While summer may be fading away, the attendees of this year’s Brew Ha Ha can attest to the fact that the heat is as strong as ever. Not a problem, though, as the sixth annual late summer beer festival provides plenty of cool beverages to abate the sweltering heat of the sun.
This year’s beer lineup had all the spectacle and specialty of previous years, along with a few new tricks. As usual, the front-and-center stage played host to guest musicians. In addition, a half-pipe centered in the main area provided entertainment between beverages.
Speaking of beverages, this year’s event featured an impressive alley of tents from various cideries. 101 Cider House in particular stood out, offering something familiar for beer geeks (an India Pale Cider), along with something unusual for the adventurous (a Black Cider, which, while tasty, was a bit murky purple in color to be honest).
Not to be outdone, the traditional breweries made a strong showing as well. An impressive collaboration between Left Coast, Pizza Port San Clemente, and Artifex Brewing Company provided what the masses clamored for: hops, hops, more hops! Bottle Logic provided a relaxing cool beer, Spa Day (a cucumber mint saison), making you wish that Oak Canyon Park had a lazy river to wade into. Noble Brewing Company, as they typically do, provided a fun twist on a beer cocktail: Mexican Punch. With the opposite approach from Bottle Logic, this cocktail walked the line between iced fruit punch and a michelada, providing a spicy cerveza concoction with the perfect picante accent to keep you lively when the sun is sucking your energy out.
What better follow up to Mexican Punch than mexican cuisine? While the traditional cadre of food trucks was present to satiate the buzz-munchied masses, there was an undeniable allure to Sol Agave, the food truck brainchild of local Chef Manny Velasco, specializing in simple-but-perfect mexican cuisine. Maybe it was the lively salsa music. Maybe it was the enthusiasm and speed of the workers putting out the food. Maybe it was the Chef handing out free samples of carnitas in front of the truck. In any case, I couldn’t resist. After sharing (inhaling) a carnitas plate (homemade corn tortillas, organic all-natural pork, pico de gallo, guacamole, black beans, and rice), along with some of the ample salsa verde provided, I was ready to venture back into the festival, feeling confident in my ability to tackle every booth I wanted to visit.
Always of interest are the newcomers, the unknown, the unexplored. This year did not disappoint. Phantom Carriage made their presence known by providing their unique twists on traditional styles, including Night Watch (a hoppy dark farmhouse ale) and Leapwood (a saison made with Huell Melon hops). Also among the notable newcomers was Sonoran Brew Co, an up-and-coming Phoenix, AZ brewery. Offering an IPA, a White Chocolate Ale, and a Raspberry Ale, this brewery made it hard to pick just one.
So we didn’t pick just one: they happily offered a blend of the White Chocolate Ale and the Raspberry Ale. I must say, it’s the best thing since pouring Chambord on vanilla ice cream. With so much to sample, it’s hard to dive into the details of everything. In that spirit, highlights and a few tasting notes are provided below.
South County IPA, ABV 7% – Pizza Port, Left Coast Brewing & Artifex Brewing
This refreshing west coast style IPA was brewed using six hop varieties to celebrate Brew Ha Ha Productions 6th anniversary. Biting bitter flavors and tropical aromas highlight a plethora of Nelson, Simcoe, Mosaic, Columbus, Centennial, and Cascade hops. South County finishes dry while transporting you to Hoptopia.
Night Watch (Hoppy Dark Farmhouse Ale), ABV 5.4% – Phantom Carriage (Carson, CA)
Named after the esoteric Russian fantasy thriller from 2004, this ale pours deep midnight with malt forward aromas and subtle hop characteristics. This unique beer is dry-hopped with simcoe and mosaic, but the malt is the star in this brew, keeping the hop notes in a delicate balance. Finishes dry with toasted malt features.
Grapefruit IPA (Grapefruit IPA), ABV 7.1% – Taps Fish House & Brewery (Brea & Irvine, CA)
A fine addition to the recent trend of grapefruit IPAs, the Taps version of this increasingly common style is bursting at the seams with flavor. This IPA attacks in waves, with a fresh, biting grapefruit flavor which almost makes you want to pucker. Before you get there, though, a refreshing hop balance washes over, biting and cleansing the palate and making you yearn for the next sip. Typically available on tap at Taps’s Irvine location.