As a craft beer fanatic, we encourage – and encourage others – to drink local. In a lot of cases that can mean drink as close to home as physically possible – something thats fairly easy in Los Angeles. Its hard to argue against a trip to Torrance where you can now go to four excellent locally owned breweries all within a few mile radius, or take a trip to Anaheim where you can hit up Noble, Bottle Logic and The Bruery all in an afternoon. But as I was sitting in the GABF awards ceremony this year in Denver, watching our neighboring counties rack up medal after medal, I couldn’t help but think ‘damn, I’ve gotta expand my horizons a bit’.
That is largely because the regions surrounding Los Angeles – particularly the Inland Empire- are making award winning beer and a lot of us Angelenos are missing out on it.
I’ve had my eye on Ventura County’s Institution Ale Company for the last year or so, mostly because they tap a cask in their Camarillo taproom every Saturday afternoon. The buzz around this family-run brewery has been building steadily since they opened in 2013 and it finally came to a head when they scored a bronze GABF award for their flagship beer, an American Brown known as Restraint. While we still aren’t seeing Institution’s beers flowing on taps in LA often, that should change soon as the brewery has been approved to expand into a much bigger facility and construction is under way.
A fairly short drive to the Southeast, Temecula is often better known as the bastard wine-country cousin of Santa Barbara. I’ve spent the last few years trying to convince my central coast friends that there’s some great wine coming out of Temecula and it looks like I’m going to have to switch gears a bit and spend some time touting the beer scene as well. While Black Market Brewing Co. has been repping Temecula’s beer scene in SoCal bottleshops for a few years now, there’s been a renaissance over the last few years with more and more tasting rooms opening for locals to enjoy. One of the bigger names in Temecula brewing has been Aftershock, who took home a bronze in the fruit/spice beer category for their Oatmeal Raison Cookie ale. Does that sound a little rich for your palate? Just down the street from Aftershock is Garage Brewing Co. & Pizzeria who are now the reigning gold medalists in the Munich-style helles category for their Bucket Seat Blonde. I’m due for a trip down to Temecula to pick up some bottles from Doffo Winery and I won’t be leaving town without a visit to both of these spots.
One of the biggest surprises of the GABF awards this year was the double gold medals that Redlands’ Ritual Brewing took home in the ‘aged beer’ and ‘barley wine’ categories. Not exactly the styles you would think would be coming out of a place like San Bernardino County – its friggin’ hot and dry out there! Few brewers showed as much excitement on the podium as Ritual co-founders Owen Williams and Steve Dunkerken – I believe I witnesses multiple cheek kisses between them – and it definitely got me itching to make a trip eastward. I’ll admit, I’ve only had one beers from Ritual and honestly can’t remember much about it, but two golds at GABF certainly makes a case for giving them another try.
Directly southwest of Redlands is Riverside, a place that’s building a pretty passionate homebrewing community built around the local MoreBeer.com showroom. While local brewpub Wick’s has been building some attention over the last few years, another brewpub in town Heroes Restaurant & Brewery picked up some tin at GABF this year, winning a silver in the Golden or Blonde Ale category for their Boxcar blonde. That means there’s two buzzy brewpubs in town, making Riverside a new destination for the Inland Empire beer crowd.
Normally, I make the argument that beer awards are overrated. Taste and flavor perception are so personal that what I think deserves a gold-medal might not even register to the next person at the bar. But for smaller breweries, awards do represent recognition in an industry where it’s getting harder and harder to get noticed. And to be honest, part of that is on people like me that tend to focus on breweries close-by rather than in less-urban neighboring areas. But I hope to change that, because there’s something a little embarrassing about finding out how good our Southern California neighbors are at the same time as the entire rest of the country.