Second Night Added for Epic BA Stout Beer Dinner

I once said that I would never give any love to an event that features an Anheuser Busch product. This is different as it also features TAPS Remy’s Pappy with an insane lineup of fall food prepared by five of OC’s best chefs. As the first night sold out in record speed, don’t snooze on calling in your reservation for the second night! (only $55++pp as well!)



Second dinner added after immediate sell-out


Join chef-founder of Lillie’s Q, Charlie McKenna, with chefs Tom Hope, Manny Gonzalez, Cory Rapp, and Kody Havener on their collaboration of a six course dinner featuring beers from TAPS and two rare offerings,Remy’s Pappy by TAPS and Gross Island Bourbon County Stout from Chicago.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 6:30 PM (Thursday 10/22 is sold out)


  • Lillie’s Q
  • 240 S. Brea Blvd. Brea Downtown
  • Reservations—limited space; call only:  714.482.2001


$55 per person plus tax & gratuity


Five Chefs Fall Beer Dinner

  • Amuse Bouche
  • Cream con Chili
  • Pimiento Cheese Tasting
  • Pimiento Hush Puppies, Pimiento Cheese Biscuit & Pimiento Cheese Pork Rind
  • Chef Charlie McKenna – Founder, Lillie’s Q
  • 2nd Course
  • “Oaked” Hog Tied Ale
  • Loch Etive Scottish Steelhead Crudo
  • Collards, Field Peas, Smoked Ham Hock & Benne Seed
  • Chef Charlie McKenna – Founder, Lillie’s Q
  •  3rd Course
  • Vanilla Pumpkin Ale on Nitro
  • Southern Lyonnaise Salad
  • Smoked Tasso Ham, Roasted Pumpkin Purée, Crispy Egg,
  • Fall Spiced Mustard Caviar, Creole Sherry Vinaigrette
  • Chef Cory Rapp – The Catch Restaurant
  •  4th Course
  • Phat Albert Imperial IPA – Double Dry Hopped
  • Southern Fried Quail
  • Tupelo Honey Glaze, Smoked Blue Cambozola Dandelion Slaw, Garden Pickled Vegetables
  • Chef Manny Gonzalez – TAPS Fish House & Brewery, Brea
  •  5th Course
  • Gross Island Bourbon County Stout
  • Peach Wood Smoked Pork Osso Buco
  • Roasted Butternut Squash Grits, Crisp Root Vegetables, Stout Reduction
  • Chef Kody Havener – Lillie’s Q, Brea
  •  6th Course
  • Remy’s Pappy
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding
  • Fig Caramel, Abuelita Chocolate Mousse, Cocoa Nibs
  • Chef Tom Hope – Culinary Director, Manzella Restaurant Group

Blood, Sweat, and Beer Documentary Available!

It’s an odd feeling seeing three friends on the big screen within minutes of a film starting. It’s even more odd sipping a Stone IPA in a plush Fashion Island cinema next to Saks Fifth Avenue.  The film? A craft beer-fueled documentary called Blood, Sweat, and Beer, co-directed by Alexis Irvin and Chip Hiden (where’s my chippy?). With my Newport Beach Film Festival all-access pass dangling from my neck, this is the one film I’m truly buzzed to see. (EDIT – FILM IS OUT ON ITUNES!)

bloodsweatI first learned of the film Blood, Sweat, and Beer from Kickstarter late 2014. Over 150 backers pledged $12,292 to bring the film to life. The lowest perk, $15, netted fans a digital copy plus their name in the credits (look for me!). One of the biggest budgetary hogs of their Kickstarter budget goal was a shocking $3100 in film festival entry fees. Second was $3000 for music licensing. 

The story intertwines the dramatic and cautionary tales of two brewery startups. Much like older beer documentaries such as Beer Wars, stats and other hot topics that define today’s craft beer world fill the film’s gaps. Average cost to start a brewery? Craft versus crafty? It’s all in there.

