What I Did This Summer

IMG_2388 (1)With summer slowly inching toward an end, it’s time to look back at all of the “research” I did for this blog since June. Aside from our family trip to Europe, there were a number of other activities of note that took place over the past three months. Let’s relive that thrill.

The summer began with a trip to New Orleans to visit our son Sid and attend the New Orleans International Beer Festival. But what trip to New Orleans would be complete without a visit to Bourbon Street? Upon arrival at the airport, I was picked up by Sid’s friend Levi, who immediately made a stop at the drive-through Daiquiri place. That’s right. Levi was driving, so he skipped the afternoon refreshment, but insisted on buying one for me. “It’s a tradition when we have visitors,” he said, as he handed me what was basically a high-octane Slurpee type of drink.IMG_2312

While Sid spent Friday at work, I checked out the city on my own. Having been there in the fall, finding my way around wasn’t too tough. I walked around the French Quarter to see the sights before grabbing a Hurricane from Pat O’Brien’s to continue my walk. I also checked out the local craft beer scene. Not much to report after a visit to Crescent City Brewhouse on Decatur Street. A visit to the Bulldog Pub Uptown on Magazine Street provided better offerings, but it wasn’t until I circled back to Courtyard Brewery that I found the best craft beer in New Orleans. The craft beer movement is a bit slow in coming in the southern states, but Courtyard is dialed in. I really don’t think it will take long for it to become a big hit locally and beyond.IMG_2333

The beer festival offered a wide range of both domestic and imported brews. Craft breweries from New Orleans and the South were well represented, and there were also a number of California breweries on hand, including Green Flash and Lagunitas. The best part was sampling and making comparisons with Sid.

A week later I was back home for a wine tasting event at the home of Graham Bell, whose new wine importing business, Per La Vita, is already getting off the ground. The company’s wines garnered a huge haul of medals at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition at Fairplex, including several Best of Show awards. We’ll have more about Per La Vita in a future blog.

Graham and family were hard at work shortly after that at Cheers!, the wine, beer and spirits celebration at Fairplex. Per La Vita had long lines all night at the fundraiser for The Learning Centers at Fairplex, which was absolutely the best edition of what has become a very fun early summer tradition. The expansion of both the spirits and the craft beer competitions have added variety and quality, and the move to the remodeled Farms area at Fairplex has taken the event to a higher level.

IMG_2392 (1)A very festive Fourth of July in Claremont served as the lead-in for a three-day journey to Paso Robles to celebrate our 30th anniversary. This has become one of my favorite get-away trips, because there are always new wines to sample throughout the region. There are a lot more things brewing in Paso now, and this year we didn’t limit our tastings to wines. We stopped at the Barrel House craft brewery, which is not too far from the Firestone-Walker Brewery (which we’ve visited a couple of times in the past). We went in the early afternoon before the crowds arrived, but it still had a fantastic atmosphere. It’s easy to picture that place, with its outdoor dining areas and scenic water features, really jumping on a Friday evening.

Across the street is a new development called Wine Shine. It’s the area’s first distillery, and we had the chance to sample several brandies and whiskeys. They still have work to do, but they’re off to a great start. In fact, they technically weren’t even open yet. Wine Shine is just one of several new distilleries in the area, and it’s among a number of new beverage-based businesses opening in the south part of Paso Robles.

With all of our new discoveries, the main reason we go to Paso Robles is because of something we’ve come to know very well, and that’s the Tobin James Winery on Highway 46 east of the 101. Not only does TJ have the best and biggest wine club that I know of, but its tasting room is by far the most fun of any I’ve visited. No comparison. Couple that with the opportunity to stay on site at the winery’s guest house, and there’s no reason to leave the premises after 4 p.m.IMG_2380 (1)

From wine back to beer, Claremont Craft Ales held its third anniversary party on July 11. Offering some 40 of its own beers, including 10 barrel-aged brews, at each of the two sessions, CCA is stepping up its game with outstanding beers and an event that may have already outgrown its on-site location.

What has become one of my favorite summertime events is Christmas in July at The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing in San Marcos. The fundraiser traditionally features barrel-aged Santa’s Little Helper Imperial Stout on tap, along with a host of other absolutely incredible brews. Plus, there’s Santa. What else could you want in July?

My next three weekends were spent in Europe, which I have and will cover in separate blogs.

Upon our return, it was back to San Marcos for Stone’s 19th Anniversary celebration. Without question, the best beer festival in Southern California, the Stone event features many of the nation’s absolute best craft brewers. Stone has carved the way for the industry to grow the way it has, and I would imagine that if CEO and founder Greg Koch asks a brewery to participate, it would be hard to say no. Well-known brewers from Hawaii and around the country regularly attend the anniversary event, and breweries from throughout North San Diego County all seem to get into the act. In fact, every year Churchill’s Pub caters a free breakfast at The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing beginning at 8:30 a.m. Nothing like a pint of Board Meeting to go with a gourmet breakfast before heading off to the 11 a.m. beer festival., where literally hundreds of brews await.IMG_2731

Aside from a few bottle shares and tap takeovers, my summer is just about over. The end of summer means the start of the Los Angeles County Fair, which kicks off every year with the annual Premier Party. Another fund-raising social gathering, the party spotlighted the award-winning wines from the Los Angeles International Wine Competition and is an excellent opportunity to taste several great wines.

In addition to the Premier Party, the Fair also offers wine and beer tasting every day of the run through Sept. 27, as well as a host of fabulous daily educational classes. These are well worth the modest fee to attend, and I found myself fully engaged in a recent class about Zinfandel wines, led by local vintner Don Galleano (Galleano Winery), restauranteur Chuck Keagle (C&C Restaurants, including the Sycamore Inn), and cheese expert and aficionado Heather Schubert.

All in the name of research. Now, what’s on tap for the fall?