The Hot, Beery Beerness of OC Beer Fest

First, look at that picture to the right. See that hat? About half of the attendants at the Orange County Beer Festival on Sunday were wearing one of those. Singha Beer realized what this event was: A chance to promote their brand to people willing to pay $40 for three hours of unlimited beer.

[[For a great photo slide show of the festival, click here]]

That said, it can't really be overstated how awesome three hours of unlimited beer is, especially when it's unlimited non-Natty Light beer -- good beer, in other words. About sixty brewers showed up at Irvine Lake for this year's festival. Attendants arrived around 2 p.m., were handed adorable four-ounce mugs emblazoned with the festival's logo, and then spent three hours drinking beer from whichever tap looked the most attractive at any given moment. My ride's car thermometer hit 100 in the parking lot; the heat's effect was to make the most well-shaded beer booths into the most popular ones.

I took notes, sure. At least, I took notes about the locally brewed beers that I tried. But at a certain point, I started writing notes that are now illegible. Not sure why that is... might have something to do with the fact that I was at an unlimited alcohol-a-thon and had someone else drive me there. Hmm.

Regardless, here were the three most memorable OC-brewed beers that I tried. Keep in mind that I don't have the vocab or know-how to give a technical description of these brews, so I just stuck to the great equalizer: taste. After all, beer's the most democratic of drinks, right?

1. Left Coast Brewery's Asylum Belgian Tripel Ale: Left Coast, a San Clemente-based brewery that distributes at Oggi's Pizzas throughout the county, doesn't want you to like it. It wants you to remember it. At least, that's the impression I got, what with the large, loudly labeled bottles displayed with the funkily named brews ("Hops Juice" was one of their two beers on tap, but the art on the label brought to mind "liquid marijuana"). The beer itself only reinforced this idea. The Asylum Beligan Tripel Ale was this bizarre, light-colored brew that tasted miles away from how it looked. It was sweet, and not in the beery "reminiscent of things that taste sweet" kind of sweet. No, this thing was carbonated honey -- with a twist. A spicy twist. The effect wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't particularly pleasant either. More... as I said, memorable. Like a kitchen cleaner with a hint of delicious. I won't forget it, but I'm not sure I'd order a whole pitcher of the stuff either.

2. Newport Beach Brewing Company's Antidote Ale: I don't see this beer on Newport Brew Co.'s website, so maaaaybe I'm mixing it up with another. But I'm pretty sure I'm reading my inebriated handwriting correctly for this one. Newport Brewery is a well-loved, innocuous, sports-bar-type place where Newport locals hang out, so I wasn't ready to taste something this distinctive and yummy from their booth at the festival. It's got a slight orange flavor, is quite drinkable, and made my delicate companion wrinkle her nose at one sip. Which means, of course, it's a keeper.

3. Bootlegger's Brewery Black Phoenix: The man behind the cooler for this Fullerton brewery gave me a devilish smile as he described this beer to me. "It's chipotle cofee stout," he said, apparently waiting for me to coo in wonder. Little did he know I'd investigated Bootlegger's Brewery online before I got there! Regardless, I ordered a cup and quickly marveled at its intimidating physical traits. Brown bubbles! A really, really strong aroma of  Kean coffee! Should knock me over with one sip, right? Turns out, no. Black Phoenix is surprisingly smooth stuff. My first reaction: Tasty, but almost too weak. Almost. After the full four ounces, I appreciated that it was both distinctive and drinkable.

As for the festival itself: I had fun, but it would have been nice to have something to do other than scurry for shade, gulp down and ponder when to visit the In-N-Out truck. Well, that was my impression towards the beginning of the day. A certain something made conversation more enjoyable after 45 minutes or so. Still -- and maybe this is my genetic cheesiness and fond recent memories of college -- I think the organizers could have scored big with some beer pong. Might seem tacky, but then again they did bring in a band to play Def Leppard covers for the final hour and a half.

And you could tell which people had paid only $15 for a designated driver tickets: They were the sad-seeming guys playing with their phones at the picnic tables. The rock band was a start, but a little more entertainment would have gone a long way towards making me feel not so bad for the DD's. They'd at least have appreciated a facepainting booth to go with the funny hats.

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