Orange County and Long Beach breweries won more Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup medals than Los Angeles and San Diego combined. With a fraction of the producers, we are spoiled with great beer, making my job of keeping up with the latest and greatest a near-impossibility. There are, of course, a few 2018 standouts that flew under the radar and are worthy of seeking out in 2019.
Last year was definitely the year of the brut IPA; the hop-bursted beers are as dry as a bone and drink like champagne. Phantom Ales (1211 N. Las Brisas St., Anaheim, 714-225-3206; phantomales.com) on the LaPalma Beer Trail has been around for quite a while, but the best example of a brut IPA I had in 2018 is its Stratasfied, which showcases the new fad hop: Strata.
Speaking of dry beers, I saw a trend of craft lager slowly joining the mainstream, and TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room (15501 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, 657-247-3920; www.tapsbrewery.com/tasting-room) floored me with Cheve Vienna Lager. The new Tustin brewery off Red Hill is classy, fun and full of fresh, bright, clean beers, but TAPS’ lager game kills.
I can’t talk favorite beers without mentioning Gunwhale Ales (2960 Randolph Ave., Ste. A, Costa Mesa, 949-239-9074; www.gunwhaleales.com), who seemingly make beers for me as if it were my personal chef. We obviously have the same taste in beer: IPA and Saison all day. Of its many Saisons, Hayshaker pushed all my farmhouse buttons.
On paper, Stereo Brewing’s (950 S. Vía Rodeo, Placentia, 714-993-3390; www.stereobrewing.com) Robot! Imperial Red is something I would never see on a menu and grab. After all, it’s 9.5 percent ABV and hopped like it’s 2010, but something about the creamy head, caramel-red hue and warmth it brought put it on my 2018 playlist—and probably for years to come.
What were your favorites?
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, level 1 WSET in Wine, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest happening this June!