waiting in line + one pour of Younger (and often other RR beers) = worthwhile." I just want to make a case for the overall overrated nature of the beer.

In many beer circles, that previous statement is blasphemy. Truly. Pliny the Elder is far more available today, and it is still treated with the utmost reverence, to the point that when it’s available in the Coachella Valley, there are certain people who will hoard it. In the not-so-recent past, Elder was the Holy Grail as far as beer traders were concerned. You could get many prized beers for the right amount of it. However, between Russian River Brewing’s upgrade to a more-expansive brewhouse in Windsor, and the sheer proliferation of amazing double IPAs, Pliny the Elder’s trade value has declined. Might we see a similar decline in the general circus surrounding Pliny the Younger? Well, I have tasted three imperial/triple IPAs that I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone that are just as good (if not better) as Younger—all made in Southern California.

Let’s start in Long Beach with Beachwood Brewing’s Hops of Fury, and then move south to San Diego with Societe Brewing’s The Roustabout. Traveling east down Interstate 8 from there puts us at Alpine Beer Company, where their Exponential Hoppiness, while once brewed in much smaller amounts and less easily obtained (but easier than Younger—and in bottles!), has been made for more than a decade.

A perfect illustration of this point is the speed at which Pliny the Younger sold out at the legendary Toronado San Diego. All three of these other beers were also on tap—and still are as I type this, two days after Younger went on. I would be the guy that skips the nuttiness and happily gets pours of the other beauties relatively hassle-free. (Also worth a mention on the "alternative to Younger" front are Melvin Brewing’s 2X4 and Revision Brewing’s Dr. Lupulin, both of which are big, beautiful, hoppy beers that can be found at the right times of year at our local Total Wine and More.)

The reason I chose this topic now is the fact that for the first time, the Coachella Valley has seen not one, but two tappings of this iconic beer. A tapping of Younger at La Quinta Brewing’s Old Town Taproom has already happened (alongside a plethora of other RR beers I’m more excited about, frankly), and another might have also happened at Eureka! Indian Wells. I went to the former tapping at La Quinta (in the name of science, of course). I got there an hour early, having been conditioned by these events that this was already late. I was third in line, and I needn’t have really worried. That’s the charm of our desert beer scene, I guess. I will say that when I finally got my glass, it was brightly citrus and tropical (hints of guava and papaya), with some pine—a shockingly drinkable triple IPA. Yeah, it was worth waiting a little bit for, but had it been more than that, I could have been at peace with missing out.

Those who view me as a "Debbie Downer" will be ecstatic to know that I think this these tappings are a very good sign for our local beer scene—as are the first local sightings of Beachwood Brewing and Beachwood Blendery beers. I’m personally more excited about the beers that will come from the latter breweries, but from what I’m told about Russian River’s new brewing facility, I’m definitely looking forward to what they do next.

Life is short, and it’s important to put a value on the time and effort that goes into any endeavor. Does everything balance toward the positive? Did the object of your desire retain the charm that it had in its pursuit? I sincerely hope so.

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..

Ladies and gentlemen, residents of and visitors to the Coachella Valley: The state of craft beer in our fine desert community is … meh.

Let's start where it makes the most sense: Our breweries. I'm going to need to leave much to the imagination here, because I work for one of them, and that presents a conflict of interest. As my colleagues and bosses will attest to, I would never root against any brewery here. I am a fan of craft beer first, and if all of our breweries were pumping out only great beer, that would mean more great beer for me to try. Alas, this is not the case … but it is actually trending in that direction.

The truth is that there is room for all three current local breweries to grow when it comes to beer quality. Brew great beer, and I (and many others) will show up—I promise you. This is not really competition, because as I previously stated, more great beer is more great beer. That seems to reach critical mass in some cities; repeat this process, and sooner than you'd think, you find yourself in a beer mecca. It feels like San Jacinto and San Gorgonio keep more than just rain away from our valley sometimes, I'm afraid. 

OK, that was a little dark … not everything is being kept away. Local beer hero and friend Chris Anderson had a hand in opening Woody's Moreno Valley, which is connected to Woody's Palm House in Palm Springs. It is housed where P.H. Woods once was, which was once connected to Babe's Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage. Now that "Six Degrees of Separation" is done, what makes this relevant is that the beer is on tap at the Palm Springs location. I recently tried the IPA and the pilsner, and I can happily report that they were delicious. This is not a surprise, seeing that Chris—founder and former head brewer at Coachella Valley Brewing Co.—was involved. He pulled a brewer over from Hangar 24 to head the operation now, and I'm looking forward (with my usual managed expectations, of course) to some more good beer from them.

