Brea is a city in northern Orange County that for most Angelenos, might as well be in Nebraska. However, for the past decade, TAPS has quietly been building a reputation as a beer and food destination in the outer burbs. Locals clearly know about TAPS; the fish house & brewery is often packed, and in 2007, the Manzella family even opened a second branch in Corona. On August 3, I was invited to experience a beer and food pairing that showcased the best that TAPS has to offer. My palate leans toward more aggressive flavors, but brewmaster Victor Novak is clearly producing solid representations of his chosen styles, and the food was almost all good.
Novak brews 35 different beers at TAPS, focusing on “traditional European ales and lagers.” Eight are available on draught at any point.
Novak directed our beer-focused experience at TAPS’ Brea flagship. The Berkeley grad trained at Dock Street Brewery in Philadelphia and has been the brewmaster since TAPS opened. He now produces 25,000 gallons of beer per year for TAPS and is getting set to curate the beer program at The Catch in Anaheim, the Manzellas’ third restaurant. Think 20 taps, including 17 guest taps and three Novak brews.
Near the tanks, Novak led a Beer 101 class. Here are some of the tidbits that he shared, some related to TAPS, the rest general beer knowledge:
– “Almost every beer has hops because it’s a preservative.”
– “Hops resin gives beer bitterness and essential oil supplies aroma.”
– Pale, crystal and chocolate malt are the same, but go through a different roasting process. Every beer at TAPS contains pale malt, and the more pale malt, the more ABV. Crystal is typically “caramelly and sweet.” Chocolate delivers “toastiness” to the Porter, Stout or Irish Red.
– Yeast is “the soul of beer,” the difference between ale and lager. Ales also have “fruity esthers.”
– Novak sources 15 different hops from Hop Union in Yakima, but makes sure never to use the “B” word, bitter.
– Novak’s current roster includes the Belgian Tripel, a “big and fruity” 9% beer; Irish Red; Keller Pils, an unfiltered German Pils; and Belgian White flavored with both Indian and American coriander, plus both sweet and bitter orange peel.
– Novak brews with stainless steel because it’s “less reactive and cleans a hell of a lot easier.”
After the tour and talk, Novak led us to the private dining room for a meal that involved four beer and food pairings. Our first beer: CREAM ALE (5.5% ABV), a straw colored ale that had a mild sweetness due to the addition of corn sugar.
Executive Chef Manny Gonzales paired food with each beer, beginning with Carlsbad Endless Summer oysters, two hours out of the water and served three ways:
– “California style” with artichokes, breadcrumbs, garlic butter
– charbroiled with garlic butter and Parmesan
– dynamite – aioli with sesame seed oil, crab, shitake, totoraki
The aquafarmed oysters themselves were very good, supple and mildly sweet. It would have been good to taste them unadorned, on the half shell, to establish a baseline flavor, but the trio was interesting. The oyster was overpowered by the dynamite sauce but shined with a simple charboil, garlic butter and dusting of Parmesan. The chunky artichoke sauce was another winner.
BELGIAN WHITE (4.8% ABV) was an unfiltered light beer brewed with two kinds of coriander and two kinds of orange peels: bitter Curacao and sweet U.S. After fermentation, Novak adds a half-litre of lactobacillus for tartness. It was a refreshing beer on a hot summer day.
Chef Gonzales pan-seared cumin-dusted halibut to complement the coriander in the beer. The accompanying basil-braised summer squash & tomato salad was nice and light and paired well with the juicy white fillet.
Novak designed his IRISH RED (5.3% ABV) to be “a medium-bodied, slightly toasty, Irish-style red ale.” This beer was good for the style, but I preferred Novak’s tangier, more refreshing beers.
Herb-crusted Australian lamb chops were rosy at the center and had a savory sear at the edges. The pairings didn’t work as well with this dish. It’s hard to complain about sautéed vegetables and spinach, which were definitely at the peak of their season. The goat cheese and sun-dried tomato ravioli were designed to complement to flavor of the Irish red, but the ravioli skins were too thick and the strong flavor bullied the beer.
We finished with TAPS’ HEFEWEIZEN (5.3% ABV). Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but the taste sure matched Novak’s description: “a hint of clove and banana,” which was due to the Bavarian yeast. Novak said that Hefeweizens from Pyramid and Widmer don’t impart banana-clove notes because they use American yeast instead.
Instead of dessert, TAPS featured a cheese plate with two selections from France – Fol epi and bleu d’Auvergne – and smoked Gouda from Holland. According to Novak, “Cheeses work better with beer than wine because it has that malty backbone.” The cheeses were all excellent, especially the soft, nutty cow’s milk cheese.
It would be easy to create your own beer dinner at TAPS. They have tasters of each beer and you can order from their expansive seafood-focused menu. It was worth the hour drive to Brea, and as I later realized, TAPS is a short drive from The Bruery. It’s a good idea to combine the two.
August 20, 2009 at 5:27 PM
what no shout out for me. I love that beer
August 20, 2009 at 5:52 PM
Consider yourself shouted at. Good seeing you at TAPS.