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Orange County Update
Beer Behind the Orange Curtain
As with every New Year, 2008 opened to fearless predictions from many beer industry gurus. Unlike past years, however, many now predict the slowing of the craft beer juggernaut due to huge increases in barley prices and a worldwide hop shortage rooted in two consecutive poor harvests. Proud to take the contrarian position, the Orange County and Inland Empire (IE) neighbors to the east are betting on another banner year for brewers and beer consumers alike, with more than a half-dozen new or expanded beery offerings.

Rising like a Phoenix from the ashes after an extended absence and legal battle, the Anthill Pub has returned with a vengeance to the UC-Irvine campus. The renewed venue now boasts 30 taps and an upgraded food menu. SoCal brewers are well represented, with multiple taps from AleSmith, Stone and Port Brewing. Open until midnight six days per week (actually until 1:00 a.m. on Thursday/Friday) and closed on Sundays, the on-campus watering hole is seeing plenty of support from students, faculty and off-campus beer geeks alike. Nonstudent parking can be a hassle, so dropping in first for a quickie (or three) at Steelhead Brewing across the street in the Marketplace seems to do the trick (contrary to the posted signs).

The fermenters at TAPS Fish House & Brewery in Corona finally are bubbling happily along.

Over the hills at The District in Tustin are two new stops for better-brew fans. First, JT Schmid’s has added another outlet for brewer Gil Chacon’s wares. Although the new location lacks a brewery, some much-needed expansion work was performed at the Anaheim location to help Gil supply both restaurants. Food portions at both places are so large they make Claim Jumper blush!

Across the parking lot, looking a lot like a 1950s airport hangar, is Whole Foods. Most everyone has seen the standard Whole Foods offerings, and while their outlets do offer above-average beer selections, most people would be hard-pressed to refer to them as inspired… until now.

Imagine a smoked meats café with three taps offering microbrewed draught beer; suddenly the grocery concept has been taken to a new level. Turn another corner toward the beer section and BAM! One encounters a wine tasting bar that has been expanded to include six tap handles pouring heady libations such as St. Bernardus Abt 12. The store offers an enlightened craft beer section, including entries from Jolly Pumpkin in Dexter, Mich.; a truly expanded section of Belgian delights; and beer tastings held on a regular basis.

Speaking of beer tastings, two package stores in O.C. really stepped it up over the last few months of 2007. The southern portion of the county has been well-supported by Pacific Park Market in Aliso Viejo, where Ken Hung has featured such breweries as Victory (Pennsylvania), Anchor and Stone and has split this year’s crop of winter warmers into two separate events. Up in Fullerton, Vikki Tran-Dawson at Vendome Liquor continues to run “Beer with Jeremy” on Tuesday nights with much success and has expanded the already-established very good beer offerings to an excellent level.

The much-anticipated expansion at Beachwood BBQ has been completed, and with the January re-grand opening out of the way, parking should be much easier. The number of draught offerings has doubled from the original 10, a sufficient quantity to allow owner Gabriel Gordon to really stretch his beery imagination. Seating has improved for those who arrive early in the evening, and the menu has been tweaked to include my new personal favorite, Wild Mushroom Stew served on a bed of Maytag Blue Cheese Grits.

Heading east to the Inland Empire, one finds that the fermenters at TAPS Fish House & Brewery in Corona’s Dos Lagos center finally are bubbling happily along. While the restaurant managed to clear inspection and open prior to Christmas, the new brewery had other ideas about when it was going to begin the assumption of its daily duties. Brewer Victor Novak slew the dragon in the end, however, and from his efforts folks in the IE will all enjoy better beer for years to come.

If you head south on the 15 freeway to the Clinton Keith exit in Wildomar, you’ll find D’Canter’s Wine Bar & Grill. Even though beer is not a prominent feature in the establishment name, current taps feature a few of the great beers from Germany, such as Hacker-Pschorr Münchener Gold, Erdinger Weissbier Dunkel and Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse. Drop by for a cold one and take in the ornate handcrafted custom bar and outgoing, cheery staff.

Continuing south on the 15 and exiting toward Pechanga brings another surprise in the form of Barley & Hops Olde World Tavern. Owner/operator Scott Salmonsen has brought to Temecula 18 taps (including Belgium’s St. Louis Framboise) and a selection of 100 bottled beers unrivaled within a 25-mile radius. Located in the shadow of the former home of Vinnie Cilurzo’s Blind Pig Brewing on Highway 79 South, Barley’s is on the southeast corner of Jedediah Smith in the Temecula Creek Plaza, one traffic light past Pechanga Parkway. Following January’s over-the-top hop-tasting festival will be a weeklong celebration of all things Irish surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, featuring rotating food and drink specials in March. Drop in to Barley’s and mention that you read about the place in the Celebrator… you never know what might happen.

The last week of 2007 brought our family to Vancouver, B.C., for a little (OK, a lot of) hockey action. While we partook of malty goodness in a number of places in a prolonged effort to learn the local lingo (a pint is ordered as “a sleeve”), it was Big River Brewing in the suburb of Richmond where the people quotient really kicked in. Brewer Damon Robson (a U.K. native) proved to be the perfect host as we discussed everything from the current hop shortfall to brewing processes and attempts to educate the tandem of locals and tourists who frequent the huge entertainment complex across the street.

The beers were clean, and the ESB was hopped to West Coast pale ale standards. It quickly became our favorite. To my amazement, the pale ale, ESB and stout were all poured using CO2-driven stout faucets utilizing creamer plates. The resulting collar of foam was formed of smaller, tightly knit bubbles and stuck around from the very first sip all the way to the end of the sleeve. Great idea, eh?




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