The Girl Next Door: Hopscotch Tavern + Bootlegger’s Brewery

Sep 23

Sometime last year, a good looking lady moved in a few doors down. While making coffee in the morning, I’d spy her stylish Bettie Page bangs, matching fluffy white robe and slippers yelling at her dog to “go potty! Go potty dammit!” I’d think to myself, ‘What a spicy, spicy woman.’ Driving down the street, I’d do that nonchalant steering-wheel wave at her out watering plants. To this day, she always makes a point to wave back, batting lashes, probably thinking nothing of the married neighbor from a few doors down. As it should be.

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Bootlegger’s Brewery Belgian IPA. Photo: Alan De Herrera

Around the same time my dashing neighbor moved in, a new tavern opened in downtown Fullerton. “Hopscotch” was the name, implying that an adult playground lies inside the historic Mission-style building. With promises of various hoppy-scotchy delights, I’m sure all the local breweries licked their chops at the prospect of a craft-only beer and whiskey bar in the neighborhood. Turns out, the boy next door was the first to strike. Bootlegger’s Brewery, located just a couple lights down Fullerton’s tree-lined streets, recently got invited over for supper; beer pairing dinner style.

As the summer sunset sizzles west towards the ocean, cocktails and cigars light up Hopscotch’s glowing back patio. This pre-game crowd is a testament to what kind of folks are interested in this sort of situation. Six courses of chef-prepared macho grub paired with five beers and five beer cocktails prove no match for these seasoned professionals. Should I be scared? Can I hang? The mere thought of this epic neighborly beer/food dating game makes me nervously knock back my pre-dinner beer a wee bit swiftly. Even the green table candles dance drunkenly to the music drowning under the hungry dining room’s roar.

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Hopscotch Mixologist James Wood, Executive Chef Cody Storts and Bootleggers Brewery Owner Aaron Barkenhagen. Photo: Alan De Herrera

With the ding of a glass ringing like a boxing bell, Hopscotch Executive Chef Cody Storts hops into the ring and welcomes us. Cocking his neck left and right, he sets the tone for the evening: “If you’ve ever done a fancy six course, wine-swirling dinner… I’m the complete opposite. Fullerton has been long overdue for a no-fluff studly dinner. It’s the way I want it and we hope it’s the way you want it.” We applaud and get ready to rumble. Round one…DING!

The first beer to hit our table is Bootlegger’s Brewery Belgian IPA. The Brewmaster/Owner of Bootlegger’s Brewery, Aaron Barkenhagen, speaks to it with a little history. “I started the brewery five years ago after home brewing in my garage for ten years. The beer is basically our Rustic Rye IPA with Belgian yeast.” Personally, Rustic Rye is one of the first beers I enjoyed from Bootlegger’s years ago and it stuck with me. The Belgian yeast version hits the nose with a juicy fruit and grassy note, finishing with a white peppery spice. “We currently brew 7,000 barrels of beer a year, half of which is poured right here in Orange County… We like to take care of the people in our own backyard,” says Aaron, with his slicked-back hair and a confident grin.

Course Three: Shrimp and Grits paired with Bootlegger's Lemongrass Wit and Laird's Foley cocktail. Photo: Alan De Herrera

Course Three: Shrimp and Grits paired with Bootlegger’s Lemongrass Wit and Laird’s Foley cocktail. Photo: Alan De Herrera

It didn’t hit me until course three what Chef Cody Storts true intentions were. First I was forking the soft pink circular wagyu tartare topped with wiry red chili threads, then I’d gently opened the gorgeously green-lipped flaps of fresh New Zealand mussels, before eagerly crunching into some flip-flop sized grilled Texas-style bread. The third course, a hand-length tiger shrimp resting on a soft white bed of salty grits is what clued me in. ‘Is chef trying to seduce us?’ I slid down my seat watching Bootlegger’s petite and beautiful Patricia Barkenhagen place the tip of the prawn in her mouth and slowly bite down. Breaking out in a sweat, I clear my throat and sip “Lairds Foley,” a cocktail mixed with Bootleggers Lemongrass Wit and Laird’s Applejack Whiskey among other house-made ingredients. With my beer long-gone, this beer cocktail thing saves me with a refreshing sweet kick that extends the sweetness of the shrimp. It’s gastro foreplay, really.

At this point, several sipped-on beer cocktails hang around my plate like a third wheel. Thus far I’ve sampled each dish with a swig of beer and a sip of cocktail, letting my subconscious guide my devilish ways. Each course is served with a Bootlegger’s tasting room exclusive beer and a cocktail created by Hopscotch Mixologist James Wood with the same beer. It’s nice to sample both to see which is worth of tomorrow’s hangover. Beer seems to be winning though, and I’m not sure if it’s a “comfort zone” thing.

Searing pork belly in duck. Wabbit season! Duck Season! Wabbit season! Photo: Alan De Herrera

Searing pork belly in duck. Wabbit season! Duck Season! Wabbit season! Photo: Alan De Herrera

Around course four my suspicions of chef were yet again confirmed. Pickled pork belly snow-capped with a load of creamy white goat yogurt is literally food porn in its purest form. Still not convinced of this obvious gastro seduction? Pork, seared in duck fat (the birds) surrounded by lemongrass coulis and honeycomb (the bees) is a nice touch. This gorgeous plate is a feast for the eyes and might be my favorite dish of the night… and year, for that matter. The crispy edge of the pork is like the best jerky you’ve ever had and the middle of the morsel is filled with mouth-exploding juicy pork love. Even the beer pairing of Wildfire Wheat really brings out some exceptional toasty notes from the rauch malt and crispy meat.

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Hopscotch Pastry Chef Mai Phan’s devilish smirk as she presents her Chocolate Goat Cheesecake. Photo: Alan De Herrera

The final two courses hit our table crawling. We’re gutted and buzzed with a slight case of the meat-sweats. For the sake of this review, I get up and stretch to make room for a traditional cassoulet and one of the most inventive cocktails I’ve ever tasted. A “Hopsidaisy,” which is basically a Columbus-hopped gin drink containing grapefruit, lemon, house-made thyme syrup on top of Bootlegger’s Tropical Thunder Pale Ale, then garnished with whole cone hops. A one-hundred IBU cocktail is something I would have never expected at a beer dinner, but Hopscotch’s James Wood doesn’t quit. On the beer side, Bootlegger’s Tropical Thunder has a unique story stemming from an “oopsy-daisy” moment at the brewhouse. Originally a Golden Chaos Belgian Golden brewday, the brewers pitched the wrong hops and went with it. To further this “frankenbrew,” they used traditional German hefeweizen yeast and dry hopped it. The end result is an intensely tropical beer with huge banana, mango and pineapple notes stemming from the hops and yeast. It’s truly a unique and refreshing take on a standard hoppy pale ale.

As the evening winds down, dessert of chocolate goat milk cheesecake goes down like a funky flan. The last beer and cocktail pairings are sipped, leftovers are boxed, and a cab is called. I can guarantee some crazy sex dreams will fill my night.

Hopscotch Tavern's culinary, cocktail and service team. Photo: Alan De Herrera

Hopscotch Tavern’s culinary, cocktail and service team. Photo: Alan De Herrera

For a first date, I’d say that the two got along beautifully. As with any pairing dinner, I always look for a heightened experience. With each dish, beer and cocktail, excellence was achieved. Some of the pairings brought out nuances of the courses that weren’t there before. Plus, the time, planning, and overall romantic overtones were not lost! I can’t wait to see what Chef Cody Storts and Mixologist James Wood come up with next. This meal is one for the books; the kind you find under a mattress.

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