Driven by nature’s unpredictability and culinary expression, experienced brewers are adapting traditional European techniques to bring bursts of intentionally tart and tangy flavors in beers as luminous as an autumn sunset.
In the mid-nineteenth century, back when beer was aged and shipped in wooden barrels, before the advent of refrigeration, nearly all beer was – on some levels - sour.
Practicing patience and an artful curiosity, sours can take up to two to three years to produce. But the wait is worth its weight in golden, deep amber and coppery-orange colored beers.
All hail Pediococcus, Lactobacillus, and Brettanomyces. The remarkable flavors in sour ales can be attributed to these wild yeast strains.
With bright flavors and carbonated mouthfeels of champagne and lemonade, these rising stars of the beer world are perfect for warmer months.
Just a couple hours south of the Coachella Valley, sour specialists, Lost Abbey Brewery, hand bottles every sour beer, eight bottles at a time. Their 2015 Framboise de Amorosa is coming out in July. In northern California, Russian River ages each batch of beer in a specific type of wine barrel (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon). And over in the Great Lakes region, Jolly Pumpkin is the only brewery that ages every beer.
While Lost Abbey, Russian River and Jolly Pumpkin have been wreaking sensory havoc for over 30 years collectively, the following Southern California breweries are helping to lead the sour resurgence, on varying and awesomely quirky levels.
The Bruery: A Chat with Benjamin Weiss
Benjamin is The Bruery’s Marketing Director and the brewery’s second ever employee. The Bruery just celebrated their 7th year in May.
Benjamin became a professional brewer at The Bruery in 2008, just two years after starting to homebrew in Los Angeles. He eventually became the brewer on the infamous Black Tuesday.
EP: What’s your background brewing sours?
BW: I just drank them. Brewing them is pretty much the same as anything, you’re just fermenting slightly differently...most of our sours are aged in a used wine barrel, most of them nowadays, actually, primary fermentation starts in an oak barrel, then we rack into smaller oak barrels.
EP: Do you have any particular favorite wineries you like to get your barrels from?
BW: No, as far as the sour beers, we get the barrels from wineries, but we’re really using a neutral barrel. We clean them out…so as long as they’re newer, solid barrels, we’re happy with them. (pic: Cambria Griffith courtesy The Bruery)
EP: What do you love about sours?
Wow, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I’ve loved sours since I’ve first tried them back in my homebrew meeting about 10 years ago. I don’t know, there’s just something, when you have a good sour, there’s something complex and delicious about it. Like most of our sours are not purely lactic fermentation. They’re not just one note. It’s hard to describe, it’s almost a clean sour taste...also the funkiness that you can get from different strains of Brett that comes with time. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of time…I find them just fascinating.
EP: What do you think of the resurgence, or popularity of sours?
BW: Yeah. It’s crazy. I was just commenting to one of my coworkers that, we were at some festival, that five years ago, every single person that came up to you, you had to explain what a sour beer was…now almost everyone walks up and says, ‘oh you have a sour beer?’. It’s completely the opposite. At least with the beer crowd. It’s still a very, very small segment of beer. But within the craft beer aficionado community, it’s increasingly more popular.
EP: What are some of your favorites from The Bruery and why?
BW: One of my favorites we make is Rueuze, our kind of Gueuze style…it’s gotten a little bit better every year. It has that funky character that I like.
Gueuze is a type of lambic made by blending young (1-year-old) and old (2- to 3-year-old) lambics, which is then bottled for a second fermentation.
Rueuze is a blend of their sour blonde ale from several of their oak barrels, some of which have been aging several months, some several years. Notes of apricots, peach, lemon and bright barnyard funk flavors come through – perfect for summer. The Bruery Terreux suggests pairing it with smoked salmon with fresh goat’s cheese. I definately agree with that.
EP: What are some of your upcoming plans?
BW: We’re launching a tasting room for Bruery Terreux [in Anaheim] hopefully at the end of this year, if not early next year. And we’re just going full steam ahead. Coming out soon, we’ve got a Jester King collaboration and a Prairie collaboration at Terreux.
