Lost: Abbey

GNAG0255“Excuse me, you look familiar,” I say to a deadpan bald man with glasses, holding a pitcher of beer with a puffy vest jacket. He pours me three fingers of a cloudy gold beer. “I don’t think we’ve met,” he says as I squint and take whiff. Croissant and a lick of caramel on the nose, I think to myself…where have I had this beer?

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@TheTomme

“I’m Tomme Arthur, pleased to meet you.” I totally knew that. I just get bashful when meeting pioneers of the beer business. “This is Avant Garde, our farmhouse lager.”

GNAG0267On the back patio of Verdugo Bar (a Ryan Sweeney joint), picnic tables are strewn about topped with Delirium Tremens pink elephant umbrellas and beer signs from around the globe. Each table is filled with corked and caged Lost Abbey beers and lit beer label veladoras. Surprising is the total lack of petrichor despite a windy downpour that ended an hour ago.

The evening is hosted by The Lost Abbey for industry publicans and bottle shop big wigs. A few beer writers were sprinkled in for good measure; I’m glad to get the call.

GNAG0258The Lost Abbey, San Diego’s only quality volume sour/funky beer producer (in my opinion), is here to re-introduce themselves and do a tasting of rare beers. L.A. and O.C. have a wealth of quality mixed fermentation breweries, and sometimes a gentle reminder of what the pioneers can do is a breath of fresh air.

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Jon Sanchez receives holy communion

Jon Sanchez, owner of Native Son Alehouse in downtown Santa Ana, noted, “Lost Abbey kegs are reasonable compared to the competition.” From my standpoint, It seems like pints of Lost Abbey beers cost more. He went on to add that one L.A. brewery raised the price of their kegs to keep cost in line with what some establishments charge for pints. The perception that wild ales cost more isn’t always the case.

GNAG0269Over three hours, we rifled through nine beers, pouring faster than consumption. Veritas 17 with Blackberries was my absolute favorite, noting it smelled like fresh linens stained with fresh berry jam, and was super soul-refreshing. I do hope we see some of these showing up on tap handles soon, as it seems the most storied barrel programs in the U.S. needs to get back on the front page.

Beers sampled:

  • Avant Garde – farmhouse lager
  • Devotion – dry hopped Belgian blonde
  • Hop 15
  • Red Poppy – sour with cherries
  • Veritas 17 – sour with blackberries
  • Cuvee de Tomme – 15
  • Cuvee de Tomme – 09
  • C-9 – barley wine with peaches aged in conjac barrels
  • Ad Idem – sour with peaches.

A Peek at Some New Good Beers

They say that your sense of taste and smell is heightened in the morning, which is exactly whey I opted to taste a flight of The Good Beer Company’s offerings Monday at 10am.

goodbeer georgeGeorge – 4.1% abv. There’s no better way to celebrate presidents day than to put a beer called George in my mouth. Shouldn’t this beer be cherries in honor of the cherry tree George Washington allegedly chopped down? Oh, it’s not about the 1st president? Damn. Turns out George honors owner Brandon Fender’s grandpa, who made killer peach dumplings every summer. But is it fruity? George bursts of peach preserves. French oak takes a back seat in the flavor, but does offer up some tannin in the mouthfeels. Lactic acid sourness also adds to the drink, hitting the brakes on any potential chugging. I’ve heard complaints about some of their low abv beers being thin, but George is not. He’s fit, full of peaches, and ready to party.

goodbeer nectarine oroNectarine Oro – 4.2% abv. Much like George, this Oro variant is so jam-packed with fruit, you’ll actually start to think the beer is part of a balanced breakfast. It’s so fruity, I swear juice ran down my arm on the first drink. As it warms, I could envision the fuzz from the fruit, the pithy flesh, and even the sense of nibbling nectarine off of the seed. The tart bite is there as well, if you follow my titratable acidity scale, I’d place both in the 5-7 range (mid).

If you’re not in The Good Beer Company’s ‘The Stable’ beer club, both beers (and others) will be available Friday, Feb 19th. Check out their facebooks. Go early, grab a sandwich from C4 Deli to keep you company in the crazy long line.

