Our Inaugural Guide to Orange County’s World-Class Breweries

Illustration by Luke McGarry

Orange County’s brewing history goes back as far as the 1850s, when Anaheim was founded as a German colony and its residents quickly turned the city into one of Southern California’s main beer hubs. Brewing thrived in this vast agricultural region despite homegrown temperance movements until the national ban on alcohol wiped out whatever was left.

It would be more than half a century before brewing returned to OC.

Now, with 37 breweries and counting, Orange County’s craft-beer scene is definitely booming. Thankfully for us, what’s here is also world-class. Last year at the Great American Beer Festival—often called the Oscars of beer—OC breweries took home another five medals, four of which went to first-time winners. Thirteen local brews also took home honors at the World Beer Cup in 2016, at which Anaheim’s Noble Ale Works was named Champion Small Brewery, and Beachwood Brewing, which opened a production brewery in Huntington Beach last year, earned the title Champion Large Brewpub.

And yet, as with so many other aspects of this county, our beer often gets overlooked by those who don’t live here. We’re hoping to change that.

Behold, our inaugural OC beer issue, in which we explore all the things that make this one of the most exciting places to be drinking right now. From restaurants who swear by beer pairings to the bug-filled barrel rooms that are churning out sour beers to the brewers guild that holds it all together, we invite you to get to know the local scene. (Sarah Bennett)

Patricia Barkenhagen and Fields work together at Bootlegger’s Brewery. Photo by Sarah Bennett

For Amanda Pearce Smets, one word comes to mind when describing her experience at the first official meeting of the Orange County Brewers Guild: intimidating.

In early 2017, she and her husband, Rick Smets, opened Stereo Brewing in Placentia, the project they returned home to Orange County in 2012 to build. Even though Rick had 15 years of professional experience at well-established breweries such as San Clemente’s Left Coast and Central Coast’s Firestone Walker, the meeting was being held at the Bruery and was presided over by the guild’s founding members, all stalwart beer names that have put Orange County on the map both regionally and nationally in the past decade. “Especially if you’re into craft beer, it’s intimidating to walk into a room and there’s [Bruery founder] Patrick Rue and the guys from Noble Ale Works, who were coming off their big wins at the Great American Beer Festival,” Amanda says, referring to the brewery’s title of Best Small Brewing Company, earned at the nation’s most prestigious beer competition.

But Amanda’s fears melted as soon as she and Rick introduced themselves to the group. She found the dozens of guild members present to be not only friendly, but also helpful, encouraging, and—most surprising, given the range of sizes, styles and locations represented—struggling with many of the same concerns and issues. “As a new brewery, the guild was helpful for putting us in contact with other breweries,” says Amanda, who is currently the OC Brewers Guild’s secretary. “When you’re just starting out, you don’t always know how to reach out to other people. The guild gives you a platform to communicate with one another.”

Though much younger and smaller than similar nonprofits in neighboring San Diego and Los Angeles, the 3-year-old OC Brewers Guild is making up for lost time. Guided by a rotating board of brewery representatives (think: owners of Barley Forge Brewing Co., Anaheim Brewery, Green Cheek Beer Co. and Chapman Crafted Beer), plus four leadership roles, the group is forging a community among the county’s growing number of breweries while bringing an air of legitimacy to the often-underappreciated craft-beer movement here.

Member breweries spanning from San Clemente to Fullerton and ranging in size from elevated homebrew setups to full-size production facilities meet monthly to commiserate and discuss ways to uphold the guild’s mission to promote and educate, both inside and outside the industry. In 2016, the board created a full-time executive-director position to oversee day-to-day operations. “My breweries are busy trying to stay on top of this industry right now because there are so many new breweries opening up,” says current executive director Jacque Fields, who started with the guild in January 2017, when there were less than 30 breweries in OC. “How do you engage your customers? How do you keep your brewery going? What’s going to be your niche? How do you keep that niche in front of people? There’s just so much going on right now that OC realized that if we are going to keep up with San Diego and LA, we need a person to run this.”

