We were somewhere around Irvine, on the edge of Wild Rivers, when the craft beer began to take hold. I remember saying something like I feel a bit lightheaded. Suddenly, there was a terrible roar all around us, and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around us, and a voice was screaming! Holy Jesus. What are these goddamn animals?
Wave my hand in front of my face, despite daylight, traces by like a strobe light in some rundown night club in bad part of Vegas. I still have three drink tickets left. It seems like I’ve been here for days. I need a shower or maybe some wet wipes. There’s a lake by the Maui Brewing Company EZ-Up. I want to dive in the lake then steal some clothes from the tent like some sort of deranged homeless man. The lake is frothy green with an Island inhabited by a secret society of rare beer hoarders.
There was a large rumble that made me drop to one knee. It happened, again, and again. It sounded like a bear attack was immanent. I peer down to my feet only to realize it’s my stomach. I hadn’t eaten since that Del Taco in Berdoo. Found a place with Duck Tacos and a Spicy Pickle; the kind of meal only a Gypsy on Mescaline might eat. The server at Stone World Bistro asked if I like spicy food as his face morphed into Gargoyle, then back to Greg Koch face. I freeze, almost drooling while gazing into his eyes and answer “Yes” as if we had some sort of brotherly bond. He held out a pickled Habanero, which I ate happily. One bite and the entire sky turned red. A large mushroom cloud clung over a nearby hill. Large white spots inhabited my field of vision. I collapsed weeping in a drunken heap with my mouth ablaze.
A face appears out of a cloud like an Angel. I’ve seen this person, maybe on youtube, interviewing local breweries. Is it the Squeeze My Orange gal? She grabs me by the collar and drags me to a Belgium brewer for a pour of Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA. One sip of the beer brings me back to a semi-conscious reality. She laughs hysterically at nothing which makes me nervous. I laugh equally to not appear like some sort of beer geek asshole. I ask if I should call her “Squeeze” or “Miss Orange”. She bats her lashes and says “Cynthia” then we both burst into laughter until we were choke-cough-laughing. I offer to be her spirit guide on this vision quest and she agrees. I meet her video crew, Asha and Matthew, possibly the cutest couple ever. I’m in. “Let’s get Panda” I say, “Panda is so drunk that you’ll be sitting off in the woods eating some bamboo, perhaps my baby Panda will sneeze, scaring the shit out of us.” “Chin Chin!” Yelps Cynthia.
Over near the Bruery and Sudwerk’s tent, there’s a, uh, big machine in the sky, some kind of, I dunno, carnival ride, coming straight at us. Cynthia says “SHOOT IT!” Not yet, I want to study its habits. Look, there’s two women fucking a polar bear! “Don’t tell me these things. Not now man” says Cynthia. She opts for the Bruery Autumn Maple and I go German and grab a Sudwerk Fest Märzen. “What’s the score here” I ask, “just one ticket sir, are you okay?” There was madness in any direction, at any hour. We could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. We were, after all, the absolute cream of the Orange County beer blogger scene.
As we mull about the beer fest, reality kicks in. The three wrist bands on each of our arms reminds us we are here with press passes. I stop and open up my smartphone gallery app, thankfully I’ve recorded and photographed quite a bit. That app is very handy for piecing together brownouts. Here’s what I managed to piece together with phone media of the last two hours:
Got my ass, pass, and glass without any wait, I headed to a line. Oh here we go! Previous beer fests are a virtual möbius strip of lines filled with angry drunks. Had I known the line was for a free pour of Stone’s 15th Anniversary Ale I would have chilled the fuck out. From there, folks gathered in a small amphitheater for a quick speech from Dr. Bill of Stone Brewing Company. “Welcome to the Revolution!” Nothing like a good Beer Sermon on the state of craft brewing to get me revved for the day. We raised and clanked, then headed out to the gardens.