Plot A tells the emotional story of Danny Robinson, a new brewery owner in Florida that struggles with not only the seasonality of his beach-boardwalk business, but also finds himself in a horrific legal battle with a t-shirt company. Making beer is one thing, but the realities of running a business really hit hard, especially when a good deal of time is spent with lawyers. It should be noted that his brewery uses small skateboards as tasting flight boards; seriously, Pizza Port should jump on that.

Plot B is way more uplifting as it follows three millennials in their final 30 days before their brewery’s grand opening. With zero income in a near-abandoned town, their goal creating a well crafted tasting room with great beer goes down to the wire before the ribbon cutting. One of their main objectives is starting a business that has an impact on revitalizing the town and attracting new businesses and clientele.

Both plots are full of emotion, self doubt and most of all, passion. Overall, it solidifies the importance of the American dream, and how craft beer is so solidly weaved into it.

iTunes, IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes

Post originally appeared in BeerPaperLA, May 2015


Sorry Golden Road, We Have to Break Up

Dear Golden Road,

It’s not you, it’s me. You have treated me great over the past four years, and when I said we’d be together forever…well, I’m afraid that can’t happen anymore. This morning, I got a letter from your new man, AB Inbev, and I guess the rumors are true.

If I knew you wanted to be in an abusive relationship, I guess I could have tried harder. I could have offered free beer to beer bars to snatch a tap handle or two*. I could have tried to turn the local supermarket beer aisle into a corporate mess. I could have spent millions lobbying congress and urged wholesalers to ‘stay loyal’. I even could have tried to purchase distribution in states to limit craft beer on shelves.

That new guy of yours is quite a jerk.  I get it, though. That money is too good to pass up.

Now I’m sorry to say that we’re over. When I see your billboards around town, I’ll look away and try not to think about the good times when you donated beer and time to Firkfest and the Fest of Ales. I’ll no longer drive down Orangewood by Angel Stadium on my way to work, as it will simply be too hard thinking about what could have been. Giving you time is giving them time, and I can’t support that.

A wise man once told me if you happen to ride a clydesdale down a golden road, make sure to hire a good poop scooper. I’m not sure what he meant until now. Hire the best pooper scooper Inbev’s money can buy. And you scoop that poop long and hard, friend.

Just a puritan in a Nathaniel Hawthorn book,







Just a Fella That Builds Breweries: Jim Mellem of The Bruery

Piece originally appeared in the Sept. 2015 BeerPaperLA.

Ten weeks ago, Jim Mellem walked through The Bruery’s doors. A/C blowing his almost Lyle Lovett-like hair to the side, he punched the clock on a new job with a million things to do. Ten weeks later, the old brewhouse is out, a shiny-new GEA system is installed, and the Bruery Terreux sits a pellicle away from going full force. Leaving a 12-year position at one of America’s most-respected breweries to work in Orange County couldn’t have been easy. I got a chance to check in with him late August and chat about his transition.


Sharing Black Tuesday 2015 out of the brite tank, Jim Mellem

Everyone always remembers their first Bruery beer, what was yours? Tradewinds Tripel. Beautiful beer.

How different are things at The Bruery compared to Sierra Nevada?

The resources here are a little bit different, in a lot of ways it’s a lot more fun. We get to roll up our sleeves. Patrick is really big on the people aspect of brewing, which is nice.  It’s a lot more manual at the Bruery. One similarity is the pilot system at Sierra Nevada is similar to our production brewhouse. At Sierra, it’s more for fun, over here, it’s what pays the bills.

How much are you going to miss dry hopping?

I was in charge of the cellar in Chico and that was like 60% of my job! I’d be organizing torpedos, dry hops, and managing the guys. I can safely move on from brewing IPA’s in my life. I love drinking them though. Now I’m getting more into ‘what kind of spices can we add to the whirlpool’. With our recent collab with Jester King, I had to organize the guys to get zest off of 400 pounds of limes; every week is something totally different.