With more than a decade of experience in the local beer scene (you may recognize Fields from the years she spent working at famed Seal Beach beer bar and restaurant Beachwood BBQ), she sees herself as a nurturer, not an enforcer. Her job is to help her members stay in business, she says, and she spends her days dreaming up new OC-centric beer festivals; organizing public seminars on off-flavors; and fielding questions about compliance with wonky city, state and federal alcohol laws.

Illustration by Luke McGarry

The biggest push since hiring an executive director has been OC Beer Week, an eight-day, county-wide spree of all things local beer that the guild began organizing in 2016. It returns April 21 with the now-signature Orange County Brewers Guild Invitational fest capping a week of tap takeovers, beer dinners and events celebrating the world-class IPAs, sours, stouts and indefinable creative brews being made in OC.

Fields also coordinates the printing and distribution of a comprehensive OC brewery map (find one at your favorite brewery or bar!), creates day-long business seminars for guild members to attend and encourages camaraderie outside of just meetings, which has manifested in everything from equipment sharing to collaborative brews.

In a rapidly growing scene defined by its geographic and stylistic diversity, having a cohesive unit facilitating conversations among brewers, organizing public events and helping to grow the industry’s collective knowledge has proved crucial in building a common culture. “The beauty of our industry is that it’s competitive but very collaborative,” says Fields. “If we all work together to make Orange County a culture of craft beer, that’s going to elevate and allow our breweries to have a little more visibility. It’s hard for each brewery to do that individually, but as a team, we can do that.”

The roots of the OC Brewers Guild stretch back to 2008, when 10 or so breweries decided to start what was then called the Southern California Brewers Guild. At the time, Los Angeles County didn’t have a guild (or more than a handful of breweries, for that matter), and many of OC’s breweries were brewpubs such as Tustin Brewing Co. and Backstreet Brewing, founded during the second wave of microbrews in the 1990s.

Production facilities including the Bruery, Left Coast and Bootlegger’s Brewery in Fullerton were just starting out, and in those early days, the guild was less about executing big plans than it was about getting together over some beers and sharing in the pain of growing a brewery in a region that still clung to its corporate-made fizzy yellow lagers. “It really cemented those kinds of friendships between those breweries early on,” Bootlegger’s CEO Aaron Barkenhagen says. “You get to see them on a regular basis, drink beers and talk shop. For me, not having prior experience working in a brewery before I opened my own, it was a great way to make those connections
and friendships.”

The SoCal Brewers Guild fizzled out after a few years—a consequence of its all-volunteer board and a rapidly expanding industry—and the county remained guild-less while breweries such as Bottle Logic Brewing, Riip Beer Co. and the Good Beer Co. turned cities such as Anaheim, Huntington Beach and Santa Ana into unlikely suds destinations.

Rue put out the call in 2015 for a second attempt at an Orange County Brewers Guild, and this time, with about 20 breweries on board and a more defined set of aspirations, it stuck. “Now, it’s more about giving back and really helping people out who were in a similar situation to where I was 10 years ago,” Barkenhagen says. “And while it’s great to give back to your community like that, along the way, as a teacher, you’re always learning new things, too.”

Support for the new guild (which also offers affiliate and enthusiast memberships) is thriving, and its impact can be felt across the county year-round, not just during beer week. Last July, four San Clemente breweries collaborated on a limited-edition beer called SC Haze, a juicy IPA created to celebrate the tight-knit brewing community on the county’s southernmost edge. Made by Left Coast Brewing Co., Pizza Port San Clemente, Lost Winds Brewing Co. and Artifex Brewing, it was only available on tap at a few local tasting rooms.

Then, in August, seven of the nine breweries that sit along La Palma Boulevard in Anaheim and Placentia decided to celebrate their proximity to one another by creating a series of easy-drinking summer beers that could be sampled during a bikeable brewery crawl. The breweries along the route, dubbed the “La Palma Beer Trail” by Orange Coast Magazine beer writer Greg Nagel, first discussed the idea of a mutually beneficial event at an OC Brewers Guild meeting. They eventually settled on making low-ABV session beers, with each brewery making one that best represented its own style and capabilities. “It’s a point of pride to be surrounded by so much killer beer,” says Amanda, whose Stereo Brewing contributed a light beer called Summer Sun. “Orange County is so often underrated, and people don’t realize there’s so much kick-ass beer here. We’re so much more than just a pass-through county.” (SB)

Photo by Karolina Szczur

It’s safe to say Orange County is home to one of the country’s most ascendant beer scenes. Our list celebrates breweries that have perfected the execution of specific styles while continuing to make world-class beers. Here are a few breweries that have won awards in the most prestigious competitions around: the World Beer Cup and the Great American Beer Festival.