Bruery Terreux is a new-ish brand, loosely translating to “Earthy Bruery” in French. Developed by Patrick Rue of The Bruery, it’s a new space that focuses solely on their farmhouse-style ales fermented with the wild yeasts. (pic: Cambria Griffith courtesy The Bruery)
The Jester King collaboration will be coming out in about two months.
Firestone Walker: A Brewery in Wine Country
The “accidental” story of Barrelworks is a beautifully tasty one. The story of renegade brewers Matt Brynildson,“Sour Jim” and Jeffers Richardson has grown from its humble beginnings in 2005 to over 1,500 barrels, just south of Paso Robles, in Buellton.
Jeffers is the Director of Barrelworks (aka “Barrelmeister”).
EP: What’s your fascination with sours?
JR: I love how it contributes depth and complexity to beer. Acidity ads a whole new dimension of flavor to beer…and plays teasingly with wild yeast and oak, when those components are involved.
EP: How long have you been experimenting with sours?
JR: My palate has been experimenting with acidified beers since 1985, when I lived in Brussels and first tried them. But I didn’t become comfortable with wild beer production until I teamed up with Jim. I'm old school. I was indoctrinated in the ways of clean beer practices. Once we were given our own padded room [facility], and the inmates were allowed to run it, I was more comfortable. Jim, on the other hand has been a certifiable experimenter of sours for some time.
Masterblender, Jim Crooks – aka Sour Jim- started making wild beers in local wine barrels. This innovative and unprecedented barrelhouse is the birth house of several of the wildly coveted beers being poured annually at the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival, held every May.
What does "Sour Jim" love about sours?
My main love for sours stem from our choice to embrace the funk, and more importantly, the continuous learning curve that is brought about by the use of Brettanomyces and acid forming bacteria in our products. Using these agents to produce truly unique beers constantly test the theory of how fermentation, barrel aging, and flavor/aroma of each strain can be so wildly unpredictable and unique.
Their Agrestic (2014) is based on Fireston's original flagship beer, Double Barrel Ale, or DBA, which then underwent a “chrysalis” process involving 87% French and 13% American Oak barrels and a proprietary collection of micro flora. It spends 14 months there. This sour leans towards the punker, tropical and oaky side of things and is brewed with B. lambicus, L. lindneri and L. brevis. The nose and taste bring citrus along with a gorgeous mix of coconut, vanilla and spice.
According to Jeffers, the acidity in a beer should enhance and support other aspects of the beer.
“We want to build layers of complexity.”
Sour Opal is an American Gueuze style with a Titratable Acidity (T.A.) of 6.6 g/L. You’ll notice on the Firestone Walker Barrelworks labels this acidity, which is something that currently, no other brewery divulges. With their home in wine country, Firestone Walker has adapted traditions and techniques from their winery friends.
La Piccola is a new collaborative cross-continental dark Saison that was featured at the Firestone Walker Beer Invitational in May. The collaboration between brewmasters Agostino Arioli of Birrificio Italiano and Matt Brynildson of Firestone Walker resulted in two very similar beers. Agostino brewed his version with Sichuan peppercorns, sourced directly from a spice hunter in Italy.
Bretta Weisse will be in bottles July 25th. Agrestic and Krieky Bones will be available August 22nd. And the wild brewers also have a Hood River Strawberry Saison in the works.
Coachella Valley Brewing: Pucker Up in the Desert
Chris Anderson has been brewing up his sour program in Thousand Palms over the past year.
EP: What sours are on tap now?
On tap now is the Peche, an American wild ale with locally grown white peaches and pediococcus, lactic and multiple Brettanomyces cultures. Tasters are $3 and there’s only one keg left.
Also pick up a bottle of the special Framboys, wild ale brewed with raspberries and boysenberries. It's decedent.
EP: When did you start this, or think about starting to brew sours?
