The mission was simple: invade Orange County and San Diego on August 30 and try as many great beers as possible over the course of four stops. The 6-person crew included Brew & You columnist Sean Inman, e*starLA, beer-mad prof Gev Kazanchyan and other adventurous hopheads.
We started at The Bruery tasting room, which has become a real destination thanks to Patrick Rue’s full-tilt Belgian-style beers. Unfortunately, The Bruery’s most hotly anticipated beer was unavailable. Black Tuesday is a bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout that packs a whopping 19.5% ABV; that’s more than most wines. Instead, we began with Snicklefritz, a 9.2% ABV Belgian Strong Ale brewed with citrus and spices. The golden, mildly tart and wholly refreshing beer placed #2 in The Bruery’s recent home brew competition. The fact that it didn’t claim the top prize is stunning.
Autumn Maple is The Bruery’s fall release, a red, malty beer produced with yams, molasses, maple syrup and spices. The flavor was surprisingly subtle given the ingredients, and that it came from The Bruery.
White Oak was another winner, a Belgian white mixed with Belgian strong ale. The golden ale was aged in Bourbon barrels, so it had clear vanilla notes.
Mischief #1 was wet hopped and Mischief #2 was dry hopped. Tasting both led to an interesting comparison. #1 was crisp, not too bitter and #2 was cloudier, hoppier.
Hottenroth Berliner Weisse was the same tart, refreshing beer I discovered during the L.A. Beer Float Showdown. In Germany, they add flavored syrups to Berliner Weisses. The Bruery had various berry syrups in their fridge, but we went with Woodruff syrup, a mossy forest plant that dyed the drink light green and made the Hottenroth taste like Lucky Charms.
Finally, the group passed around a glass of Humulus Lager, a 7.5% ABV India Pale Lager with lingering hoppiness and great amber color.
The Beachwood BBQ Sour Beer Festival has been in the works for over two years, and from August 25-30, it finally came to fruition. We were lucky enough to make it to chef-owner Gabriel Gordon’s noted Seal Beach beer bar for the finale. Gordon appreciates the “complexity of flavor” in sour beers, plus the “vast scent profile” and “intense pop that leaves you wanting more.” We had 22 different kegs to choose from and tried eight different sours that featured vastly different colors and flavors.
Every draught beer was available in 5.5-ounce pours for $4, which was a great way to sample a variety of beers. Only the rare Belgians were $8. Gordon said that every sour from New Belgium was worth ordering, so we started with a couple of their beers. New Belgium Lychee Tart was a 6.4% ABV ale brewed with lychees and cinnamon and fermented in oak barrels. The beer was a hazy gold, tart and mildly sweet.
New Belgium Love Barrel #13 (6% ABV) is an unblended starter for all of New Belgium’s wood-aged beers, including La Folie and Le Terroir. It was golden and packed more of a puckering punch than the Lychee Tart.
Abbaye de St. Bon Chien 2007 was one of my Belgian sours so far, an 11% ABV ale with a mild sweetness and plenty of spice notes. These 5.5 ounces were worth the double-cost.
Deschutes Green Monster was a brown 7.5% ABV ale with the most carbonation and an intensely sour finish.
Cantillon Bruocsella 1900 Grand Cru only had 5% ABV and was our only true Lambic of the day, combining beers from three consecutive years, all aged in oak casks. This was sour, but still highly drinkable.
New Belgium Transatlantique Kriek (7.8% ABV) originated in Brouwerij Boon in Belgium This Kriek ale began in the wooden vessels at Brouwerij Boon. They added cherries then shipped the kegs on a trans-atlantic journey to Colorado, where it was blended with a beer from New Belgium. It was a pretty good Kriek with a cool story, but probably not worth all the trouble.
Russian River Consecration Batch #2 (10.5% ABV) is an absolute classic from Russian River brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo, a tart ale aged in cabernet sauvignon barrels, with a distinct black currant flavor.
We hadn’t laid much of a base, and the beer was catching up to us, so we split a couple plates of food. Fried Green Tomatoes ($7) were firm and tangy and sported good cornmeal crusts.
We got a two-meat combo platter ($15): pulled pork and sheets of beef short rib smoked with applewood, pecan and oak. The plate also came with a square of sweet cranberry-studded cornbread and two sides. We chose the cold spears of smoked asparagus and Texas caviar, an acidic salad of black-eyed peas, tomato and onion.
We couldn’t resist a side of jalapeno hushpuppies ($3.50). They were some of the best I’ve eaten, including down South, not the typical desiccated musket balls.
Pizza Port Carlsbad produced some bad pizza, cooked on a conveyer belt by a group of seemingly disinterested teenagers. Happily, Pizza Port took much more care with their beer.
We ordered two medium pizzas: Cheese & Sauce (medium, $10.95) with mozzarella & marinara. and a meat-bomb with crumbled sausage and meatball and sliced pepperoni. The crust was so dense and doughy, the sauce had no character, and the mozzarella was overloaded. It wasn’t New York-style thin-crust pizza. It wasn’t Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. I’m not sure what to call it; I just know I don’t want to eat it again.
I tried five house-brewed beers, including rich, cask-cranked Night Rider Imperial Stout; 547 Haight, a bitter red ale; Sticky Stout, a creamy brown stout; Milk Stout, a creamy brown beer brewed with lactose, found in milk; and Reunion ’09 an amber double-wheat, sales of which benefited cancer research. My favorite was the Night Rider.
Pizza Port’s adjacent Bottle Shop was awesome, featuring hundreds of different bottles at reduced prices. There really isn’t an equivalent in L.A.
I bought a bottle of Mikkeller Sauvin single-hop IPA on Sean Inman’s advice. Inman said Mikkeller doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar brewery, but contract brews and has built a solid reputation in Belgium and beyond. I also bought a bottle of Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew ($4.99), a rare beer from Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery that costs almost twice as much in L.A., if you can even find it.
Our final stop was Stone World Bistro & Gardens, a craft brew oasis in an Escondido industrial park. The kitchen sources “in-season, locally, regionally and organically grown produce,” and the menu features elaborate descriptions, but the food just wasn’t all that great. Duck tacos ($21) were fine, but not worth $21, topped with pasilla chile-Smoked Porter BBQ sauce, Vella asiago cheese, salsa fresca and pineapple-habanero salsa. I wouldn’t be surprised to find something like Spud Buds ($7) at the LA County Fair, only better. Garlicky mashed potatoes were infused with Stone IPA, and they were fried in Arrogant Bastard Ale batter and served with Smoked Porter BBQ sauce, but the balls were still mushy and oily. Stone’s main draw is undoubtedly the beer.
In March, Dr. Bill Sysak took over as Beverage Coordinator of Stone Brewing World Bistro and he’s taken the draught and bottle lists to new heights. His current draught list features 32 beers, including a dozen from Stone. I tried Stone 13th Anniversary Ale (9.5% ABV), a good brown beer with a hoppy finish; and Craftsman Triple White Sage (9% ABV), golden-hued with heavy sage flavor.
Three of the four people in our car slept on the two-hour drive back to L.A. It was intense and exhausting to try that many beers in a single day, but it was well worth the trip.