CVIndependent

Sun01202019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Brett Newton

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..

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..

When I ponder beer history, two things stand out: the use of hops, and the invention of the drum roaster.

The former happened 800 to 900 years ago, give or take. Antiseptic agents are needed in the fermentation of beer to keep the good microflora in and the bad out. Brewers didn't know this—Louis Pasteur’s discoveries happened years later—but they did know that without certain things, beer could turn out poorly. Before hops became widely used, bitter herbs and spices were used for this purpose. Scotland has a tradition of using heather; in fact, you can still find some beers with heather on shelves if you go to the right places. Hops just wound up being more efficient and suitable for beer flavors. More about hops later.

As for the patenting of the drum roaster in 1818: Englishman Daniel Wheeler may have singlehandedly changed the course of beer history more than any other individual (outside of Pasteur, perhaps). Inspired by the process of roasting coffee, he set about adapting it for kilning and roasting malts using indirect heat. Before the roaster, malt was spread on a metal floor, and a fire (often fueled by coke, a coal residue, although wood and coal were sometimes used) was lit underneath. This led to grains on the bottom being scorched while some on top remained relatively green—with a lot of smokiness imparted into the grain. With Wheeler's invention, a variety of reliably kilned and roasted grains could be produced to augment the much more efficient pale malt used as a beer's base. This resulted in an explosion of different styles in Europe—so the next time you're drinking a nice stout, Vienna lager, Schwarzbier or almost any other style, raise that glass to Daniel Wheeler. 

This all brings us to the present, and current beer trends.

Hazy (or officially, New England) IPAs and pastry stouts are in vogue and don't look to be losing any popularity. The names of these styles pretty much tell the stories: The hazy IPAs are made hazy by the combination of an English yeast—which traditionally doesn't allow for dry beers, but has a light, fruity ester as a byproduct—with additions such as oats or wheat, not to mention the haze from the ridiculous amounts of hops added. Unlike many West Coast IPAs, though, they are usually only slightly bitter. The low-bitterness trend has leaked into the West Coast styles now, and I'm a huge fan of this. As with some crazes, things can get a little nutty; I've heard stories of people standing in line at breweries for hours (or paying people to stand in line for them as surrogates), only to promptly leave when the beer released announced is "only," say, a coffee porter. While I personally find many "hazies" and pastry stouts to be rather similar (I can't tell you how many times I've had some combination of cinnamon, maple syrup, coffee and maybe fruit in the stouts), they have excited many people who weren't all that into craft beer before.

Happily, lagers have seen a resurgence. Last summer, I discovered several very drinkable pilsners from breweries that mostly trade in IPAs, stouts and kettle sours. (Think Berlinerweisse—a light, tart wheat ale originating from Germany.) Mexican lagers have come along for this ride, which makes sense, because not only is this a cherished style of our friends to the south of us; the style is also very similar to a pilsner, with the exception of the use of corn or maize to dry the beer out and add a touch of their flavor. Firestone's Pivo Pils and Firestone Lager (a take on the Munich helles style) is leading this charge, and I'm all for it. Lagers are subtle and can be surprisingly diverse, but they are also much more difficult to get right and take much longer in a brewery's tanks to make. More time in tanks leads to less tank space for new beer, which leads to a potential loss of profit if not planned carefully. While a hazy IPA can take less than two weeks to reach your glass, a lager can take anywhere from six weeks to three months. As a fan of Old World beer styles that don't really get the time they deserve here in America, I wholeheartedly look forward to more of this trend.

Now comes the tough part: Predicting the future. To do so, I sought some help.

First, I turned to my friend and one of the most talented and knowledgeable people I know when it comes to beer, master brewer Chris Anderson.

"I think the IPA will continue to be the hottest style in craft beer,” he said via email. “I think more spin-offs of this most popular style on the planet will be the norm. Brut IPA and Southwest IPA are two relatively new styles gaining traction."

Julian Shrago, head brewer at Beachwood BBQ and Brewing in Long Beach (which I cannot recommend enough), agrees. “‘Brut IPA' is a new style that originated in the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re brewed with a special enzyme that allows them to be almost 100 percent attenuated. I like this idea, and it seems to be an interesting contrast to hazies."

I have personally not yet tried this "hop champagne,” but I am looking forward to this being a lovely, spritzy showcase for some of the incredible new hop varieties that keep emerging, as well as the old standby hops we love. The Southwest IPA style Anderson mentioned is an IPA using agave syrup to dry the beer out and possibly add some earthy notes; these beers often are made with Southwest-themed hops such as El Dorado and Amarillo.

Anderson also sees both uncertainty and excitement—not just the craft-beer industry, but in the alcohol and spirits industry in general: "The millennial craft beer drinker is most definitely not a loyalist like the previous generations were. On Monday, they may have a cocktail; Tuesday or Wednesday, a glass of wine; Thursday and Friday, a beer—but not the same brands from week to week. Throughout the weekend, maybe they will consume some cannabis and not touch any of the aforementioned alcoholic beverages when doing so. This will continue to fuel diversity in the varying alcoholic beverage industries and will also continue to make all of these sectors ultra-competitive."

