Pump up the Volume, Pump up the Volume, Pump up the Volume, Dance, Dance! The song bellowed out of my roommate Rob’s stereo in his restored black ’64 Pontiac GTO. His out-of-style Z Cavaricci pants squeek-farting across the leather seats, the smell of Drakkar Noir and cigarette butts wafting through the air. Yes, Rob was a little out of date with style. The year? 1995. The place? Goat Hill Tavern in Newport/Costa Mesa. I ask for a local Ale, barkeep pours me a Bayhawk. I drank it, burped, then probably peed sometime later. Beer in the 90’s was different. It seemed a lot simpler than it is now. Styles were stuck to for the most part. I don’t recall much about that beer, other than it was my first Bayhawk, and it felt cool to drink a locally produced beer.
Fast Forward until now, Bayhawk is pumping up the volume. At capacity to crank out 10K barrels, they managed to squeeze over 8,000 in 2010. To put that into perspective, newer breweries in OC do around 1000, if that. Chances are, many of you have had a beer brewed by Bayhawk without realizing it. Ever order a house beer at Lucilles Smokehouse or Outback Steakhouse? If so, Bayhawk made it. I’ve enjoyed the house Heffe at Lucilles. That beer makes up around 50% of their production. They also contract brew for a few local breweries.
I made the trek to their brewery and sat down with George Smith, their head of sales to see how the bird is doing.
Bayhawk is situated in a high end corporate business plaza on Main Street near Jamboree in the back of McCormick and Schmicks. I pulled in to the parking garage and noted a Lotus Esprit and a Maserati waiting to be valet parked a few feet from BH’s doors. Next to a red carpet and velvet ropes, a door with the BayHawk Ales logo sits off to the side like a janitor’s closet. I arrived early and settled into the Pilsner Room for happy hour, a high end bar at the back of McS’s. The bar area has a decent happy hour, an ample bottle selection and a nice view of the Bayhawk brew tanks. I ordered up a flight of Bayhawk (pun intended) which included a Chocolate Porter, Amber Ale, Hef, and a Honey Blonde. Tasters were standard 4oz on a tasting paddle. I always start dark to light by habit as IPA’s tend to kill the buds, but this isn’t necessary with BH brews. I think their avg IBU is around 25.
I dusted the flight and took a few notes. I tried not to let pre-conceived notions get in the way of just relaxing and enjoying some beers. Starting with the porter, I prefer a porter to be a big beer and this seemed like a session brew. Light chocolate notes as expected, thin mouthfeel, slightly metallic. The Amber Ale was my favorite of the bunch with pleasant caramel malt that reminded me of a light version of a Scotch Ale (perhaps a 60 schilling?) with some extra spicy notes. The Heffe didn’t have a lot of the traditional banana or clove yeast going on from a traditional German Hef. Perhaps a California recipe? I expect some yeasty aromas or it’s a simple unfiltered wheat beer. The taster was served with a small lemon wedge which was surprising. The Honey Blonde was possibly the lightest body beer I’ve drank in some time, which had some honey notes. Overall the flight was a good representation of what BH does. I grabbed a pint of the Amber Ale, looked at my watch and checked in with George.
Sitting down with George Smith, Bayhawk’s head of sales, and he instantly answered almost every question I had for him without having to be asked. I like that in a sales person, and was mad at myself for not having better questions. He filled me in on stuff like low ratings on BA and RB and how they attempt to correct poor storage issues at stores. He also stated Bayhawk is looking at a suitable place to move. As stated above, their location limits the hours of production.
Chances are if you’re a beer geek, you’ll pass over a Bayhawk beer, which is fine. The market they go after is converting the BMC people, contract brewing, and private brewing for other breweries. The volume they put out shows there’s a market for it and the quality on tap I can vouch for. If you’re ever at Lucilles or Outback, make sure and ask for their house brews!