CA: We immediately started getting into that mode when we had the capacity to store that type of a beer. We got a bunch of tanks dedicated just for making sour beers. That was probably about a year ago. That was kind of the inception of the first couple sour bases that we use to make a couple different beers with a batch of different fruits.
EP: How many tanks?
CA: We have three right now. We immediately made a sour base which is your run of the mill wheat beer and used some really old hops, which is typical of sour beers. You want to use old, cheesy, skanky hops, rather than the real aromatic ones. You don’t want that to shine through in the beer. We aged it away, we use a special flora. We have an onsite laboratory here that we can do micro – we built our own culture, that we inoculate all the barrels with, as well as the wort.
And the sour program at CVB is taking off. Anderson even hinted they might be expanding their sour program – outside of their current space – in the near future.
Their new Profligate Society will feature upcoming sours, Cabernet barrel aged Epineux Poire prickly pear wild ale, Cabernet barrel aged Cassis Noir black currant sour ale and Cabernet barrel aged Flame Rouges wild ale. Less than 500 bottles of each beer will be released to Profligate members.
CA: We have the Flame Rouges, brewed with red vine raisons and red flame grape juice. That’s fermenting in the barrel now. We’ll be releasing it late this year, probably Fall…we’ve got a guava one fermenting, too.
EP: What do you love about sours?
"I don’t know, it’s kind of mysterious ya’ know? A little unorthodox. It’s the opposite of everything you’re told as a brewer, even the way the mash is done. The long aging, and you still may not get really high quality results…and it’s all about blending too."
And Anderson has blending experience, having won homebrew medals for his sours, before becoming a commercial brewer. He would sweep these categories in competitions.
Hangar 24 – New Sours are Landing
Hangar’s new sours First Crush and Sanguinello are launching this Saturday.
"First Crush" is a Sour Red Ale aged in red wine barrels with Syrah grape juice, there will be 2,300 bottles. The addition of Syrah grape juice after primary fermentation adds vinous, tannic notes of red wine, ripe fruit and leather.
“Sanguinello” is a sour blonde aged in white wine barrels with blood orange juice. They squeezed the juice of blood oranges into Sauvignon Blanc barrels, which held nine and eighteen month old sour blonde ale. There will be only 1,200 bottles. (Hangar pix: Hanger 24 Brewery)
When venturing into your sour quest, don’t miss out on the much-revered Cantillon Brewery, Drie Fonteinen, Allagash Brewing, Side Project, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, Cascade Brewing, Almanac Beer Co., The Rare Barrel or Mikkeller.
While sours still make up a relatively small portion of the craft beers that are available, they are becoming more and more prevalent - in small batches.
Sours are brewers way of coloring outside the lines. Get funky and join the wild, wild yeast of the beer world.
Technically summer was still two weeks away, but in Southern California the seasons are mostly irrelevant, and so it was under a sunny sky and with temperatures in the 80s that the Casa Pacifica Wine, Food, and Brew Festival opened. This annual event, now in its 22nd year, brings together restaurants, caterers, wineries, brewers, and hedonists ready to indulge their appetites with a clear conscience. Casa Pacifica provides services to families and children in crisis, including abused and neglected children and families dealing with emotional and behavioral problems, with programs serving the Central Coast region. In one day this event would raise almost half a million dollars to support this worthy cause.
La Quinta Brewery has been busy brewing for Coachella Valley locals and visitors since late 2013. Last year, the brewery delivered 1,000 barrels from their Wildcat Drive location. This year, they are on par to brew 2,000 barrels and owner Scott Stokes shared they might be expanding with one or two more fermenters, in the near future.
“Eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin'
Ah we gonna do what they say can't be done
We've got a long way to go, and a short time to get there
I'm eastbound, just watch old Bandit run
Keep your foot hard on the pedal
Son, never mind them brakes
Let it all hang out cause we got a run to make
The boys are thirsty in Atlanta
and there's beer in Texarkana
We'll bring it back no matter what it takes”
There continues to be a bigger demand for these tepid, lightly effervescent cask-conditioned ales thanks to Gregory Nagel, founder of Firkfest. On March 21st, casks will be celebrated in Anaheim with over 30 Southern Calfornia craft breweries.