With the unique operational requirements behind some of The Bruery’s beers, are there any techniques you’ve changed or plan on changing?

With Autumn Maple, we’ve moved to yam purée instead of hand processing them. We also bought a pump to add them directly into the kettle (ed: they previously used a forklift).  Anyway, it’s a lot easier than hand-roasting yams.  We still split vanilla beans individually and have to get the ingredients sack together for whirlpool, so it’s still a major operation in some respects.

You mentioned you came from the cellar side of things at Sierra Nevada, is there any knowledge to impart coming from years of bottle/can conditioning Pale Ale and other beers?

Sierra is probably one of the few breweries in the world that has the ability to take beer that’s 32 degrees and warm it back up to 60 at packaging/filtration. At Terreux, we’re pushing everything to be bottle conditioned as we find that it adds that je ne sais quoi. Right now, we take the bottles and stick them in a warm warehouse for a month plus, but if you can give that a bit of a jump start by getting the beer warm, then bottling, we’d be ahead of the game.  The question is how can we do that from an energy standpoint, using existing equipment and not trying to sink the Bismarck in cost.

Maybe convert the Jazzersize building a few doors down into a Bikram Yoga/Bottle Conditioning room?

I definitely have some cool ideas…it’s really interesting at Sierra though, as we will bottle condition with house yeast, with Cal Ale yeast, and we’d also do it with Brett. So there’s a lot more variation on bottle conditioning speed, what types of esters you’re producing, and what you’re trying to get in the bottle. It might be something that will help mop up the rougher flavors after barrel aging, diacetyl, making sure you’re getting a really great product out to the consumer, so we’re definitely trying to employ some of these options. Terreux is still very much a work in progress, in regards to how we’re going to finish those beers.

Sierra Nevada is built with efficiency and environment in mind. Will you be looking into any projects to do the same at the Bruery?

I think it’s a greater awareness, but the new brewhouse offers some benefit. The mash tun has rakes now, so we can get more water out which means we’re sparging less and using less water per barrel. We want to have a knowledge of how to count and quantify things first, then we can figure out how to improve. We’ve reset the bar with the new brewhouse. We’ll have to get smarter with transporting wort between buildings. We’ve also done some things different how we clean the bottle filler to save water. We’re doing a lot of risky beers here, and with that, there’s always going to be a lot more water use because you’re always going to have to clean, then clean again, and again.

Is manpower shared between Terreux and Bruery?

It’s really interesting. There’s two different teams within the different wort stream. Myself and Andrew Bell are the only two guys that bounce back and forth between locations. We do have pilot fermenters over there, so we’ll funk stuff up and see how it goes. It’s cool that it gives people more ownership of the projects.

The split brewhouse with The Bruery and Terreux was meant to primarily address quality concerns, is there anything else The Bruery is doing to enhance beer quality?

We have a nice quality department here. For a brewery of this size to have three people that are 100% devoted to quality is pretty damned good. Not too many breweries of this size can say that. Our next frontier will be dialing in package quality.

Were you ever part of the Ovila Belgian-style beers Sierra Nevada brewed, and if so, did it drive some of your interest down here?

It’s weird, when I interviewed, I asked, “you’re a Belgian-style brewery right?”, and they were like…nah, no not really…we sort of identify with that; but we more identify with the individuality of that. That’s ultimately what drove me to be here. I worked on the first five Ovilas; that was cool because we got to figure out what yeast strains to use and how to bottle condition. It was still very experimental at such a large phase. I think what really drove me here was that I have always been a fan of The Bruery’s beers, and being impressed that something this small can produce beers this high in quality, keep it interesting and keep it exciting. They take huge risks, which I kind of like.

Do you appreciate any other local breweries?

I go to Noble Ale Works a lot. I describe them more as my neighborhood pub. You look at the stuff they’re doing with hops with the single hop variety beers. It’s great! I can go there and get an idea of what 100% Mosaic tastes like. I’m like, thanks man, I appreciate that.