The Good Beer Company, 4th Street, DTSA

All the Barrels Roll Out for Firestone Walker’s Micro-Fest

Event in San Luis Obispo County Has only barrel aged beer, wine and booze at historic ranch. – By Greg Nagel

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The Historic Santa Margarita Ranch Barn – courtesy their website

IMG_9215With an event like From the Barrel‘ by Firestone Walker, irony sets in quickly as I realize we’re all just a bunch of booze sitting inside wood. At the historic wooden-planked Santa Margarita barn (in San Luis Obisbo County), every beer, spirit and cocktail has spent time in a wooden barrel. The guests? Dressed to the nines in prohibition-era fashion and, well, also surrounded by staves of lumber.

Session beer drinking since noon, my suspender-hooked suit pants and bow tie are providing some gentle, yet pleasant asphyxiation, I feel like this thing could all burn down with one careless flick of a cigarette.

Twinkly lights strewn across the dusty floor guide my way to the first beers of the night. Societe and Russian River are sharing a table like nephew and uncle at a roadside farm stand. Societe’s The Highbinder (American wild ale) next to Russian River’s Beatifiation? As a man of constant sorrow, I take a sip and whistle dixie. It’s hard to see the color in the low lights, but it does appear to have blushed from touching my lips. What a tart! The Highbinder gives me subtle wood; French oak wine barrel I presume. I pucker. It’s wet and unscrupulous. I get to the bottom and go for thy neighbor. Temptation sets in as our eyes meet. Does The Highbinder stand up next to Russian River’s bottled seductions? Absolutely. Beatification nearly blows my wad, so grab a smoke outside to relax.

Credit - CA Brewmasters Book

Credit Nick Gingold – California Brewmasters Book

The walkways are tight as I politely move about the barn. Rock steps tunnel the side entrances and juxtapose the gams propped up by throwback stems. The gentle plucking of a stand-up bass rhythmically blum-blum-blums throughout the night causing a few bleary-eyed people to dance. Outside, a bonfire flickers light across the way, highlighting cloche hats, pearls, fur and sparkled gowns. I flick my smoke safely and head back in.

“There’s no better way to feel like you’re back in the 1920’s than when your phone has zero bars.” – Overheard near the bonfire

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Guy on the right did the ‘reelin’ you in’ move at least three times to random ladies before Billy Idoling it.

 

The little devil on my right shoulder whispers something about rye whiskey and I tell him, “just one.” Three Highspires and a Templeton Rye later, the angel on the left whispers something about “food.”  Thankfully, there’s an abundance. I’m not much of a fan of sliders, so I sure as hell heist four or five ahi-poki chips and some sort of seafood bruschetta near the back window (completely surrounded by cats, by the way).

P1080906Wanting desperately to avoid a hangover before a long weekend, bourbon barrel aged beers are being avoided at all costs. Why drink a beer that had sloppy seconds with a bourbon barrel? As I get older, my craving for bourbon instead of bourbon tea-bagged beers continues to grow. It’s all about the blend and this event has the best…but I’m still not biting.

As the night fiddles away, the crowd grows thin. Ladies get loose enough to smoke some robusto-sized cigars. Suspenders are snapped, violently. 10 P.M. comes, and so does my bus to Paso Robles. Where did the night go? Angel’s share, I suppose.

———————

From the Barrel is now in its fifth year. It’s a great event with some heady drinks – only way to conquer it is to divide, sip and dump what you’re not thrilled with. Firestone Walker puts on some seriously great events and this ads to their line up. I’ve long been a fan of niche-type events (hello, firkfest!) but this sets the bar pretty high. I’d guess 95% of the people here are dressed up! It was classy, tasty and unique! I will be back! Thanks Firestone Walker and LA Beer Bloggers!

Disclosure: This was part of the LA Beer Bloggers Trip, FW paid for a bus full of press to attend a weekend of educational experiences. From the Barrel kicked off the weekend.

How Sour is Your Sour Beer?

Total Acidity vs pH by Jeffers Richardson at Firestone Walker

by Greg Nagel @OCBeerBlog

Back on an old episode of Four Brewers, we sampled some Barrelworks beers and noted something we haven’t seen before on a beer label, “Total Acidity.” We cracked jokes at our ignorance, “how much more acidic can it get? Uhhh, like 7.”

