The Art of Crafts

The current boom in the craft brewing industry continues to raise the question of how much is too much. New establishments continue to pop up all the time, and it appears that our corner of the Inland Empire may be adding a couple more soon.1174567_10151646274874472_2010703940_n

With Dale Bros. Brewery  in Upland and nearby Claremont Craft Ales in Claremont, I’m not far from a convenient tasting room. There are reportedly two more craft breweries scheduled to open soon in Upland.

The inventory in the Inland Empire continues to grow. There is La Verne Brewing Co. in La Verne, Chino Valley Brewery in Ontario and I & I Brewing in Chino. And extending a little beyond my immediate area, the king of the local breweries is Hangar 24 Craft Brewery in Redlands. There are more: Ritual Brewing Co. and Donkey Punch Brewery in Redlands; Brew Rebellion in Yucaipa; Main Street Brewery and TAPS Fish House and Brewery in Corona; Sons of Liberty Ale Works in Norco; Kat Daddy Breweries in Moreno Valley; and Inland Empire Brewing Company, Packinghouse Brewing Company, Wicks Brewing Co., Thompson Brewing Co. and Area 51 Craft Brewery in Riverside.934673_10151397964722286_1143140817_n

That may seem like a lot, but the local grouping is nothing in comparison to the many offerings in San Diego County. Industry experts predict that by the end of this year, there will be 90 craft breweries in San Diego County alone, which I have frequently referred to as the “Napa Valley” of craft beer.  There are already more than 70 in operation.

Thanks in large part to the widespread overwhelming success of Stone Brewing Co., the region has embraced the San Diego craft beer explosion, and the brewers work and live together in a spirit of cooperation rather than competition, sharing ideas and recipes, collaborating on special releases, and even giving visitors to their tasting rooms recommendations on other breweries to patronize. The area truly has become a renowned beer community. Heck, San Diego State University is now offering a certificate in craft beer program. There is a publication dedicated to the San Diego craft beer scene called the West Coaster. San Diego Beer Week runs Nov. 1-10 as a showcase to the county’s many fine brewers and products.

A large part of the appeal of craft beer is the creativity that goes into the product.  San Diego currently has breweries making some of the best beer in the world – certainly some of the best beers I’ve ever tasted (visit The Lost Abbey and Port Brewing Co. in San Marcos). These aren’t the kind where you return to the keg for a refill every 15 minutes, but what I describe as “sipping beers.” In fact, the best way to sample craft beers is much like you would taste wine – in small quantities. I often try an assortment of beers in four-ounce taster glasses, and then when I find something I want to savor, I’ll order a pint (or a smaller serving for some of the higher alcohol brews).

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With San Diego as the model, there is plenty of room for more craft breweries in my neighborhood. Nationally, craft beer sales rose 17 percent in 2012, but they still only account for about 6 percent of overall beer sales nationally. Last year alone, more than 400 new breweries opened in the United States, and there are another 1,250 in the planning stages across the country. More than 2,300 craft breweries were in operation for at least some of 2012, including brewpubs, microbreweries and regional craft breweries.

I’d be happy to see more local brewpubs, too, along the lines of a Karl Strauss Brewing Co., Urge Gastropub or Churchill’s Pub in San Marcos. That said, we do have a BJs Restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga and another rumored to be added at the Colonies Crossroads development in Upland. There is a Yard House at Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga and Congregation Ale House in Azusa. Local restaurants like Eureka BurgerHeroes and Legends and Beer Belly Deli in Claremont offer a generous selection of craft beers. Most local liquor stores and even grocery stores now stock a nice selection of craft beers, too. I’m partial to Liquorama, Total Wines and More and BevMo for stocking my home inventory.

We’ll take a closer look at some of these places on an individual basis in future postings.

Wines of the Times

One of the best ways to learn what kinds of wine you prefer is to compare them side-by-side. Go to wine tastings, visit wineries or orchestrate your own wine tasting at home. Just keep trying new wines. Places like Liquorama in Upland or the many Total Wines and More stores have regular personalized educational wine tasting sessions that are well worth the nominal charge to find some incredible offerings.IMG_0003

Another great way to sample a wide variety of wines is at special events such as the Los Angeles County Fair. The wines in the Fair’s tasting inventory come from the annual pre-Fair competition, which has been around for nearly 75 years. Once limited to only California wines, it now draws entries from around the world.

