By Marissa Willman
Before you dare crack open another Bud Light, it’s time to elevate your drinking palate with a taste of what’s going on in the Coachella Valley’s local craft beer scene. More and more local restaurants are dedicating a handle or two to craft beers, while the recent opening of Total Wines in Palm Desert brought hundreds of small-batch lagers, ales and stouts to the desert.
But wait, what’s a craft beer exactly? Think handcrafted brews produced by small and independently owned breweries, like the dozens of local breweries you’ll find in San Diego. Basically, the anti-Budweiser.
Check out what’s going on locally with craft beer, and get ready to bid adieu to those bottles of Bud Light.
Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse
Back in 2002, restaurateur Don Callender (the man behind the Marie Callender’s chain) and COO Art Vasquez set out to pioneer the craft beer scene in the Coachella Valley with the opening of Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse in Rancho Mirage. Over the last decade, their dedication to craft beer has won the brewery numerous awards and accolades from the likes of the Australian International Beer Awards and the L.A. International Commercial Beer Competition.
Today, you can sample these award-winning beers at the western-themed restaurant at The River. The most popular choice for people easing into craft beers is the Honey Blonde Ale, which won a gold medal at the 2012 L.A. International Commercial Beer Competition. The light beer is brewed with California honey for a smooth, palate-pleasing finish. If you prefer lagers, the dark Blackfin is a favorite with Babe’s craft beer drinkers.
Babe’s doesn’t stop with its own ales and lagers, either. The bar also stocks dozens of hand-selected beers from notable breweries like Allagash, Stone and The Lost Abbey. If you’re overwhelmed with selections, you can order a flight of Babe’s house beers or go with the Cicerone, a flight that includes both in-house beers and notable brews from outside breweries.
Monday nights are Beer Appreciation Day, where all craft beers are offered at half price from 3 p.m. to closing. For more information, check out Babe’s on Facebook at facebook.com/Babesbbqbrewhouse or on Instagram and Twitter, where they’ve built a community for local beer lovers with the #coachellavalleybeerscene hashtag.
Coachella Valley Brewing Company
The local beer scene has been buzzing for months over the upcoming opening of Coachella Valley Brewing Company. Luckily for local beer drinkers, CVB will open its doors at the end of the month with a soft opening on Aug. 24. A few seats remain for the 12 p.m. event, and the $40 ticket includes food, a beer flight, tours and a pint of your choosing served in a souvenir glass to keep.
Brewmaster Chris Anderson has a long history of producing award-winning beers, and in the Coachella Valley, his focus is to build a farmhouse brewery that uses local ingredients to brew truly local beers. The Desert Swarm, for example, uses locally produced honey from Lance Davis’ Killer Bee Removal, while the Joshua Tree-inspired Monumentous draws on local grapefruit and blood oranges to create a complex flavor profile.
CVB has partnered with local farms and businesses not only to incorporate their produce (everything from dates and kumquats to marjoram and sage) in their beers, but also to ensure they create as little waste as possible. To this end, CVB is donating spent grain to local farmers who can use the grain as livestock feed. They’re also cooking up spent grain pretzels as a bar snack and exploring local partnerships with businesses that can turn the grain into soaps or pet shampoos.
Hurry and snag yourself one of the last spots for the soft opening by calling (760) 343-5973.
La Quinta Brewing Company
Over in Palm Desert, the La Quinta Brewing Company is gearing up to start pouring this fall. Started by desert native Scott Stokes, a former real estate developer with a passion for homebrewing, La Quinta Brewing Company will launch with a solid offering of four staples: pale ale, amber wheat, blonde and an IPA, all using traditional ingredients.
To launch the new brewery, Stokes partnered with Derek Lloyd and Ryan Pearson as Director of Sales and Master Brewer, respectively. Pearson comes from the award-winning Green Flash Brewery in San Diego, bringing both knowledge and experience to La Quinta Brewing Company’s brewhouse.
When the brewery opens its doors this fall, you can expect beer tastings and special events like a “Meet the Brewer” night. Keep up with their progress at facebook.com/LaQuintaBrewingCo.
Still fancy yourself a Coors drinker? So did Dennis Ford, who took over Schmidy’s Tavern with his wife, Kathy, earlier this year. But since taking over the bar, Ford has converted to craft beers – and Schmidy’s is sharing their passion for handcrafted brews through their weekly beer tastings. Cicerone Justin Moeller introduces locals to the best the craft beer world has to offer every Tuesday. For $15, you’ll get to sample a variety of handpicked beers, special releases and other exciting players in the craft beer world.
For a real lesson in all things craft beer, you can get schooled – literally – during Beer School, held on the last Wednesday of each month. Schmidy’s transforms into a craft beer classroom of sorts, where connoisseurs and novice drinkers alike can sample four craft beers (plus one surprise beer) with a meal pairing by a local guest chef. At $20 per person, it’s a steal. But be warned: these events fill up quickly and it’s first come, first served, so show up early to secure your seat (Beer School starts at 7 p.m.).
Any other day of the week, you’ll find dozens of craft beers either on tap or by the bottle. Since they’re constantly changing their beer selections as small batches run out and new brews are brought in, your best bet is to check their Facebook page or website (schmidystavern.com) to see what’s available. And if you see something on the list that you want to try, act quickly – once these small-batch beers are gone, they’re gone.