Posts by Greg Nagel

Beer and Loathing in Paso Robles

Jun 6

P1050630We were somewhere around the edge of wine country in Paso Robles when the craft beer began to take hold (1). Baked and dripping with sweat, I dump the remnants of my tasting plate on the ground and use it as a makeshift fan. The air is thick, hot and pointless, laying on us like a nightmare in a sleeping bag.

Black bugs have somehow managed to attach themselves to odd parts of my body and pinch every so often. “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn bugs?” (2). One clings to my armpit as I smack it and smack it again, making it bite harder. “Hey! Ouch!” I yelp as spectators laugh wildly. I duck in the bathroom and dunk my head under the sink, then sling on my hat to grab a beer…the only cold thing in this arid place called Paso Robles.

Flash backward a few hours as this Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival starts and I’m in ‘kid on Halloween’ mode. Media check-in and pre-fest starts early and I’m not taking any chances. It’s peaceful. Nearby cows moo. It’s time to drink.

P1050608Standing near Russian River’s booth I hear brewer/owner Vinnie Cilurzo say the words “five-day old Pliny” and “two-year old Temptation.” These words fish-hook the absolute cream of the beer-media (3). We walk like we’re in a Broadway musical, jazz hands fluttering to get a pour. A pretentious voice behind me mutters “I’ve had two-day old Pliny once” while clearing his throat nervously. The five-day old version must taste like piss to this guy. I toss it back, note the fresh Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial and CTZ hops, and move on quickly for a glass rinse and something dark before it gets too hot. The forecast for today is nailed at 104 degrees.

P1050621At this festival, beers like Pliny the Elder are ‘just beers’. Not to discount the highly decorated Double IPA from Santa Rosa, but there’s some serious rarities to be consumed today. Brandy Barrel Aged Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout from Cigar City, which ended up winning the People’s Choice award, and Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Lord from the psychedelic Three Floyds Brewing were among the barrel-aged treats that generally elude us on the West Coast. Mikkeller, The Lost Abbey and Firestone Walker were unleashing lambics, framboise and collaborations. Orange County’s sole representative, The Bruery, leaked several rarities on the crowd each hour.

As much as the public loves this festival, brewers also gush at the prospect of getting an invite. Tyler King, The Bruery’s senior director of brewing operations, put it well: “It’s an honor (to be here) no matter where you’re from. We love so many of these breweries and to pour beer next to them is pretty amazing.” Tony Yanow of Golden Road/Tony’s Darts Away/Mohawk Bend was equally excited: “We are a very young brewery and to present our beer alongside our heroes is an honor.”

Adding to the event’s allure, there’s international beer, too. Fascinated with the thought of sampling overseas freshies, my associate Daniel Fernandez and I make a trip to the fest’s ‘Little Germany’. “I had no idea Germans were so tall,” says Daniel with his sub-sombrero sized hat. The guys at Mahr’s Brau Bamburg put David Hasselhoff to shame, and the girl at BraufactuM is at least three inches taller than me in flats. We then visit Yo-Ho Brewing, who also brought their beers from Japan to last year’s inaugural invitational. Close by, Italy’s Birrificio Italiano poured Tipo Pils, a beer that inspired Firestone Walker’s brewmaster Matt Brynildson to brew Pivo Pils, which should be arriving in the southland soon.


Yo-Ho Brewing

Of the many, many beers sampled, three are my standouts:
1. Mikkeller’s Spotancherry Lambic gives me repeatable goosebumps. Juicy tart cherries burst in my mouth with the tiniest sip. Tastes like fresh tart cherry pie.

P10506522. Lagunitas is shocked to hear my love for Sonoma County Sour Stout. “It’s pretty shocking considering we aimed to break every rule when making it…a stout on a hot day that goes down easy? Shocking!” says the biker-looking guy pouring. Layered flavors and aromas strike hard, then hit in waves with each sip. Roastiness, oak, tart fruit, some pleasant funk. The sign aims to debunk its tastiness and only makes me want it more.

3. The Lost Abbey’s Framboise de Amorosa is also among my standouts. Very bright and clean raspberry tart without any metallic notes. Finishes dry with tons of flavor. Shocker, I know. Funky/sour/Belgian style beers are perfect for hot weather, I’ve learned.

P1050624Food at the festival is dotted potluck-style amongst breweries. 25 local restaurants brought small-plate tastes to serve throughout the day. I enjoyed the Bloody Mary Granita from Luna Red and Ancho Duck & Cheese Quesadilla from McPhee’s Grill. Near the end, most food was gone.

The music from Hot Buttered Rum fit the mood of the festival; hyperactive, progressive bluegrass is something I could very well be a fan of without knowing it. The White Buffalo also performed later in the day but I was blissfully altered by craft beer at that point in time (see top paragraph).

P1050623Gripes: 0! If you go to one festival a year in California, this is it. It’s like a GABF greatest hits mixtape in a small venue with really good food and music. This is the gold standard of beer festivals. Despite the hot temps, there was no problem finding shade, misters, water or an NFL sideline cooler.

Title,(1),(2),(3) – quotes inspired by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas copyright 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson

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 and on twitter at @OCBeerBlog

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Provisions Market Opens Soon in Orange

May 29

UPDATE: Provisions Market set to open Wednesday, June 5.

Never fully healed from The Bruery Provisions closing this past January, I had all but given up hope of a worthy suitor taking over the quaint spot in historic Old Towne Orange. Losing one’s favorite local craft beer and cheese shop is a tough wound to heal, and I was still stuck somewhere in the seven stages of grief.

