Temecula: SoCal’s real birthplace

Growing up in Southern California, and even becoming a burgeoning beer geek down there, I didn’t have much opportunity to become exposed to a real beer culture. Sure it’s booming all over the Southland now, but it was late to the table. Real estate is too expensive for manufacturing. Beer wasn’t seen as stylish as wine and cocktails. Beer has calories and the camera adds ten pints. But before San Diego changed all that, there was beer in Temecula, courtesy of one Vinnie Cilurzo now of Russian River fame! And today, the bedroom community that services both LA and SD is home to nearly a dozen breweries.

What is barely touched on in this story is that I wanted to write this story as a way to kind of illustrate to my dad what I do for a living. He wasn’t much of a craft beer drinker. He is an avid golfer. Temecula is home to some great golf courses, which he’s been playing since I was a little kid and got to drive the golf cart. So I pitched both him, and my editor at All About Beer, this story where he and I would hit the links by day and the myriad breweries by night. (I’m scarcely better at golf now, but my dad has since developed a passion for Berliner Weisse and even barrel-aged sour beers including Russian River Consecration!!)

The OC’s Yard House calls Portland home

Taps & tubes

Taps & tubes

Amid the brewery acquisitions and Portland’s westside invasions, Pioneer Place is now flooding with beer courtesy of The Yard House, a sports pub/family dining restaurant that also, most likely, presents more tap handles than any single establishment in Oregon: 130. Yes, one hundred and thirty beers on draft. So let’s first focus on a bunch of numbers.

First, from their own press release in July, 2012, “Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) announced that it has agreed to acquire Yard House USA, Inc. for $585 million.” Olive Garden is another restaurant chain in the Darden Restaurants portfolio. More numbers:

34: number of television sets throughout the Yard House, all airing games.

42: The number of the 130 total taps pouring beers from the Pacific Northwest. This actually represents the largest number of regionally brewed beers in the chain.

57: Locations in said chain, spanning 20 states.

250: The most taps presented at a single restaurant, which I believe is the Irvine, Calif. spot where it all started back in 1996 when, according to their own About page, “the craft beer revolution began nearly 20 years ago.”

3: Light/Lite beers available from the two largest brewing companies.

67: Number of six-tops at the Portland Yard House. (Scratch that; two of those are four-top tables.)

1: Master sommelier employed by Darden Restaurants. George Millotes is one of 219 such experts in the world. I’m told several Cicerones (with apologies to Ray Daniels, those are the sommeliers of the beer service world)

All of the above underscores the impressive stats this outpost brings to downtown Portland that, truth be told, does not feel very Portland. If you want the geekiest beers on the westside, you’re going to head to Bailey’s Taproom. But Bailey’s’ 24 taps made me realize, Yard House offers as many taps as the top 7 beer bars in the city. Quantity over quality is never the better option, but here’s the deal: if you can get over the Yard House being a $585 million chain from Orange County, in a neck of these urban woods populated by other chains such as Qdoba, Jimmy John’s, and, egads, Buffalo Wild Wings around the corner if you want the lowest common denominator of sports bars, at least there’s a level of quality accompanying all those screens and mile’s worth of draft lines. Upon being invited in to explore the over the top menu, I’m happy to report that the Brussels sprouts atop “ripped” potatoes–described to me by their corporate executive chef Carlito Jocson as, “because potato skins are too eighties”) are crave-worthy. The Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches are pretty good for being this far west of 82nd Ave. You can order any of the tacos “vampire” style which entails grilling cheese on the outside til it becomes crunchy and hand-holdable.

And most importantly, among those nearly eleven dozen taps, every level of beer drinker will find something with his or her name on it. Yes, there’s behemoth light American adjunct lager. But I also lost count of how many great IPAs they had on–yes, multiple IPAs because whoever tag-teamed on the beer list knew we demand such things. Boneyard RPM? Check. Boneyard Hop Venom to boot? Check-check. Ballast Point Sculpin is in the mix as well. The cider section alone trumped most places’ attempts at placation. When the house beer being aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels is ready, you bet I plan to pop down into this basement-level resto and try it.

Those aren't mini-mallows.

Those aren’t mini-mallows.

Speaking of how over the top they go, you can pair a Base Camp S’more Stout with the largest friggin’ s’mores brownie. The marshmallows were toasted to perfection though I found the brownie itself a bit dry. I guess that’s where the wet stout comes in handy.

Good to know:

YARD HOUSE PORTLAND

888 SW 5th Avenue, Portland, OR 97204
503-222-0147
HOURS OF OPERATIONOpen
Sun-Sat 11:00amFood Last Call
Sun-Thu 11:00pm  |  Fri-Sat 1:00amAlcohol Last Call
Sun-Thu 11:00pm  |  Fri-Sat 1:00am

Happy Hour

Mon-Fri – 3pm – 6pm
Sun-Wed – 10pm – Close

San Diego is the Greatest Beer City. San Diego is Not the Greatest Beer City.

I might have been inclined to call pitting San Diego against Portland a fool’s errand, since both of them are clearly so awesome. But my editor Ezra Johnson-Greenough gave me explicit instructions: “don’t pull your punches (and) at least take off your gloves and slap someone with them.” Hence the above-linked blog from March 2014 in The New School.

So as a solid to him, rather than bring up, and then put on par, places like Boulder/Denver/Ft. Collins, the Bay Area, Asheville, Grand Rapids, Philly, Austin, Vermont, and others that all make reasonable claims, I will do what Portlanders are too polite (or dismissive) to do during Charlie Papazian’s annual BeerTown USA poll. Bottom line: in terms of volume and global awe and respect, it comes down to Portland, Oregon, and San Diego, California. And as everyone who’s seen The Highlander knows, there can be only one!

It’s a debate I didn’t start. And one I didn’t finish. It’s blazing ever brighter today. A half pint for your thoughts on the matter in the comments.

Modern Cider

AAB 33.3

AAB 33.3

Modern Cider is the cover story of AAB Vol. 33, Iss. 3, 2012. It’s, as their title puts it, “Not your father’s hard cider” (for the record, don’t call it hard cider to folks in the industry; it’s cider–that “soft” stuff is juice since you don’t call grape juice wine.). Today it gets barrel-aged, Brett-o-mized and sake’d out.

Beer in La La Land

imgresBeer West (nee Beer Northwest) had a short but sweet life as a regional beer magazine for which I contributed just a few stories. One of the first was this cover story on the LA beer scene, warts and all. Somewhere online there’s a fantastically long response it got from an area brewer who wasn’t a fan of the reporting. And somewhere else is my fantastically longer rebuttal.