I grabbed my second beer and walked the gardens to get the lay of the land. As there was no formal map or itinerary, I made mental notes of who I wanted to stop at and where they were. The crowd was pleasant! A huge mix of people with one thing in common: beer. Talking to several people with basic questions like “what are you drinking?” and “where are you from?” and my favorite “what brought you here?” were pretty basic. Many of the answers were “uh, I dunno, I got it from over there” and “earth” and “beer” were basic answers. Fair enough.
Most breweries had 2-4 styles to choose from. Nice to see almost all OC represented. (Shame on you Anaheim Brewery, we missed you! 1888 and your Heffe would have been nice to see and would have been well received. If you do one festival a year, this would be it). There was such a good mix of good breweries. Two I couldn’t find: Crispin Cider and Russian River that were on the bill. All the people with Pliny the Elder shirts were probably bummed.
The Addisons Homebrew Provisions (homebrew store) tent head a steady flow of people asking questions during the brew demo. Don from Backhouse Brewing was cooking up something nice, while Mr. Burch fielded the questions out front. Great to taste some top-notch homebrew from AHP’s club; Scott’s Big IPL was on tap (Karl Strauss homebrew winner), as was Backhouse Brewing’s Hemp Ale. Great to see such an interest in homebrewing. I heard from a gal at work who’s parents were at the fest, they said they were going to start brewing!
The day before the 9/11 tenth anniversary, Firefighters pouring beer at each tent was beyond cool. This did a few things…it freed up the brewers to ask questions, which was super convenient for me. It was also nice if someone passed out or something, hell, you’re surrounded by firefighters. I only saw two cops the entire day, shockingly there were eating fried dough at the time. The biggest line I was in was around ten deep, and took less than 3 minutes to get my pour. Aces!
Food: Tons of options with no lines; only gripe, not a lot of vegetarian or vegan options, this is OC. Some people don’t dig on the meats. Seabirds Truck would have been awesome to keep everyone happy.
Restrooms: outdoor four person urinal things were awesome. Restrooms were plenty and great for dudes. Girls had some lines. The porta potty lines went pretty fast. The hand-wash station was out of water by 2:30 (event closed at 3).
Music: KROQ DJ and KROQ style cover band, bagpipers were awesome. It wasn’t overwhelming or too loud.
Other: there was a crazy carnival spinny ride thingy. I didn’t see anyone riding it. I would have but didn’t want to risk spraying the Bruery with a bell full of craft beer and duck tacos.
Crazy List of what I put in my belly in chronological order:
- Stone 15 Anniversary
- Maui CoCoNut Porter
- Cismontane Citizen California Common
- Sudwerk Fest Marzen*
- Food: Stone World Bistro duck taco, spicy pickle, pickled Habarnero
- Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA
- Maui Mana Wheat
- Craft Stout/Rasp wheat blend (OMG so good)
- Iron Fist Spice of Life (saison)
- Scotts Big IPL – Homebrew/Karl Strauss winner
- Food: Home Skillet Truck Lamb Burger (best looking food truck crew ever!) Lamb Burger was soooo goood.
- Old Orange Brewing Street Fair Kolsch
- Another Sudwerk Fest Märzen (almost a full pint!)
- Backyard Brew Hemp Ale – Homebrew at the Addisons Homebrew Provisions Tent
- Widmer Nelson DIPA (just a sip)
- DFH 90 min IPA
*Favorite of the fest. Bootleggers took the fan favorite at the event. Aaron Barkenhagen was seen drinking some beer out of his trophy. Love that dude.
Gripes: It would have been great to have a map with an itinerary of the speakers. If there was one, I didn’t see it. I could have geeked out and put numbers on it or something. I didn’t know the tickets were for a drawing, or when the drawing was. I didn’t know who was speaking when. There was an after party, but without any communication we were left standing around not knowing where it was. This is mice nuts though, I had a great time!
Overall: Orange County Brew Ha Ha promises to be the best beer fest in California, or the US, or the World for that matter. I came for craft beer and got more than I could imagine. I chatted with countless brewers and got some great stories from each. I love this job, if you can’t tell. I highly recommend this fest for anyone new to craft beer as there was something for everyone.
Large portions of this blogpost are inspired by or tweaked quotes from either the book or movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson.