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Huntington Beach

June, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Brewpubs in Huntington Beach have had a tough go of it. The California ocean-side city’s first, Huntington Beach Brewing Company, is still alive and well, as it has been since 1993, in its second floor site overlooking Main Street. The Italian Brewery, in a good location on Pacific Coast Highway, was operating under its third set of owners and names when it closed early last year. Situated not far off PCH, The Tap House is currently experiencing its second life.

Established in April 1996 as Ale House Rock Brewery and Broiler, the brewpub closed for a while and re-opened as a more laid-back establishment with added emphasis on food, sports, entertainment and a full bar of wine, liquor and commercial beers. Tuesday night is a comedian showcase. Posters advertised up-coming televised sports events. And, to accent the point, a drawing was held, as we sampled The Tap House’s three different brews, for a tequila t-shirt.

Served in frozen glasses, almost too cold to hold, the Hefeweizen, garnished with lemon, was cloudy and properly clovey. Its cold, gold body was thin, even for a hefe. Actually deep gold in color, the Red had little malt flavor and even less hops imprint. Though too thin, Porter made a bitter introduction and concluded with pleasing chocolate malt sensation.

The rock music-related murals, once part of the Ale House Rock decor, have been painted over. The menu has been upgraded a little. And beer seems lost in all the scheduled activities. If The Tap House makes it, beer will not be a major factor.

Next stop on this swing through Greater Los Angeles was just a short hop away. Huntington Beach Brewing Company was as vibrant as the street below, which was filled with surfers coming in from the waves, skateboarders relentlessly attacking stairs and curbs and teenage cruisers check out sidewalk scenery. Dinner was our immediate goal on this visit, though beer would certainly play a part.

A pilsner, Huntington Beach Blonde, not only sports a sexy, scantily clad female logo, but is the brewpub’s best seller. Clean and crisp with a smart snap of hops bite, this luscious lager is ideal for hot, thirsty evenings. Hops reeked from Indicator IPA, while Brickshot Red Ale, really red in hue, was English Brown Ale-like it its sweet-side flavor. Apparently brewed with loads of black patent malt, Surf City Stout was black hole dark, though somewhat medium in mouthfeel. Commercially-made ciders, available in razzberry, peach and pear, also did brisk business

As the crowd got bigger in this large upstairs loft, noise, thanks to two walls of picture windows and wood and tile flooring, increased in intensity. The food, mostly sandwiches and pizzas, was filling. The beer was good, not great, but definitely drinkable. Maybe it’s location, just three blocks to the beach, or just the place to be seen. Whatever the reason, Huntington Beach Brewing seems to have everything going its way.

Over in Costa Mesa, Skewer’s Brewpub has been in business since sometime in 1996. Located streetside in a shopping center parking lot, the bartender was stacking chairs as we entered about 10:00 on a Monday night. He was anxious to close, but took time to serve a few brews. Back Bay Vienna Lager was gold, tangy and way too cold. Export Scotch Ale has a surprising hoppy front, giving way to expected smooth malt flavor. Superior Stout, done Imperial style, filled my mouth with a big mocha taste, leaving a strong bitter aftertaste.

Skewer’s is a hole-in-the-wall, crammed with too many chairs and tables making for a claustrophobic ambiance. We knew something was really wrong when, while examining Skewer’s logo glasses, a Budweiser logo was positioned on the other side of the pint glass. The bartender, now getting a little perturbed at these thirsty intruders, quickly explained that Anheuser-Busch contributed to the glass purchase. Shaking our heads as a sign of understanding, we paid the tab, left a nice tip and scurried out the door.

Everyone knows Bud and beer don’t mix. Skewer’s obviously has a lot to learn about the brewpub business.

Hang on, you have four more columns on Greater Los Angeles to read. Go to Orange County Beer.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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