The Fair’s Los Angeles International Competition features not only wine, but also spirits, commercial beer and extra virgin olive oil. But it’s the award-winning wines that bring people to the building, along with the many educational classes held in the same area throughout the run of the Fair. Here is a list of the sessions remaining during this year’s Fair.

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The Spirit of Education

Not long after we became “empty-nesters” a couple of years ago, it became obvious I needed another hobby to keep me busy. While the logical route would be to take a cooking class or something along those lines, I wanted something that would do a better job of holding my interest.

I wasn’t actively seeking a bartending class when I stumbled upon an ad for BarSmarts in “Imbibe” magazine. I just wanted to learn the basics of mixology. I probably should have paid a little more attention, but the idea of taking an online bartender education course seemed pretty appealing, especially for a very reasonable fee. It wasn’t until I got started that I learned that the course was designed for working bartenders, and I’ve never been behind a professional bar in my life.

BarSmarts certificateIn truth, the course was challenging, but not so much that I couldn’t handle it. Even though I haven’t worked behind a bar, I have enough practical experience as a consumer to know what I like in a cocktail.  I just didn’t know what went into the process or the history of distilled spirits.

Developed by Pernod Ricard USA, the BarSmarts spirits and mixology training and certification program truly is made for anyone who has a genuine interest not only in how to make a good cocktail, but also in building their knowledge about various liquors, cocktails and their origins. But having said that, it should be mandatory for all professional bartenders. In fact, I’d recommend that those in the trade go beyond the BarSmarts “Wired” online course and enroll in the BarSmarts Advanced program.

BarSmarts Wired comes with a workbook and accompanying videos. Participants are required to pass an exam at the end of each of four separate modules before completing a “drink builder” final exam covering “25 classic drinks that every bartender should know.”barsmarts logo

The instructors behind the program and featured in the videos are part of a virtual all-star team of personalities in the spirits industry. For example, Dale DeGroff, who gained fame as the bartender at New York’s Rainbow Room, is one of the best-known mixologists in the world. And David Wondrich is the world’s foremost expert on the history of the American cocktail. All of the instructors are partners of the Beverage Alcohol Resource and bring experience and knowledge from a variety of areas of the industry.

The BarSmarts program was fascinating, and I’m appreciative of the program’s leader Suzanne Freedman for letting me gain a wealth of valuable intelligence. It not only expanded my knowledge, but also my taste for certain spirits, and most definitely for a well-made cocktail. It’s the kind of education that shouldn’t be limited to bartenders.barsmarts-gear-640x480

 

 

 

 

Here’s to You! Welcome!

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Sampling spirits at Mala in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.

I’ve had an interest in alcoholic beverages for as long as I can remember. The focus has shifted through different stages of my life, from when I scavenged through the city recycling center during my high school and college years to build to my beer can collection, to developing a taste for nice wines as an adult, to learning the right way to make a classic cocktail in recent years, to my new passion for craft beer.

Be it a great beer, fine wine or well-crafted spirit, they have served as intriguing and integral complements to my social life.

So after spending most of my adult life sipping, swirling, shooting, shaking, stirring and otherwise storing a wealth of knowledge about what I like to drink, now it makes sense to put this information to good use and share my experiences and opinions in this new blog, “Sips, Suds and Spirits.”

I’ll look at some of the people who are working in the field, including both my sons, Sid and Sam, who are employed by craft breweries in San Diego County, which has become the Napa Valley of craft beer. It is my pleasure to pass along new information and the treasure trove of unique products here in this blog. I just wish I started “Sips, Suds and Spirits” earlier, because I will have no shortage of content.

In keeping with the central theme, I’ll sample beers, wines and spirits and note my comments.  Naturally, I won’t do this alone; sharing other “expert” opinions will be a valuable component. But it won’t stop there. I hope to write about great deals at local liquor stores, new products, special events, competitions, home brews, cocktail recipes, outstanding bartenders, industry notes, tailgate tips, collections, home bars, trivia and anything else that interests me – as long as it fits with the general topic.

I’ll keep this updated on a regular basis. And if you have something you’d like to share or see covered, let me know. Your contributions are most definitely welcome!

Until the next round, Cheers!

Sid