More good news: Desert Beer Company will be opening this year. This is the work of former CVB taproom manager Devon Sanchez and will be located in Palm Desert, not far from La Quinta Brewing's brewery. As a former co-worker, you’d think I would know more about this, but I do not. Perhaps this is by his design, but whatever the case, I do wish him all the luck in the world. Say it with me once more: More good beer in the valley is a good thing.

Bottle shops are still wanting here. Total Wine and More seems to be the best place to get beer, but some of the local beer distributors can be very lax when it comes to rotating stock—and you are very much in danger of buying out-of-date beer if you are not diligently checking the dates on the packaging. While not in the Coachella Valley, Sam's Market in Joshua Tree deserves mention as the people there curate a great selection of craft beers from all around Southern California. Alas, the fact that you have to drive 50 minutes from the middle of the valley to find a proper craft-beer selection is not flattering to our beer scene.

If you have never set foot in a place that has a large and almost overwhelming (in the best way) selection of beers, stop by La Bodega next time you are in Riverside. Can the local market support something like that? That is a great question. I can't really crunch any numbers without doing some intense research, but if you asked me to venture a guess, I’d lean toward saying yes—a very caveat-laden yes. It would have to be done right (i.e., not by some people with money and a faint familiarity with beer who want to try and “get in on the action” but instead end up half-assing it), and it would need to be in the right location. In other words, it would be an uphill battle. There's an idea for the name of the store: Sisyphus' Stone. Inspiring, I know.

Beer bars are pretty much the same as they were a year ago. Eureka! Indian Wells gets my craft-beer dollar more than any other, and not because it is one of the closer places to get a craft on tap in relation to where I live. It's a little pricey (compared to their location in Redlands, even) and the selection needs some serious curation, though.

There are definitely other places worth mentioning. Dead or Alive Bar is one of my favorites when I'm in Palm Springs. Christine Soto is mindful of her smaller but interesting selection of beers. Then there’s the unique vibe of the place and the fact that I almost always get sucked into a good conversation with her, her bartenders and/or strangers when I'm there. The guest taps at La Quinta Brewing's satellite taprooms are often good and worth checking out, as is the "Chalkboard" at the Yard House.

I now want to take a few deep breaths here, apologize and explain: I am frustrated and searching my soul for reasons to live up to my desire to help grow a legitimate craft-beer scene in the Coachella Valley. I love this area, and consider myself as being from here, having moved here when I was a young lad in 1987. I have family and friends here. Look around you: It's beautiful. But I'm going to need you to meet me halfway here. There are only so many blows to the head I can take from bashing it against this figurative wall before I have to say, "Enough!" and walk away. Together, we could do a lot. If you have never attended a top-tier beer dinner, I wish I could gift you that experience. We certainly have the high-quality cuisine here, and there is so much world-class beer within a two-hour drive that it would be eminently possible, to say the least. Is anyone willing to try?

This is a cry for help. I have helped put together some dinners like this, and I want to do many more. I just need a handful of people here that give enough of a shit. Let's do this, Coachella Valley. I love you and don't want to need to leave you to make my dreams come true.

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..

It’s that time of year again: Saturnalia.

Sorry, I mean: Christmas. (I think this column’s new Latin name is getting to me. Although, seriously, Saturnalia—the wild ancient Roman winter festival—seems way more fun than Christmas. However, I digress.)

I won’t be covering Hanukkah or Kwanzaa beers, although I have celebrated Hanukkah multiple times, because my mother’s side of the family is Jewish; therefore, according to the matrilineal tradition of Judaism, I am considered a Jew. Sadly, there is not a wealth of Hanukkah beers; that, plus my ignorance of Kwanzaa outside of Lionel Richie references in “All Night Long,” means I’m forced to stick with Yuletide-themed beers.

I will be doing the very cliché thing of recommending some of favorite holiday beers to you. But isn’t that what Christmas is really about, anyway? (Yeah, yeah, there’s that Middle Eastern guy who people have carried on about for the last two millennia, too.)

Enough of my insolence. Let’s get to the list.

Winter Welcome Ale, Samuel Smith Old Brewery: The wassail (pronounced wahss-uhl) is an English tradition that extends back before the Norman Conquest. In the context of beer, in medieval times, a traditional winter wassail consisted of hot strong ale, sugar, spices and roasted apples. It came to America as the “Winter Warmer” and usually consisted of a stronger English ale that, if not spiced, gave hints of spice from the malts and hops used.

This is my favorite incarnation of the wassail (that I can find, of course) and has been for a very long time. If you haven’t experienced the beer of Yorkshire, England’s own Samuel Smith Old Brewery, you should; they are pretty widely available here, and I cannot recommend them enough. This beer gives the distinct English malt nose of treacle and caramel, with earthy, woodsy hop notes from the Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops. There is a lingering flavor of plum, and as it warms a little, you can pick up apple esters from the English yeast. It warms my heart more than my chest, even though it has a respectable 6 percent alcohol by volume—a medium-high level of alcohol as English ales go. I may use a bottle of this to attempt a traditional wassail drink. Wish me luck.

