California Beer Fests

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Beer Fest Review: OC Fest of Ales 2013, Anaheim

I missed last year’s OC Fest of Ales, but made it to this year’s Second Annual event in downtown Anaheim. The event starts with a 5k run, and I had a passing thought to participate in that as well, but then I came to my senses and stuck to just the beer fest.

The weather for the event could not have been more perfect. We just broke out of a minor heat wave in SoCal, and this was the first weekend with temps in the mid 70s. The VIP admission began at 10:00 a.m., and at that hour it was nice and cool with overcast skies. The haze burned off around 1:00, but even then the temperature stayed in the 70s.

With the event held in conjunction with a 5k, I thought parking might be an issue, but it was zero problem. There were garage parking structures immediately adjacent to the event, but they all had signs saying parking was limited to two hours. I suspect that was waived for the event, but just in case we parked at a shopping center about half a block away.

There was no delay getting into the event. Indeed, anyone 21 or over could get a wristband and enter the event to check out all the beer merchandise and buy food at the many food vendors, but to sample the beer you needed to have purchased a ticket. The standard ticket came with a wristband for 10 beer samples, while the VIP ticket offered unlimited beer and food tastings. (In retrospect, it may not have been intended that the food tastings be unlimited, but no one turned me away.)

At this event, the VIP admission really added to the value beyond just getting in an hour early and more beer tastings. An entire section of the event was reserved for the VIP attendees, where there were numerous booths offering pairings of food and beer. Slaters 50/50, one of my perennial favorites as these events, was ensconced in the VIP section. So too were The Bruery, Noble Ale Works, Hangar 24, Lagunitas Brewing, Bootlegger’s, Cismontane and a number of others. See the picture below for the full listing of the “VIP Experience”. In addition to Slaters 50/50, food tastings in the VIP area were provided by local restaurants including Tony’s Deli, House of Blues-Anaheim, American Tavern, Crow Bar, Side Door, Roy’s of Anaheim and The Kroft..

Overall, there were more than 80 craft beers offered by Ace Cider, Alcatraz Brewing Co., Anaheim Brewery, Craft Brewing, Rough Draft, Tap It Brewing Co., Bootleggers, Bravery Brewing, Coronado, Firestone Walker, Golden Road, Manzanita Brewing, Mission Brewing, Monkish, New Belgium, Noble Ale Works, Packinghouse, Sierra Nevada, The Bruery, Tustin Brewery, Pizza Port San Clemente, Ballast Point, Hangar 24, Karl Strauss, Lagunitas Brewing, Black Market Brewery, Valiant Brewing, and Stone Brewing Co.

I saw two great bands perform – Amber Foxx (Rockabilly) and Mo50 (modern/classic rock). PopRoqs (80’s) was also scheduled, but if they were there I didn’t happen to see them.

Just off the street where the beer fest was held, there is a museum called Muzeo (I figured out all on my own that was probably a museum before confirming the fact). The current exhibit was entitled “Lateral Acceleration”, with a collection of still photography, film and motorcycles, showing the “motorcycle culture of Southern California”, as they put it. Admission is normally $10, but it was free with your armband from the OC Fest of Ales. That provided a nice break during the beer fest.

I can’t offer a single suggestion to make this beer festival any better. It provided a great showcase for (mostly) local breweries and restaurants, and the execution was flawless.

— Aaron Morris

2013-09-21 12.45.43

OC Fest of Ales
2013-09-21 11.05.30

OC Fest of Ales VIP Experience2013-09-21 10.57.432013-09-21 14.06.12

OC Fest of Ales

Go here for more photos of OC Fest of Ales.

Beer Fest Review: OC Brew Ha Ha 2013

OC Brew Ha Ha 2013My faith in beer festival organizers has been restored. After the disastrous Beer Loves Music beer festival at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana, I was set for a great beer fest, and found it at the OC Brew Ha Ha. Anyone running a beer festival really should attend a Brew Ha Ha function to see how it’s done.

I went in expecting great things from this beer fest, which supports the Fallen Firefighters Fund. Last year’s Orange County Brew Ha Ha was great, as was the Brew Ho Ho at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim, put on by the same people. It appears that the organizers are cigar friendly, because each event has included a cigar garden. Indeed, this event was custom made for my tastes, because it included beer, cigars and motorcycles, with a number of motorcycles on display in the middle of the event. (I didn’t actually see anything about the bikes, so for all I know a group of riders just found a really good place to park, but they were all suspiciously clean and polished. It made a nice display, intended or not.)