When Noble Ale Works opened in 2011, it was known for hoppy everything—hoppy IPAs and red ales and extra-hoppy double IPAs. Then it brought on head brewer Evan Price, now owner of Green Cheek Beer Co., who introduced a variety of styles that made Nobel Ale Works the go-to brewery in “Ale-heim.” Price, along with his dedicated team, medaled in the 2015 and 2016 Great American Beer Festivals (GABF) and brought home a World Beer Cup Championship in 2016 for Best Small Brewery, a mighty feat for a small brewhouse that’s gearing up for a major expansion. 1621 S. Sinclair, Ste. B, Anaheim, (714) 634-2739; www.noblealeworks.com.

Illustration by Luke McGarry

Patrick Rue’s decision to draw up a brewery business plan instead of studying for the California Bar exam will go down as one of Orange County’s defining moments in beer experimentation. The Bruery nabbed its first gold medal at the GABF in 2010 in the Belgian Style Lambic-Sour Ale category for its Oude Tart, a Flanders-style red ale that was aged for more than a year in oak barrels where wild yeast and bacteria slowly added a sour complexity. Since then, it’s gone on to win a total of nine GABF medals and seven World Beer Cup medals. The Bruery’s barrel-room offshoot Terreux won its first GABF medal last year. 715 Dunn Way, Placentia, (714) 996-6258; www.thebruery.com.

Although they are run as separate companies, both Oggi’s and Left Coast Brewing are owned by the Hadjis family. Located in “Suds” Clemente, Left Coast produces distinctive brews with approachable hop flavors that have led to awards at both the GABF and the World Beer Cup. Between both breweries, the Hadjises have won 10 medals, with the majority of them going to Oggi’s. Look for a new Left Coast location in Irvine, where the family plans to brew experimental beers and serve up Kansas City-style barbecue. 1245 Puerta Del Sol, San Clemente, (949) 276-2699; leftcoastbrewing.com.

Illustration by Luke McGarry

Joe Manzella opened TAPS Fish House and Brewery in 1999, tapping Victor Novak to man the brewhouse. In 2001, the Brea brewpub won the first of many gold medals at the GABF, beginning a winning streak that remains unmatched in not only OC, but also the nation. Though Novak left in 2014 and now brews at Golden Road’s Anaheim location, TAPS’ legacy thunders on, with two medals at the 2016 World Beer Cup and continued GABF accolades. At the 2015 GABF, TAPS won two gold medals, one silver and one bronze, plus it was named Mid Sized Brewpub and Mid Sized Brewpub Brewer of the Year. Along with some of the best German-style lagers in the country, TAPS’ menu includes dry-aged prime steaks, fresh seafood entrŽyes, charcuterie plates, and routinely scheduled beer and cigar dinners. The winning continues as TAPS opens a new Brewery and Barrel House in Tustin. 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 257-1010; www.tapsfishhouse.com.

In 2011, husband-and-wife team Gabe Gordon and Lena Perelman (of Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach fame) partnered up with brewmaster Julian Shrago to open Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in downtown Long Beach. Less than 16 months after brewing his first batch of beer there, Shrago won not one, but two medals at the GABF, as well as a gold medal for Foam Top cream ale at the World Beer Cup. By 2013, Beachwood had won five medals (two of them gold) and was named Mid-Sized Brewpub and Mid-Sized Brewpub Brewer of the Year at GABF. The next year was another sweep, with more medals and the title of Best Large Brewpub and Best Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year. At the 2016 World Beer Cup, Beachwood was named Champion Large Brewpub and Champion Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year, solidifying its world-class status while putting the finishing touches on a Huntington Beach production brewery. Beachwood continues its OC expansion with a tasting room at the new Steelcraft food court, opening in Garden Grove later this year. 7631 Woodwind Dr., Huntington Beach, (714) 375-0949; beachwoodbbq.com.

