Not to besmirch the business sense of big-name beer companies, but they’re in trouble on the suds circuit. Much of said trouble comes in their all-reaching aim to please everyone all the time in terms of both branding and flavor. And face it, no major brewer vets its vats that closely, or tries to tailor a time-honored product to specific tastes or age groups just to win points. On the plus side, there’s still huge beauty to be found in beer, thanks to the advent of microbreweries in the early 90’s. Now it’s no longer just Budweiser, Miller, PBR and Coors cornering the market; instead, there are now thousands of beers to choose from, with some of the best now being concocted in Southern Cali, just beyond the dirty din of Los Angeles. Here’s a sampling of some who’ve created some worthy brew-hahas.
155 Mata Way, Suite 104
San Marcos, Calif. 92069
22 years after going into business as pizza parlor, PBC’s brother and sister co-owners (who began brewing beer as a hobby) have since earned the proud distinction of seeing their Carlsbad location named Best Large Brewpub of the Year in 2009, and have become so popular they’ve expanded to three locations (the others being in San Clemente and Solana Beach), and with good reason. The brewery itself – located at what was once known as the old Stone Brewery in San Marcos – is now ranked as one of the top 10 new breweries in the nation, and responsible for some of the tastiest and most widely-distributed beer to ever come out of SoCal (those lucky enough to have first tasted their wares can now consume them as far east as Pennsylvania, D.C. and Boston). If you’re up for sampling on site, PBC has mind-boggling array on both tap and in bottle, including all those seasonal and in limited release. Its best brews include the Inferno and the Shark Attack (Double Red), both of which have nice bite.
Indian Wells Brewing Co.
Inyokern, CA 93527
Established in the high desert of Inyokern 15 years ago, Indian Wells is a rare breed of microbrewery in that it was one of the first to openly endorse the concept of a sustainable brewing process. By combining organic, locally-grown ingredients (including a proprietary strain of lager yeast) with an energy-efficient on-site brewing methods (gravity power), the artesian water used to make all IWBC products literally flows down from the Sierra Nevada mountains directly to the brewery itself. The end result is a dozen delicious dark and light lagers (both the Blackout Stout and the Lobotomy Bock are quite tasty), as well as its excellent Death Valley label sodas (their Orange Cream and Root Beer flavors are the best) and energy drinks. As if that wasn’t enough, they recycle, employ the developmentally disabled and endorse conservation. That’s quite a cool and ecologically sound testimonial to IWBC’s staying power since its ’95 expansion. Open 7 days a week from 9a to 5p except major holidays, with $5 tastings offered.
1400 Ramada Dr.
Paso Robles, Calif. 93446
What better place for a microbrewery to set up shop than in the heart of Southern California wine country? That’s exactly where two brothers from another mother (in-laws) at Firestone (yes, it’s the same family who makes the tires) craft an amazing array of pale ales, thanks to a patented fermenting process done in 60 gallon oak barrels. Not too bad for a couple of guys who started out in ’96, knowing not a thing about brewing beer. Since then, their Union Jack IPA has managed to best over 130 comers in the Great American Beerfest’s toughest category (“Best American-Style Indian Pale Ale”) for the second straight year, and are now hailed as one of the top 50 craft breweries in the U.S. You can sample some of their finest on site from 12 to 7 pm, Sunday thru Friday (they open an hour earlier on Saturdays for those who want a pre-lunch libation). Try their Bravo Bourbon Barrel Stout, one of the finest double imperials around.
2000 Main Street
Irvine, Calif. 92614
Hailed as the largest microbrewery in the O.C. and one of the oldest in Southern California, Bayhawk is big on the private label front, especially when it comes to providing to fine restaurants across both the north and southwest. Sadly, they are not open for public tours or tastings, but if you visit their website and take the time to do a couple quick clicks, you can learn more about where to get their goods and at what events they’re hosted. Their best ales includes the Outback Amber (which is sold in L.A.) and the Imperial Brown, and those who like a lighter lager won’t go wrong with a Beach Blonde or the one simply named “The O.C.”
1260 Lincoln Avenue
Pasadena, Calif. 91103
Founded in 1995, all of CBC’s product percolates out of a small and unassuming little warehouse in Pasedena under the watchful eye of brewmaster Mark Jilg, who has almost as many reds, blondes and ambers in his stable as Hefner’s had at the Playboy Mansion. Sadly, none of what he’s able to boast about is available in bottles… yet. Instead, you’ll have to troll the town for places that will serve you a jar of what Jilg is pumping out (try The Village Idiot, The York, Father’s Office and the Old Town Pub for actual pints). But believe you me, once you taste some of his top-shelf beer (the 1903 Prohibition, the Poppyfields Pale, and the Heavenly Hefe are among the best – raves all around, really) you’ll all but bang down the door of his garage to get your hands on it. Don’t expect much help by way of the website, which is more drab and decorative than decked out with info. But if you have questions, you can certainly shoot Mark an email for an answer.