Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sampling the OC

I don't know how far this beer adventure will go. I'm in a desert, literally and figuratively. While there  are a lot of breweries in southern California, there aren't very many in Palm Desert. In fact, there is only one. While there are three more - just three -  in neighboring towns less than six miles away, the next closest is 20 miles.

We flew into Santa Ana this time rather than Palm Springs which meant we had to drive through some very brewery-centric locations: Santa Ana. Anaheim, Riverside, and Redlands to name a few. It was an opportunity.

The way I find a new brewery to try is almost always random: I open my Brewery Passport app and see what's nearby. In this case, we had just landed and were looking for the closest brewery that also served food. Barley Forge Brewing Co. not only fit the bill but was a great find in Costa Mesa.

Named Best Brewery in Orange County in 2015 by OCWeekly, Barley Forge is located in a large space in an industrial complex - 10,000 square feet of combined tasting room, kitchen, bottling, aging, and production-brewing facilities. There, we indulged in a tasting flight and their German-style frankfurter with French fries. We tried:
Grandpa Tractor - Dortmunder-style export lager - highly drinkable, crisp and refreshing. Very light, this an all-day sipper at 5% ABV.
Travis Bickle - Blonde Sour Ale with Grapefruit - prepare to pucker, then sit back, relax, and enjoy this refreshing beer. Think about summer and fresh, real, lemonade (or in this case, grapefruitade). 
Dear Brutus - Brut IPA - layers of hop flavor in this one. Dry and effervescent on the tongue, it's flavorful without being overly bitter at 35 IBU. 
The Patsy on Nitro - Coconut Rye Stout - Silver Medal Winner at the 2018 World Beer Cup, this beer should be on everyone's tasting tray. The rye provides a toasted, spicy backbone to the roasted coconut keeping this beer from being overwhelmingly sweet. On the contrary, the coconut comes through in its pure, unsweetened form.
Hexed All - Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Stout - you had me at coffee. Also, oatmeal. If not for "imperial" (9.2% ABV), I'd say that combination makes this the perfect breakfast beer. While the brewery offered several of their beers by the bottle, this was not one of their offerings. Too bad, as I would have taken this one home. High in alcohol, Hexed All does not have the burn of a barrel aged beer. Conditioned on organic coffee beans, it is rich in coffee flavor, softened ever so slightly by the oatmeal. 
If you find yourself in the Costa Mesa area, make sure to put Barley Forge Brewing Co. on your route. It's worth a stop.

Our next visit was to Inland Empire Brewing Company in Riverside. This brewery is also in an
industrial complex and is larger than it appears. Just inside the entrance is a small bar with half a dozen barstools arranged around a small room. Before you think, "Is this it?" pass through the door on your left. You will find a short hallway that passes the brewing facility on the right, large enough to produce 2,500 gallons of beer at one time. Ahead of you is a small room with tables and chairs and a mounted TV. Further down the hall on your right, you will find a large game room with pool tables, foosball, video games, darts, and a jukebox. They even have corn hole (although, just one board and mismatched homemade bags).

Here, we had a pint of the Dunkel and the Power to the Porter which took a silver medal in the Los Angeles International Beer Competition. The Dunkel was dark, thick, and sweet, tasting of caramel and molasses. The Porter was only slightly darker, with robust flavors of coffee and cocoa. Their Brown Ale took the bronze medal at the LA Beer Competition. Based on the Porter, I'm willing to bet the Brown Ale is worth a try - next time!

Finally, we made the drive to Idyllwild Brewpub, the next closest brewery to Palm Desert outside of the four in the immediate area. It was worth the 20 mile drive. From Palm Desert, take CA-74 West through the San Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains to CA-243 North. The drive will take about an hour, depending on traffic, with an elevation gain of 5,000 feet, and a drop in temperature of 25 degrees through some beautiful scenery.

Idyllwild is a small, mountain top community with a year round population of about 4,000. It is an ideal summer retreat. The town offers a surprising amount of restaurant choices for its size, although Idyllwild Brewpub is the only brewery. They offer a full food menu as well as a wide range of beers on tap in a modern building with a comfortable, hip vibe. It features a large outdoor space with forest views. They hold many events here and it appears to be a popular gathering spot.

There, we tried the Cedar St Tart Cherry Wheat, on our server's recommendation, and the Box Canyon Bohemian Pilsner. We both liked the wheat better. It had a smooth, soft, velvet mouthfeel. The cherry is subtle coming on the back end, and is refreshing rather than sweet. The Pilsner had a different flavor than we expected but nothing we could pinpoint. It had a 40 IBU so we suspected the hops or the mountain water had something to do with it. Nothing unpleasant, just different. We should have taken the time to learn more about this beer to better appreciate it.

As our adventure came to an end, our last stop was at "world famous" Tustin Brewing Company which just took home a gold medal for their Portola Breakfast Stout and a bronze for their Clutches Wheat in the 2018 World Beer Cup. The Clutches may have been on tap when we were there (if so, I missed that) but the Portola Stout definitely was not so we tried the Blimp Hangar Porter On Nitro. Dark and low in alcohol (5%), it was not as quite as creamy as an Irish Stout. Rather, it boasted of  roasted coffee, chocolate, and nuts. This beer won bronze at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival.

I'm glad we had the opportunity to spend a little time in Orange County and sample a few of it's world class breweries. If you are ever headed to southern California and have a few hours to spare, flying in and out of Santa Ana isn't a bad way to go. In fact, it's a destination worth putting on your list.


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