Since my wife hails from the "O.C." (Orange County) we find ourselves visiting regularly. Over the years we've seen an impressive growth of craft beer in her neck of the woods. While Huntington Beach, CA is known as "Surf City USA" and is typically a summer destination for campers, beach-goers, and surfers alike, it is also starting to build a reputation as a craft beer destination.
In 2016's Great American Beer Festival (GABF) there were several breweries from Orange County that came away with some hardware. In Placentia, The Bruery took home a Gold medal in the American-Belgo Style Ale and a Silver medal in the Experimental category. Riip Beer Co. grabbed the Silver medal in the American IPA category which is quite impressive considering the volume of entries and the obsession of the USA with IPAs these days.
We dropped in to a few places that I want to highlight: The Bruery, 4 Sons Brewing, Barley Forge, and Riip Beer Company. I will also say a little about an excellent home brew shop in Windsor Homebrew Supply.
4 Sons Brewing - Huntington Beach
4 Sons Brewing sits in a quaint little warehouse in an industrial part of Huntington off of Gothard Street. It's a family run brewery that clearly reflects its interest in ice hockey and particularly the L.A. Kings. It's a high-ceilinged warehouse with banners of their flagship beers hanging like championship banners in an arena. They have a roomy space with high-boy tables and bar seating as well as a couple of flat-screen tv's, giving the place a sports bar feel. There are several games lying around like corn hole and ladder ball and others which attract sizeable crowds even during weekdays. They have tasting flights as well as growler fills and take-away bottles available. On our visit in December we really liked a spiced, winter seasonal called "To Grandmother's House". It was packed with flavor of dark malts and spices which gave it a sweet gingerbread taste. Their signature double IPA, "The Great One" gives the impression of a typical West-coast IPA that you'd find in San Diego County - intense, piney, resinous bitterness that is full-flavoured and lasting. The bartender said that their most popular beer is "Special K" which is a Cranberry Pomegranate Sour. Apparently whenever they have a new batch ready it is practically sold out that day as the locals come by with their growlers.
Barley Forge - Costa Mesa
Barley Forge is in Costa Mesa which is not far from Huntington. They were awarded Best Brewery in 2015 by OC Weekly and I think it's a must-see. I've been there 2-3 times and there is an excellent crowd that gathers in the evenings for the free popcorn, draft offerings, and community around small tables in the brewery. They even had a weekly trivia night happening the night we visited this time. I find their beers to be solid, but I particularly enjoy the "Grandpa Tractor" which is a Dortmund style export lager. It has a nice, clean malt profile that is very easy to drink would serve as an excellent "gateway" beer for those not used to craft beer. My wife particularly likes the "Nom Nom" which is a wheat beer brewed with mango and fermented with a hefeweizen yeast to give it a refreshing but estery profile. I can also recommend the "Patsy", a coconut porter which they had on nitro which made for a very pleasant, smooth, sweet porter with a noticeable coconut flavor. For IPA-lovers, the locals seem to enjoy the "Orange Curtain" which uses typical West-coast hops: Warrior, Cascade, and Centennial.
Riip Beer Co. - Huntington Beach
Riip Beer Company is located on the Pacific Coast Highway and has an unassuming space in a small shopping center. I was intrigued to visit a brewery that earned a silver medal in the 2016 Great American Beer Festival for the American IPA category. Unfortunately they didn't have the award-winning beer available since I believe that it is a summer seasonal IPA. However, we were able to go through a couple of tasting flights. The vibe is very low key where locals come in to hang out and talk with friends, often ordering food from local restaurants that deliver to the brewery.
The available beers reveal a trend in that these brewers obviously like their West-coast Pale Ales/IPAs and their Imperial Stouts. I found most to be quite bitter, but I appreciated that they use a variety of American hops and try to showcase them with single-hop IPAs. In fact, you can see on their website that they have eight different IPAs amongst their offerings. The "Supercali IPA" is the Silver Medalist from 2016. Beyond the IPAs they offer a few blondes and an amber as well as several imperial stouts which deliver powerful, roasty flavor.
The Bruery - Placentia
The Bruery is in Placentia, in the northern part of Orange County, near Fullerton. They are probably the most well-known brewery in the area and their tasting room is worth a visit. You can quickly see the focus on seasonal beers that extend heavily into the Sour category as well as a significant barrel-aging program. As mentioned above, they came away with a gold and silver medal at the 2016 GABF for American-Belgo Ale and Experimental beer, respectively. They have a busy tasting room also in a shopping center location but fans of the beer don't seem to mind. They have so many interesting beers I think that The Bruery is the ideal place to go for a tasting. If you are a fan of sour and barrel-aged beer you can't miss this place.
Windsor Homebrew Supply Co - Costa Mesa
Before closing I want to mention an excellent resource for those in the area that already brew at home or are interested in trying it. The Windsor Homebrew Supply Co is a fantastic home-brew supply shop and it is truly a local business. I visited to pick up a few things to take back to Hong Kong and met the owner, Scott Windsor, who was very patient, knowledgeable, and helpful. At first impression Scott is a humble guy that loves brewing and really cares about being a community-based shop. Ironically I'm including Windsor in this post despite not being a member of that community, but I was just very impressed and want to promote their shop. They have an expansive offering of ingredients and gear that serves both beginners and advanced home brewers. Stop by and check them out.
Orange County and Huntington Beach in particular have a healthy selection of breweries to check out if you are in the area. Without mentioning bars and other award-winning brewpubs such as Beachwood BBQ & Brewing in Huntington and Long Beach or BJs (Main Street and Beach Blvd in Huntington, as well as locations in Newport and Orange). Beachwood came away with some medals at GABF too, and they have a Blendery that features all lambics. Let's just say that I'm glad that I'm obligated to keep coming back to visit the in-laws!