Delirium Noël, Brouwerij Huyghe: No, I didn’t just pass out on my keyboard. That’s the name of the Belgian brewery that also brings you its flagship beer, Delirium Tremens. Christmas versions of Belgian abbey ales are not uncommon and are among my favorite seasonal beers. (This is unsurprising, really, since many of my favorite beers are Belgian or Belgian-inspired.)

This Belgian dark strong ale clocks in at 10 percent ABV, but like any well-made abbey ale, the alcohol is well-hidden in the aroma and flavor. This is due to the widespread use of candy sugar that adds alcohol during fermentation but, due to its lack of proteins, doesn’t also add body as malt sugars would. This leads to deadly drinkable beers with tons of flavor. In this particular beer, I picked up a slightly floral note, plus apple, spiced plum, clove and a hint of banana. That is followed up by a lovely warmth in the chest as it goes down, but not so much as to prevent the next sip. If you’re a beer drinker but haven’t tried Belgian ales, you need Jesus.

Christmas Ale, Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV: Here’s another dark Belgian Christmas ale from one of my favorite Belgian breweries. This brewery is unique, not just because of the exceptional quality of all of its beers, but also because of the character of its yeast. It contains many of the characteristic esters and phenols found in other Belgian ales, but also a unique hint of licorice. I don’t even like the flavor in the wild, but when it’s embedded among other flavors expertly, it’s very satisfying. Such is the case with this Christmas ale.

This very dry 10 percent ABV with dark fruit, banana, clove and, of course, a hint of licorice is balanced by a medium-bitter spice finish. Am I making it plain enough how much I love Belgian ales yet?

Jubelale 2018, Deschutes Brewery: From closer to home comes a beer from a beloved beer-maker in Bend, Ore. This is their version of the wassail, and while at a traditional 6.7 percent ABV, it is true to American versions of Old World styles and is hoppier. I usually decry this lack of imagination when it comes to such American recreations, but here, it suits the beer.

Cocoa powder, prune, coffee, a hint of cherry, raisin and a lovely toasted quality are all in play with this one. It has a medium-bitter finish and medium body; the extra hops not only contribute flavor, but balance out all of the malt flavors, making it actually thirst-quenching.

Rise and Pine, Uinta Brewing Company: This beer is a recent favorite of mine from a Salt Lake City brewery whose beers I’ve happily sampled for a decade. I first tried Rise and Pine last year and fell in love. This is described as a “hoppy dark ale” with juniper and piney hops—and it delivers just that. I wondered why it wasn’t considered a black IPA until I saw the malt bill on Uinta’s website and noticed it didn’t include any pale malt. Mystery solved.

Aromas and flavors of prunes, pine and grapefruit predominate and evoke Christmas. It has a medium body but is crisp enough to be very drinkable despite the 7.5 percent ABV. I took a can of this on each of my biggest hikes last year and enjoyed them tremendously. (You might think it foolish to have a beer after a big hike, but for my cousin Josh and me, it almost immediately relieved all of the aching in the legs.) Especially after hiking up to the Palm Springs tram, this beer was a fitting end to a very rugged trek.

I hope I’ve portrayed how much I love these beers and look forward to greeting them every year, like friends I haven’t seen since last Christmas. Give them a try, and see what you think—preferably beside a fire with friends and/or family around.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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..

The year is 1994. Nelson Mandela has been elected president of South Africa; Amazon.com is founded by Jeff Bezos; the Chunnel between France and the United Kingdom is newly opened; famed athlete and actor O.J. Simpson is in a white Ford Bronco going somewhere with his friend Al Cowlings; I am a junior at Palm Desert High School, just getting into craft beer.

OK, it wasn’t yet “craft beer”; it was called “microbrew” back then, and it was beginning to gain traction with the public thanks to breweries like Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada.

Enter Erik Neiderman. He decided to be way ahead of his time, and opened the Palm Springs Brewing Company in downtown Palm Springs.

To put this in some context, San Diego’s craft-beer scene was just getting under way. Today, there are more than 150 breweries in San Diego County … and three here in the desert. That fits my definition of “ahead of the curve.”

However, as I began looking into the brewery, I became troubled by the utter lack of information about it. Sure, I got returns for the current Palm Springs Brewing Company beers at Revel Public House (this incarnation isn’t brewing beer—yet; Mason Ale Works is contracted to make the brews at the moment), but the only thing on the first PSBC I could find was an interview with Erik Neiderman’s father, Andrew, by Palm Springs Life magazine. Andrew Neiderman is the author of many books including The Devil’s Advocate (yes, the story that was made into a movie where Al Pacino became a full caricature of himself; he hasn’t looked back since). The article mentions the brewery briefly, but there was nothing of substance.

This meant I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to work. I asked my friend Joshua Kunkle, librarian and president of the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club, where I should go next. I had an eerie feeling I might have to sort through microfiche (Google THAT, kids!), but Josh found a breadcrumb thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine: It was Palm Springs Brewing Company’s website from the 1990s, shown here. (It’s so beautifully ’90s that it made me nostalgic for the old modem dial-up sounds.) It was a good start, but I needed to keep digging.

I eventually tracked down Erik Neiderman through the website of the company for which he now works. Thankfully, he was less creeped out and more impressed. (Does this make me an investigative beer journalist? Can I travel around the world and just do this now? Maybe I can get a TV show. And a badge. I definitely want a badge.)

Erik Neiderman was kind enough to answer some of my questions via email.

How did you get started with brewing?

I was in the restaurant business for a few years. I had been vacationing in San Diego, where one of the first brewpubs, Brewski’s, opened. I wasn’t much for beer in those days. A friend suggested I try this new microbeer. After that, I wanted to open my own place.

What was your training?

I was trained by a handful of brewers. I didn’t attend a trade school or university for brewing sciences. Back then, I think only UC Davis had a program. After my first few months of training, I hired a brewer to work with me when I opened the original restaurant/brewery. That was actually called BrewMeisters.

What were the beers/breweries in what used to be known as “microbrewing” that you enjoyed?

We primarily brewed English-style ales. From a business perspective lager- or pilsner-style beers didn’t seem practical, although later on we did brew a few varieties. My favorites where old English style; (I’m) not sure if they would be considered “microbrewing.” … Going to the Great American Beer Festival back in the early days was such a treat. We would meet home-brewers trying to make a go of it. I tasted some amazing beers back in those days.

When did the brewery open, and when did it ultimately close?

(We were) open in 1994, closed the restaurant in 1996 (sold it, actually), and continued to brew offsite and bottle and keg until 2001. We had built a 500-barrel production plant off of Gene Autry Trail.

What were some of your favorite/proudest moments there?

The people. Everyone was new to the idea, and everyone contributed to making something of it. It wasn’t easy, since most people had been a fan of Bud or Coors. When we sold our first keg off-site, I think I was most proud of what we did: Someone else wanted to tap and serve our beer at their establishment.

Your favorite beers you brewed there?

Porter and stout. I liked beers with flavor.

Do you still enjoy craft beer? If so, whose beers are you a fan of? It’s an amazing world compared to the late ’90s, especially here in So Cal.

Honestly, I’m a wine guy. I do enjoy my beer from time to time. I just came back from Germany a few weeks ago. Had some great brews there. Once in a while, I will buy a few just to reminisce.

Why did the brewery close down?

We sold the restaurant off in 1996 to focus on off-site production. We built the 500-barrel production plant with the first in-line pasteurizer, for shelf-stable microbrew. We turned the production plant into a home for the little guys as well. We dedicated 150 barrels of fermentation to “Mom and Pop” shops that couldn’t afford a bottling line and allowed them to come in to brew and finish the beer. We would then bottle it for them. That is how we made money besides selling our own products around the desert.

In 2001, I was approached by a company that made soda. We started to produce soda for them on the side. This led to more soda, and eventually they brought me a product to produce that was called Energy in a bright-green package. We made a deal to build a larger plant in Indio just for their products. That took us out of the beer business; I handed most of my products and clients to a friend in the high desert. He still operates today: Indian Wells Brewing Company, (run by) Rick Lovett. Oh, and that “Energy” drink in the bright green package ... they changed the name from “Energy” to “Monster.”


A special thanks to Erik for his help in satisfying my curiosity. He left me with one last thought: “I hope that helps you out. Fun thinking about the old times. One of my partners in the business passed away a few years ago, and his sister sent me a news article from the brewery. Good times. I hope your experience with brewing is among the best times of your life. It was for me.”

With that, I raise a toast in honor of the original Palm Springs Brewing Company.


You may have noticed I’ve changed my sobriquet (there’s a $10 word for you) for the column to Caesar Cervisia—Latin for “beer emperor.” This was done at the behest of a certain organization that wanted me to either use my full title (Certified Cicerone™) or something else entirely. The name I chose (thank you, Joaquin, for the suggestion!) seemed appropriate for two reasons: First, it’s been almost a full year since I started writing this column, following in the footsteps of The Beer Goddess, Erin Peters. But alas, I am no immortal, so I settled for “emperor.” Second, the name I was forced to change was derived from Latin, so it seemed poetic to use it myself.

Salutaria!

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..

