Fortunately for me, that's exactly what I got to do at the Orange County Beer Festival at Irvine Lake in Silverado, CA this past Saturday as an early kick-off to American Craft Beer Week.
Although I wasn't able to actually play in the lake - and surprisingly didn't see anyone "accidentally" fall into the water - the variety of beer and the live music were more than enough to keep myself and others occupied. The longer-than-expect drive to Irvine Lake, along with 30 minutes to get into the parking area, made us a bit later than planned, but by 2:00 we were able to sample our first of many beers of the day.
We started with Napa Smith Brewery (http://www.napasmithbrewery.com), who were serving up their Lost Dog red, and Organic IPA. Of the two, the Organic IPA was definitely our favorite. Through the use of organic malts and Cascade hops they've created an IPA with a good aroma and a tasty finish.
Moving further down the line of canopies we choose to skip past some of more common breweries and stick to the ones that were new to us. After strolling past Pacifico, Sam Adams, Bluemoon, Firestone and Pyramid - all which we're able to obtain at our corner pub and/or supermarket - we spotted Stone (http://www.stonebrew.com). While many of the Stone brews are available at my local market, I didn't want to miss an opportunity to have a sip or two of whatever they may have brought up from Escondido.
With taps of Ruination and Self-Rightous, Stone didn't disappoint. Stone Ruination IPA is available year-round and is an another IPA at the beer fest that I enjoyed. In addition to the IPA bitterness that I expected and enjoy, there was what to me to be a distinctive and unique hop flavor which added to the taste. The Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale has slightly higher alcohol by volume (abv) - 8.7% verses the Ruination's 7.7% - tasted a bit smoother and more flavorful to us than the Ruination. Stone brews Self-Rightous less frequently than most of their other beers, so it will be one that I need to keep an eye out for and buy a few/several bottles to keep on hand.
Our next stop was Rock Bottom Brewery (http://www.rockbottom.com). Here from their Long Beach, CA location, they were serving up their Cyclone Light Lager and Blueberry Wheat Ale. The Cyclone, like many other lagers, was a tasty light lager beer and enjoyable, but the Blueberry was our preferred drink of the two. Until some point in the past year, I had believed that there was no place for fruit in my beer; I'd drink cider for that. But I am a convert and if the beer does it well I'm more than happy to enjoy it. Served with a couple of blueberries in our sample cup, the Blueberry Wheat Ale had a delicious flavor that was not forced on you. With its subtle taste of fruit it was decided to be a beer that was very enjoyable on a warm summer or spring day such as this.
Backstreet Brewery (http://www.lamppost-backstreet.com), who's four neighborhood brewpubs are combined with Lamppost Pizza, had four selections available: Hepkat Pale Ale, Chico Brown Ale, Chava Lager, and Alt Old Style German Ale. Being fans of brown ales we had to try the Chico Brown Ale. We liked its full taste and aroma and it was decided that it was in our top 5 for the day...so far.
The next stop on our rounds was Angel City Brewing (http://www.angelcitybrewing.com). Their Belgian Night Train (8% abv) had a complex mixture of aromas which I couldn't fully identify, and a subtle sweetness that reminded of me of fruit. Their website says that this beer should be allowed to warm to release its flavors and aromas, but even chilled it had a taste that left me wanting more.
After taking a break to enjoy some food from the vendors on-hand we headed back over to Magic Hat Brewing Company. Unfortunately, they had just run out of beer. They had been sporting long lines most of the day, and we weren't sure if it was because of the quality of the beer, or the free condoms that were being passed out.
While commiserating about missing out on the Magic Hat beers, we met Frank and Jackie. They shared with us that their clear favorite of the day was Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes Brewery. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to taste it myself, but they made it clear that was my loss.
Next we found Monk's Cafe (http://www.monkscafe.com), who was serving their Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale. It had a curious but flavorful taste. The aroma reminded me of balsamic vinegar, the taste was very distinctive and slightly sour, and it very effectively cleansed the palate. Later in the afternoon I asked Phil, Roger, Alissa, and Jimmy what their favorite of the day was and they all agreed it was the Flemish Sour Ale.
Heading over to the Grand Teton Brewing Company (http://www.grandtetonbrewing.com) I tried their Black Cauldron Imperial Stout (8.0% abv). I have several friends who are not as enthusiastic as I am to drink something that looks so thick and dark as a stout, but I look forward to trying them and discovering a complex collection of tastes hidden within. This beer did not disappoint one bit. I found very distinct flavors of chocolate, coffee and caramel, alongside the rich malty taste I expect in many craft brewed stouts. This was another candidate for my top 5.
Drastically changing gears from the stout, we tried some Original Sin Hard Cider (http://www.origsin.com), originally from New York but available in Southern California. Made with no artificial flavor or colors, both their apple and pear ciders had just the right amount of fruit taste, with the apple being a bit sweeter than the pear; but not too much so. Although there were other, more commonly known ciders on hand, I feel Original Sin was the best one at the event.
Before taking a break to enjoy some of the live music, we tried the Orange Wheat from Hangar 24 (http://www.hangar24brewery.com). Based in Redlands, CA, Hangar 24 uses locally grown oranges from the Old Grove Orange company. This unfiltered beer had a very crisp taste with the right amount of citrus, followed by a tangy finish. The aroma was balanced just right to let you know that there were oranges present, without overwhelming the palate.
We took a short break from sampling to head over to the live stage where the featured band Metal Shop, along with their special guests, Soraya and Jake from Blacktop Saints.
Getting a bit too caught-up in the band, I almost missed out on trying one or two beers more before the day ended. Thankfully, I made it over to Firemans Brew before it was too late.
The brainchild of two Los Angeles area firefighters, and with a portion of their profits going to National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Firemans Brew (http://www.firemansbrew.com) comes in 3 distinctly different varieties; the Blonde (5.0% abv), Brewnette (10.8% abv), and Redhead Ale (5.5% abv). While all 3 were very enjoyable, the Brewnette immediately became my overall favorite of the day. This German Dobblebock with its rich, deep, and highly complex combination of flavors made me want to have another. The low level of carbonation is just right to make it extremely smooth, and although it has such a high alcohol content I honestly couldn't detect any in the taste. Brewed in the Los Angeles area, Firemans Brew is available on tap at several restaurant and bars throughout the Southern California area, as well by the bottle in many Bristol Farms, Cost Plus World Markets, Gelson's, and other stores in SoCal. As soon as I tasted it, I knew I would have to pick up a 6-pack or two to stock the refrigerator.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed attending the Orange County Beer Festival. The atmosphere and the attitude of all the people were great. I got to discover new beers, listen to live music, and enjoy the Southern California sun while lakeside. Despite spending more time on the drive to and from my home in Ventura County than at the event itself, I would certainly return the next time it comes around.
While I enjoyed MANY of the beers present, my Top 5 favorites of the day:
Fireman's Brew Brewnette
Hanger 24 Orange Wheat
Grand Teton Brewing Company - Black Cauldron Imperial Stout Original Sin Pear Cider