A friend of mine who is the director of the hop division of a very large hop concern (who wishes to go unnamed for this article) weighed in.

"I feel that the consumer is now more educated in craft beers, thus being open to different styles and flavor profiles,” he said. “For example, I see sour beers gaining in popularity; perhaps it’s the refreshing nature, relieving the palate from the hop grenades of IPAs and pale ales.

“Furthermore, barrel-aged beers are on the rise, and people are willing to pay the $20-per-bottle price point for these complex, rich and sophisticated libations. Fruit additions are increasing as well, from powders, purees, concentrates, skins/peels to actual fruit; there are more and more of them on the tap or on the shelf."

When it comes to hops, he sees this fruity trend following—in the flavors and aromas of newer strains of hops. However, he sees the hop industry moving more toward bolstering pest and mildew resistance.

"A major focus of hop-breeding will be on pest/disease resistance varieties,” he said. “The grower is facing immense challenges from pest pressure, such as an increasingly pesticide-resistant mite, to new aggressive strains of powdery mildew. Growers are also conscientious of the need to reduce the use of conventional pest control chemicals (and move) to more biological/natural methods." This is where genetic engineering can really do some wonderful things, despite some people's irrational distrust of the technology.

While we’ve now examined beer’s past, present in future … one thing I didn't mention is glitter beer. That was intentional. There is one very easy thing about the future to predict, however: I’ll soon be at the fridge to get a beer to fill my glass.

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..

Craft beer tends to be very communal. Fans get together for tastings and “bottle shares.” We often trade with people across the country for beers we might not be able to acquire otherwise. We also love our beer festivals. A well-conceived and well-executed craft-beer festival is a beautiful thing—even if you leave wishing you had been able to try yet more beers that you missed.

I love the Coachella Valley. I moved here in 1988, although it took a little getting used to. (We got here in August when it was 100-plus degrees.) I grew up hiking around the cove and enjoying its gorgeous views—and met many friends I still know to this day. That said … our local beer festivals can’t quite match the exemplary festivals found in other parts of Southern California.

I recently attended, for the fifth straight time, the Firestone Walker Invitational, at the Paso Robles Event Center. Most of you are familiar with Firestone’s quality beers. Even its 805—an American Blond, the beer style I despise most—is high-quality. Firestone has been a paragon of craft-brewing; the company doesn’t compromise, yet it continues to have success in the industry. It should come as no surprise that the eponymous beer festival is of similar mettle.

The “Invitational” portion of the festival’s name means exactly what it says: Firestone invites the breweries its management wants there. Some of those choices shift around. This year, some popular and upcoming breweries got their first invitations—including many from California. Monkish, Highland Park, Societe and Alvarado Street were among the first-timers. If you haven’t had a chance to drink any beer from these breweries, I very much recommend stopping in if you are anywhere within reach.

I began my day at The Bruery’s booth and decided I’d start off with a bang by getting a pour of the Double Barrel Black Tuesday with Tahitian vanilla added. Checking in at 20.5 percent alcohol by volume (that is not a typo), you’d think it’d be boozy, but the brewery based in Orange County has been making Black Tuesday and its variants for many years now and knows what it is doing. Sure, it was big, but it had some lovely dark fruit, chocolate, vanilla, oak, molasses and bourbon flavors. Later, I had the Bruesicle: Mango Fire, a blended sour ale with mango and habaneros. It’s a wonderful time when you can get so many different flavors in a glass.

From there, I set out to get some food in me so that I could last the entire festival. Happily, part of the ticket fee goes toward hosting many local food vendors. Did I mention that all the food vendors and breweries compete for the most festival-goer votes on the well-designed and useful phone app that accompanies the fest? This makes for some incredibly creative and delicious results. I first hit up a booth that made cold-smoked salmon tacos. This went well with the Pleroma Raspberry Creme Brulee sour ale that the Swedish brewery Omnipollo topped with soft-serve ice cream—a smart choice, considering the high for the day was 95 degrees. My other favorite food vendors included some amazing ahi wonton tacos from Firestone’s own Paso Robles restaurant; a bite of pork belly with a fava bean and blackberry puree atop a potato chip from The Hatch Rotisserie and Bar; and a simple but delicious bratwurst with sauerkraut, potato salad and three kinds of mustard from a vendor with a name I honestly can’t recall. Did I also mention beer was being served at this festival?

Walking around the grounds and listening to the various bands, I found some favorite beers as well. One favorite: The Rare Barrel out of Berkeley brought Alchemy and Magic—a golden sour ale with cucumber, juniper and rosemary aged in gin barrels. It’s so unique and absolutely delicious.

Yet another beautiful thing about the festival is that it’s often the brewers themselves out there pouring beers and milling around. I chatted with Rare Barrel head brewer Jay Goodwin (a former Bruery brewer) about the beer and his processes as I sampled it. He then poured me a taste of another oak-aged watermelon sour called Raging Waters. For me, it doesn’t get much better than that kind of immersive experience.