My recollection is that event was held at Irvine Lake last year, but for 2013 they moved it a short distance to the east to Oak Canyon Park. Both venues are good, but I prefer Oak Canyon Park, because it is more spread out and offers more shade. The only downside to the location is that it is a long distance off the main road, down a narrow road, so a bottleneck of cars is inevitable. That part was a little frustrating, and I felt for the people who had come in cabs, sitting there with the meter running, but the organizers had lots of people working the parking lot and the cars were parked as quickly as possible. Parking was free.

My beer angel and I entered on VIP passes, arriving about 30 minutes after the event had started, and the time in line was less than five minutes. The organizers sent out a number of emails about the event, and in one explained that attendees could arrive up to an hour early, check-in, and wait in a holding area until time for admission. I didn’t get to witness that first hand, but it is a great idea. As I have complained here before, as with last year’s beer festival at Union Station, the time spent getting into beer festivals can eat up half the time of the event.

It was a very warm day, but as I said there was plenty of shade, and misters were placed throughout the grounds to provide some relief. There were igloos full of cold water everywhere, and free fountain drinks.

The selection of beers was tremendous, with over 70 breweries present, each offering two, three or even four different beers. Here is a list of the breweries, with some of my favorites including Cismontane, Bootlegger’s, Belching Beaver, Bruery, Left Coast, Goose Island, and Black Market.  They used a wristband system, tearing off a stub for each beer. I never like that system because I prefer to take small pours in order to try more beers. I will say though, I had 20 tabs with the VIP admission (and between you and me not all the booths were tearing the tabs, especially toward the end), and I did not even go through all my tabs. If you did run out of tabs, you could buy more at $5 for 3 tastes.

After about an hour of beer tasting, we headed over to Slaters 50/50 for a great burger, and then to the Grey Cloud cigar garden. A very tasty selection of cigars was offered, including my choice, the Flor de las Antillas Toro, rated the number one cigar by Cigar Aficionado last year. It was my first time smoking one of these cigars, and while is was a little on the mild side for my taste, it was very complex and flavorful. I can certainly understand why it was ranked so highly. One great cigar. Here is a video about the cigar. I relaxed in the shade for a few minutes, enjoying my cigar, and then returned to the beer drinking, cigar in hand. I was careful to puff only when away from the crowd, and received only two comments, both of them positive, complimenting the smell of the cigar.

I forgot to count the precise number of food trucks, but I’d say there were at least eight, and the lines were not bad. One of the food trucks was a converted fire truck, selling pizza. That was very cool and especially appropriate, given that this was a fundraiser for firefighters. I felt bad for the truck selling shaved ice, because I did not see a single customer the entire day. On such a hot day, you’d expect shaved ice to be a popular choice, but I guess beer drinkers are already hydrated from all the beer and water and don’t want to take a break for a snow cone.

OC Brew Ho Ho 2013

Speaking of cool trucks, the sound stage, apparently provided by Red Bull, is a tour bus that opens up to a stage. There were three bands, but I only got a chance to listen to two — The Slidebar and Reel Big Fish. Both were very good, and I was so impressed with Reel Big Fish, which has a horn section, that I bought one of their CDs. The Creepers also performed, but I must have been on the other side of the park during their set (more than 70 breweries requires some attention!).

OC Brew Ha Ha 2013 was a complete success. If you are in the area, don’t miss this one next year, and be sure to attend the second annual OC Brew Ho Ho, set for December 7, 2013. While not on the same scale as Brew Ha Ha, it’s a great beer fest in its own right, offering a tremendous selection of special seasonal beers.

Aaron Morris at Brew Ha Ha 2013

OC Brew Ho Ho 2013

Beer Fest Brew Ha Ha

OC Brew Ho Ho 2013

Panorama of OC Brew Ha Ha 2013

OC Brew Ho Ho 2013

Beer Fest Review: Beer Ho Ho 2012 at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim

2012 Brew Ho Ho Anaheim Phoenix Club
The fine people who bring you the Brew Ha Ha, modified the name for the season, brought in some appropriate seasonal beers, and created the 1st Annual Brew Ho Ho at the Phoenix Club in Anaheim. We of course were invited, being influential members of the beer media (that, and because we paid for tickets). Here are our impressions.

First, kudos to the organizers for the efficient entry. It’s not that tough to get a large number of people into an event without a long wait time. Go to any professional sports event for proof. But it is beyond most beer fest organizers to make it happen. Not here. We sailed in without a moment’s pause.

Kudos also for the venue. The heart of the event was inside a large tent-type pavilion, but the event also spread out onto the grounds, where there were numerous, very un-beerfest like activities available, like giant Jenga games, bean bag toss and a rifle range. You read right. Nothing goes with a beer fest like firearms. Don’t worry; they did not permit beer on the firing range – you had to down it before entering. Safety first!

And what a great selection of beers! Stone Brewing offered its 12.12.12 Vertical Epic Ale; Noble Ale Works was there with Excuse Me, There is Schmutz in My Coffee and You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid; TAPS offered Toasted Santa; Warsteiner Brauerel had Warsteiner Premium Dunkel; and surprisingly, all the way from Chicago was Goose Island Beer Co. with 312 Urban Wheat Ale and others. The list of breweries goes on and on – Maui Brewing Co., Old Orange Brewing Co., Firestone Walker, Ritual, Speakeasy, Packinghouse, and more.

And the food! Slater’s 50/50 was there with its famous sliders, there were two food trucks, and there is a German place that apparently is part of the Phoenix Club, serving up a very tasty selection of sausages and other German cuisine.

And cigars! Try to smoke a cigar at most beer fests, and you’d best be prepared to find a corner to hide in while you smoke the evil weed. Here, there was a cigar vendor with very reasonably priced sticks ($9 for a 54 x 6.5 Oliva V), and a seating area behind the booth where all the cigar smokers enjoyed their sticks with good craft beers. (It was adjacent to the German beer and food. A good bratwurst, German beer and a cigar. Heaven.)

If you put a gun to my head (remember, they were available) and forced me to criticize something about this Brew Ho Ho, it would be the lack of live music. They did have a DJ, and he played a great mix of Christmas music and rock, but the event cried out for a live band. But that’s picking nits. This event was tremendous. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, because I was also quite effusive about last month’s San Diego Brewer’s Guild Festival, but the Brew Ho Ho has also made my must attend list.

— Aaron Morris

Beer Fest Review: Septemberfest 2012 in Santa Monica

Septemberfest 2012 Beer Festival in Santa MonicaThe Septemberfest in Santa Monica, put on by Drink Eat Play, is one of my perennial favorites. What’s not to like? Over 150 different beers served in unlimited quantities right next to the ocean. Add to that not one, not three, but TEN food trucks and a really good band called Petty Cash (covering the songs of Tom Petty and Johnny Cash – get it?), and you’ve got yourself a great day of beer drinking and socializing. Some of my favorite breweries present were Deshutes, Old World, Bootlegger’s, Eaglerock, Noble Ale Works, Fireman’s, Venice Beach, Tap It, Bierbitzch, and Primo, to name just a very few. Anchor Steam was on the list, but I didn’t realize until after the function that I had never seen them. I don’t know if they failed to appear or I just missed their booth.

Septemberfest 2012 Santa MonicaIf I had to find something to criticize, it would be the lack of any shade. Even with the breeze off the ocean, it was a bit warm for part of the beer fest. One of the breweries – the Old World Brewery out of Phoenix, Arizona – came with an absolutely brilliant, inflatable pub. Picture one of those bounce houses you see at kids’ parties, but with a pub inside instead a trampoline. Not surprising a brewery from Phoenix would come equipped with a respite from the sun. And speaking of brilliant, some attendees brought folding chairs with them and set up their own place to get out of the sun in the shade of one of the food trucks.

The sun was really not an issue, but some shade would be a nice addition. Note to Drink Eat Play: Since you already sell VIP admissions, make it a little more VIP by adding a VIP tent where attendees could relax out of the sun.

But sun aside, this was one great Beer Fest, and if you reside within a couple of hours drive, one you should plan to attend next year.

— Aaron Morris

Santa Monica Beer Fest Septemberfest 2012

Santa Monica Beer Festival 2012

Beer Festival Septemberfest 2012

Beer Festival Septemberfest 2012 Santa Monica

Santa Monica Septemberfest 2012 Food