I have a lot on my mind. However, I will spare you from all but the beer things on my mind. I thought the best way to handle this would be to kinda-sorta do this à la Larry King’s odd USA Today column from some years ago: I’ll just hit on random topics that don’t necessarily have any relation to each other besides the overarching theme of craft beer.

In other words, I was lazy and didn’t come up with a one-topic column idea.

Now that I have raised your expectations to such a soaring height ...

• I want to give a shout-out to Andrew Smith and his Coachella Valley Beer Scene blog and Facebook page.

In 2011, I created the Facebook page, and after mentioning Schmidy’s Tavern (R.I.P. … you are missed), the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club, and Babe’s BBQ and Brewhouse, I quickly ran out of things to post about the beer scene. While there is still a long way to go in our beautiful valley, there is fortunately much more of a beer scene now, and Andrew gets in there and does great write-ups of what he finds. Check him out at cvbeerscene.com and on the aforementioned Facebook page.

• Modern Times Beer is killing it. Not literally, mind you: They’re vegan through and through, as the bottles and cans state.

If you have somehow missed the company’s beer until now, you must have been hiding out. It’s happily in many places in the valley, packaged and on tap. In the past year or so, the people there have opened The Dankness Dojo in Downtown L.A. and The Belmont Fermentorium in Portland. Both places have brewhouses and pump out wonderful beers which end up at the other facilities for you to try. From what I’ve experienced so far, Portland’s strength is in big, dark beers, and the Dojo seems adept at IPAs of all stripes. Another location in Encinitas and a swim club in Anaheim are in the works.

In August, I went to Modern Times’ fourth annual Festival of Dankness. It’s a hoppy beer festival, and notable brewers from all over the country are invited to pour. Situated at Waterfront Park in San Diego with an excellent view of the ocean, Coronado Island and downtown San Diego, the festival has been a wonderful respite from the awful August heat here in the desert. It has gotten better and better every year.

It serves as a reliable measure of what’s trending when it comes to IPAs. This year, sour IPAs made a big showing. Brut IPAs, mentioned in a previous column, popped up at a few booths as well, the most interesting of which was at Brouwerij West out of San Pedro. Of course, hazy IPAs and milkshake IPAs were prevalent. Eugene, Ore.’s Claim 52 Brewing had my favorite with its strawberry milkshake IPA. Strawberries and lactose only added to the hop flavors and didn’t step all over them and become a sweet mess. Cellarmaker Brewing in San Francisco brought a phenomenal hazy IPA called Double Mt. Nelson. This year’s Nelson Sauvin hop harvest seems to have made up for last year’s lackluster version, and the beers that have been popping up using them have been stellar. That includes Modern Times’ own Space Ways. It’s one of the best hazy IPAs I’ve had, period, and it’s still on the shelves in cans here and drinking wonderfully.

With every passing year, Modern Times continues to make me a bigger fan. I recommend them to you wholeheartedly.

• Speaking of IPAs, I want to give my opinion on some of these sub-styles.

Sour IPAs have been kettle-soured similarly to a Berlinerweisse or gose; the tartness and liberal amounts of hops evoke the flavors of fruit juice. The examples I’ve tried so far have been fun, but I am still a bigger fan of dry-hopped kettle sours. It’s a subtle distinction, but it can be encapsulated thusly: The sourness of sour IPAs is there to support the hop flavors, while dry-hopped kettle sours are sour ales with hop aromas and flavors to support it. It’s a distinction without a difference, but my palate can certainly tell. Almanac Brewing and Prairie Artisan Ales make great examples of the latter style.

I have finally tried a few brut IPAs and have not been terribly impressed. I was very excited when I first began hearing about them, but the beers have not met my expectations. It seems like the process that makes these beers so dry also strips away much of the aroma and flavor of a normal IPA. But there is nothing wrong with subtlety, and I will continue to try new examples of the style with an open mind. There is currently a brut IPA on where I work—a shout out to all my co-workers at Coachella Valley Brewing Company … even you, Uncle Ben—and it is honestly the best I’ve tried.

From time to time, I have good ideas. One of my latest was an idea for a coconut bock. I conceived of the recipe (with some serious inspiration from Gordon Biersch’s excellent Heller Bock) with the help of our head brewer, and the team did a brilliant job executing this one. It should be on tap soon if it isn’t already. I’m calling it Coconut Toast, because that is the experience of drinking it. Definitely tell me what you think of my baby when you try it.

• Do you know what English bitter ales are? They’re really not that bitter and lean toward the malty side, but the name has made it extremely difficult for the styles (ordinary, strong, extra strong) to catch on in America. It is a travesty, too, because it’s such a lovely, sessionable style. The same goes for old ale style (though it’s decidedly not sessionable). It is not a great name, but a well-made example is such a thing of beauty. Alesmith, North Coast and Deschutes are the only craft breweries I can think of off the top of my head that regularly make old ales (and they make them well, I would add). Belgian styles seem to have largely fallen out of favor, too, and this might be the biggest tragedy. Some might think Belgian ales are all high ABV affairs, but it’s just not true.

