OC Is Reinventing the Brewpub—What the Ale!

Snacking proper on spicy international fare at GameCraft in Laguna Hills. Photo by Greg Nagel

“Where should we go next?”

It’s the question you’ll hear at any local brewery on an average night—and more often if a brewery lacks a regular food truck, games to play, TV or a vacuum-like business-park ambiance. In recent years, the following breweries have raised their game, installing proper kitchens to make them worthy of a dinner date, with possibly the option to close the place down.

Crunchy, spicy goodness at GameCraft: I’m not conditioned to salivate when hearing the word “karaage.” Photo by Greg Nagel

GameCraft Brewing: After chowing down on the kitchen’s entire menu, I have to say an international flare with seriously bold flavors is on full display. Start with the pretzel bites, which come with a German Obatzda cheese dip, then finish with karaage chicken sliders that are packed with so much umami you’ll cry, “Oh, mommy!” Order them with hyper-spice if you crave the heat. 23301 Avenida de la Carlota, Ste. C, Laguna Hills, (949) 734-0910; www.gamecraftbrewing.com.

Even though TAPS is an OG of brewpubs in OC, it continues to set trends. Photo by Greg Nagel (with lighting assistance from Joe Manzella)

TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room: After a recent menu change, dedicated truck chef Roman Jimenez now offers a mild version of a Nashville hot chicken sandwich called the Hot’Lanta that’s crisp, juicy, and padded with a solid bun and house pickles. 15501 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (657) 247-3920; tapsbrewery.com.

Pulled pork, a brut IPA and potato salad are staples at Barley Forge. Photo by Greg Nagel

Barley Forge Brewing: Spent grain from the brewery is given to local farmers who raise the animals served in the restaurant. Pulled pork is smoked on-site, shredded, then served in a mound on a hearty pretzel bun. The cycle of life! 2957 Randolph Ave., Ste. D, Costa Mesa, (714) 641-2084; barleyforge.com.

If you know, you know. Photo courtesy of Docent Brewing

Docent Brewing: Of all the unlikely places to grab a proper Cubano, Docent’s kitchen makes one that’s slender, tight as a joint, with bright mustard and neon-green pickles. 33049 Calle Aviador, Ste. C, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 767-8170; docentbrewing.com.

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!

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