Yeah, we’re just gonna keep with the theme here.
Last week I recapped the first weekend of my recent Southern California vacation, which included a trip to San Diego County for Stone’s 18th Anniversary Party and a tour of the brewery itself, along with a great lunch experience at the Stone Bistro and World Gardens. This week I’d like to tell you about the other brewery visit I had while I was staying in Los Angeles—to The Bruery, in Placentia.
Depending on where you’re staying in L.A., you can get to The Bruery’s Orange County location within an hour or two (I was staying near LAX, and the drive took about 50 minutes in late-morning traffic), though with the tasting room opening later in the afternoon most days travel time is subject to the whims of the freeway gods. I mention the tasting room hours because tours of The Bruery are currently on hold; I was lucky enough to be shown around thanks to The Bruery’s Virginia distributor setting me up with Jonas Nemura, Senior Director of Operations and Distribution for The Bruery.
As I mentioned last week, most brewery tours are fairly similar experiences, but what fascinated me at The Bruery was how different their approach was compared to Stone. Both breweries aim for world-class quality and expression of style in their beers, but for all of its experimentation Stone is much more in the ‘traditional’ mold—around half of the production at Stone’s Escondido brewery is dedicated to their IPA, which is their flagship beer. Not only does The Bruery not have a flagship beer, but when one of their recipes began to show signs of becoming a flagship, they stopped making it—such is their dedication to an ever-changing lineup with an emphasis on trying new things and being on the experimental edge of the beer industry (there’s a reason I called The Bruery “fearless” when I wrote a short profile on them back in 2012).
Even as someone who works in the business with an appreciation for what The Bruery does, it can be jarring to hear a business plan that so diverges from the norm. The thing is, it’s working: when I visited, The Bruery was working on yet another expansion, gobbling up even more of the warehouse-like storefronts its complex occupies. In six short years, The Bruery has become a name known to beer lovers worldwide—one synonymous with boldly-flavored, cutting-edge Belgian-style, Sour, and barrel-aged beers. A special treat during our tour of The Bruery was a stop in its barrel-aging warehouse. We were led to a nondescript office building a block away from the main facility, and upon entering the combined aromas of oak, bourbon, and other assorted barrel varieties smacked us in the face. Walking into the warehouse itself was like entering a real-life treasure trove: somewhere between 10-12,000 square feet of space with rack upon rack of wooden barrels. It was like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark—except for beer.
Mind you, none of these contain The Bruery’s vaunted Sour Ales—those are created and aged in a different facility about three miles away. Part of The Bruery’s evolution involved moving Sour/Wild Ale production; fresh wort is even trucked over to the ‘Sour house’ (my phrase, not theirs) so all fermentation involving Brettanomyces and The Bruery’s souring bacteria can take place away from the regular production line, all part of an effort that should help avoid some of the cross-contamination issues that have occurred with a handful of beers in the past.
I recommend going in a small group like I did (my wife and best friend came with me); The Bruery’s approach is one that involves a lot of styles that aren’t for everyone, occasionally delving into ‘extreme’ beer territory. Unlike other breweries that forge their own path however, The Bruery’s wide-ranging lineup is welcoming to all palates, truly offering something for everyone to enjoy. My best friend is not a Sour Ale fan, and my wife is not into aggressively hoppy beers; all three of us found brews that we enjoyed at the tasting room. Because of the spectrum of beers The Bruery offers, telling your server that you’re not a fan of a particular beer won’t elicit any of the exasperated sighing or beer geeksplaining from the crew there that you might in other places; just suggestions on what you might enjoy trying next.
And there’s almost always something to try next. A visit to The Bruery’s tasting room involves grabbing a piece of paper and selecting a handful of beers to try (in two-ounce sampler glasses) for a flight—kind of like a sushi place. Once again, thanks to the kindness of Jonas and the crew at The Bruery, we were allowed more than the five samples that come with the typical flight, and we allowed access to beers typically reserved for members of their Preservation Society and Reserve Society.
What I took away from both of my brewery visits was a renewed sense of optimism for the future of beer: as different as Stone and The Bruery are from each other, there is no sense of competition there—no accusations of one or the other doing the ‘wrong’ thing. Both breweries are striving to elevate the standards of the art; both want to use the best ingredients possible to make the best beer possible. Both approaches work for both breweries, as well as their fans. If you can, I highly encourage visiting both.
Now, the tasting notes!!!!!!
