La Ruta de Vino: My Third Trip/Experience

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I just completed my third and very successful trip to Valle de Guadalupe(VdG) and would like to share my experience in one blog rather than break it down into individual posts. It was a special trip, my sister was able to come down from Seattle, we haven’t seen her in a year and a half due to Covid, so we were celebrating the birthdays and holidays we missed these past months. My first trip was with my sister, my second trip which was this past February was with my brother so this trip was with both sister and brother, Dee and Jeff.

Dee found the perfect AirBnB with 2 bedrooms, WiFi, great shower pressure and the location was close to most of the spots that we were going to be visiting. We arrived on Thursday afternoon and our first dinner reservation was at Finca Altozano, our favorite restaurant. Finca was founded by Chef Javier Plascencia, with a menu that you can enjoy seven days a week. Beef, Pork, Lamb, Seafood are all represented on the menu, with tasty appetizers and desserts, the wine selection is also vast with great choices of Valle wines. You can probably walk up without reservations but I highly recommend them. Even with the pandemic, business has been pretty steady for most places of business and the weekends are packed. The one thing that I really like about Finca, besides the food of course, is the pace, no rush, you’re allowed to sit back and enjoy your meal, drink some wine, look out at the horizon, the view is so relaxing, it overlooks a farm that spreads out in every direction complete with farm animals, goats, sheep, pigs. Dogs are also part of the landscape, they are enjoying their best life, looking for some leftovers. We shared 2 bottles of wine, a white with our appetizers and a red with our main course, both were outstanding. I felt the highlight was the appetizer we shared, Mediterranean Cauliflower, it was roasted and on the bottom of the bowl was a fantastic sauce with pepitas. I could have enjoyed it as a main course it was so satisfying. After dinner we stopped at Cava Las Animas de la Vid for a bottle of wine and some olive oil. It’s on the same road as Finca which was the road our AirBnB was on, right across from Resturante Laja.

The next morning we awoke as early as possible, slight hangovers, but we were going for breakfast at La Cocina de Doña Estela and if you don’t get there by 8:30 or so you’re going to wait from 45 minutes to one hour and a half. I’m serious. We arrived at 8:15 and didn’t have to wait, we were seated right away. It didn’t take long for the crowd to arrive, it was Friday but the Baja 500 was going on and Ensenada was packed! This was my third visit to Cocina and I usually order the machaca breakfast but today I went with Chiliquiles verdes with 2 eggs and beans. MMmmmm….perfect! Dee ordered the sweet elote pancakes with eggs, if you ever visit you MUST order these pancakes, they are phenomenal. Jeff ordered an omelette filled with machaca and chorizo! DAMN. Jeff has worked nonstop since the pandemic started, he works at Ralphs and works hard so he deserved the time off and he deserved that breakfast 😄 We finished our meal and went back to rest for our next adventure. Ensenada!!

Last September Jeff and I came down to Ensenada to watch a Monday Night Raider game with our friends, Tony and Cynthia, they live and work in Ensenada while raising two growing boys and they both love da Raiders! I was also on a mission, I wanted to find a liquor store off the beaten path to buy some tequila and mezcal that was small batch, boutique. We had found an AirBnB that was about ten minutes from the main tourist area, Ensenada is a big city, over 500,000 live here, it’s more than a beautiful beach resort. I found a great liquor store called La Catrina, follow them on Instagram @licores_lacatrina. I bought must outstanding tequila and mezcal so after we rested from breakfast we got ready and drove down to Ensenada so I could restock my supply of mezcal. I bought 2 bottles of mezcal and a four pak of very hard to find craft beer from Insugente, their XocoVeza. Jeff bought some wine and craft beer, It’s worth the short drive into town to shop at La Catrina if you ever go down to Ensenada and are looking for great selection of tequila or mezcal. We hurried back to Valle to rest up for our dinner at Baja Omasake which is located at Deckman’s.