Over twitter, we got some response from Firestone Walker, but we shrugged it off as Barrelworks seems to be the only people using this format in the beer world. (Here’s the show for reference! )

[Download here if player is flakey]

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Recently, Jeffers Richardson, director of brewing operations at Firestone Walker Barrelworks, tied me to a chair at 10am on a Saturday in their cannery dungeon and forced his acids in my mouth, 10cc’s at a time. With a cooler full of Barrelworks beer sitting nearby, I put on my trust underpants and went with the flow.

People often mistake aroma for taste. Acidity is just the measure of acid in a solution (or soil). There’s two ways to measure that, pH and tactile acidity. In terms of tactile-wise, it’s a sourness on the tongue. One reason we use TA instead of pH is pH can be affected by buffers, so you don’t get a true measure of taste of acids. Just think of our bodies, if we eat all acidic foods, we don’t become acidic as we have buffers to break that down. PH is literally the measurment of hydrogen ions. Every time a free hydrogen ion goes into solution, pH lowers.  – Jeffers Richardson of Firestone Walker

In front of me is a place mat with four taster glasses filled with clear liquid. “Don’t drink!” yells Jeffers, as I secretly sniff each one. “Taster glass one is lactic acid, taster two is acetic acid and number three is citric acid…we couldn’t get Malic acid so use that fourth for water,” he continued.

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Dropping Acid Breakdown

Lactic Acid – This is what gives most sour craft beers their sourness. It is created by lactic-acid creating bacteria such as lactobacillus and pediococcus. At low levels, it’s soft and not really harsh (no burning sensations). I noted aromas of wet sugar and raw baked goods prior to baking. On the sides of the tongue and back of the throat, it is perceived as tart and sour. Plug your nose while swishing it around your mouth to avoid aromas: you can taste the sour sensation. Some mentioned it tasted like Greek yogurt, which is interesting as lactic-acid bacteria is also responsible for creating yogurt. Someone else noted it tasted buttery.

Acetic Acid – More harsh and punchy when found in beer. This acid is caused by acetobacter, which needs oxygen to survive.  At any level, it smells like vinegar or pickle juice. It is quite rough on the palate with noticeable burning sensations while swishing it around and swallowing it. Breweries consider acetobacter a spoiling agent. Some Flanders-style beers, such as Duchesse de Borgogne have small amounts of acetic acid to perhaps mimic properties and complexities of wine.

Citric Acid – More of a wine or mead thing, but it has a Sweet-Tart candy character. In homebrew shops, you can typically buy an “Acid Blend” that contains Citric, Mallic and Tartaric acids which can adjust acidity in wines. Not harsh.

Tasting Three Total Acidity (TA) Levels of Lactic Acid

Measuring sourness with three T.A. Levels as reference points

tongue_mapLevel 4 TA Lactic Acid: Slight tinge of numbness to the gums and roughness to the cheeks and big sourness on the sides of the tongue.

Level 8 TA Lactic Acid: Felt like my tooth enamel was coming off. Rough cheeks, mouth wateringly sour.

Level 12 TA Lactic Acid: Instantly caused the inside of my mouth to feel dead, like rubber. So sour I couldn’t taste it due to its offensive nature.

Next: I was presented with three Barrelworks beers and tried to guess the Total Acidity of each (at gunpoint).

AgresticBeer 1: Agrestic Ale (2014): Starts out as DBA (minus the barrel union) and undergoes primary fermentation at Barrelworks in Buellton. Once complete, it undergoes secondary in 87% French oak / 13% Freedom oak with Brettanomyces and two strains of Lactobacillus. My perception was a nice tannic/oaky beer. I plugged my nose to taste the sour and focused on what it did to my cheeks, teeth and gums. I thought it was in the middle of 4-8 and I picked 6. Actual TA? 6.6. 

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 Beer 2: Lil Opal (2014): One thing I love about Barrelworks beers is the level of oak. It’s a definite calling card for their beers I’ve tried thus far. Lil Opal is a truly wild Saison with juicy notes of citrus and tropical fruit like pineapple. Are the flavors and aromas yeast or barrel driven? Regardless, It’s a refreshing beer with a sourness that cleans up your teeth nicely with a little bit of gum tingle. I picked 5. Actual TA? 4.01.