Loakal Red: This was the lone unanimously loved beer among the three of us. A nod to the mostly hop-driven SoCal beer scene, Loakal Red is a hoppy Amber Ale that wisely sees a quarter of the beer aged in oak before being blended into the final beer. That oak-aged bit is enough to take some edge off the bitterness of the hops, allowing anyone with a taste for beer to get into it. I think there’s a chance we may see this on the East Coast at some point, but The Bruery wouldn’t clue me into that one way or the other.
Shegoat: A riff on German Weizenbock done in a manner only Bruery head Patrick Rue could come up with. Nothing insane happening here; just loads of sweet caramel malts and a ton of old-school banana-like Hefe yeast notes. The result is more Doppelbock than Weizenbock in feel, and is kinda banana bready. Delicious.
Sour In The Rye (w/Pineapple & Coconut): SITR is one of my favorite beers, period–so I jump at any opportunity to try a variant. Predictably, I loved the pineapple and was ‘meh’ on the coconut–but then, I love pineapple and am kinda ‘meh’ on coconut so that makes sense. Still, and overall excellent beer that I’d punch your mom in the face for a bottle of.
Tart Of Darkness (w/Vanilla Bean & Cacao): The combination of being from the 2013 batch of TOD along with the boldness of the vanilla and cacao made this version come off a lot rounder, less intensely acidic than others I’ve had in the past. The bourbon barrel felt a bit more prominent here too, but the vanilla may draw that out more. Very nice.
Atomic Kangarue: This is an insane Reserve Society offering that my wife and I both fell in love with. What’s so insane, you ask? Well, here’s a rundown of what Atomic Kangarue is: “A Belgian-style golden ale, brewed with Semillon and Viognier grapes plus three types of hops, fermented with Brettanomyces Trois as well as our house yeast strain, then blended with a sour blonde ale and finally dry-hopped with Amarillo hops (credit).” I mean, who does that? Madness. IN any event, this was so damn good and basically steeled my resolve to get into the Reserve (and eventually the Hoarders) Society. Amazing, complex, floral, fruity, acidic yet fleshy on the palate–seriously, track this down.
White Chocolate: I tried White Chocolate for the first time in 2013, at a bottle share. I never would’ve guessed that I’d love a cacao-infused Wheat Wine this much, but it really is something special. Yes, it’s sweet, but there’s a hint of balance in White Chocolate (not to mention enough alcoholic heat) to keep it from going too far.
Oude Tart (w/Plums): I’ll put Oude Tart up against just about any Flemish Red made in the U.S. right now, and the fruit-addition versions (there’s also an Oude Tart with cherries) are really special. Oude Tart spends 18 months in wine barrels, so there’s already a vinous, fruity character in it that plays wonderfully with the plums.
Dad’s Infidelity: A wine barrel-fermented Saison with two Brett strains and blackberries. Delightfully floral wild yeast notes; just enough berry flavor–I want more of this in my life.
BeRazzled: The Bruery does Framboise. BeRazzled pours a color you’d expect from cough syrup, but if you’ve ever had their Gueuze-style Rueuze, you’d know that the sharp acidity of that base beer would cut well through a big fruit addition–and it does just that.
Soroboruo: A Sour Wee Heavy (!) with heather tips. The sour is mild in this one, which is as it should be–with the heather involved and considering the Wee Heavy style, any more sour would’ve been too much. It was a bit much for my friend, who is admittedly not a Sour fan, but it was a nice experience for him nonetheless.
Smoking Wood (Bourbon Barrel-Aged): I LOVE Smoking Wood; a 13% ABV smoked Rye malt Imperial Porter usually aged on Rye Whiskey barrels. This Bourbon barrel version struck me a bit more approachable than the Rye–less Islay Scotch-y. You can find some bottles in the NoVA are right now; recommended.
Sucre (Tawny Port Barrel-Aged): I had this one at the Stone Anniversary Party. The Tawny Port barrels bump ABV to 15.1% in this version of The Bruery’s 6th Anniversary Ale. Essentially an Old Ale done through a Solera system (with previous year’s versions blended into the next year’s), Sucre is a natural fit for fortified wine barrel-aging. Nutty, with a bit of extra sweetness and a subtle raisiny note. Delightful.
Next week: wrapping up with an East Coast perspective of the California beer scene—the good, the bad, and the hoppy (which can alternately be good and bad). See you then!