Deckman’s is an award winning, sustainable restaurant located in the heart of the Valle. In 2019 Drew Deckman partnered with Chef Toshi Tsutada and opened Baja Omakase. They offer a very intimate dining experience, at our sitting there were only 10 people, we opted for the 12 course pairing, 2 different sakes, a craft beer from Agua Mala and 3 different wines. I had never experienced an Omakase style sushi dinner, I was a little hesitant about eating some of the raw fish that I had seen on a YouTube video about Baja Omakase but I tried everything and it was amazing. Raw shrimp, raw halibut, raw snapper, raw clams, everything was local and sustainable. Three hours went by in a flash. We never really met the folks across from us, they waved hi and were friendly and having a great time but we did meet the couple closest to us, Omar and Lindsey from Brea. Small world. In fact Lindsey worked at the courthouse in Santa Ana and their kids went to El Sol on Broadway. They had four small children and this was their first outing in over a year. They were attending a wedding in Puerto Nuevo on Saturday and decided to stay Friday in Valle and do the Omakase experience. Oh, the kids were at home with Grandma. 😎 After dinner we said goodbye to Toshi and our new friends, went to our AirBnB and talked all night about what a great time we had.

Dee had made reservations for wine tasting at Lomita Winery. Some wineries require reservations, some don’t so make sure before you go if they are necessary. We went to breakfast at a small place called Wara’s, the servings were huge and picture perfect, so if you are really hungry it’s worth it. Lomita is located close to Cocina de Doña Estela, in fact it once you are in Lomita it overlooks Cocina and you can see all the AirBnB’s that are being built throughout that area. We went with the four tasting option, two young and two mature wines, they were all good and we purchased bottles of the mature wines. One of the top retaurants, Lunario is across from Lomita and also requires reservations. We weren’t hungry so we drove about 5 minutes to a brewery just up from Lomita, Ludica Valle, @ludica.valle on Instagram. They also have a location in Tijuana, but this is a full on resort with cabins to rent, a pool, a restaurant and plenty of room to relax. I had a Kolsch and it hit the spot! The next spot we visited is very close to my heart, well left knee to be exact.

In February, Jeff and I were in Valle to relax and watch the Super Bowl. We were here for four days and on our last afternoon we stopped in at Castillo-Ferrer Winery. We were the only ones there on a quiet Monday afternoon and ordered a glass of wine which turned into 2 glasses plus a few tasters. The owner Gabriela Castillo was a great hostess, she gave us samples of the balsamic oils they have, and even though she spoke no English and our Spanish sucks we were having a blast. Until. I go to the restroom and I tripped. I fell on my left knee and as soon as I fell I know I screwed up. I couldn’t get up, I was texting Jeff when Gabriela’s husband came by and helped me get up, I could barely stand so he ran off to his workshop and sawed me up a walking stick. I still have it. He also let Jeff bring my truck all the way up to the restroom so I could get in since I could barely walk. I never said thank you to Gabriela, we drove off, Jeff packed up our stuff and we headed to a hospital in Ensenada. That’s a whole other story.

We drive in to Castillo-Ferrer Winery and it’s happening, they also have a ten room motel and a restaurant that they rent out, La Justina, there was a wedding that was going off! we found parking, we walk up to the winery where they had live music in one section, a playground for the kids, and another section for wine tastings. People were everywhere have a good time, we walk into the bar area were Gabriela is delegating like a Boss, I pull down my mask and say, Do you remember us? 😁 Yes. You fell. (in Spanish) I do my best to apologize and introduce Dee, Gabriela was super busy but she gave us all her attention as we drank a few glasses of wine. Her husband came by to say hi, I joked with him that we couldn’t find parking and we were going to park by the restroom. He said, Anytime you visit only you are allowed to park there! We laughed so hard, they treated us like family, when we left we bought some wine and Gabriela told us to grab 2 bottles of wine as gifts. 😥 I almost cried. I’m so happy for their success, she said it’s been busy even with the pandemic. Good for them.

Dios de bendiga.

We got back to our place and took naps. Finally we woke up and Dee and Jeff found a taqueria for some grub. Nothing fancy just good Mexican food.

