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.
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.
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).
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 Burger, Heroes 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.