SN does two beers in open fermenters: Kellerweiss and Bigfoot. Would you ever try to convince Patrick to install something like that?

The cool thing about this place is nothing is off the table. If you look at the beers they’ve made over the years, truly nothing is off the table. We’re looking at a 2017 expansion project. I know with Wicked Weed, they’ve installed a nice 30 or 60 barrel open fermenter. The bigger question is ‘what are you getting off of it?’ You’re getting a nice non-pressurized fermentation. For the Kellerweiss yeast, I can definitely say it does make a difference. For Bigfoot, do you really pick up that up in the ester profile?  Maybe not so much. As long as I don’t have to clean it, I’d be happy installing one. I actually twisted my knee getting in and out of one, so my days getting in and out of open fermenters might be a job for the younger guys.

How is Orange County treating you thus far?

I still get lost going to the grocery store! Haha! I’m still GPS dependent getting around here.

Chico’s beer scene is run by Sierra Nevada. Asheville not so much. What was it like for SN to move into a thriving beer community?

It’s really weird, one gripe about Chico was trying to hire people, there’s no big beer culture there. Living in Asheville was that we have people making different beers down the road and so we’d be able to try new beers and be able to chat with the brewers, asking how they made it, then we’d get ideas of our own, and it would foster and grow.  And for me, seeing what Wicked Weed was doing, I was like, why don’t I go work for a brewery that does this? The cool thing is about those guys is, people see what they’re doing and think, “I should be raising the bar too.” There’s this step-ladder affect.


South County IPA + OC Brew Ha Ha!

Artifex Brewing Co, Pizza Port and Left Coast Brewing Co. set to release South County IPA for the Brew Ha Ha! It’ll be on at the fest lakeside and will hit store shelves soon. Tickets and event info for Brew Ha Ha are here! 

Black Tuesday 2015, 19.9% and NO WAX?

Having just zwickled 2015 Black Tuesday, carbed and cold, I’m excited to write this. I feel like I’m addressing the crop report to Wall Street in the movie Trading Places, where thousands will throw tiny pieces of paper in the air after hearing this news.

GNAG2731Two new things for Black Tuesday this year: This year’s version is the biggest yet, at 20% 19.9% ABV. It may have been the carbonation on the brite tank, but this BT is akin to a honey-bourbon, but instead of honey, caramel, toffee, vanilla and chocolate poke through, like BT. It’s delicious. It seems a bit thinner, but in my opinion this is a good thing. I didn’t really have time to break it down or do a side by side comparison. For my money, I’ll buy all I can this year. Also notable this is the last BT brewed on the old brewhouse.

bt_nowaxAnother big bit of news? Maybe no wax. That’s correct. New bottles may have this classy foil top. I’d rather have a reason to dig in my Black Tuesday without a knife, and to possibly break the beer community out of the gothic era with wax dips.

What’s your opinion on wax? Let us know.




150 California Breweries Line Up for the CA Craft Beer Summit + discount code

sacThe state of craft beer is something to behold. So is the state of California. When I heard 150 California craft breweries will be pouring at the California Craft Beer Summit, my personal state went from a foggy daze to “how can this be real?”

Not only is the festival a huge draw, the two-day event includes a CBC-type expo and educational sessions, put together by the California Craft Brewers Association.


Pioneer Chris Cramer details the beginning of craft beer in SD.

Tap Talks: Featuring industry industry legends like Ken Grossman, David Walker, Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo, Steve Wagner and a bunch more.