More and more restaurants and bars are offering amazing craft beers in the Coachella Valley—and now there’s a new, responsible way to sample these tasty brews in Palm Springs.
Introducing the Buzz Crawl.
Indio, CA - Empire Music Ventures is pleased to announce the 4th Annual Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience on Saturday, February 28th, 2015 at the Empire Polo Club. Taste craft beer and fine wine in one of the most beautiful venues in the Coachella Valley as you groove to the tunes of a diverse musical line-up designed to offer something for a variety of ages and musical tastes.
This year, the Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience will feature an impressive selection of artists playing an eclectic mix of reggae, folk, rock, blues, latin, funk and laid back hip hop. The event is transitioning beyond its R&B roots, offering fans a new fusion of rhythm showcased by this year’s billing of five exciting bands.
Slightly Stoopid, Ozomatli and Fishbone will headline the 2015 Rhythm, Wine & Brews Experience. All three bands are multi-genre and offer a mix of music that appeals to a broad audience of fans. Headliners will perform on the Main Stage from 7 PM – 11 PM. Strangers You Know and The Suffers will play earlier in the day from 4 PM – 7 PM on the BuzzBox stage in the beer garden.
“My focus this year was to draw a more diverse crowd to the event by offering a broader selection of artists and music,” said Alex Haagen IV, producer of the Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience. “Our past events featured well-known R&B talent. This year we will feature some R&B along with a new infusion of reggae, latin, funk, rock and a bit of hip hop. It should be a really fun show with a lot of energy both on and off the stage.”
The craft beer and wine garden will be packed with regional breweries and wineries pouring tastes from 3 PM to 7 PM. Food trucks and local restaurants will offer a variety of mouth-watering menu options ranging from lobster tacos and gourmet pizza to juicy Tavern hamburgers and spicy Mexican cuisine.
Tickets & Event Information
Tickets to the 2015 Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience can be purchased online at www.RWBexp.com starting November 14th, 2014.
• Date: Saturday, February 28th, 2015
• Time: 3 PM - 11 PM
• Location: Empire Polo Club, Indio, CA 92201
• General Admission Tickets: $85 per person
• VIP Admission Tickets: $150 per person
• A portion of the proceeds benefit the Casey Lee Ball Foundation to support pediatric kidney research
• Food will be available for purchase
• Huge selection of breweries and wineries offering tastings
• Wine and beer tasting from 4 PM - 7 PM (VIP Tasting 3 PM - 7 PM)
• Main Stage and Headline Performances from 7 PM - 11 PM
General Admission includes:
• Entrance to the RWB Experience 4 PM - 11 PM
• Unlimited tastes of beer or wine 4 PM - 7 PM
• Souvenir tasting glass
• Free Parking
VIP Pass includes:*
• Entrance to the RWB Experience 3 PM - 11:00 PM
• Unlimited tastings of beer or wine 3 PM - 7 PM
• Access to VIP Tasting Lounge 3 PM - 7 PM
• Access to the VIP Lounge and Bar
• Souvenir tasting glass
• VIP Parking
• Invitation to Friday night Bottle Share and Kick-off Party
*VIP Admission includes access to VIP tasting area with specialty wine and beer not
available in the general tasting area, and complementary food. Also includes access to a second VIP lounge with a full bar adjacent to main stage.
Bottle Share & Kick-off Party
On Friday, February 27th the Rhythm, Wine & Brews Experience is hosting a Bottle Share and Kick-off Party in the Rose Garden at Empire Polo Club for VIP ticket holders and vendors. VIP guests each bring a bottle of unique craft beer to share with the other VIP guests. It is a great opportunity to meet new people and discover new craft beers while enjoying live music by Penny Unniversity in the fragrant gardens of Empire Polo Club. For more details about the Bottle Share & Kick-off Party visit www.RWBexp.com.
