2014 Predictions Coming True – High End Eateries Finally Add Craft Beer



New years day 2014, I sat with my laptop open pondering predictions for the year. Will this be the year of session IPA? Will Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton’s iCloud get hacked showing the world their nude bodies? I came up empty and searched the internet for “Nostradamus beer”. I was shocked to see this bold prediction in one of his secret books.

In the year of 2014, as the Blue Moon fades,

restaurants will have good beer where good food is made.

I’m pretty sure what the Nostradamus is trying to predict high-end eateries will finally get a decent beer list. By years end, a restaurant with an A+ chef and A+ wine list will no longer be in F- beer territory.

photo (2)I recently got a taste of this bold prediction in Irvine of all places at a posh place near John Wayne Airport called Bistango. Modern art fills their walls at every angle, twinkle-lights wrap the patio palm trees and relaxing jazz sets the mood. Among many happy-hour bound professionals, the thing I was most interested in was a proper beverage to accompany my food. Without taps, I thought the choices would be the usual macro lager or super-sweet Wit beer. When opening the drink menu, I was pretty shocked to see a lengthy beer list.

The menu seems to be very well thought out. Although missing are some stellar Orange County made beers, the list seems to have been formed by researching beer review websites. Going down the selections, all the beers featured are 90+ on beer advocate. IPA’s, Double IPA’s, Belgian beers, Wheat beers, Stouts and even wild/fruit beers round out the fifty or so beers included. All are priced appropriately.

photo (1)I asked my server what beer I should get with the daily special, a seafood Paella, he hesitated and said, “Porter.” Wise man! Bistango’s Paella was full of sweet clams, perfectly steamed mussels, plump scallops, snappy shrimp on top of a spicy bed of rice drowning in deliciousness. Deschutes Black Butte Porter would get the nod for the pairing as the rich roastyness of the beer calmed the heat and enhanced the delicate flavor of the seafood. Their bar/happy hour menu is tapas heavy, making a beer and bite an excellent choice pre-flight or perhaps to miss a bit of traffic. The rest of the menu is very well rounded if you’re in the mood for big bites.

One gripe: getting a frosty glass is not how one should roll with craft beer; ask your server for a room temp glass as many of the flavors and aromas of beer don’t open up until 54 degrees for some styles. I can only hope that the “frosty mug of ice cold beer” stigma will die with Nostradamus’ 2015 prediction.

Got a great $$$ or $$$$ restaurant that now serves craft beer? Give me a shoutout below or on twitter at @OCBeerBlog. Cheers!

Images credit Bistango Website.


Pub Night at the Clay Oven

Duck Samosas

Duck Samosas/Uinta Hop Nosh IPA

I can’t say that I’ve ever seen an IPA at any Indian restaurant until tonight. The name aside, a nice fresh India Pale Ale works wonders with the cuisine; opening one’s palate, complimenting the creamy spiced food, and accentuating the heat. Vice versa, the food elevates the style by drawing some tropical-piney notes from the hops and some of the sweetness of the malt.

Behind the creaking door at Irvine’s Clay Oven Indian Cuisine, beer is winning. One of my predictions of 2014 was that local craft beer would soon start appearing in high end restaurants to compliment their line up of chef driven menus. Tonight? IPA’s, Belgian, German and local beers are being poured next to a custom menu.

Allagash's Hallie Beaune gets involved with a beer

Beer Chick and Allagash’s Hallie Beaune gets involved with a beer description

The Clay Oven is hosting ‘Pub Night’, which consists of small plate Bombay-style street food paired with five beer distributor reps pouring their best. I snap a few shots and dig into my first bite: duck samosas (above) topped with a fruity/earthy tamarind mole. Uinta’s Hop Nosh IPA gets the nod to wash down the mellow cumin flecked bite, stoking the tamarind sauce’s sweetness.

Chef Geeta Bansal

Chef Geeta Bansal

For over 25 years, Chef Geeta, Husband Praveen (and son Tarun) have been running around the matchbox-sized restaurant with warm smiles, keeping guests happy. I get the sense they love what they do and it shows through with not only the longevity of the eatery, but in the high quality of the food.

Being familiar with the beer offerings, I’m more excited to adventure into the heart of Tandoori cooking. Some menu items unfamiliar, yet approachable. Ordering the ‘Airbags’ dish, for example…I can’t say I’ve ever seen one much less eaten it. “Try it with the sour beer and pour it inside before you bite” says Chef Geeta. I feel like a kid again, scooping in the spiced veggie puree into a pinkie-punched hole, then pouring in some Petrus Aged Red into the thin crispy sack of deliciousness. “I can see why it’s called an airbag” I say as the flavors punch me in the face, saving me from certain hunger death.

Filling the Airbag with sour beer

Filling the Airbag with sour beer

Other wild dishes like Tandoor roasted bone marrow have us drooling for more. Intense garlic and fatty marrow melts like butter. Beers like Piraat Pale Ale and Allagash Tripel do their best to clean up the rich bite and have me licking the bone clean.I can’t say I’ve ever eaten goat, but it ended being my favorite of the night. Chucky bites sitting on a yogurt salad topped puffy pita? So perfectly foreign yet familiar, tasting somewhat like a beefy lamb, moderately spiced and delicious.

My heart and cheeks warm from the afterglow of the Clay Oven, I can’t help but dream about coming back. The Clay Oven is near Irvine Valley College on Jeffrey/Irvine Center Drive.


Duck Samosas – Tandoor-roasted Mary’s Organic Duck Breast in cumin-flecked pastry, dash of tamarind mole

Bread Pakoras – Famous Indian Snack, minced lamb sandwich, chickpea-batter fried

Lamb-Stuffed Naan – Spicy lamb baked into a fresh naan bread

Airbags – pastry cups veggie stuff paired with sour beer

Mediterranean Naan – Feta cheese baked into a fresh naan bread

Tandoor-Roasted Bone Marrow with breat and accoutrements

Eggplant Pakoras – Ma-Zu eggplant fritters, batter-fried, pomegranate emulsion

Braised Goat Bites – Puffy pita topped with slow-braised goat and yogurt salad

Pump up the Volume | Bayhawk Ales

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!