It’s nothing new that craft brewers are using wine making techniques like barrel aging to produce amazing beers. But now there are more reasons to visit the rolling hills and plateaus of the Temecula Valley.
Founded in 2009, Black Market Brewery is the brewery that broke ground in wine country with their much-loved Hefeweizen. Their Bavarian style wheat ale is a semi-crisp 5.0% ABV unfiltered wheat beer that pours a hazy, California sun yellow and showcases unique fruit and spice character like clove, orange peel, banana and sweet bread. Brewed in the spirit of the German purity law, there flagship beer won a silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival this year. It continues to be their biggest selling beer.
I spoke with lead brewer, Aaron Heyden.
When talking about how brewing in the wine country affects their business, Aaron said, “I think it’s good because there’s already a built in market for those who want to drink…it’s natural that we get a spillover from wine country.”
Black Market is working on distribution in another part of California that’s big into wine, the Central Coast.
Aaron is a big fan of IPAs, and the fresh hop aroma and flavor, but without the big bitter taste.
“I was always on the quest to make the best IPA… It’s kinda’ hard to make really good IPAs. That’s a great test for a good brewery.”
EP: What breweries do you love right now?
"I like Pizza Port. Those guys..every time I go down to Pizza Port, they always have great IPAs…I love Ballast Point and Green Flash. And even though they’re big, they’re still doing cool stuff.”
And while Black Market isn't as big as Green Flash, they are poised to grow. They currently produce 4,000 barrels annually. The goal in the next five years is about 10,000 barrels.
Pouring an orange-red, their imperial red ale is a delicious “West Coast” style imperial red with a whopping 9.9% ABV. Using Centennial and El Dorado hops, this brew gives off loads of flower and fruit flavors like pear and stone fruit. The Columbus hops used give Invasion an earthy black pepper character.
Keep an eye out for Black Market’s 2014 Holiday Ale, a Triple Black Rye IPA, coming out in December. This is a flavorful holiday version of Cascadian Dark Style ale (also called a “Black IPA”). 2014 Holiday Ale has a pungent aroma of citrus and resinous hops alongside spicy rye earthiness. The brewery is also working on a collaboration holiday brew with Valiant Brewing, with smoked pine leaves and vanilla.
And if you're a fan of pumpkin ales, try their Superstition, brewed with brown sugar and pumpkin malt. Get the glass rimmed with maple syrup and cinnamon sugar for a decedent holiday brew.
Less than a mile away is Ironfire Brewing. Their goal is to build a brand and build up their – you guessed it - barrel aging program, so if you love bourbon barrel aged beers and sours, this is a place to visit.
John Maino and Greg Webb met at Ballast Point in San Diego and started building their own brewery, in Temecula. They are on par to produce somewhere between 1,600 and 2,000 barrels this year. The brewery will be able to max out at 8,800 barrels per year.
And they plan on growing, having recently added a 60 barrel fermenters and a bright tank.
“We have bourbon barrels, Jack Daniels barrels, rye whiskey barrels, white wine barrels, red wine barrels, cognac barrels, we have 30 year old rum barrels. We have a very diverse collection of barrels,” said Webb, Ironfire’s Vice President.
In the first year after opening in 2012, they were able to release a barrel aged beer. That beer was Collateral Damage. It is an Imperial Porter aged for 14 months in Maker’s Mark barrels. The Outcast Dead (2014) which was aged 6 months in Tennessee whiskey barrels is available now in the tasting room on draft and in bottles. But don’t miss their best seller, the 51/50 IPA.
They self-distribute in Temecula, because they want their supporters to get to know them personally and make sure they get the freshest beer possible.
The breweries that Webb looks up to are somewhat indicative of how they run their own brewery and the beers they brew.
“Of course Ballast Point, I’ll always look up to those guys. I learned pretty much everything I know from them. Honestly, I’ve always been a huge fan of Bear Republic…of course I love Sierra Nevada, Russian River…Lagunitas is another one I really look up to. I love their attitude. They are gonna’ make the beer they like to make. Take it or leave it. You’re not going to upset them either way.”
Refuge Brewery is yet another great brewery in wine country that is just a couple years old. They specialize in handcrafted small batch Belgian ales. Back on tap are their Illusion IPA, a 6.5% ABV Belgian style IPA and Mystique, a 9.8% ABV Belgian Style dark strong ale. Mystique is a sweetly decadent beer with dark burnt flavors and chocolate undertones.
They also recently brewed an experimental batch of Coffee Pumpkin Jack, which is their Pumpkin Jack Saison infused with Ethiopia Danch Meng coffee from Lift Roasters. (Photo: Refuge Brewery)
Refugee Tripel is aged in French oak white wine barrels with passion fruit and peaches. They are hopeful to be bottling more specialty Belgian Style beers, like the Tripel, by the beginning of next year.
Their flagship Blood Orange Wit is Southern California sunshine in a glass. And they just canned their first full fun of it on November 13th!
I spoke with co-founder and VP of brewery operations, Glenn Wichert. When asked about the Blood Orange Wit, Wichert explains how the 25 lbs. per ten barrels affects the taste:
“It’s a lot of labor, but it really gives the beer that freshness. It’s not always exactly the same because the oranges are at different stages of ripening, but that’s what’s cool about it.”
Refuge loves that wine barrels are at their disposal on a consistent basis.
“Our Belgian beers age well in these wine barrels.”
So what does Wichert love about making Belgian style beers?
“I like the freedom. They’re not so strict, it’s pretty much cart blanche, I just always liked that freedom.”
More bold flavors were introduced to the wine country palates when Wiens Brewing opened in November 2012. Weins Brewing Company just celebrated their two year anniversary on November 8th, with the release of Crowded Anniversary Ale, an Imperial Stout, Imperial Bitter Brown, Deprivation DBIPA and Barley Wine – all aged in Bourbon Barrels, then blended for the year’s release.
Type 3 IPA is a tropical hop bomb with five different hops and four different malts. Another popular brew is their hoppy lager, the Millennium Falconers IPL, brewed with Millennium and Falconers Flight hops which impart a crisp citrus and tropical flavor.
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because Wiens Family Cellars is known for big red wines like their Refugio Cabernet Sauvignon and Chateau Grand Rouge.
And if you want more of those barrel aged special releases, keep a look out for their barrel aged program starting in December. For a $100 buy in and $25, enjoy 6-7 releases per year. The $25 fee will get you two bombers, releasing every other month. Also keep a look out for more perks as they finalize the program and make announcements.
While you’re there, also check out Aftershock Brewing, Garage Brewing, Bulldog Brewery and Electric Brewing Co. And if you don’t want to worry about driving, Brewery Tours of Temecula is a very knowledgeable tour company that not only takes you to see everything Temecula has to offer, but gives an educational and fun tour of each brew house with the latest happenings in each brewery. Ask for Toby, you won’t be disappointed!
There is an old familiar saying in the wine business: "It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine!" At the end of a long day in the field or in the cellar, many turn to beer rather than wine to quench their thirst.
Check out what the Temecula Valley has to offer just over the hill, not just at the grape fields, but in the brewery tasting rooms. Cheers!