    • Masters Demos: Interactive demonstrations featuring California’s top 
brewers and chefs pairing California’s finest beers and fresh ingredients in new and innovative styles.
    • Experience the Craft Sessions: Craft beer professionals will provide phenomenal opportunities to learn more about craft beer and the business of brewing it.
    • Beer Releases: Tasting stations will feature an array of beers in a variety of styles to experience the difference and enjoy new taste sensations.
    • Job and Education Center: Have you ever dreamed of working at a brewery? Meet our experts in industry education and talk to the hiring professionals that make those dreams come true. Learn what it will take to meet your goals.
    • Hoppy Hour: IPA’s and Appetizers make for a great networking hour to discuss new and hilarious hop puns!

ocbeerMy personal itinerary on Friday:

  • 9: Food & Beer Pairings with Dr. Bill (simply to heckle).
  • 10:30: Draft systems technical workshop.
  • 1pm: Fritz Maytag speaks about 50 years of Anchor Brewing(!)
  • 2:30-3: Vinnie Cilurzo moderates a talk with Ken Grossman.
  • 5:30: Brewers reception.

temptationSaturday: Getting my learn on from Gary Glass, Mitch Steele, The Pope of Foam, Tony Magee, Chris Cramer, Patrick Rue, Vinnie, Matt Brynildson and Greg Koch. Then…

Saturday night on the capitol lawn: 150 breweries will stretch as far as the eye can see. Orange County will be represented by The Bruery, Beach City, Beachwood BBQ, and Bottle Logic. The best part of the fest will be sampling beer from all over the state from breweries that only support their local areas.

Tickets available via

fact: California produced over 3.5 million barrels of beer in 2014, more than any other state.


fact: Craft Beer is a 6.5 Billion dollar industry in the state of California, 18% more in 2014 than the previous year.


fact: California has 554 breweries, more than any other state.


Fact: the discount code is CAcraftbeer10

Anchors, Oars, and a Green Flash | A&O’s First Beer Dinner

11713720_10207507331666231_4974723395755362688_oOf the many beer dinners I’ve attended and written about, there’s one thing I learned: Nobody likes to read about them. It’s sad really, with the amount of work put into the beer world colliding with a kitchen, and a staff that is on its toes for hours. I promise keep it brief, and show you pretty pictures, if you’re good.

Notable? The location. A&O Kitchen+Bar is nestled in the Balboa Bay Resort with a relaxing view of Newport Harbor and million dollar yachts parked a food-fight away. Location? Unbelievable. Also notable? The brewery phoned this one in.

Fullscreen capture 7222015 113644 AM.bmpIt’s smart to preview a beer dinner in advance; look up any specific beers, ingredients or preparations one hasn’t tried. A beer dinner can be a learning experience as much as it is fun. When four out of five beers on the menu are IPA, red flags, flare guns and tornado alarms go off in my head. Even as a hop-head, I will start out by saying 4/5 IPA’s at a beer dinner is horseshit baffling. I do think it is possible to execute such a dinner, preparing dishes that play off subtle hop notes and alcohol intensity. Lets just say I walked into this beer dinner looking for things to improve.

11731671_10207507330826210_5652225023129678161_oAs A&O’s first beer dinner (ever) and my first time there, I’m in media-mode, absorbing the ambiance and jotting down notes. A&O has a brilliant set of servers, smiling, prompt and thoughtful. My +1 for the evening is Chris Walowski, Smog City Brewing’s ex-brewer who recently took up a biomedical job in the area. It’s great to get second opinions on the pairings and always great to chat about beer things with a beer person.

11053051_10207507331506227_987788644536921173_oOyster Shooters, fried chicken skin, fried blue cheese balls (and a bread ball injection thing?) are passed as the sun sets and guests arrive. Chicken skin easily wins round one, but the beer served threw us for a loop. Normally, a beer rep should say “Hi, I’m from this brewery and you’re drinking this.” The guy with a Green Flash shirt sat with a glass twice the size of ours and said nothing during the reception. Although the menu said “Jibe Session IPA”, we had serious doubts surrounding it’s sessionability. With Belgian yeast esters on the nose and some alcohol warming on the finish, safe to say we were served Le Freak, Green Flash’s Belgian IPA (listed as “Le Freake” on the menu for the 3rd course). The beer is mildly oxidized and is not bursting with the usual hop flair Green Flash beers seem to have.