The witbier retains popularity here, with Shock Top and Blue Moon being made by the big breweries. There are incredible versions of this in craft beer. Allagash White and Avery White Rascal are two of the finest, and they’re very true to the classic Belgian counterparts (St. Bernardus Wit being my favorite in the world). The lower-ABV Belgian abbey single style is an absolute gem, and we don’t see much of it here from Belgium, because it doesn’t travel well. The same goes for English bitters. It’s not that brewers won’t make these styles; they just do them in small batches knowing that they won’t sell well. I guess I’ll just need to make more money and travel to these places regularly in order to get my fix.

• While I’m on the subject of styles, I’d like to point out my disappointment in America on this front. No, I’m not saying American beers are largely disappointing. That would be insane (though it is not hard to find breweries making terrible, flawed beer). We are living through a craft beer boom, and it’s so much fun. What I am saying is that whenever there is an “American” version of a European style—be it an IPA, pilsner, stout, porter, barleywine, etc.—it essentially means the ABV and the hops are pumped up to a large degree. There is just no creativity in that.

American barleywine sucks. There, I said it. It is a pale shadow of the rich, complex, malty, delicious English counterpart.

Please, craft brewers of America, I beseech you: STOP OVER-HOPPING THESE STYLES. When I can’t tell the difference between an American Barleywine and an imperial IPA, you have failed.

End of rant.

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..

After my last column on American breweries selling out to huge multi-national conglomerates, I thought I would shake it up a bit … and review beers from a world-famous European brewery owned by a British conglomerate named Diageo.

That brewery is the St. James’s Gate Brewery of Dublin, Ireland, that makes the most iconic stout in the world: Guinness Draught. Yes, Guinness, while brewed largely in Ireland, is no longer truly Irish. I am magnanimously putting aside my almost-universal rule of not buying from “Big Beer” for the sake of you, my readers. I know, I know: How very selfless of me, right?

I have not tried a vast majority of the special releases from Guinness largely out of cynicism. However, I have more therapy sessions in the books now, and I think it’s high time I push aside the sneering attitude of my past; pull some beers off the shelf that would make a previous version of me scoff; and swallow my pride, along with a beer or two. (OK, you got me: This is a thinly veiled excuse to drink beer. But this should prove interesting nonetheless.)

I purchased single bottles of Guinness brands, old and new; then, over the course of a few days, I did my best to be a fair, objective beer judge. If you are so inclined, these can all be purchased easily at your local alcohol superstore; you are welcome to try them alongside my reviews and see where you agree or differ. I’d really like to hear your thoughts on these beers. Now on with the show!

Guinness Draught: 4.2 percent Irish stout—It makes sense to begin at the beginning. The beer poured its characteristic opaque black with the off-white, perfect nitro head. It smelled of roasted grain and malt, but subtly. The taste was similar: It was very creamy, but somehow very light-bodied, almost to the point of being watery. I’m not sure if this was changed more recently, or if my tastes have moved along since 1995, but there really isn’t as much flavor here as I remember. None of the flavor is bad, though … just meh. Pro frat-party tip: This might be the easiest beer to shotgun out of a can ever. People who think this beer is too heavy and thick are victims of their own imaginations.

Extra Stout: 5.6 percent Irish extra stout—This seems to also have been watered down since I last tried it. It was like the Draught, but with more of a roasted character and a little bit of a warmer, alcohol finish. I always described this version of Guinness as the espresso to the Draught’s latte. There are different versions of this beer made especially for certain markets. Nigeria and Jamaica are said to have the better ones, but I’ve not yet been able to get either. It’s not bad by any means, but not what I remember. Again, that could very well be me.

Irish Wheat Ale: 5.3 percent German hefeweizen—No, that’s not a misprint. This is a German-style wheat beer, brewed using 100 percent Irish wheat, malted by their maltster—for the first time in the brewer’s 259-year history. Guinness’ traditional yeast apparently gives off clove phenols and banana esters naturally, and are just “held back” during fermentation when they make their normal lineup of beers. It even had the traditional leftover bit of yeast in the bottle that is customary in Bavaria to swirl with the final portion of beer and pour into the top of the glass. Color me impressed—and, in this case, golden, along with the body of the beer. It smelled a bit like spiced banana bread. The malt was reminiscent of a mild sugar cookie of some kind. The taste offered notes of banana, subtle clove and bubblegum with a faint hint of straw and lemon. I found this more subtle, but just as drinkable as a traditional German hefeweizen. The dry finish prevents the beer lingering on or dominating the palate. I was very skeptical when I grabbed this, but it won me over.

