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Orange County Beer

June, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Orange County, California, sometimes called the Orange Curtain because of its staunchly conservative political leanings, is host to a number of brewpubs, though not as many as its population would suggest.

Irvine, one of the county’s largest cities, has been the home of two brewpubs since about 1996. McCormick & Schmick’s, a fine restaurant chain, was a partner in the failed Willamette Valley Brewing venture from Oregon. The multi-facility brewing scheme failed, but the brewery in Irvine survived. Steelhead Brewery & Cafe, the successful Eugene, Oregon outfit that also has brewpubs in San Francisco and Burlingame, CA, has an expansive facility on Campus Drive.

Joining these two well-established brewpubs in August 1998 was another chain operation. Rock Bottom Restaurant Brewery, part of the growing Boulder, CO company, began brewing in the Irvine Spectrum Complex, a massive shopping and entertainment conglomeration just north of the merging 5 and 405 freeways. In addition to a constant flow of patrons thanks to its interior mall location and an adjoining, affiliated dual piano bar called Sing Sing, this Rock Bottom was a little classier than most- must be part of that Orange County charm.

Rock ‘n roll filled the air. Stained wood glistened as brightly as the seven stainless fermenters behind the bar. Dining was in full swing, this Tuesday night, when we pulled up to the bar for an appetizing brick oven pizza. Had this been Thursday, a cask conditioned firkin would have been tapped at 5:00. Two cask brews, Regatta Red and Golden Stallion Pale Ale, were available. I chose the Pale Ale cask, which was also on regular carbonation, enjoying its medium mouthfeel, fruity body and subtle hoppy aftertaste. Complex from crystal, chocolate and roasted malts, the Red’s taste was surprising smooth, finishing with a tender kiss of hops. Bogie Bogey Brown was sweet, showing little sign of hops balance until the end of each swallow. Cryin’ Coyote Light Ale aped a pils lager with its frangible Saaz hops finish. Bolstering its anteater logo, Sticky Tongue Stout presented a big initial alcohol flavor. As it warmed from its way-cold state, smoothness resulted, though it hid a harsh tannin bite.

Although a little same same, I have found Rock Bottom to be one of the nation’s best brewpub chains. Irvine’s is one of their best.

Over in Anaheim, home of the California Angels, J.T. Schmidt’s Brewhouse & Eatery opened in March 1997, across the street from The Pond, home of Mickey’s hockey Mighty Ducks. Lots of dining space, including a banquet room suitable for meetings and private parties, and a full fledged food menu, featuring everything from blackened fish tacos to filet mignon, greet the hungry. The thirsty must settle down at the large island bar for one of JT’s five brews. Emil’s Amber Ale was malty through and through. Toasted Oat Brown Stout, billed as a “light brown stout, not too heavy but still rich in flavor,” was recommended for hot California days. A summer stout is an oxymoron if there ever was one. Its golden brown body was topped with a tan head. A thin mouthfeel revealed a weak chocolate taste. Malty with no noticeable hops, it left a sour aftertaste. California Hefeweizen was cloudy and Bavarian. Anaheim Pale Ale was fruity, lacking in proper pale ale hops. Anxious to move on, I left Duck Pond Black and JT Light for another visit.

JT Schmidt’s is a relatively new brewpub and needs time to work out the bugs. It’s great location and well-designed facility bode well for its success. I’ll try their beers another time to see what time’s passage has taught.

Stayed tuned, there's more going on in the City of Orange.

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

© Bobby Bush

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