11053636_10207507329586179_3990557888106167181_oCourse two, however, saves the day. “It’s a deep fried Avo-Crab Hushpuppy,” mentions my seat-mate, Priscilla Willis of Three components of the dish, Sriracha caviar, sweet dundeonous crab and the perfectly fried greenish ball of crab flash chef’s brilliance. Soul Style IPA brings just enough tropical panache to highlight the sweetness of the crab and offer a needed palate cleanse. IPA and Sriracha is always a win in my book.


Course 2 – The most flavor ever squeezed into a 12 inch space.

Further courses, A&O’s chef Rachel put on a clinic; the beers, not so much.  With the second, it made the dish unbearable. Imperial IPA paired with the most flavor ever squeezed onto a plate? The uber-sweet booziness of the beer paired with intense braised rabbit and funky cheese fondue was too much to take. Looking at Green Flash’s portfolio, some of the beers they don’t sell any more (Rayon Vert or Saison Diego) could have paired perfectly. Not only is a beer dinner a chance for a chef to try fun stuff, it’s also a chance for the brewery to do the same. Why were there no Green Flash Cellar 3 beers? Natura Morta Plum for instance, might have had enough acidity to cut the richness of the next three dishes (which were all crazy delicious, but not enhanced by the beers paired).

I do hope A&O continues to get into beer, because wow, chef Rachel brings one hell of a lot of fun to a beer dinner. My only hope is they get a brewery that takes Orange County seriously.

The Fest Inside the Fest | GABF’s Farm to Table Pavilion (Now “PAIRED”)

With SAVOR behind us, let’s rewind to an unexpected pairing at the Farm to Table Pavilion inside the Great American Beer Festival – or – I can’t believe I typed 1700 words about what?

Photo credit Davis Tilly Photography

The Kitchen Denver – Photo credit Davis Tilly Photography

Within three hours of flying into Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, I witnessed someone nearly choke to death. “Don’t fucking give him the heimlich! He’s taking in air!” yells travel buddy/media compadre John Holzer at the bar. The hostess speed dials 9-1-1 as the poor bastard horks air, bent over like a jackknife. His buddy, jaw agape, starts lumberjack-pounding him on the back. “He’s choking worse than John Elway in the 1990 Super Bowl,” I say while looking around…wondering if I’d effectively trolled any locals.

Holding his curly hair under the bar, ‘Choke-man’ makes one last gasp as his buddy jabs at his back. He must have found the secret eject button, as a distinct splatter-noise on the ground preceded the sound of his lungs filling with air all at once.

The restaurant, now completely standing while watching, sighs and sits like they witnessed a healing at church.

“I’m okay…water just went down the wrong pipe,” Choke-man says, stroking moisture down his beard, purple-faced, dripping with sweat and embarrassment. His buddy plops down a fifty at the bar and they both leave in a hurry. “Thankfully I didn’t have to see a dude die right before GABF,” I say to the bartender. “Indeed,” she says, polishing a glass, nonchalantly, “who the hell chokes that bad on water?”


As with all great travel-stop traditions, I always stop in The Kitchen Denver for a lamb burger before the Great American Beer Festival. This practice started the year I sat next to Dave Chichura, the “HBIC” of Oskar Blues Brewery (now at Eddyline) at the time and split some littleneck clams over canned beers and fishing stories. The burger, dolloped with roasted red pepper relish and bitter greens, is a call to Denver, and more importantly, a great base to lay before drinking fifty-or-so 1oz beer samples in an afternoon.

The Kitchen Denver is sort of an odd duck with the beer crowd during GABF week. Nearby places like Freshcraft or Euclid Hall are packed to the gills with ninety-minute waits. At The Kitchen, there’s always an open spot at the bar and the food/beer situation always warms my post-flight gullet. Their beer selection and proper glassware is always on point.


