Inland Empire Breweries Score Big at Los Angeles International Beer Competition
By: Sid Robinson
It’s hard to rival San Diego County’s 120 craft breweries (and growing) as the craft beer capital of the world, but Inland Empire beer makers are taking huge strides, as evidenced by the results of the Los Angeles International Commercial Beer Competition at Fairplex in Pomona April 9-10.
Brewers from the greater Inland Empire, including those from the Coachella Valley, the high desert area and as far south as Temecula, struck for a total of 29 medals, including 14 gold from the 97 different categories. The region’s breweries also earned seven silver medals, five bronze medals and three honorable mention accolades.
I had the pleasure of joining close to 100 other noted judges in evaluating more than 1,000 beers from around the world over the two days of blind tastings. Beers were identified only by category and number. Judging panels consisted of craft brewers, home brewers, beer industry professionals, alcoholic beverage media and Beer Judge Certification Program certified judges from throughout Southern California.
TAPS Fish House and Brewery, which has three locations, including one in Corona, was the big winner among the locals, capturing a total of seven medals – four gold, two silvers and a bronze. The brewery took the top prize in the American-Belgo-style ale category for Cali Cru’sin, along with awards for TAPS Vienna Lager (Vienna-style lager), El Moreno (American-style dark lager) and Rebescent (Imperial red ale).
Kinetic Brewing Co. from the high desert city of Lancaster won two gold and two bronze medals. First-place honors came in the wood- and barrel-aged sour beer and robust porter categories (3rd Gear – 3rd Anniversary sour ale and Fusion, respectively).
Claremont Craft Ales garnered four awards, including a gold medal for Grapefruit Dude in the fruit beer category. CCA also earned silver and bronze medals and an honorable mention.
The challenge of examining so many entries in nearly 100 categories is to have a full field of judges. I was paired with home brewer Stephanie Collins of Claremont, who has been judging beer competitions for four years, albeit most of those were home brewing events. She is a seasoned and knowledgeable BJCP credentialed beer judge who was a tremendous help to me throughout the two days, over which we tasted French and Belgian-Style Saisons, Brown Porters and Belgian-Style Fruit Beers. Other panels were faced with even more categories.
“Forty beers is a day’s work for an individual judge, even though we only drank two or three ounces of each one to check its aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel and overall impression,” explained Jim Wilson, who has judged 10 of the past 12 Los Angeles International Beer Competitions. “Beer judging differs from wine and spirit judging because beer has to be swallowed to evaluate all the flavor elements, including bitterness.”
Wilson was the most esteemed judge at the Fairplex competition. He is the only Grand Master Level III BJCP Certified judge in California and the state’s only Grand Master of any ranking living south of Santa Barbara. Only 14 of the 9,500 BJCP judges around the world have earned Wilson’s rank or higher.
Collins is an experienced beer judge in her own right. A home brewer since 2009, Collins said she took up an interest in beer because she previously didn’t know what she liked and she wanted to get her boyfriend (now husband) a home brewing kit. “The guy at the store seemed frustrated with me because I didn’t know what I needed,” Collins said. “So I took it upon myself to learn. I started drinking beer to become educated, comparing a number of different beers among different styles.”
She started home brewing and connected with other home brewers, who gave her valuable feedback and confidence, which fast-tracked her beer education and interest. That eventually led her to the rigorous Beer Judging Certification Program, earning not only her official certification, but also the respect of the beer community.
Lars Bennett and Mark Heffernan, owners of Upland’s Rök House Brewing, were faced with tasting more than 40 IPAs on the first day of competition. Taking a short break in the afternoon, Bennett noticed that Stephanie and I were judging French and Belgian-Style Saisons. “I hope you recognize our (Rök House’s) She Wolf Saison,” he said. As an inexperienced beer judge in a blind tasting, of course I couldn’t identify their beer from the others. But when the winners were announced a week after the competition, we had indeed awarded the Rök House entry a well-deserved silver medal.
I would have loved to have sampled the wood- and barrel-aged strong beer category, where the Boston Beer Company’s celebrated Samuel Adams Utopias 2015 was the winner. The 10th anniversary edition of this very unique brew carries a remarkable 29 percent ABV and retails for around $200 a bottle, although you likely won’t find it for less than several times that price.
Other Inland Empire 2016 gold medalists are Dale Bros. from Upland for Nuff (American-style specialty lager cream ale or lager); Sanctum Brewing Co. from Pomona for Kottbusser (historical beer); Heroes Restaurant and Brewery from Riverside for Paranuts Brown Ale (American-style brown ale); Wicks Brewing Co., from Riverside for Paladin (American-style strong pale ale); Wiens Brewing from Temecula for Type 3 IPA (double red ale); Babe’s Barbecue and Brewhouse from Rancho Mirage forBabe’s Honey Blond Ale (specialty honey beer); and Coachella Valley Brewing from Thousand Palmsfor Black Widow (wood- and barrel-aged strong stout).
Among the other Inland Empire breweries that were recognized were La Verne Brewing (silver), Refuge Brew in Temecula (honorable mention), Wicks Brewing (honorable mention), Sons of Liberty Aleworks in Norco (silver), La Quinta Brewing in Palm Desert (silver and bronze), Rök House (silver).
Gaderian, an English Old Ale aged for a year in oak barrels with Brettanomyces yeast from San Diego’s Council Brewing Co., was declared the 2016 competition’s Best of Show.
Here is a list of the 2016 Inland Empire winners at the Los Angeles International Beer Competition:
Claremont Craft Ales (Claremont), Grapefruit Dude, Fruit Beer
Babe’s Barbecue &Brewhouse (Rancho Mirage), Babe’s Honey Blonde Ale, Specialty Honey Beer
Taps Fish House (Corona), Cali Cru’sin, American-Belgo-Style Ale
Coachella Valley Brewing Co. (Thousand Palms), Black Widow, Wood and Barrel-Aged Strong Stout
Kinetic Brewing Company (Lancaster), 3rd Gear (3rd Anniversary Sour Ale), Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer
Dale Bros. (Upland), Nuff, American-Style Specialty Lager, Cream Ale or Lager
Taps Fish House (Corona), TAPS Vienna Lager, Vienna-Style Lager
Taps Fish House (Corona), El Moreno, American-Style Dark Lager
Wicks Brewing Co. (Riverside), Paladin, American-Style Strong Pale Ale
Taps Fish House (Corona), Rubescent, Imperial Red Ale
Heroes Restaurant and Brewery (Riverside), Paranuts Brown Ale, American-Style Brown Ale
Kinetic Brewing Company (Lancaster), Fusion, Robust Porter
Sanctum Brewing Co. (Pomona), Kottbusser, Historical Beer
Wiens Brewing (Temecula), Type 3 IPA, Double Red Ale
La Verne Brewing Co. (La Verne), Mt. Meadows White Wheat, American-Style Wheat Beer with Yeast
Taps Fish House (Corona), The Velvet Hog, Other Strong Beer
Claremont Craft Ales (Claremont), Norman, American-Style Specialty Lager, Cream Ale or Lager
Sons of Liberty Aleworks (Norco), New England Common, American-Style Amber Lager
Taps Fish House (Corona), TAPS Irish Red, Irish-Style Red Ale
La Quinta Brewing Co. (Palm Desert), Tan Line, American-Style Brown Ale
Rök House Brewing Co. (Upland), She Wolf Saison, French- and Belgian-Style Saison
Kinetic Brewing Company (Lancaster), 4th Gear (4th Anniversary Vanilla Stout), Herb & Spice Beer
Kinetic Brewing Company (Lancaster), HippHopanonymous, American-Style India Pale Ale
Claremont Craft Ales (Claremont), Buddy, American-Style Black Ale
La Quinta Brewing Co. (Palm Desert), Koffi Porter, Coffee Beer
Taps Fish House (Corona), TAPS Schwarzbier, German-Style Schwarzbier
Refuge Brew (Temecula), Grapefruit IPA, American Fruit Beer
Wicks Brewing Co. (Riverside), Bard’s Song, Field Beer
Claremont Craft Ales (Claremont), Single Dude, American-Style India Pale Ale
The complete list of medal-winning beers is posted at www.labeercomp.com. Entries will be available to sample at LA on Tap, a public tasting event on May 7, 2016 benefiting The Learning Centers at Fairplex. For more information about the participating breweries and to purchase tickets, visit www.laontap.beer.