Bennett: It’s time for O.C.'s beers to shine
This one’s for you Orange County.
For the first time since the modern craft beer revolution hit here less than a decade ago, the county that is home to creators of cultish experimental Belgian ales (The Bruery), brewpubs that balance family vibes with geek-worthy IPAs (Tustin Brewing Company), the newly crowned Best Small Brewery in the World (Noble) and over 30 more beer-makers is finally getting a beer week worthy of celebrating it all.
Sure there were some feeble previous attempts at an OC Beer Week — a handful of events tacked onto PR-driven restaurant weeks and other food festivals that forced beer play secondary to wine and cheese love.
But this OC Beer Week, happening June 10 to 17, is different. Consider it O.C. beer’s time to peacock a bit. The fact that it precedes the eighth annual L.A. Beer Week (June 18 to 26) is no accident either — it hopes to add to the popular L.A. County celebration by expanding the love to brewing across the Southland.
Organized by the year-old Orange County Brewers Guild, the week kicks off with an inaugural OC Brewers Guild Festival, a coming-out party of sorts for the 32-member organization, which is both a professional group for brewers and a public-facing body devoted to local-beer boosterism.
In addition to unlimited sample pours from member breweries (which will be bringing crazy delicious one-off brews), tickets to the festival, which is being held at the picturesque Fullerton Arboretum, includes all you can eat bites from O.C.'s beer-loving restaurants, like Haven Gastropub and Beachwood BBQ.
The fest is also a chance for craft beer fans and newbies alike to discover the county’s wide range of breweries, most of which have opened in the last five years. Because while many O.C. residents have likely found their favorite local spot to have a pint, there are pockets of great beer spread from Huntington Beach to San Clemente to Anaheim.
“People don’t realize all the breweries that exist in Orange County,” says Fauna Shrago, executive director of the OC Brewers Guild. “We want to give local consumers a chance to try all the local beers in one local place.”
Can’t make it to the kickoff party? No worries. There’s eight days of O.C. beer love, with special releases, tap takeovers, beer dinners and even a weeklong scavenger hunt taking place over social media.
Barley Forge Brewing in Costa Mesa is releasing a new beer each day of the week. Native Son Alehouse and Out of the Park Pizza are taking over their taps with O.C.-only beer. Culinary destinations from Playground to Cucina Enoteca are preparing special meals paired with special brews.
And that’s not even counting the dozens of specialty bottle, can and tap-only beers that will make their debut at breweries like Four Sons, Artifex, Valiant, The Good Beer Company and The Bruery.
“There’s a lot of diversity in the beers being made in Orange County,” says The Bruery’s founder and CEO, Patrick Rue. “We have world class sour beers, IPAs, barrel-aged stouts and lagers being made in O.C. There isn’t a common theme here, which makes it a pretty fun and creative place for craft beer.”
A lot has changed since Rue first opened his internationally recognized Placentia brewery eight years ago, when the county’s beer scene consisted of a few oldie-but-goodie brewpubs and his funky, barrel-aged beer experiments were a hard sell to an unenlightened market. Local craft beer was so new, you were more likely to find beer on tap from San Diego and Northern California — whose repsective beer scenes were already flourishing — than anything made nearby.
Talks of a brewers guild have been in the works for several years, Rue says, but with breweries to run, finding time to organize a new project was daunting. When the number of breweries in the county became too large to ignore (and with the nascent L.A. Brewers Guild as a nearby example), the guild formed an all-volunteer board, applied for nonprofit status and officially formed last May. Shrago came on board as the guild’s first paid employee in February.
“The acceptance of craft beer in general was pretty low [when I first started],” Rue remembers. “In the last eight years, Orange County has turned into a destination itself, where beer fans now focus more on Orange County beer than beer made elsewhere.”
Beer Week Highlights
Here are just a few of the many events. For more information, check out ocbrewers.org/oc-beer-week/.
Friday June 10:
At noon, Artifex Brewing Co. will reveal a special release to mark its home at 919 Calle Amanecer, San Clemente. (artifexbrewing.com)
Saturday June 11:
OC Brewers Guild Festival at 5 p.m. at the Fullerton Arboretum, 1900 Associated Road, Fullerton.
Sunday June 12:
Archive Flight at The Bruery at noon. A taste of five beers that are at least 3 years old. The Bruery Tasting Room is at 717 Dunn Way, Placentia. (thebruery.com/tastingroom)
Monday June 13:
Valiant Beer Dinner at Smoqued BBQ at 5 p.m.. Four beers paired with four Dishes, though five beers are on tap. Smoqued BBQ is at 128 N Glassell St, Orange. (smoquedbbq.com)
Tuesday June 14:
Meeting of the Guild atnoon at Native Son Alehouse, 305 E. 4th St., Suite 200, Santa Ana. (nativesonale.com)
Wednesday June 15:
OC Takeover at Out of the Park Pizza at 5 p.m. Anaheim Hills location: 5638 E. La Palma Ave; Buena Park location: 6038 Ball Road. (outoftheparkpizza.com)
Thursday June 16:
Stereo Brewing and Tustin Brewing collaboration release at 5 p.m. at Tustin Brewing Co., 13011 Newport Ave., Suite 100, Tustin. (tustinbrewery.com)
SARAH BENNETT is a freelance journalist covering food, drink, music, culture and more. She is the former food editor at L.A. Weekly and a founding editor of Beer Paper L.A. Follow her on Twitter @thesarahbennett.