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Taps Fish House

June, 2000

By Bobby Bush

Brea, California was my city of residence from 1988 through 1994. This upper-class (dare I say yuppie-ish) northern Orange County community, relatively small by California terms though a huge center of retail commerce, had absolutely no brewpubs during my six year stay. Shortly after I departed, BJ Pizza, Grill, Brewery, part of a Colorado brewpub chain, sprang up near Brea Mall.

And now, right off Imperial Highway not but two blocks from the ubiquitous shopping icon, a second brewpub arose in September 1999 in what was once downtown Brea. And itís a beaut, a six million dollar marvel of restaurant, bar and brewery. Locally owned by the Manzella family, Taps Fish House & Brewery is a tall, new brick structure, with an outdoor patio, an oyster bar, a large beer bar area, with towering back bar. An impressive menu of 17 appetizers and entrees ranging from fresh fish to steaks to bratwurst, kind of a cajun-fish house-chop house everything fits presentation.

In spite of the food appeal, it was beer I was after, so I settled in to taste all six, watching the hustling group of mostly-blonde (hey, it is California) waitresses scurrying to cover their appointed tables. With that distraction temporarily aside, I found the deep copper IPA medium bodied and strongly hopped. Flavor and alcohol sensation improved as this English-style ale warmed. The cask IPA was hoppier and thick, almost coating the tongue. Cream Ale was straw yellow, topped by a big frothy head. Its finish was Pils-like with a sharp, short hops hit. Medium body and translucent copper, ESB was good though too hoppy for style, while the seasonal Pumpkin Ale presented strong nutmeg essence- very tasty, one of just a few pumpkin ales done right. Oatmeal Stout, a touch thin, was full of roasted malt and coffee taste.

Obviously these beers were not the work of some novice. After a four year stint at Dock Street Brewing in Philadelphia, Victor Novak came west to brew. He works with the very last Liquid Assets brewhouse, a 15 barrel system supported by five copper-trimmed serving tanks, four fermenters and a large walk-in cooler. Novak utilizes about 35 different recipes during the course of the year, letting demand and personal whim dictate his seasonal selections, though he admits to leaning toward European ales and lagers such as Vienna, Kolsch, Alt and Irish Red. With a taste of his still-fermenting Bavarian Hefeweizen- expected banana nose with an unexpected caramel profile -I thanked by host and departed for my hotel.

Next day, business complete, I met a friend in Pasadena at Crown City Brewery Restaurant. This establishment, founded in July 1988, is one of the oldest- if not the oldest -operating brewpubs in Southern California. But itís not really their own beer that has made Crown City an institution. They always have the thin, slightly sour Mt. Wilson Wheat, medium bodied though unexciting Aroyo Amber Ale and smoky but thin Black Forest Dunkel Weizen on hand, brewed right there in the tiny, cramped brewery. Itís the other beers that fill their 25 tap handles and glass-front refrigerators that make the place. Guest taps obviously outnumber their own brews. On this particular visit, the selection included Redhook Oktoberfest, Pike IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Bass Ale, Newcastle Brown Ale, Maudite, Moosehead, Anchor Wheat, Bitburger, Widmer Hefeweizen, Boddingtonís Pale Ale, Dixie Blackened Voodoo, Guinness and Anchor Old Foghorn barleywine. You get the picture. The bottles number in the hundreds. And the walls are lined with small brass plaques, each engraved with the name of a member of the 1000 beer club. Some members have notched more than 3000 different beers at Crown City. Not bad for a brewpub with three house beers.

I didnít have time to visit Gordon Bierschís Pasadena facility, just a few blocks away, but Iíve been there before and know Gordon Bierschís fine German-style beers very well indeed. Besides, I was headed to a new Gordon Biersch in Burbank.

This was to be a short visit to Greater Los Angeles. There are just two more brewpub stops on this trip. Come along to GB and BJ's

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

© Bobby Bush

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