Once upon a time the Los Angeles and Orange County areas were a desert wasteland when it came to finding good craft beer. Such a thought is now a thing of the past and the SoCal area is now awash with outstanding beer choices as new breweries and beer bars seem to spring up almost weekly.
During my recent visit I enlisted my old beer buddies and accomplished homebrewers Terry Boyles and John Rockwell to show me some of their new finds. As longtime residents of the area and bona fide craft beer connoisseurs I figured they would know the best hop spots and it turned out they certainly did.
Our first stop was Barley Forge in Costa Mesa, a one-year-old brewery that opened in October, 2014 specializing in Belgian, West Coast and German-style beers. The tasting room with large windows offering a view of the brewery and bottling line is lined with long wood tables and is equipped with board games to entice you to stay longer. But no enticing is needed with beer of this quality. Happily you can choose from tasters, full pints or small or large growlers and my tasters included a Horchata Witbier made with the Mexican sugar/rice drink; a Coconuty-rye Stout; the Der Biersal, brewed with German pilsen and wheat malts and fermented with a traditional Bavarian yeast strain that produces clove phenols and banana fruity esters; and Mango Hefe, a fruited version of the aforementioned Der Biersal.
The aptly named The Good Beer Company in downtown Santa Ana also opened in October of 2014 and is situated in a building where a horse stable stood 130 years ago. The relaxed space is bedecked with artwork by local artists, the original red brick walls, an exposed ceiling, wood tables and more than 75 barrels. Not surprisingly, barrel aged Belgian styles and sour beers are their forte. On tap were Sweet Cherry Oro, a Saison with sweet cherries aged in French oak barrels; Blueberry Oro, the same beer with blueberries; Sangrioro, a sangria-inspired farmhouse ale aged in oak barrel with blackberries and nectarine; Painted Lady, a bone dry blonde ale with loads of clove-forward phenolics; and Lemondrop Lady, the Painted Lady with Lemon Drop hops added (they really do taste like lemon drops).
As our stomachs were crying out for sustenance, it was time for a visit to Haven Gastropub in nearby Old Town Orange. Haven opened in Sept. of 2009 and was one of the first beer-centric pubs to grace the area. More than a dozen taps and dozens more in bottles offer brews you don’t find everywhere, many of them local finds like The Bruery Terreux Tonellerie Rue. The quality of the food matches the beer, with enlightened dishes such as Short Rib Tacos with pickled red onion, cotija cheese and salsa borracho; and Lamb Burger with onion jam, tzatziki, onion sprouts, rosemary brioche bun and pommes frites.
Our final stop brought us to Valiant Brewing Company, also in Orange and a fairly new production brewery that just celebrated its 2nd anniversary. Valiant is located in an industrial complex and the tasting room puts you right in the middle of the action, as it’s just inches from the brewing tanks. On draft were an impressive 23 of their beers on tap, covering a range of beer styles including IPA, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Barleywine, Dunkelweizen and Imperial Pilsner. This brewery is unafraid of going outside the norm as there were also some weird beers (and I mean weird as a compliment), like a Midnight Banana Session with cherry and coconut; Saison with lemongrass and pear; and Haute Blounde Lauger, a lager with mango and Serrano pepper.
My venture behind the Orange Curtain was indeed fruitful, in more ways than one, and thanks are in order to Terry and John for being such knowledgeable and astute beer guides.
Barley Forge Brewing Company
2957 Randolph Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The Good Beer Company
309 W 4th St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701http://thegoodbeercompanyinc.squarespace.com
Haven Gastropub 190 S Glassell St.
Orange, CA 92866
Valiant Brewing Company
2294 N. Batavia St. Unit C
Orange Ca 92865
Bob Barnes is editorial director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional, regional correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and writes the Top 10 Beer lists for Gayot.com. He welcomes your inquiries and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.