Rye Pale Ale: 5 percent rye beer—When I saw a Guinness beer that was made using Mosaic and Cascade hops, I had to pull the trigger out of sheer curiosity. It had a biscuity malt nose with notes of earthiness (almost mushroom-like), citrus and honey. It was not especially dry, but more crisp than, say, an English pale. The label suggests a pepper note, but if it’s there, it’s faint. I hear people prattle on about the rye flavor or nose in beers, and rarely do I actually get that note myself. The rye may have imparted the earthy aroma I detected, however. I also see no sign of those Mosaic and Cascade hops. Despite all of this, this is a fine little beer. If you buy this thinking it should taste like a West Coast hop bomb, be prepared for disappointment.

200th Anniversary Export Stout: 6 percent Irish export stout—This is a beer brewed based off of their own notes from 1817 for a stout to be sent to America. It just so happens 1817 (and this is almost certainly not sheer coincidence) is the year the copyright was put in by Daniel Wheeler for the pivotal drum roaster which allowed maltsters to kiln and roast grains to varying degrees without applying direct fire and introducing smoke. From that invention, black patent malt began to replace Guinness’ entire stock of what previously went into dark beers: inefficient brown malt. Black patent is used here, and right off the bat, I get sweet chocolate, slight coffee and caramel notes with dark fruit aromas and flavors underneath. It finishes a little dry with some roast and a slight astringent sensation to balance out any sweetness. This should be our version of their extra stout. Pretty please, Guinness?

Blonde Ale: 5 percent American blonde—A confession: I’m prejudiced. There are certain things in beer that, when I see them, I immediately dislike them. Glitter beer is high on that list, because it’s a gimmick that adds nothing to the actual product other than giving the beer a closer resemblance to the most annoying thing about strippers. The American blonde ale style finds me reacting in a similar way: It seems to be a style purely for non-beer drinkers—people who were dragged to fine-drinking establishments by others, and who do not want to be offended as their friends try everything else. Even when it’s done well, it is such an underwhelming experience that it just doesn’t seem worth it. What’s more: There exists a Belgian blonde style that is full of wonderful aromas and flavors—so when I think of the Belgian counterpart, I’m even more disappointed by American blondes. Well, this prejudice bites me on the ass on occasion. I wanted to not like this beer. It has a bit of a biscuity aroma with a hint of pilsner malts and slight floral hops. I was expecting to taste a typically boring, American blonde ale when, lo and behold, some more interesting—Irish malt flavors—sprang forth. Do I actually like this? Well, yes, but let’s put this into perspective: I would drink this gladly if handed to me at a party. Would I choose to have another one with a selection of other styles available to me? No, I would not. (This prejudice against blondes does not extend to women, by the way. I am not pretty enough to exclude anybody based on hair color.)

Antwerpen: 8 percent foreign/extra stout—This is included here as an honorable mention, because it was only available for a limited time. This, to me, is the jewel in the crown of Guinness, and it is an absolute crime against most of humanity that it isn’t available year-round here. It had something I had never previously experienced from a Guinness beer: smokiness. This is imported to Antwerp, Belgium, by Guinness, and we have to beg for more, I guess. It had all the positives of their export stouts—except it was richer, with that added smoked malt edge, and all at a sneaky 8 percent ABV. If you see this one on the shelves, buy some, and let me know where you found it so I can march out and do the same.

This hereby concludes my review of Guinness’ beer portfolio. The conclusion I am forced to reach is that Guinness is still very capable of producing true world-class beer in a number of different styles. These are beers, however, that won’t often end up in my bag on my way out of the beer store. If I’m fair, though, that goes for a ton of different breweries I love: It’s just a great time to live as a lover of beer! You could buy beer regularly and go for years without having to drink the same beer twice.

Ireland is high up on my list of places I must visit, and when I do, I will very likely find myself at the doorstep of St. James’s Gate with a stout in my hand, a pillowy beer foam mustache, and a smile on my face.

The next one is for you, Mr. Arthur Guinness, for all of your efforts that yielded the beer you and your successors have provided me so many years later. Sláinte!

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..

It’s not easy to know exactly where your money is going when you buy something. Some large corporations take great care to intentionally obscure this knowledge, at least when looking at products superficially. You might despise a certain large conglomerate, and vow to boycott it … only to later find out that the paper towels you bought are made by a company that is wholly owned by that same conglomerate.

For decades in the craft-beer world, we didn’t have this problem: If you liked the beer you were drinking, you could find out who made it by looking at the label—and that was that. Well, the craft-beer market steadily grew … until the bigger boys in the industry could no longer stand by and watch its massive market share erode.

The plan was simple: Buy up craft breweries around the country.  