Then, a miracle happened: a new sign out front read Provisions Market. I dropped to one knee and held a nearby bench to collect myself. I re-read the sign in disbelief. “It’s here!” I yelled at a confused old couple nearby. “The Haven Collective will surely save us!” To celebrate, I scored some coconut gelato from a nearby cafe and went home to cut the rope hanging in my garage.

PP1050600rovisions Market, which held a private soft opening last week, makes full use of its space as one part bottle shop, one part tasting room, and one part chef-driven food shop with cheese, charcuterie, snacks and sandwiches. Bruery Provisions’ soul still haunts the digs in a friendly ghost sort of way, leaving thirty taps for the next tenants, partners Wil Dee, Ace Patel and Chef Greg Daniels.

The room is freshly furnished with new seating in the shop area. Bottles sit on the sidelines like wallflowers waiting for a dance partner. As I tip a pint of Trumer Pils, inhaling deep and taking in the evening, I reminisce about all the memories and friendships forged in this room over the years. Thankfully, the new TVs don’t distract me; they’re kept on mute, allowing conversations to flow and sports fans to still track the games.

As an added bonus, Portola Coffee Lab, a local roasting company that just celebrated their second anniversary, will open their second location inside the market.

P1050559The partners seem to have a grasp on what the market wants. “The beer scene in Orange was bleak before we moved in,” says Dee. Chef Daniels agrees: “I would sit outside smoking a cigarette while we were building Haven and wonder if people would come.” Now, the area is ripe for a proper beer crawl, with several craft beer friendly restaurants dotting Old Towne’s historic tree-lined streets.

The Haven Collective owns four all-craft beer locations in OC and LA: Haven Gastropub in Orange, Haven Gastropub + Brewery in Pasadena, Taco Asylum in Costa Mesa, and Provisions Market (30 taps, plus a bottle shop and food options). View our Facebook photo album.

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 and on twitter at @OCBeerBlog

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Noble Pumps Out the Naughty Sauce

May 16

If I were to tell you Orange County’s most talked-about beer isn’t an IPA, you’d probably say, “It’s a Double IPA, right?” Nope. “Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout?” Closer! Here’s a few clues:

  • It’s a coffee milk stout.
  • It’s blonde.
  • It’s only served on nitro.
Naughty Sauce. Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dunham Price

Naughty Sauce. Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dunham Price

Although a blonde milk stout served on nitro is intriguing on its own, Anaheim’s Noble Ale Works cooked up all the talk this year by adding a fun name: Naughty Sauce. My initial reaction was “gimmick beer”; however, knowing what Evan Price has done since taking over as head brewer at Noble mid-2012, I couldn’t deny the sauce.

Visually, Naughty Sauce looks similar to a freshly baked vanilla cupcake. Its fluffy golden yellow body is topped with a dollop of creamy white cascading head. Blindfolded, the beer smells and drinks like a frothed beer-latte. It’s hard to not look like a “Got Milk” ad after the first sip. “Got Milk Stout?” Indeed. A pint goes down with minimal effort thanks to its velvety spumescent body.

Noble enlisted Portola Coffee Labs in Costa Mesa with its custom El Salvador coffee blend. Beans are hand-selected and roasted specifically for Naughty Sauce. “We let Portola geek out with the blend. We know beer, they know coffee,” says Price with his boyish good looks. He claims that fresh coffee beans “have a fruity quality going in the tank, but impart a bright-roasty character when complete.” Although three pounds of coffee per barrel are used, Portola’s owner and master roaster Jeff Duggan confirms a small amount caffeine is infused in the beer, estimating around 20% of the caffeine in a standard 12 oz cup of coffee per pint.

Naughty Sauce is brewed and released quarterly — this latest batch yielded 45 BBL — to maintain freshness and quality. As the beer is nitro-only, Noble likes to spread the sauce around Orange County’s best craft beer bars. Initially a one-off batch, Don’s Naughty Sauce was brewed in collaboration with the all-craft beer restaurant The Playground in downtown Santa Ana. Using superstar coffee Don Pachi, the release let people taste the expensive $100/lb Panama beans in a unique beer.

Jarred Dooley, Director of Libations at The Playground, put it well:

“There’s nothing quite like the face a person makes the first time they try Noble’s Naughty Sauce. People can’t equate the color of the beer with its flavor. I think that, hopefully, people will start to realize that the plethora of amazing beers being churned out means they don’t have to go on an endless search for a ‘whale’ of a beer. I think that Naughty Sauce deserves the cult following that Pliny the Younger gets!”

Special firkin releases are also a regular occurrence. The small environment of a cask gives Noble the freedom to infuse base beers with high quality specialty ingredients. Casks like Naughty NutsNaughty Sauce infused with hand-shaved, roasted coconut – are usually drained in one long continuous pour. Popular batches may pave the way for larger brews.

The name Naughty Sauce came from assistant brewer Brad Kominek who thought the name matched the “sexiness” of the beer. Noble owner Jerry Kolbly wasn’t a fan, but gave it the green light after a pint. Noble Ale Works has fun with most of their beer names, such as a porter named Jonathan (named after the freshly-opened Smog City Brewing’s Jonathan Porter) and Gosebusters, which is their take on a Leipziger Gose. Although Noble’s IPA still outsells the Sauce, all the attention has been a nice money shot for the brewery.

Noble Ale Works is located walking distance from Honda Center and Angel’s Stadium in Anaheim. Head Brewer Evan Price previously brewed at TAPS Fishhouse & Brewery, Hangar 24 and BJ’s.

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 and on twitter at @OCBeerBlog

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