The Colorado Convention Center – Reverse trashbear juxtaposition

Back to the splatter at hand, my appetite has completely vanished. Good thing too. I scored a Farm to Table Pavilion ticket inside the GABF for tonight. Think for a second about the odds of getting a ticket to GABF that sells out in minutes, then nabbing an elusive Farm to Table ticket. It’s a fest inside the fest, except filled with award winning beers paired with James Beard nominated chef-driven food. It’s akin to finding the winning lottery numbers on Wonka’s Golden Ticket, then winning free beer for life, naked.

I leave half of my lamb burger uneaten, carefully chug the rest of my Blind Pig and walk straight to the Colorado Convention Center a few minutes walk away for press credentials. Denver’s gusty winds sweep me down the busy 16th street mall towards the giant blue bear on 14th and Stout.

This year, GABF’s Farm to Table is going to be farm…to table…to hand….to mouth…to….uh…hotel bed, to early morning jog. Badge around neck, I speed walk past the sick kilted ducks blowing bagpipes to get my appetite back. The fest starts in fifteen minutes.

P1060722The Great American Beer Festival is exactly how it sounds. Four sessions of the event sold in a measly thirty-two minutes (in 2014); 48,000 tickets in all. 3,500 beers are poured from over 700 breweries. The Farm to Table event inside is host to 450 and costs an additional $140  per person – 14 tables in all.

Denver itself buzzes during GABF. With beer events from 8AM til 2AM daily, the festival can almost seem like a side-show. Some show up to the city and get crazy at the many walkable breweries, taprooms and brewpubs.

P1080585Just like a kid running to the lunch line in junior high, I’m the first guy at the Farm to Table Pavilion. A brief memory of raspberry coconut zingers and fruit punch-stained lips flashes through my head. I was totally that dork years ago. Crazy to see thirty years later I’m still that kid, now entrenched in the beer world doing the same shit, except now it’s a tart Raspberry Berliner Weisse, or an earthy CoCoNut Porter.


I do have to admit, I’m a cynic when it comes to big food pairing taste events like this. Out of the fourteen tables set out today, I bet seven will be some kind mediocre slider with way too much bun. Four will be some kind of poké/wagyu/whatever on a partially stale chip. The rest? A plastic salsa cup with pork belly, short rib or some other wild game some hip new chef shot in the wild, cleaned and rubbed with grannies famous ten-spice blend. Bonus points if there’s some duck confit, terrine, or foie. At basically $10 a table, anything is possible and I hope for the best.

P1080613In before the beer-soaked horde, it’s fun to watch chefs putting the final touches on food prep. Beer bottles at each station are poking their necks out of buckets looking like refreshed kids at a public pool…perhaps saying, “hey guys, what’s going on inside this GABF?”. The hall smells vaguely like bacon amid the voluminous high ceilings. I circle the hall quickly and see where to drop anchor first, then chuckle as my statement quickly turns into a stupid pun.

P1080588Two guys, possibly twin brothers in their forties unload a mesh bag of oysters on a bed of dark, moist seaweed right in front of me. I pause as they slice it open. The twin with the sideburns grabs an oyster from the pile, shucks it and slides it over to me on a cocktail napkin, grinning. Without saying a word, I sip the liquor off the top, tilt the shell back and chew it up…naked. My GOD. Do I whip out my phone to take a photo? Do I ask for another? What’s the fucking protocol here, man? Who knew my first sip of liquor inside the GABF would be a dash of briny oyster juice.

P1080589The table sign reads, “Terrapin Rye Cubed Triple Rye IPA 10.7% ABV paired with Marin Miyagi Oysters on the Half Shell.” I grin and nod, thinking the pairing is a joke. “Pairing contains shellfish,” hahaha!

“A 10.7% Triple Rye IPA paired with oy-oysters?” I stu-stutter like my car is being towed. Terrapin’s beer rep bats her lashes and grins, “I know, right?”

Is she implying that the pairing might possibly be terrible? Does she know it’s crazy good? As I witnessed the bag opening, I assume she doesn’t actually know…right?

