With more than a dozen years brewing and selling craft beer in the Inland Empire, Dale Bros. Brewery is clearly the dean of the region’s craft breweries. Not only has the Upland-based operation been churning out beer the longest, but it also is helping to grow the industry locally by introducing beer lovers to a host of other Southern California breweries at its annual Brews and Bros. Beer Festival.
Celebrating the brewery’s 12th anniversary in January, Dale Bros. pulled together 33 craft breweries from throughout the area to share their suds at Cable Airport in Upland on a sunny and breezy January afternoon. With the sounds of the bands Hellbound and Groove Session filling the air, the many beer vendors were joined by Claremont’s Eureka Burger pouring Oskar Blues Brewery (Longmont, Colo.) beers, Ace Cider (Sebastopol, Calif.), Liquorama pouring craft cider, and four wineries offering wine selections. Five of the participating breweries also poured craft sodas in addition to their beers.
“I personally really like the size of the festival,” says Julie McAleer from Dale Bros., one of the driving forces behind the festival. “We may be able to squeeze in a few more breweries, but I don’t think there are too many more we can realistically invite while still ensuring that it is both intimate and comfortably spacious.”
Just two years ago, Dale Bros. Brewery celebrated its 10th anniversary with a large gathering at the brewery, which is located just south of Cable Airport. Having outgrown that festival site, the brewery’s creative crew led by McAleer and Karen McMillan, a partner in the brewery along with husband Andy Dale and his brother Curt, moved the annual festival to the sprawling and spacious grounds at the nearby airport.
In just two years, the event has flourished, and it promises to get bigger. More than 2,000 beer enthusiasts and those just out for a great afternoon social event helped to support the brewery’s ongoing commitment to the community. McMillan says that attendance is up from last year’s estimate of 1,300 people, and proceeds this year generated some $18,000 to benefit the Claremont Educational Foundation – one of many community organizations that Dale Bros. supports throughout the year.
This year’s lineup featured 20 breweries and wineries that were at the festival for the first time, says McAleer. At least five of those – Bottle Logic Brewing in Anaheim, Hamilton Family Brewing Co. and No Clue Brew in Rancho Cucamonga, Dr. Jekyll’s in Altadena and Four Sons in Huntington Beach – opened their doors within the past year, while another Rök House Brewing Co. in Upland, participated in 2014 before the brewery’s June opening.Food trucks, a cigar lounge, games, a photo booth and even razor shaves and haircuts were all part of the festivities. Uber vehicles were standing by for those who sampled a bit too much. However, craft beer is more for tasting rather than chugging, and the crowd seemed to understand the difference. Compared to some regions with more established beer communities, such as San Diego County, the Inland Empire is a relative infant. As such, many of the large crowd attended for social and philanthropic reasons – not for sampling an exotic beer or discovering a new brew being poured for the first time. Similarly, many of the breweries provided beers more suited for the masses such as pale ales or IPAs, rather than pouring specialty beers. That’s to be expected.
Nevertheless, there were a number of breweries that did pull out some specialties. For example, Brew Rebellion from Yucaipa offered up a unique S’more Porter with Habanero that started sweet and quickly picked up heat. Aftershock Brewing from Temecula poured an espresso stout and an IPA that was fruit-infused in a plastic cylinder in the line between the keg and the tap.
McAleer says she hopes more breweries will showcase rare beers next year – perhaps at a separate special session for those who come specifically to try unique brews. This approach has proved to be popular at the annual Stone Brewing Co. anniversary celebration in San Marcos every August.
“We haven’t decided on specific changes at this point, but the wheels are definitely turning,” she says. “We will continue to do things to improve the experience for the attendees, breweries and vendors. Whatever we do, there will definitely be more good things to come.”
Articles from “Sips, Suds and Spirits” focusing on the local craft beer scene now appear in 9-0-9 Magazine. This story will also be featured in the March magazine.