In 1987, siblings Vince and Gina Marsaglia opened the first Pizza Port in Solana Beach with only pies on the menu—until 1992, when the Marsaglias began offering craft brews. Tomme Arthur joined Pizza Port in 1997 as head brewer and led it to national recognition with 20 medals at the GABF alone. With a growing interest in more experimental beers, Arthur left in 2005 to open Port/Lost Abbey brewery in San Diego, a separate partnership with the Marsaglias, but not before opening Pizza Port in San Clemente, the only OC outpost of the famous chain. Each Pizza Port boasts its own brew team, making the more than 100 GABF medals earned during its 28-year brewing history all the more impressive. The San Clemente brewers have won 10, mostly gold, medals, for everything from the coffee beer Dawn Patrol to the Doheny Double IPA. 301 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 940-0005; pizzaport.com. (Robert Flores)

Illustration by Luke McGarry

Among the waves in the ever-trendy craft-beer ocean, sours are actually the oldest, tracing their roots to the days before refrigeration and pasteurization. Belgian brewers would use open fermentation containers called koelschips to gather wild yeast and bacteria. They would then age the beer in oak barrels or foeders to retain the flavor characteristics of the wood, which also allowed certain types of bacterias to grow, giving sour beers their “funky” character. You can find a breadth of sour, wild ales throughout Orange County. Here, a few of our local brew masters drop some knowledge on a variety of sour beer styles and the methods used to brew them.

Owned and operated by Lisa Perez, Hoparazzi Brewing Co. is a nanobrewery that has built a reputation as “that little brewery with the great sours.” Among its brewers are Dale Swanson, Steve Benlien and Brian Swanson, who bring more than 50 years of brewing experience combined to the table. At 5.5 percent ABV, the cherry-forward La Tarte Cerise is a great example of what a sour should taste like. Perez says she started working with sour beers eight years ago, when very few local breweries were making them. In addition to four different sours, Hoparazzi offers stouts, IPAs and traditional lagers. 2910 E La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 204-0655.

In September 2014, husband and wife Brandon Fender and Robyn Spevacek opened Good Beer Co. in the Phillips Block building, which once served as a horse livery. Walk into the downtown Santa Ana space today, and you’ll see rows of barrels filled with liquid heaven waiting to be tapped. Fender started as a homebrewer and eventually became interested in the art of fermentation. “Before I knew it, I had somewhere around 50 different carboys of wild yeast experiments,” he says. “My garage helped guide the decisions we make at Good Beer today; we have a mixed house culture of yeast and bacteria that was selected based on the results of my experiments.” Fender believes it’s important to tell people trying sours for the first time what to expect: “It’s going to be super-dry, complex and fruity like a wine, and it’s going to have acid like lemonade. I ask that [they] take three sips; the first sip will shock the palate; the second and third sip will begin to reveal nuances of the beer.” Good Beer Co.’s sours have recognizable flavors and aromas bursting with such fruit as raspberries and peaches. 309 W. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 714-2988; www.thegoodbeerco.com.

Opened in 2016, Bruery Terreux allows the Bruery to keep its wild yeast beers and bacterias separate from its other “clean” beers. Production manager Jeremy Grinkey brought to Bruery Terreux eight years of experience in the wine industry, so we weren’t surprised when he told us that his favorite fruit to work with was wine grapes. “We’ve done a lot of amazing wine-beer hybrid projects at both the Bruery and Bruery Terreux for a number of years now,” he says. Bruery Terreux has roughly 2,200 barrels at any given time and nine foeders (large oak tanks)—an impressive sight. There are a lot of different styles available here, including the slightly tart, approachable Orchard Wit and Saison Ardennes, which make for good entry-level wild beers. There’s also a Frucht series, which is a rotating, fruited Berliner Weisse—foeder-aged beer with very sour fruit. 117 N. Grove St., Anaheim, (714) 996-6250; www.brueryterreux.com.