I’ve had oysters with fresh Murphy’s off the coast of County Cork, Ireland. I’ve had oysters with an old fashioned cocktail in Los Angeles. In Georgia where Terrapin Beer Company makes beer, do they prefer 125 IBU palate-wreckers to wash down delicate bivalves?

P1080587Tom Montgomery, one of the guys behind Monterrey Fish Market in San Francisco, turns the key and unlocks my second Miyagi shell, scooting it my way for another spin. I’ve always found that eating oysters is like kissing someone for the first time. With beer? It’s like kissing someone for the first time while drinking beer, which makes it exponentially more titillating.

P1080611The first oyster a mere peck, my goal for number two is to get to second base. I lick my lips and bite the corner of my lower lip while lifting up the green marbled-patina shell, making eyes with it. Edging closer, I admire its plump-pearlescent body shining back at me, eyes now crossed as I sip the liquor off the top and swish it around my mouth. My salivary glands burst as I take the slightest sip of beer to chase: rye spice, sweet malts, juicy hops and salty oyster brine coat my mouth as I swallow…eyes rolling as I lick my teeth clean.

Making eye contact with the beer rep, I pour a little bit of her beer into the deep oyster shell and nod, replacing the brine now in my belly.

Flicking the raw beast around my mouth, I bite down, noting its firm body. The slick texture exudes a subtle melon-cucumber note with a slight metallic twang; similar to tasting a Moscow mule in a copper mug. Sea salt washes over my memory banks and causes a good three-second daydream of me duck-diving a wave while body surfing back home in Newport Beach. Before gulping it down, I add a sip of the triple rye IPA to the cement-mixer that is my mouth and pause with Denver’s sunset suddenly blinding me outside the thirty foot tall glass windows. Wow, I can see the Rockies from here.

The silky spa like flavors implode into a super salty umami bomb. Chewing slowly, I swallow every last drop. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I don’t bother.

“Spitters are quitters” I think to myself, tossing the shell in a trashcan and downing the rest of the beer. I exchange cards with Terrapin’s beer rep. “I had my doubts, but goddamn that was memorable.”

“I know, right?”

“What are the odds that two things fly from California to Denver, meet in a huge beer fest and one eats the other?” I ask, innocently trying to keep the conversation going.

“I’m not from California,” she says.

I choke-cough and move on to the other thirteen tables, then step out into the main festival, joining 11,999 of my closest friends. Damn. GABF is awesome. Farm to Table? Not to be missed.

The Beer Negroni | OC Celebrates Negroni Week

Crafting a good beer cocktail isn’t wizardry. Nor does it have to be gimmicky. As a true beer geek and homebrewer at heart who loves a good classic cocktail, I took it upon myself to put together a few cocktail classics with beer as a major component. The first one in my series is the Beergroni, because Negroni week is June 1-7!

IMG_0068The Negroni is a call to Florence, Italy. With a cigarette in one hand and a Negroni in the other, this bitter apéritif is usually sipped before a big meal. Traditionally equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, my first taste of this classic cocktail brought me back to my first time sipping a Stone Arrogant Bastard…the inspiration for this drink.

For the Beergroni, I broke down the flavor components and stripped out the ones that can be replaced by a particular beer. Instead of sweet vermouth and botanicals in gin, I chose the rich malt backbone and hoppy finish of an Imperial red ale. For the heat, I chose a clean lower ABV Acai spirit vodka made by Veev. It’s subtle fruity note balances out the drink without too much booze. Veev is also a carbon-neutral spirit producer, which is a good conversation starter while marrying a local beer with an earth-friendly booze.

The Beergroni Recipe

Chill a glass before starting. Combine ingredients in shaker over crushed ice. Shake openly with vigour to expel beer gas without explosions. Strain into chilled glass, add orange peel. Proper glassware: Lowball glass use cocktail ice. Martini glass or high stemware, ice optional.

Want to get involved in #NegroniWeek for charity? Try the Negroni at these local places!