RV & Tent Camping
Onsite RV and tent camping will be available. Fees include 2-days of camping: Friday, February 27th to Saturday, February 28th. Visit www.RWBexp.com for more details about camping onsite.
Buy one night and get the second night FREE.
• 10’x10’ Tent Campsites are $30
• RV Campsites are $100
The website address for ticket purchases is www.RWBExp.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the gate the day of the festival. Children 12 and under are free. Ticket holders must be 21 years of age or older and show ID at the festival to taste beer and wine.
A portion of the proceeds from the Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience will benefit the Casey Lee Ball Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports pediatric kidney research.
Directions to the Rhythm, Wine & Brews Experience at Empire Polo Club:
From I-10 take the Monroe St. exit and head south on Monroe St. Follow the parking signs between Ave. 50 and 51 lots along Monroe St.
Rhythm, Wine & Brews Experience Contact Information
Empire Polo Club
81-800 Ave. 51
Indio, CA 92201
For more information about the festival or to buy tickets please visit www.RWBfest.com.
About The Bands
Ocean Beach, California-based band Slightly Stoopid delivers a diverse sound that’s a fusion of folk, rock, reggae and blues with elements of hip hop, funk and punk. Always a crowd favorite, the band has crafted an original sound perfected after years of playing and touring with bands like the Marley Brothers, blink-182, G. Love & Special Sauce, Pennywise, and N.E.R.D.
Sensational multi-genre, multi-cultural Grammy winning Ozomatli hails from Los Angeles and brings on an eclectic collision of musical styles including latin, hip hop, rock, salsa, jazz, funk, reggae and rap. The band has long been popular with international audiences and has played everywhere from Japan to North Africa and Australia. Their music seamlessly blends and transforms exotic traditions from Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. What other band could record a song once described as “Arabic jarocho dancehall”?
FISHBONE has been trailblazing their way through the history of American ska, funk, punk, rock fusion and (so-called) black rock since starting their professional career in Los Angeles' burgeoning alternative rock music scene of the mid-1980s. Angelo Moore’s ability to combine thought-provoking, humorous social commentary with FISHBONE’s frenzied, up-tempo music and frantic, euphorically entertaining stage show has cultivated their undisputed reputation as one of the best live acts in music history.
Indie-folk-pop band Strangers You Know was brought together by chance, and then kept together by similar musical interests, forming a sonic collective in Southern California. From folk to electro, the group has explored both polarities and everything in between.
The Suffers are a ten-piece band from Houston, TX who are redefining the sound of Gulf Coast soul, intertwining elements of classic American soul with rock and roll. Both sonically and visually arresting, the large ensemble packs each position of the rhythm section and horn section with a level of talent and taste that provides the perfect foundation for singer Kam Franklin’s massive voice.
About Empire Music Ventures and Empire Polo Club Events
Empire Music Ventures is located in Indio, CA and produces concerts and festivals. These events include the Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience and numerous concerts held at the Date Shed and the other venues.
The ties between the professional craft beer industry and amateur homebrewers are a close and strong bond. The culture of beer stretches back more than 4,000 years. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Homebrewing is on a meteoric rise in the United States, due to the popularity of the craft beer industry and a new generation of brewers.
The Homebrewers Association did a survey in the earlier part of 2014 with a third party resource, estimating there are now at least 1.3 mil home brewers in the U.S. The homebrewing industry has been experiencing unprecedented growth, growing at a rate of ~ 20% per year, in the last five years. And yes, there are a lot more women joining the hobby.
As homebrewing continues to grow, home beer supply retail shops are also thriving. Sales of beer ingredients have surpassed wine ingredients among home beverage supply stores, in the last two years.
Since 1978, the American Homebrewers Association has promoted the joys of homebrewing. It now has over 43,000 members.
