Wednesday, September 12, 2012

O.C. Brew Fest Reviewed

This past weekend I ventured out to sunny California to check out some West Coast craft beer, as well as attend the 3rd Annual Orange County Craft Beer Festival located in scenic Oak Canyon Park in Silverado, CA.

This event is partnered with the Local 3631 Firefighter's Union. Boasting over 60 Award winning Breweries serving 150+ beers on tap, it raises thousands of dollars for the Fallen Fire Fighters Relief Fund.

All of the big breweries of the regional west were in attendance - Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas, Stone, Avery, Firestone Walker, North Coast Brewery as well as numerous smaller California breweries.

My strategy was to try things I haven't had before from some of the West Coast's craft beer trailblazers as well as discover some of the up and coming breweries. We found that most of the larger breweries had two tap lines, simply showcasing their flagship beers. I have to admit that I'd hoped based on my experience with Midwest beer festivals, that this would be a venue to try some special/limited releases but this was unfortunately not that case. The smaller, local breweries really came out to shine!

Beers of Note/Best in Show
• Epic Brewery (Salt Lake City, UT) Spiral Jetty IPA (6.6%), A bold IPA boasting 7 types of American hops
• North Coast Brewing Co. (Fort Bragg, CA) Red Seal Pale Ale on Nitro (5.4%), Copper-Red and creamy
• Bootlegger's Brewery (Fullerton, CA) Golden Chaos Belgian Ale (8.4%), Perfectly spiced
• Golden Road (Los Angeles, CA) Get Up Offa That Brown (5.5%), Smooth & smokey English-style Brown Ale
• Taps Fish House & Brewery (Orange County, CA) Pumpkin Ale (5.8%), Well balanced

Best Tent Display
• Hangar 24 Craft Brewery (Redlands, CA)
Custom Tent, vintage truck, 4+ taps, lots of swag - these guys had all of the bells and whistles.
Breweries To Keep An Eye On
• Hangar 24 Craft Brewery (Redlands, CA) 
With a impressive list of quality crafted beers and vintage branding that can't be overlooked this local favorite caught my eye. I had a chance to visit their brewery - stay tuned for a dedicated write up.

Brad from Ritual Brewing and I
• Ritual Brewing Co. (Redlands, CA)
A craft brewery opening this fall, this was their first festival and they had quite a showing. The Wit's End was refreshingly delightful.

• Monkish Brewery (Torrance, CA)
These guys did not have their own tent, but were being served by BrĂ¼. Their Belgian spiced beers - Rosa's Hips (Belgian Brown spiced with rose hips) and Crux (Belgian Single spiced with elderflowers) were by far the most impressive I had while in Southern California. Check out their new tasting room right outside of LA.

Best Food Trucks
• Ranch A Go Go (Multiple Southern California locations)
Let's just say these guys rocked my world with their over-sized Pulled Pork Sliders.

• Brewcakes (Redlands, CA)
A unique bakery specializing in desserts infused with craft beer, wine or liquor. We tried a sampling of craft beer infused cupcakes that were delicious!

Glass Half Full
 • Wrist bands - pretty cool each little tear off square was a drink ticket, no worries about losing paper tickets
• Overhead Misting Cords - such a life saver on a hot day
• Location - great amount of shade, not over-crowded

Glass Half Empty
• No cell reception - hard to meet up with people
• No map handouts - hard to know which breweries were where for planning/strategizing
• Brewery representation - as a beer geek I would have loved to see more people from the breweries who could answer questions about the beers on tap.

Overall the festival was spacious, delicious and well planned. Thanks so much O.C. Brew Fest and O.C. Firefighters Union, we had a fantastic time!