Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Great Beer in the O.C.

Dozens of beers to try and even more cheeses and charcuterie to pair with it!
As you drive north out of San Diego County and Highway 101 merges into the San Diego Freeway (I-5) your next stop is Orange County, California.  Know more for beaches, surfing and Disneyland, beer tourism is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of southern CA's smallest county, but that is changing. Founded in 2008, The Bruery is grabbing headlines and turning heads with their creative ingredients, barrel ageing and collaboration brews.

"Special Flight" for $8 at The Bruery Provisie
My first stop was The Bruery Provisions in the cute little city of Orange. As you drive into town Orange brings you back to the days of old with soda fountains churning out milkshakes for a nickle. Orange didn't level its downtown for condos in the 60s like most California towns and its center retains a lot of its good old day charm and is frequently used for filming by nearby Hollywood. Driving around the traffic circle and large fountain at the center and past the palm trees into the shopping district I found a parking spot right in front of the store, got out and turned on my taste buds. The deli-like storefront is a fromagerie, charcuterie and craft beer store rolled into one. One part California, one part Europe... and delicious on all fronts! A nice tasting tray means you get to try about a third of the beers they are putting out at any one time.  Most of them barrel aged, some sour, some light, others dark.  The tray was a beautiful pallete of color and really showcased the range of flavors you can find in beer these days.  Pairing food and beer really gives you a large and ever expanding range of options. Their large bottle selection of Bruery offerings accompanied by other regional craft brews lets you take home anything you liked or couldn't try during your visit. I was pleasantly surprised to find some Acer Quercus, which is a collaboration brew with Lawson's Finest Liquids out of Warren in Vermont's Mad River Valley where I get most of my turns in every winter.

Filmishmish - 5.8%, Arabic for "when the apricots bloom", sour blond 
w/ Apricot jam and wood shavings 
BeRazzeled - 5%, Raspberry, bright red color, very fruity but tart
Rub a Dub Dubbel - 7.4%, Abbey brown, med body, full flavor, estery w/ a nutty dry finish
Sour in the Rye - 8.7%, 40% rye malt, aged 1yr in oak, complex, sour dry finish
Chocosaurous Rye - 7%, Collaboration w/ Bootleggers, dark rye lager w/ cocoa nibs and vanilla bean

Rare and delicious, Acer Quecus
from The Bruery/Lawson's Finest Liquids
Sean Lawson and I first met a few years ago to exchange beers at my family's little ski condo in Warren, VT.  His generous samples all had handwritten bottle numbers (#12 of 80, etc). Most of the dozen beers were hop bomb IPAs or Maple beers in various strenths, highlighting his two favorite ingredients. This beer is a big malty beer with maple syrup, maplewood smoked malt, conditioned over oak and clocks in at a warming 9.5%. I bought a bottle for later since it was time to shove off to meet some family at Newport Beach Brew Co.

It was sunset when I drove past the brewpub in Newport Beach. Unfortunately running a bit late there was no time to catch the beach or the sunset as I parked and strolled into the brewery to meet Aunt Carol and my cousin Brian Jr. True to Orange County style all three of Aunt Carol's sons are blond water polo players.  "BJ" is also a homebrewer and winemaker and works at a vineyard in Paso Robles but was home recovering from a broken leg. Newly 21, he had been contacting me regularly for brewing tips as he dove full on into making beer. Honey wheat is his specialty so far.  It was nice to catch up with family and even nicer that they catered to my craft beer passion by scheduling almost all of my short visit inside of breweries!
Newport Beach Brew Co. - Husband Care Center, outdoor seating, surfboards, tacos... sounds like Southern California

Newport Brew Co. listed a nice range of beers on their board, which started with the necessary light beers for the non-geeky regulars and tourists and threw in a few more adventurous styles at the end to keep the likes of me interested and coming back. We flew through two tasting paddles split between all of us before skipping out the door to meet my uncle for dinner at their local BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse chain location in nearby Tustin.

Newport Beach Blond - 4.5%, Very light flavor and body, intro beer, baby step 1...
Pelican Pale - 5.5%, Mild light but a little more flavor than the blond, baby step 2...
Brisbee's ESB - 6.5%, A nice roasty redish ale, good step up into flavorful craft beer!
Dubble Trouble - 6.3% Sweet, dark and fruity belgian
Clash w/ RYEality IPA - 7.8%, Light aroma but good bitterness
Cuba Libre Sour - 6%, A nice limited different style, just a touch sour
Sweet Chai o' Mine Stout - 5.5%, Dark, minty, spicy, really liked it!
Disorder IPA on cask - 7% Nice traditional IPA with a kick, mellow flavors mixed well together
Sir Perry Pear Cider - Very fruity, pretty sweet

A full range of craft beers to choose from at Newport Brew Co
Uncle Brian is full-on Irish, born in the US but 100% otherwise.  He enjoys a pint or three and is always jolly.  A hardworking doctor, he rolled in late and thirsty just as we were getting our appetizers. I had a tasting tray and was working my way through it.  True to Irish form he went with Guinness to start but as we got caught up and switched to beer talk I found he also enjoys BJs Jeremiah's Red, though at 7.3% he figured it was best to stick with his 4% Guinness on a Tuesday night.  I have to say this was my first BJs experience and while the restaurant was run with all the flash and flair of a good chain and had an extensive wine and spirit collection, they did give a good amount of focus on their beers too. And they must be doing something right because this place was packed!  I enjoyed the food and finished the tasting tray and got a half pint of BJs Tatonka Imperial Stout (to tip my hat to Uncle Brian's Irish heritage) which went well with our chocolate dessert. Another positive chain brewery experience (see previous "Chain Brewery" post)! Off for a good night's rest for the next day -- a bonus day, leap day! Not one to waste a day, I'll travel to San Luis Obispo County for wine and beer. Cheers!

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