SLOambic

Beer 3: SLOambic (2014): Olallieberry jam and oak all up in your business. I find it hard to say Olallieberry, so I just call it LOL-Berry. The berry itself is blackberry in appearance and grows in Central CA. I’ve long-loved the Framboise style of Belgian beers (raspberries) but this may dethrone it! Tons of jammy berry character with an aggressive sourness that bites at my teeth enamel and roughs up my cheeks. I thought it was a little bit less than the TA 8 sample and I chose 7.8. Actual TA 8.7. LOL-Berry! 

After all that acid trippin, I was fed crackers as they untied me and forced me into the Firestone Walker barrel room. After fifteen minutes smelling boozy wood at 50 degrees, I was left to fulfill a life of religious consciousness.

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Thanks LA Beer Bloggers and Firestone Walker for this unique opportunity! Disclosure: FW provided food, beer and transportation to the event, but wasn’t required. Hotel and take-away items were all purchased at full price on my own.

Brewers Gone WILD! Firestone Walker Barrelworks

credit Beer of Tomorrow

It’s no Pea Soup Andersons! (credit Beer of Tomorrow)

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11:35 A.M – Buellton, CA Two and half hours up the coast from Orange County, the bus door snaps open like a UFO in a corn field. I jump out, apply a fresh coat of lip-balm, and crack my bones like I’m in a home run derby. A seagull flies over my head, lands atop a nearby flagpole flapping a British flag, craps, and flies away.

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I’m outside Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks, which I understand pours my style of drink: wild, sour and funky beers. After sitting on the road for a couple hours, I could easily drink a beer out of a hobo’s shoe! Stepping inside the warehouse, I’m sucked into a booming craft beer vortex. Nipples slowly erect with the temp, retinas dilate to the dark…I slide my fingers across a barrel and knock on it for good luck. “There’s creatures living in there” I whisper to myself like the creepy little lady in Poltergeist. The lights kick on, revealing an aging beer mothership of deliciousness. I feel like we’re here for a beer séance. Lets join hands!

Audio: Jim Crooks explains some history and philosophy behind Barrelworks

 

Inside, QC manager/Master Blender Jim Crooks (aka Sour Jim) gives the rundown on Barrelworks. Teamed up with OG brewer Jeff Richardson (originator of the Firestone Walker barrel union) started this “padded room for brewers” to create wild beers away from the production brewery. Micro-organisms like Lactobacillus, Pediococcus and wild yeast can wreak havoc in a brewhouse like an infected cruise ship, hence the need to “infect” these beers well away from home base. At the production brewery, bugs “can be the end all, the be all…We test for these bugs every single day, if any show up anything, be it in the DBA union, the entire union will get cancelled…get thrown out” says Jim. In a controlled environment such as Barrelworks, brewers can go nuts.

Starting with only 28 barrels last year, Brewmaster Matt Brynaldson secured 400+ two-year old Opus One barrels (pictured above with colored stripe) to use at Barrelworks. Using base beers brewed at the production brewery in Paso Robles, fermented beer is racked into barrels and transported to Barrelworks for inoculation and/or aging.

As of early 2013, the barrels are being used for:

  • Aggrestic Ale = DBA + Brettanomyces in secondary + Lactobacillus. Takes on a Belgian style Flanders quality.
  • Sour Opal = Lil’ Opal + Bugs
  • Reginald Brett = Double DBA, Aged in Bourbon + re-racked and inoculated with Brett.
  • Brettaweisse = Hefeweizen + Brett (Described in this post)
  • Raw Barrel aging with no bugs/brett is also done to see the character a raw barrel will impose on a base beer.
  • Collaboration with Mikkeller – Brewed saison, hit with bugs and locally sourced wine grapes. Will be available at the Firestone Walker Invitational beer festival in June.

Blending Session!

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After a beautiful Taphouse lunch, Jim puts my sour beer protégé Simon Ford and I to work blending a batch of Sour Opal.  With samples from three barrels, paperwork and a Ph meter, we get to work making notes of each and what works best. With souring, beers don’t really start to get interesting until the Ph gets less than 3.8, but we opt to use our palates instead of a meter. In the end, our zippy blend makes our palates do the Harlem Shake. “I think I’ve got a winner here” I say to David Walker. He samples it silently and slides the glass back on the table without saying a word. Ah well, we enjoyed it. Must be a British thing.

