The Hoppiest Place on Earth

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SoCal’s bumper crop of craft breweries continues to grow.

By Carrie Williams

An entrepreneurial industry marked by innovation, driven by passion, and deeply rooted in community, it makes sense that craft breweries would become a bumper crop in California, the birthplace of so many firebrands. According to the Brewers Association, a national trade organization that champions craft brewers, California—now a hops hub of its own, with the most craft breweries in the nation—boasts 518 craft breweries that produce about 3.8 million barrels of craft beer annually, generating nearly $7 billion in sales.

And brewers are getting more and more creative. Just this summer, the new Unsung Brewing Co. in Anaheim launched a flavorful brand centered around a made-up comic book universe where each beer is represented by a character and backstory—like Buzzman, an American Mutant Ale. San Diego companies Stone Brewing and Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits both just celebrated two decades of innovative brewing. In honor of the occasion, Stone Brewing staged one of the largest craft beer festivals in the state, a charity event that contributed all proceeds to four local nonprofits. Meanwhile, Ballast Point celebrated its 20th anniversary with a homebrew competition at Del Mar racetrack.

As market share continued to be snapped up by craft breweries—some 23.4 percent of dollar sales according to American market research company IRI Worldwide—major brewers took notice and in 2015, acquired at least 24 of them. Last November, when international producer Constellation Brands announced its acquisition of Ballast Point for $1 billion, it was the largest deal in craft beer history.

But, regardless of whether you love lagers, don’t know your way around IPAs, or are an affirmed aficionado of ales, we submit to you this roundup of craft brewers who are artfully plying their trade in California. Although Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico are considered the wellspring of the craft beer movement, since we at Pacific Coast call Orange County home—and are feeling a provincial pride in our craft credentials—we’ve placed our focus on the OC … and just a bit beyond.

Orange County

Anaheim Brewery

Home to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Anaheim also is the de facto craft beer capital of Orange County. One brewery is credited with reintroducing the famous Anaheim Beer that disappeared with Prohibition, the aptly named Anaheim Brewery. Founders Greg and Barbara Gerovac began brewing here in 2011 and have made a name for brewing fresh, approachable beers that they serve from their tasting room and beer garden in the Anaheim Packing District. Be sure to try the brewery’s copper-colored flagship, Anaheim 1888, and the fruity Anaheim hefeweizen. (anaheimbrew.com)

Barley Forge Brewing Co.

Opened in late 2014 in Costa Mesa—then a dead zone for craft brewing—Barley Forge has quickly made a name for itself with award-winning brews and an appealing tasting room with a kitchen that invites beer aficionados to come, sip and relax. Named to several best-beers lists, The Patsy is a coconut rye stout with rye spiciness, balanced with dark chocolate and espresso, as well as copious amounts of toasted coconut. With its Grandpa Tractor lager, Barley Forge also has revived an almost forgotten style of brew, the Dortmunder. For the first half of the 20th century in Germany, coal miners and heavy industry workers sipped this full bodied, moderately hopped German lager, and the selection refreshes just as well after a hard day’s work in the 21st century. (barleyforge.com)

Bottle Logic Brewing

Bottle Logic Brewing’s fresh-brewed beers have won awards at the Great American Beer Festival and the World Beer Cup. The Anaheim tasting room provides the dramatic lab-influenced backdrop to the Bottle Logic team’s inventive craft brew creations, including stouts from its Stasis Project collection, its collaborations with other local brewers, and its experimental Proto Series. (bottlelogic.com)

The Bruery

Founded in 2008, The Bruery is a staple on many local craft beer fans’ top 10 lists, thanks to its founders’ commitment to innovation. Specializing in barrel-aged and experimental ales, The Bruery in Placentia brews dozens of original beers each year. Using wine and spirit barrels, nearly half of the selections are expertly aged to bring forth distinct flavors reminiscent of classic American distillers and the Belgian countryside. In July, The Bruery team opened a second outpost, Bruery Terreux. Located in Anaheim, the facility, which includes a tasting room, focuses on farmhouse-style ales fermented with wild yeasts as well as oak-aged sour ales, including such fan faves as the complex Saison Rue and the lauded Oude Tart. (thebruery.com; brueryterreux.com)

Noble Ale Works

This power(brew)house produced more than 3,000 barrels of beer in 2015 and is now in major expansion mode. Located in Anaheim near Angels Stadium, Noble Ale Works gives you plenty of reasons to visit its tasting room—with or without the Angels in town. Some of its heavy hitters include Big Whig IPA (a hop-forward West Coast-style ale), Naughty Sauce (a stout beer collaboration with Portola Coffee Lab), and Tongue Tickles (a take on a West Coast double IPA). (noblealeworks.com)

Beyond the Orange Curtain

The Bruery’s Autumn Maple
The Bruery’s Autumn Maple

Ballast Point

What started as a home-brewing experiment between two UCLA roommates now is Ballast Point, a craft-brewing giant celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The San Diego-based industry leader’s proprietary porters, ales and IPAs are award-winning, with the Ballast Point Sculpin, one of its most lauded beers, now available in farm-to-bottle varieties with twists of pineapple, grapefruit and habanero. Also making recent news is Ballast Point’s Homework Series Batch No. 5, a hoppy Belgian-style pale ale that was the winner of its all-employee home-brew contest. More good news: With Ballast Point’s Long Beach tasting room now open, you don’t have to make the trek south to taste some of the world’s best craft brews. (ballastpoint.com)

Beachwood Brewing and BBQ

With locations in Seal Beach and Long Beach, Beachwood is as famous for barbecue as it is for its award-winning brews, which are perhaps the region’s most acclaimed beers. Beachwood regularly features 22 rotating taps and one cask-conditioned beer, and is known for its rare and unique first-rate beers. Critics claim you can’t go wrong with the brewery’s IPAs, including this year’s Hopular Mechanics release with experimental new hops. A bonus—money from every pint of Hopular Mechanics sold is donated to help fight the neurodegenerative disease ALS. (beachwoodbbq.com)

Golden Road Brewing

Golden Road’s IPAs make braving the freeways worth it, but its new Anaheim tasting room makes it unnecessary. That said, its flagship in Atwater Village and location in Grand Central Market both make a frothy foundation around which to build a day in Los Angeles. Committed to bringing fresh beer to the local market in the most sustainable way possible, Golden Road is for socially minded beer enthusiasts who happen to love IPAs, with its Custom IPA Series—a lineup of diverse, hop-forward IPAs—being of special note. (goldenroad.la)

Smog City Brewing Co.

Headlined by its gold medal-winning Coffee Porter (which the brewery describes as “a coffee-beer, rather than a beer with coffee”), Smog City in Torrance is an inventive brewery whose experiments have taken it into beer/wine hybrids, sour ales and beyond. Don’t miss its always robust selection of seasonal and special release beers, especially the fall release of Smoked Smaug Lager, an amber lager with a subtle smokiness balanced with a caramel sweetness reminiscent of marshmallow-roasting around the campfire. (smogcitybrewing.com)

Societe Brewing Co.

Societe Brewing Co. continues to make headlines in San Diego, which isn’t easy to do, as the city is arguably the craft beer capital of the nation. Launched in 2012, the brewery’s family of beers spans hoppy ales, Belgian-inspired brews, dark beers and wine-barrel-aged sours. Of particular note is the Out West series, which is based on experimenting with the established hop-forward styles that put San Diego on the map. (societebrewing.com)

-PCM