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APR/MAY 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

L.A. Update : What's New And What's Not
By Don Erickson

I write for a beer magazine. My relatives know this. So they ask me questions about beer. One, who lives in the Central Valley town of Hanford, just asked me a doozy: “There’s a new place in town that makes its own beer. I haven’t been there yet. Is it any good?”

There are better ways to find out about a new brewpub.

The newbie in Hanford is called the Old Firehouse Brew Pub & Hofbrau. Open only a few months, it is located downtown in a building that began life as the town’s first fire station.

The building has seen a lot of other uses over the years, so there’s little left that suggests its original purpose. The current configuration features a small upstairs dining room overlooking a dance floor to the left and a sandwich bar to the right. The bar is at the back fronting the brewery. That brewery is an interesting mix: the kettles came from the defunct Oldenberg brewery in Kentucky, while the tanks are relics from one of SoCal’s first brewpubs, the Heritage brewery that used to be in Dana Point.

The brewer, Ron McIlroy, is a local homebrewer who is quick to point out that he is not a hop fiend. His Escape Ladder Amber is proof: made with German malt and hops, it could be thought of as a “light” märzen.

Interestingly, the beer menu has few regular offerings. Owner Steve Churchill granted McIlroy considerable freedom in beer-making, and McIlroy has been experimenting ever since. He’s brewed everything from something called Firehouse Light to a brown ale, a porter and even a weizen. McIlroy intends to introduce a standard line-up … one of these days. Given Hanford’s 100-degree summers, expect the light and the weizen to be two of those standards.

As for the beers, someone really, really likes hops. Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

The menu is likewise in a state of flux. During the day, the sandwich bar rules — be sure to try the German-style potato salad. At night, there’s a full menu with all the usual pub grub plus pastas and other entrees.

Like all newly opened brewpubs, Old Firehouse is still finding its way. To check out its evolution yourself, take Highway 198 from either I-5 or California 99. Exit into downtown Hanford and go north on Douty Street. The brewpub will be on the right.

Another new brewpub is out in the Inland Empire in Rancho Cucamonga. Actually, it’s a second coming. What was once the Compass Creek brewpub is now a steak house and brewpub called Omaha Jack’s Steakhouse And Brewery.

At first glance, Omaha Jack’s seems to be Compass Creek all over again. Except for some of the accents, the interior of the place is almost unchanged.

However, one look at the menu reassures you that Omaha Jack’s is an entirely different operation. Where Compass Creek’s menu was a confused mess served in plastic baskets, Omaha Jack’s menu is chock-full of classic Midwest dishes well presented.

As for the beers, someone really, really likes hops. A pale ale, an IPA and a Double IPA? Not that I’m complaining, mind you.

To find Omaha Jack’s, exit the 15 freeway at Foothill Boulevard and head west. The brewpub will be on your left just past the most elegant Denny’s you’ll ever see.

On another subject, someone else asked me why I’ve never written about a certain “brewing company.” I’ve visited the place in question, but I haven’t written about it because it isn’t a brewery. It’s not even a decent ale house. Actually, the last time I counted, there were five such faux brewpubs around here.

Now, let me be clear. I am not talking about BJ’s or Oggi’s “brewhouses.” Those two chains use a business model of centrally located breweries providing beer for a network of ale houses. There’s nothing wrong with that approach; in fact, it’s a variation on the tied house concept that’s prevalent in Britain.

What am I complaining about? Well, back when, there was a place in Westwood called the Main Line Brewing Company. The beer list proudly featured “Main Line’s own beers,” yet there wasn’t a kettle or even a beer tank in the place!

Main Line didn’t last very long, but others carry on the “tradition.” The aforementioned “brewing company” has no tanks but lots of kegs of its “own” beer, every one marked with a Bay Area address. Of course, the beer prices are excessive too.

Then there are the brewpubs whose breweries have obviously not been used in a long, long time, if at all. Kinda defeats the whole idea, doesn’t it?

End of rant. I need a beer.

Old Firehouse Brew Pub & Hofbrau
215 N. Douty St.
Hanford, CA 93230
559-585-8104

Omaha Jack’s Steakhouse & Brewery
11837 Foothill Blvd.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
909-477-4377

Don Erickson is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and a longtime “grognard” covering the Southern California beer scene. He lives in Long Beach, Calif.

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