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Stealing Bugs - Credit Simon Ford

Stealing Bugs – Credit Simon Ford

Using my best guilt tactics, I ask Sour Jim if I can take some bugs home to further my own sour beer program. “Is there any way you can pay it forward like Vinnie Cilurzo did for you?” “(laughing) We used to steal bugs on coasters, let me get you some baggies” says Jim. Simon and I are giddy at the thought of dumping bugs from this roller coaster day into our homebrews.

P1050307The fun doesn’t stop there, as the unimaginable happens: Jim sneaks Simon and I deep into the barrelhouse for an impromptu tasting. Pulling a nail out of a few special barrels, Jim shows us the nuances of a few favorites. The same base beers with the exact amount of inoculent in similar barrels can have vastly different character. Each barrel is its own microclimate, its own universe. I have goosebumps. What a day!

P1050336Barrelworks in Buellton is not only a place for the brewers to go wild, it’s a place where the craft beer curious can learn more about barrel aged beers. It’s a beer geek’s classroom! Barrelworks has a full Taproom restaurant, gift shop, brewery fresh and cellared beer store, funky tasting room and a climate controlled barrel warehouse. Self guided tours are available. With a beautiful 2.5 hour coastal drive up, this is the perfect weekend getaway!

 

Good Sour Hunting, at Total Wine & More?

Ah, my beer camp cart. (swoon)

Ah, my beer camp cart. (swoon)

My wife has a bad habit of ‘accidentally’ buying shoes. Me? I ‘accidentally’ fill up a cart at Total Wine & More from time to time. Stopping in for a few beers often leads to a lot of ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ moments, and even more ‘oh shit’ moments when checking out. Among the aisles and aisles of distinct wines and spirits, beer sits comfortably in the back corner, organized confusingly by type.

The one thing I love about beer shopping at a big store is it reminds me of record/CD shopping before the MP3 player was invented. A rare import or bootleg album is the equivalent to finding a great bourbon barrel aged stout, a triple IPA or a nice sour from Belgium. Thankfully, beer can never be digitized. Let me tell you, finding a sour at TW&M isn’t easy. My latest trip I found several: The Bruery’s Rueuze, Petrus Oude Bruin and a Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Red Ale.

Tasting Notes on the Three:

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The Bruery’s Rueuze pours a dusky yellow fiz. The head is like Marie Antoinette at the guillotine; your glass serving as the landing basket. “Let them eat cake!” I yell to my wife as she makes dinner while I sip. “What the hell are you talking about?” she yells back. Lively on the nose are notes of lemon curd, shortcake, light brown sugar, over-ripe fruit and a touch of wild apple cider. From a distance it looks completely flat, up close, tiny bubbles cling to the side and provide a pleasant body to keep things interesting. This dry gueuze is tart to the point it forces a grin no matter how glum you may be! As it warms, call a search party for the carbonation; its soul escapes, leaving a vinous sour that remains worthy until the blade drops.

monks cafe flemish sourMonk’s Cafe Flemish Sour is a great entry point to the huge landscape of sour beers. This beer is easily approachable to someone that is making the leap to craft beer from wine or light American lager. Pours dark with ruby red highlights, lace sliding down the glass like soap at a carwash. A scary amount of halloween candy haunts my nose with notes of Sweet Tarts, Bottle Caps candy, and fresh pomegranate. This is a very easy to drink beer with a mild creamy mouthfeel. Belgian candi sugar flavors and sweet malt hang around, finishing with an subtle mineral water character. Pair this beer with a spring salad and raspberry vinaigrette or perhaps a fruity tartlet.

 

petrus oud bruinPetrus Oud Bruin is somewhat similar to Monk’s Cafe. It’s a little darker, dryer, and more complex. Notes of oak and cabernet grapes round out this highly quaffable beer. It’s almost too easy to drink for how long it’s aged! As it warms, swirling the glass will give some nice fruity plum and dried cherry notes. The sour factor is also enhanced as the temp rises. If Monk’s Cafe is Kindergarten, this is the second grade…both accessible, delicious and super high quality.