More favorites included a perennial pourer at the fest by the name of Beachwood BBQ and Brewing from Long Beach. My friend Julian Shrago and his crew make incredible beer; the Vanilla Fudge (which tasted just like the name suggests) and Brandy Barrel System of a Stout (a variant of his annual Coffee Imperial Stout with spices) were both winners. Beachwood’s sister brewery, Beachwood Blendery, was pouring a number of its brilliant sours alongside Julian’s beers. The muscat grape sour was phenomenal.

I’ve come to rely on Revolution Brewing from Chicago to bring some of the best barrel-aged beers at the festival every year—and this year, the brewery outdid itself with a double-barrel (bourbon and rye) cherry version of the gorgeous V.S.O.J. Barleywine, and a coffee version of the barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout called Cafe Deth (pronounced Deeth, after brewer Josh Deth and the beer off which it’s based, Deth’s Tar). They were even willing to mix the two for amazing results.

This year’s biggest discovery was a brewery out of Greeley, Colo., called WeldWerks. Five beers were on tap, and all were very well-done. It got my vote for best brewery, and I will be trying to find its beers by hook or by crook. If I were to pick only a couple to showcase, they’d be the Peach Pie Berliner weisse (a light, tart wheat ale), and the Mexican Medianoche imperial stout, aged in Woodford Reserve rye whiskey barrels for 20 months and then further aged with cinnamon sticks, cacao nibs and vanilla beans.

There are so many more beers I could talk about, with so many more experiences, but I think you get the point. The Firestone Walker Invitational is a superior beer-festival experience that I will never miss so long as I am able to make it; if that includes bending heaven and earth to do so, I will. This festival should be a template for any local Coachella Valley festival. The atmosphere at the Invitational is such that breweries that don’t bring their “A game” or that run out of beers early are put on notice publicly … and deservedly 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..

I dislike IBUs. Allow me to explain.

Approximately a decade ago, hops were king in the craft-beer world. People could not get enough, and breweries were finding ways to jam more hops into beer (double dry-hopping, for example). This led to all sorts of excesses.

This is where IBUs enter into the more mainstream picture. IBUs (International Bittering Units—it sounds ridiculously over-important, but it’s indeed a thing), as you might have guessed, measure how bitter a beer is ... kind of. Hops contain compounds called alpha acids that make beer bitter during the boil through a process called isomerization. The longer the beer is boiled, the more bitter the beer is, given the same hop strain. (Some strains contain more alpha acids than others.) Hops are vitally important, as this bitterness can counterbalance the otherwise sweet wort that is to become beer later on. Hops also contribute flavors and aromas when added later in the process; they’re antiseptic, which helps keep bad bacteria out; and they are “cousins” to cannabis.

The brewer then dips in the IBU Detector and finds out the exact number. Actually … no, they don’t.

When an IBU is provided on a beer’s label or a brewery’s menu, that is a theoretical number, in all likelihood. One of the biggest misunderstandings about the IBU is that it somehow measures perceived bitterness. It actually measures the amount of iso-alpha acids in the beer. In order to do that accurately, spectrophotometry needs to be employed. This means chemistry and a lab and that is prohibitively expensive. Instead, brewers generally rely on a formula that is a rough approximation. If I typed out that formula here, it would make you feel like you were back in your high school algebra class.

Brewers use this calculation to help them with quality control—and that’s a good thing. However, at some point years ago, IBUs captured craft-beer fans’ imaginations. Some brewers then set about making beers with as many IBUs as they possibly could. Mikkeller Brewing (whose beers I have enjoyed for years) planted their flag in this trend with a 1,000 IBU beer. I tried it … and it wasn’t great. The thing is, anything over about 110 IBUs is not discernible by the human palate—so this was just pure wankery, and it really confused many beer-drinkers.

The biggest reason why this is all so inane is the aforementioned fact that IBUs only tangentially have to do with perceived bitterness. Some malts contain bitterness just from the malt itself—never mind roasted malts or any other potentially bitter additions (herbs, for example). A huge, malty imperial stout can have a high level of IBUs, but perceptually, the beer can be quite malty on balance. People come into the taproom where I work with the idea that they need to know which beer has the highest IBUs—and therefore will be the hoppiest. For one, what does “hoppiest beer” even mean? Secondly, that’s not at all how it works anyway.

All of this nonsense needs to end. I am not blaming consumers here; it is not their fault. They like hoppy beers, and they want to try more. They hear about this measurement (It’s gotta be accurate, too, right? I mean, it’s printed right there on the label!) so they go in search of the beer with the highest amount of these IBUs.

Free yourselves from the thought of IBUs, people. Stop torturing yourselves with math. Enjoy the beer in your glass at that moment. Much happiness and enjoyment will come to you.

And go away, IBU. You are not needed anymore.

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