I spoke with four active and passionate homebrewers in the Coachella Valley and their methods and styles of producing delicious home brewed beer.
Joshua Kunkle has been brewing since October of 2007 and is now the president of the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club. The club meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month, at Coachella Valley Brewing, starting at 7pm.
Unlike most homebrewers, Josh first started making alcoholic ciders, after returning home from France. Living in San Francisco at the time, he sought out local brew supply shops that sold the appropriate equipment. When the equipment came with a free batch of grains, to brew beer, Josh knew he had found not just a hobby, but a community.
“I did the beer, beer turned out better than I thought it would. And when I finally got around to making the cider, it was so much of a bitch to do that, I thought, I’m going to stick with the beer. It’s a lot less work, for a lot better product. But, that spurred me into trying different things, and along the way, every time I made a mistake, it turned out to be kind of serendipity in my favor, so that helped me learn new things.”
EP: “Have you always been brewing in the Coachella Valley? If not, where?”
JK: “No, I started brewing when I living up in San Francisco, did that on a very small scale…I moved back to Southern California. I was living over at my parents’ house, which is on 5 acres, and that gave me impetus to expand the operation and start working my way to all grain. Once I started doing all grain, that’s when I started building all my equipment…”
“On one hand, the beer was slightly better at his parents’ house in Murietta, because they lived on a well system. But on the other hand, the weather was perfect for brewing in San Francisco. The temperatures do fluctuate more in Southern California.”
EP: “What are the main differences in brewing in the desert vs. brewing elsewhere?”
JK: “I will say, Murrieta, the temperatures have higher degree of fluctuation, compared to out here, that I was surprised to find out. But, one thing that makes it interesting out here is the higher temperatures, which for certain styles actually turns out to be a good thing. A lot of your Belgian styles will ferment around 80-85 degrees and that actually is a good thing, versus ya’ know some of the other styles like Ambers and stuff – not so good…it doesn’t really surprise me that Chris over at CVB might be focusing a lot on Saisons and Belgians, just from that stand point alone.”
Josh’s system is a 4’ x 4’x 8’insulated, temperature controlled box, which started out as an old armament storage from his grandfather. There’s a door on the side and lid that opens at the top. After doing research about home brewers using chest freezers, his system is larger and has the ability to put as much as 70 gallons in it at one time, he’s able to also control the temperature of his bottled beers. On one half of the box, he’s got a hole cut out with some PVC and a window air conditioning unit and temperature thermostat, hooked up to a temperature controller. This gives a relatively accurate reading of the temperature inside the box. He even has a dual stage controller, to run two different circuits – air conditioning or heater, depending on any weather.
As for the system itself, it was built with a slight pyramid shape to center the gravity to the middle, minimizing the risk of tilting each side, which raises and lowers via a winch and pulley system. Each side sits in a set of tracks with heavy duty wheels, taking the load when the plates holding the pots are being lifted.
With this system, Josh has won several medals, including the Best of Show at the 2013 Props and Hops Homebrew Competition.
With a nearly 100 degree variance in temperature in the Coachella Valley from winter nights to hot, summer days, he’s found this to be the key to his award winning beers.
“I’m dealing with a living organism; I should treat it with respect. I used to joke - you should treat yeast like people. If you fluctuate the temperature, hot, cold, hot, cold, you get sick. And I imagine yeast is the same way. Your beer is a result of that, for better or for worse. The idea is, you’re creating a nice environment for them.”
His two favorite homebrews have been a Trappist style honey-orange pale ale and a “Braggot” style hybrid-beer. Braggot is actually a form of mead made with both honey and barley malt, introducing nitrogen after fermentation. Like most homebrewers, Josh isn’t afraid to experiment. He’s even brewed with wormwood, taking concepts from Absinthe.
Josh won the gold in the Lager category and Best of Lager for his pilsner in 2014. He also won a silver and bronze for his porters. In 2013, he was awarded the silver in Old Ale for his honey orange pale ale, and Best of Show for his porter.
