Having only visited Claremont a couple times, I suddenly find myself wielding a token Pilsner glass, a map of the festival’s downtown area and a dozen tasting tickets. A bizarre feelings sets in quickly as I sip a locally brewed Oak Hills Brewing Conviction Pale Ale outside the local Coldwell Banker / foot massage parlor. There’s no gates. There’s no fences. The only thing corralling the surrounding herd of beer-sipping strangers is a piece of paper that reads ‘no beer past this sign’. Claremontonians follow this simple honor system as well, bouncing off the invisible force-field until their glass is deemed empty.
This is not your average beer festival. Laid out like a beer/food/blues scavenger hunt, most of Claremont’s charming college-town village participates in the annual Claremont Village Blues & Brews Craft Beer Walk in late June. Over thirty establishments open their doors for craft beer samples and bites from local eateries. Around every corner, live music fills the air and sets a relaxing tone. Just as the taste of one beer fades on the palate from one stop, blues cross-fades to the next. Each band and beer pulls us from stop to stop like a magnet.
Almost buying some vintage cowboy boots from Replay Village while sipping an Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s? Yep. Quaffing a Hangar 24 Belgian Summer Ale inside American Apparel? Check. Doing a flight of Pomona’s Sanctum Brewing’s four beers inside a great comic book store called ‘A Shop Called Quest’? Totally. (Best smelling shop ever by the way with huge notes of ink and pulp. It’s euphoric.) Simple food samples being served at most tasting spots are a delight. Bacon-wrapped dates at the Last Drop Cafe were great next to Craftsman Brewing Co.’s ruby-red Cabarnale.
At Maple Boutique, a store I wouldn’t be caught dead in if it weren’t for the beer, I pinch myself. A summery blonde, sporting a warm smile, hands me a beer of the same ilk from Oceanside Ale Works. A few feet away, a vintage 1981 Atari Centipedes cabinet calls my name. With one hand on the fire button and one hand clutching the seasonal beverage, I easily clear three levels without moving. Who knew this was such a great strategy? The eclectic shop is filled with vintage iPhone docks, artistically modified vintage plates (one with R2D2), and one of the biggest gold pimp cash registers this side of the Mississippi.
As we zig-zag through the village, each tasting area is unique, friendly, and not part of a huge chain. The small-town vibe is held up firmly by the Claremont colleges and keeps this area pristine and totally interesting.
Several sites offer non-alcoholic treats, making this one of the best festivals ever for designated drivers. If you simply wanted to enjoy good blues, the event is basically free.
The beauty of this festival is best summed up by my last stop at Aromatique Skin Care: One part Wiens Brewing Descend Black IPA, one part dimly-lit massage room, plus one part complimentary hand/foot massage. I nearly climaxed with pure joy! Seriously. A free massage at a beer fest. Who knew.
Gripe: No beer festival is perfect, however this one had some issues with beer service that can easily be corrected. Some of the stops had varying degrees of success drawing proper samples. Some tastes were over-carbed, some under, and one I had was completely flat. Adding standard jockey boxes at each location would easily fix this issue. I haven’t seen a hand-pump party tap since college…those belong nowhere near a beer festival.
Overall, Claremont Village is a perfect backdrop for a beer and blues festival. It’s refreshing to see a fest do something completely different. Trusting the sell-out crowd with beer and all-you-can-eat food samples is quite a task. I guess if you treat people like cattle at a beer fest, they’ll act like it. Everyone was mellow and enjoying the day.
If you can’t wait for the next fest, I highly suggest grabbing some friends and taking the train for a proper beer crawl through Claremont Village: Start off at The Back Abbey for some Belgian Beer goodness and crawl to A Shop Called Quest for some comic books, hit the Cheese Cave for a nibble, then visit Eureka! Burger for American craft beer. Shop at some unique shops inside the historic Packing House for some retro goodies and bottle shop. Also in the Packing House, the Beer Belly Deli has one of the cleanest turn of the century bars ever and is set to open soon. End your day with some spa action at Aromatique Skin Care for a relaxing massage and sleep the train ride home. Sounds relaxing, no?
Claremont also hosts a wine version of this fest in September and sells out ever year. Visit claremontwinewalk.com for more info.
View the Facebook photo album here.
Greg Nagel has been a beer fan for over twenty years and recently attended Sierra Nevada Beer Camp (#94 – Sleight of Hand). Follow him on his gonzo beer trail at OCBeerBlog.com and on twitter at @OCBeerBlog