Established in Rancho Santa Margarita in 2009, Cismontane Brewing Co. permanently relocated to a new production facility Santa Ana in 2017. The team won a silver medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival for Mesa V, an American-style fruit beer that’s actually beer mixed with wine. Evan Weinberg, who co-owns Cismontane with childhood friend Ross Stewart, grew up in Solana Beach, near the original Pizza Port but didn’t become interested in brewing beer until 2004. “As soon as I started brewing, I was hooked on fermentation because, with beer, unlike wine, yeast is a major factor,” Weinberg says. “With traditional beers, that can be the most important feature in flavor, and when it comes to mixed, wild or sour fermentation, it is clearly something we need to play close attention to.” He says barrels also play an important role. “The flavor of whatever was in the barrel is really strong in the first use. Wine barrels are sometimes used for malolactic fermentation, which means they will already have souring bacteria in them,” Weinberg says. “After that, you have a living culture of bugs that influence everything you put in there forever.” 1409 E. Warner, Ste. C, Santa Ana, (949) 888-2739; www.cismontanebrewing.com.

In 2014, Beachwood Brewing started fermenting at Beachwood Blendery, a new concept focusing on small-batch beer that aims to create the lambic-style beers of central Belgium under the direction of head brewer and blender Ryan Fields. After learning from one of the best brewers in the game, Port Brewing/Lost Abbey’s Tomme Arthur, Fields moved on to became head brewer at Pizza Port in San Clemente and perfected his craft. “I’m really into hybrid fruit right now,” he says. “Aprium, pluot and cherum are three we’ve used so far.” He also just started dry-hopping fruited beers with great results. Fields’ advice for those trying a sour for the first time? “Don’t judge it on the first sip, especially if you’ve been drinking a different style beforehand,” he says. “It takes time for your palate to adjust. . . . Know that we use the term sour out of necessity, but it really encompasses a wide variety of styles, and just because you don’t like the first one you try, doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there for you. There is so much more to these beers than just acidity—try to find the ones that are balanced and complex and make you think.” 247 N. Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 436-4020; www.beachwoodbbq.com/blendery. (RF)

Illustration by Luke McGarry

Jason Quinn’s small-plates restaurant Playground would not be complete without the impressive beverage program of director of libations Jarred Dooley. “First and foremost, we’re a California craft-beer bar,” Dooley says, referring to his curated collection of bottles and 15 taps dedicated to California craft. “We have too many great breweries around to not be serving their beer.” The Bruery, Beachwood and Noble Ale Works were some of the first local breweries Dooley carried on draft. He makes sure to bring in one keg at a time to ensure the beer is fresh, and his list rotates constantly. Unlike with most programs, Dooley goes beyond the bar to showcase craft beer’s amazing capacity to pair with various foods and flavor combinations, which he does by implementing beer into Playground’s intimate 2.0 dinners, meals at which people expect to have wine throughout. “We challenge that stereotype by mixing in cocktails and beers, giving our guests a full experience,” he says. “When it comes to pairing, beer offers a wider range of flavors and a broader palate to work with.” 220 E. Fourth St., Ste. 102, Santa Ana, (714) 560-4444; playgrounddtsa.com.

Haven Gastropub’s fantastic rotating craft-beer selection, cocktail program, wine lists and super-relaxed atmosphere are why this spot has been a favorite among locals and industry folk since its launch in 2009. “We’ve been craft from the beginning,” explains Wil Dee, managing partner and beverage director of Provisions Market and Haven Gastropub in Old Towne Orange. Dee takes an educative approach to serving food and beverage, focusing on range and diversity. His beer list covers just about every style, with 14 on tap. 190 S. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 221-0680; www.havengastropub.com.


Illustration by Luke McGarry

Genuinely good are Lido Bottle Works’ brewer collaboration dinners, which use local, fresh ingredients that speak to craft beer for an intriguing interplay between flavors. Beverage director and partner Brett Karas holds craft beer on the same platform as wine and chef-driven cuisine, in that what you’re getting is personally crafted. To prepare for the collaboration dinners, Karas will visit the brewery with executive chef Amy Lebrun, the sous chef and the beer manager. “It’s very important that they get a sense of the notes within the beers,” Karas says of his team. “It’s a collaborative effort of them actually mending the food menu around what we’re tasting.” It’s also important to them that the breweries use locally sourced ingredients, which is evidenced in the 15 featured drafts in Karas’ bar program. 3408 Via Oporto, Ste. 103, Newport Beach, (949) 529-2784; lidobottleworks.com. (Cynthia Rebolledo)

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