EP: “As the new homebrew club president, what are you doing to lead the club this year?”
JK: “One of my big things, I told the club at the last meeting, was that I want to be part of the community a lot more, ya know. I want to get our name out there; I want people to know who we are. “That we’re not just a bunch of drunk guys sitting around. There is a science behind this. There is biology, chemistry. This is a smart peoples sport. You can learn a lot about the art of it…and of course, trying different things, propagating the art of it…the other one would be focusing on a lot more training during the meetings. It’s nice trying different beers, but sometimes a lot of people come to the meetings hoping to learn something…so I’d like to use the meetings as a means of getting people together and learn, ‘tonight we’re going to learn why an IPA is an IPA’, or ‘why sanitation is a good thing’…”
Josh is also collaborating with Kimberly Bowers, the president of the Mohave Desert Brewers Guild. Josh’s favorite locally brewed beers are Coachella Valley Brewing’s Condition Black, La Quinta’s Tanline Brown and CVB’s Monumentous.
As a full time reference librarian, brewing feeds his desire to constantly learn.
“I live by the ethos that if I’m not learning something I’m dying.“
Despite being interested in craft beer since 1993, Brett Newton only started brewing with his cousin (with whom he co-hosted a podcast called "Beer Me Podcast" up until a couple of years ago) a little over five years ago. Their first batch was an IPA and it wasn't very good. But it was drinkable.
He joined the Coachella Valley Homebrew Club in 2010 after meeting four of its members. He sat in with many of the members on brew days in order to learn more about the process (including future brewmaster of Coachella Valley Brewing, Chris Anderson). He then went on to be elected president of the club in 2014.
EP: “What resources have you used since to hone your brewing skills?”
BN: “The best research I ever did was sitting in with a bunch of the original homebrew guys in the club, like Micah [Stark], Chris [Anderson, now of Coachella Valley Brewing] and Sarge [Ralph Sargent]... I just kinda’ watched them do what they do… I feel like I was able to brew better beer right away. There’s a bunch of resources online…there’s a free older edition of “How to Brew” by John Palmer. That’s kind of the brewing bible. You can buy a version of it that’s up to date. I also read a couple of books by Charlie Pappazion, who’s kind of considered the godfather of homebrew.”
Brett has brewed some delicious English barleywines. In one, he soaked French oak cubes in Makers Mark Bourbon and the other barleywine was brewed with French oak cubes soaked in Genlivet Nadurra 16 year old scotch whiskey. He’s also brewed lavender, lime Saison and raspberry rose Saison, brewed with dryed rose petals. Brett orders his ingredients online at Austin Homebrew Supply because of the quality and customer services. In a pinch, he’ll visit MoreBeer in Riverside.
EP: How has the local home brew club helped brewers here in the desert?
BN: I think it’s just like, as self-reliant as I can be, it still helps me with learning to brew and I basically, it’s a great place to come ask questions, whom you can sort of test out. You can go online and you can get some good advice, you have to sift through some stuff. But you can know that there are some guys in the club who can really brew because you’ve tasted their beer. And you can ask them questions and be a lot more sure of the answers…also, just to get everyone together and get people motivated.”
EP: “How do you think home brewing has changed over the years?”
“Maybe in the same way craft beer has changed. People are willing to try lots of different styles. It’s not just ‘let’s brew the hoppiest beer we can brew’, which I always thought was ridiculous, because I try to discourage the beginners from going hoppy right away, because that’s one of the harder ones to get right…it’s way easier, almost in every way, to do Belgians or English…the margin for error is much larger….”
Brent Schmidman is not only the previous owner of Schmidy’s in Palm Desert, the founder of the Props and Hops Festival in Palm Springs, but is an avid home brewer for the past eight years.
Brent started with a Mr. Beer kit and quickly realized there’s got to be a better way to brew. He now has a system that was partly purchased from MoreBeer and some elements that he designed himself.
