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JUNE/JULY 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

L.A. Update : Beering the Inland Empire
By Don Erickson

So far this year, almost all of L.A.’s beer action is happening to the east, in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Makes sense, since the so-called Inland Empire is growing mighty fast.

In and around San Bernardino proper, two breweries are fermenting. Expect one of them to open later this year. Meanwhile, over in Rancho Cucamonga, Omaha Jack’s opened where the Compass Creek brewpub once stood. It’ll soon be joined by a BJ’s tap house.

BJ’s has already opened two restaurants in the area, one in Moreno Valley and the other in Corona. The Corona BJ’s is south of town in the heart of a new shopping center. The beers and food are as good as ever, so this BJ’s should be a good companion for Main Street Brewing, Corona’s only brewpub and one of L.A.’s best-kept beer secrets.

Attached (coincidentally enough) to a pizza parlor, Main Street has been quietly making some of the best beer hereabouts. The best part is that they’re not afraid to experiment. If you visit, be sure to try what the bartender calls the “exotics” — brews such as a rye IPA or an unfiltered tripel.

Just up the 91 freeway, Riverside Brewing has finished the first phase of a massive makeover. The exterior is done; now the interior, especially the bar area, is being reworked. Meanwhile, the menu has been revamped and the brewery itself is being refitted. Expect the beers to be “freshened up” too.

Lastly, in Upland, Old Baldy’s new brewery is finally coming to life. All kinds of delays were caused by a permit war with the City over the brewery’s boiler. The city engineer and inspectors are now happy; soon Old Baldy’s brewer will be happy, too.

Across town, I’ve rediscovered the beers served at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel by LAX. The famous (infamous?) monthly beer tastings are now held on Friday instead of Wednesday. And the admission price is deducted from your room bill if you stay the night afterwards! That could be a good idea, especially if they ever decide to do a barley wine tasting again.

Besides having good beer and food, the hotel bar is home to good conversation. You’ll never know who you might find there. It could be the importer of Chimay passing through on a marketing tour. Or it could be the maker of a high-end, high-quality cider.

That cider is called Aspall, and it ain’t no ordinary cider. This is a long-standing English brand, almost 300 years old, made from fresh apples, fermented for four months and packaged in a most impressive bottle.

Aspall comes in four varieties: extra dry, dry, organic and medium sweet. The last is most like the other ciders in the marketplace. The dry versions are something else entirely. Imagine a cross between champagne and Martinelli’s sparkling apple juice, only with 6% alcohol.

To experience Aspall, search for it at one of the better markets, such as Whole Foods.

In other local beer news, the Huntington Beach Beer Company, Orange County’s oldest brewpub, has a new owner, a new brewer and a new general manager. After 13 years, founder Peter Andriet is leaving the beer biz entirely to become a filmmaker in his native Canada. Besides starting HBBC, Peter was instrumental in launching the Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Tustin brewpubs. That’s quite a legacy; hopefully, Peter will be as successful in his new endeavor.

At the same time, longtime HBBC brewer Kris Martin decided it was “time for a change” and became the brewpub’s general manager. His replacement is Geoff Engel, a transplant from the Hoppy brewpub in Sacramento. Hmm, hop-heads may be in for a treat.

However, despite all this turnover, new owner Cesar Pena insists no big changes are coming. Taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, he admits only to minor changes, such as more and better TVs. The biggest change will be to HBBC’s ocean view, thanks to the ongoing construction across the street.

Elsewhere, in Long Beach’s Belmont Shore neighborhood, the Belmont Brewing Company is again hosting its monthly beer dinners. The dinner in July promises to be a good one: the beers will be from Firestone Walker, and David Walker himself will host the event. Firestone Walker’s beers pair especially well with food. That’s all you need to know.

My local will also quietly celebrate its 15th anniversary this summer. No big celebration is planned for L.A.’s second-oldest brewpub (only Pasadena’s Crown City predates Long Beach’s Belmont Brewing), but given the joys of the BBC’s beachfront patio, is anything really necessary?

By the way, a “local,” by definition, is a tap house or brewpub within walking distance of one’s home. That said, I do spend time at Long Beach’s other brewpub, Rock Bottom. In the days leading up to this year’s Long Beach Grand Prix, RB bartenders Danny and Clement probably saw me much too much. Organizing this year’s race was … trying.

Thank goodness a favorite watering hole was nearby.

Omaha Jack’s Steakhouse & Brewery
11837 Foothill Blvd.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91741
909-477-4347

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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