Overall, sour beer at a store like Total Wine & More is still somewhat hard to come by. It’s a gentle start, but I won’t be satisfied until there’s at least a dedicated sour section filled with gems from around the globe. Their selection of wine and spirits tells me, it’s damn possible.

Get a sour in Orange County recently? Share where!

OC Beer of the Week: The Bruery Vitis Series Oui Oui

Thanks for stopping in to check out this new feature on OC Beer Blog! Each week, I will focus on a beer brewed in Orange County, talk a little bit about it, and suggest something fun to pair with it. Note that it may not always be food! Sometimes it may be paired with an album, a movie, or hell, even a festive blueberry flavored glow-in-the-dark condom. Today? Not so much. I’m starting out the new feature with The Bruery’s Vitis Series: Oui Oui paired with food from the craft beer friendly restaurant Carolinas Italian in Anaheim.

As The Bruery’s Reserve Society opens up for sale on 10/25, what better way start things off than a beer that came to me via the Reserve Society 2012.  Oui Oui is a one-off American Wild Ale brewed with Chardonnay grapes. From the Bruery’s Website:

via Untappd.

For Oui Oui we used a first running press of Chardonnay grapes from the central coast and added them to our sour blonde ale. The beer was then aged in oak barrels that had originally been used to store wine, imparting even more of that chardonnay-like quality.

To pair, I crack the bottle and and decide on a zippy Italian seafood dish; Scallops Pomodoro from Carolinas Italian Food in Anaheim. If you’ve never been, Carolinas has a ten page beer menu sorted by region of the world…over 286 beers! As craft beer becomes more of a ‘thing’ in OC, keep in mind Carolinas has been operating like this for over 30 years!

Pouring the beer into a flute glass, even the most aggressive pour coaxes no head. The carbonation is aces for the style, lending a vinous mouthfeel that is dry, sour and satisfying. Chardonnay grapes, funk and plenty of sour cling to your teeth well after a sip. Licking your teeth well after gives continued beer flavor, and also lets your partner know you’re feeling randy! Any beer that coats your palate and lingers makes a great beer to pair with food. This is such a pleasant sour, I wish I would have gotten another one!

As a pairing: The beer accentuates the basil, complements the acidity of the tomato, and cleanses the rich garlic pasta from the palate. My wife added some capers from the fridge which really brought the dish and the pairing to a whole new level. If you still have a Oui Oui sitting in your cellar, any dish with basil, capers, or some light acidity is a perfect match. Strong cheese is also a great option to match intensity.

Overall: I’ve always had trouble pairing a sour beer with food as I disagree with those that say to match acidity with acidity. A highly acidic sour + an acidic dish = puckered punum and heartburn. I look for a dish that is simple, light and fresh. Salad, seafood, tomatoes, bruschetta, super stinky cheese, fried green tomatoes, or shrimp cocktail are some other ideas to pair with a sour beer.

Other stuff: The Bruery Provisions is kicking off a week-long Harvest with events every night, check their site for details. The Bruery Reserve Societe goes on sale 10/25. Bottles of Black Tuesday go on sale 10/30.

Beer Review with a Homeless Person | Bruery Autumn Maple with 100% Brett

“It tastes like Chuck Wagon Dog food, the kind where you put water in it to make gravy” (note, the use of Thom Yorke was used as dramatization, not an actual homeless person)

Homeless people like beer right? I’ve seen a few signs where those less fortunate come right out and ask for beer. Times are tough! I sat down with a few homeless people near the freeway offramp at the 91 and Harbor in Fullerton. I brought a cold bottle of The Bruery Autumn Maple made with 100% Brett, a few tasting glasses, and a notebook. The first guy I ran into thought I was full of shit and screamed obscenities at me. Whatever…no free beer for you sucker! I found a dude named Donald, a 45 year old guy holding a Vietnam Vet sign…Apparently this guy is really bad at math. He agreed to drink some beer with me over by a bush that had a stack of pre-written homelessy God Bless you signs. Wow. I poured the beer and I and took some notes.

It was a fun experiment, not sure if I’ll try it again. Cheers!