Like Josh and Brett, Brent utilizing the Coachella Valley homebrew club as a great resource in learning more about the craft.
“I’d say when I joined the club, Chris [of Coachella Valley Brewing] was probably the most influential, cause he was so open to meet new people, and that kind of thing…and the rest is just experience. You just keep brewing and do something different until you get what you’re looking for.”
One of Brent’s most impressive homebrews was a 17% ABV chocolate cherry Russian Imperial Stout, aged in Bourbon barrels.
EP: “How has the homebrew club helped home brewers in the desert here?”
“I think the best part about the club is that people can come and just learn and experience and share before they have to actually go and buy equipment to do all of that. We had several members that came for 6 months to a year before they ever bought anything…it’s a very open and accepting club…”
EP: How do you think home brewing has changed over the years?
BS: “I think it’s a lot more user friendly and accessible and convenient now, than it used to be…now there’s so many different sites that you can order from online. There’s tons and tons of books now…now you can have kits that take a Russian River beer and you have a clone that’s very, very close to that. Maybe you’ve never made a sour before, and you can buy a kit and do it. I think it’s the accessibility to everything, in small quantities…”
Fellow Coachella Valley home brewer, Erik DeBellis has been brewing for just two and a half years, but has racked up the medals, locally.
Erik took the gold medal in the American Ale category in 2013 and 2014 at the Hangar 24 homebrew competition. He took home the gold in the German Wheat category at the 2013 and 2014 Props and Hops home brew competition, the gold and silver in the IPA category at the 2013 Props and Hops competition. He also nabbed a silver in the German Wheat & Rye category at the Southern California Homebrew Championships.
Erik is now the assistant brewer at Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage.
The Hangar 24 home brew competition in 2012 sparked his interest in homebrewing, after he and a friend visited the brewery, on the day of the competition.
EP: What kind of system do you use?
ED: “…I used to just do stovetop, ya’ know, everything on your burner. Now I actually bought a propane powered burner. So, I’m doing everything on that…and it’s awesome. I will never go back to stovetop.”
EP: “Why? What’s the difference?”
“Because I’m just getting so much more power out of it…I’m just getting so much better isomerization of my hops on this bad boy…more power, more heat. You’re getting a better boil, which allows my hops to bitter more, I’m getting more out of my bittering additions.”
EP: “Where do you buy your ingredients?”
ED: “MoreBeer in Riverside is kind of my main source. Although, I think they take relatively shit care of their hops. So, now, I pretty much buy everything at MoreBeer or Northern Brewer, um, but when it comes to hops, I just source straight from the farms. Mostly, Yakima Valley Hops...”
Want to start learning more about home brewing? There are a slew of resources if you want to start or further your craft.
Beer Conscious Training offers beer training and eLearning videos for those interested in passing exams like the Cicerone®, Beer Judge Certification Program and Beer Steward Exams.
Beer Smith is a homebrewers dream resource, with answers to just about any brewing question or roadblock. It also has informative video blogs from seasoned home brew professionals.
Better Beer Scores™ is a Colorado based company that offers fantastic interactive webinar programs to learn more about craft beer styles, homebrewing and prepping for beer exams.
Craft Beer University is an online school offers Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) exam prep courses and web based educational services to improve home brewing skills.
So what are some current and upcoming trends to be aware of?
Brew in a Bag (BIAB) 1 gallon kits are becoming more popular for brand new home brewers. BIAB is an inexpensive way to for homebrewers to transition to all grain or partial mash brewing.
Alternatively, all-grain is becoming more popular and extracts are declining, likely due to the fact that home brewers aren't purchasing the extract kits as much as they were several years ago. This speaks to quality and the fact that the future brewers of America want to make the best beer they can.
With the ever-growing popularity of the hobby, you can now find more quality ingredients; including malts and hops from around the world and top-notch yeast from more companies.
Don’t fear the foam. Join the club, do some online research or read a home brew book. Then take a sip and exhale with the satisfaction of your delicious, home brewed pint.