“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. Not a single thing … at least not from a business and legal perspective. Lagunitas Brewing Company, the renowned brewer in Petaluma, sold half of the company to Heineken in 2015, and then sold the remaining half in 2017—yet the beer’s quality remains just as good as ever, and consumer costs have gone down. What could be wrong with that?

The short answer: Plenty. As for the longer answer, we’ll come back to this later, because now I have to try to make a relatively dry concept somewhat interesting: the three-tier system for alcohol in the U.S. At least it has an interesting origin, in the shadows of the Prohibition era and the Roaring ‘20s. In that decade, saloons popped up to serve the sinfully thirsty public, and many of them were “tied houses,” meaning an alcoholic-beverage supplier would pay a saloon to exclusively carry their products. Upon Prohibition’s merciful appeal, federal and state legislators saw the problem with this and sought to institute a system to protect the consumer from tied houses, encouraging free-market activity. Thus, the three-tier system was born: Breweries (or alcoholic-beverage makers more generally) would sell their products to consumers through a distributor that acts as a middle man.  

Benefits and drawbacks to this system have popped up in the ensuing years. One the biggest benefits is to smaller breweries: They have the possibility of getting their beer into other markets relatively easily, thanks to a distributor’s expanded network. This could allow a brewery to gain fans in places it previously might have never been known.

There is a dark side: AB InBev and Molson Coors have become the equivalent to The Empire in the Star Wars movies when it comes to craft beer. AB InBev is the massive multinational conglomerate and parent company to all of the Anheuser Busch and SABMiller beers, as well as many other brands. (Yes, that nasty yellow stuff is owned by foreign corporations. Don’t ever be fooled by the ridiculous beer commercials pasting American flags on everything.) Molson Coors is at least half-American, and I think you can guess which half. The company’s M.O. seems to be combining marketing and packaging efforts, as well as streamlining processes within the company. This allows them to produce the exact same product, no matter where you’ll find it in the world. It’s a feat of engineering, really, and something to be admired for what it is worth (and it’s worth billions for them), but what about the … uh ... taste?

Now we come to “branches”: Large breweries own distribution affiliates in select markets. While legal, it is plain to see the problem with this setup: These distribution affiliates can strong-arm local businesses into essentially becoming tied houses. “Oh, you’d like to carry (fill in the blank) brewery’s beers? They’re not in our portfolio, I’m afraid. And if you do carry them, we’ll pull all of (our popular but bland) brewery’s beers. If you want craft beer, though, you’re in luck! We have some in our portfolio. So what if we stomped on the quality of their beers in an attempt to make them more cheaply and more efficiently (with the exception of Lagunitas/Heineken … for now)?”

These conglomerates count on your ignorance of the origins of the beer you’re drinking. This isn’t anything to be ashamed of, by the way: Beer aisles are an absolute labyrinth, and nobody should be expected to stand around Googling who owns what. However … did you know that Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewing is owned by AB InBev? Don’t be surprised; AB InBev owns at least 400 beer brands.

This mess inevitably spreads to the shelves. It’s why you might see packages of varying sizes and shapes of Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors, Miller Lite, etc. More shelf space equals more eyes on brands, which equals more sales. It has a distinct, anti-free-market whiff about it, doesn’t it? It’s also why these conglomerates spend ungodly sums of money on commercials that either dazzle you with visual stimuli, distract you with humor, or talk about all of its beer’s attributes without mentioning a single taste descriptor: “Hey, this beer is cold-filtered, crisp and golden? Those are my favorite flavors!”

At this point, a craft-beer fan needs to make up his or her mind. You don’t need my permission to spend your hard-earned dollars on any brand over another—but if you’d like to continue to see craft beer thrive, and become more interesting and exciting with each new beer released, join me in moving away from the products by the breweries that have sold out to Big Beer, and instead support the absolute glut of breweries that have not done so. The Brewers Association recently created the Independent Craft Brewers Seal, which qualified breweries can apply to their labels. (Note, however, that the seal is not yet being used industry-wide, so if a beer does not have the seal, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being produced by a brewery owned by one of the large conglomerates.)

Since we’re in Southern California, I’ll mention a couple of breweries that have sold out.

AB InBev owns Golden Road Brewing and 10 Barrel Brewing. The latter is out of Oregon, but opened a large restaurant and taproom in downtown San Diego—something that was a topic of great contention in a county with 150-plus breweries. If you’re in San Diego and find your way to 10 Barrel, you’ve really overlooked some amazing, independent brewers within a stone’s throw (no pun intended).

Constellation Brands owns San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing. This buyout was a big deal in the industry when it occurred in 2015 due to the $1 billion price tag. At least Constellation is an American company; it also owns Corona, Modelo, Pacifico and many other brands. However, there are so many true craft breweries within a very short distance of any Ballast Point location where you could have a good or better time.

Go forth; stay vigilant; and drink wisely!

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..

Page 1 of 2