Sunday was designated as our brewery day. But first we went back to Finca for coffee, they have a separate coffee stand that opens at 10 am. We were the first ones there, Dee actually had to open the gate so our truck could get in. While we enjoyed our coffee we noticed that the other food stand, LUPE, was getting ready to open at 11 am, so we waited and walked over. LUPE is an Airstream converted to kitchen that serves tortas. It has a big patio that is covered for shade and the ceiling has fake bird nests as decoration but there were some real bird nests. I ordered a torta with skirt steak, Jeff ordered a smoked brisket torta and Dee ordered a Gyro torta. We also ordered papa fritas, they come with garlic and parmesan but we ordered them without and they were great, perfectly fried, crispy not soggy. We also ordered tacos de frijole that they cut in half. YUM!! That meal deserved a nap so we went back to rest before we hit the brewery 😋

Cerveceria Bellinghausen was our brewery for the day, @cerveceriabellinghausen on Instagram. The brewery is owned and run by husband and wife, Todd and Erika, they have created a super comfortable space for craft beer lovers. The brewery is both kid and pet friendly, they offer pretzels and brats but will also call to order a pizza to be delivered. I had three beers and they were all spot on, Oktoberfest, IPA and a Kolsch. As a homebrewer I could tell that Todd does not take any shortcuts and only uses quality ingredients. The flavors were all full bodied, with clean finishes, no weird aftertastes. They also have cabins to rent, so Todd will close the brewery around 8 pm so that it’s not too noisy if you’re staying there. We really felt at home here, I can’t wait to come back to try some of Todd’s brews and have a brat! Cheers!

Well thanks for reading, that was quite the trip, I try to try something new everytime I visit. I also like to go back to Finca Altozano and La Doña each time I’m here. Here’s a link to a great map if you decide to drive down. Valle de Guadalupe is growing, I always see something new being built, with over 100 wineries there is so much to discover.

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WELCOME BACK!!

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So where were we??

Long time no write. Like most of us I have been at home minding my own business trying not to get sick. As a cancer survivor my immune system is compromised so playing it safe meant staying home.  But as we start to open up I will resume my adventures in craft beer, food and coffee. I’m also adding wine to that list! Specifically the wine from Valle de Guadalupe, the Napa Valley of Mexico. I joined the Alta Baja Market Wine Club so I receive 3 bottles of vino from Baja every 3 months or so. There’s also a 6 bottle option but 3 will do me fine.

Let’s catch up!!

First of all Orange County saw the opening of at least 5 breweries this past year, they were all in the planning so open they must. I haven’t yet been able to visit any but I’m hear good things about Radiant Brewing and Bearded Tang Brewing. Can’t wait to visit!! I did get to visit the new brewery in the Orange Circle, 1886 Brewing, the owners of Smoqued opened it up and it is beautiful! Some sad news is the closing of Cismontane Brewing in Santa Ana. It’s really good news bad news. They are moving their operations to San Marcos. If you were not aware they got in to the business of auctioning brewery equipment and their business is booming so they needed more space. Most likely they will move but not brew beer again for at least a year and probably will be retiring the Cismontane brand. I wrote about them a few times while I was at the OC Weekly, they won a Silver Medal at GABF a few years back and always had a full selection of brews. Today, April 30 is their last day to open. 😥

I’ve also decided to write about my adventures in homebrewing. I’ve been brewing now for 2 years and it’s really been fun. I hope to impart some of my experiences both good and bad to help those that might be thinking of starting to brew. We all make mistakes and if I hope to help you avoid some. Speaking of homebrewing Saturday May 1, Santa Ana River Brewing will unveil their collaboration with DJ Lexakhan who has been homebrewing like forever. DJ Lex loves stouts and Belgians so they brewed his recipe for a Belgian called Shugga in the Tank. It will be available  in cans or on draft. Make sure to go get some of that Shugga!!

I’ll be hosting a Baja Beer tasting May 1 at Alta Baja Market in Downtown Santa Ana from 2-4 PM. The cost is $25 for beers and cheese platter. I hope you can make it, I was recently in Baja in February visiting Valle de Guadalupe, I always find new spots and I found a very good little brewery that I will talk about. This is a good time to visit the Valle, it’s quiet but everyone is open for business. As usual the food is so friggin good, as is the wine.

Well we’re all caught up, if you have anything interesting concerning craft beer you’d like to talk about hit me up! Please continue to support your local breweries and restaurants!

Cheers!

 

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Cerveza Cito opens in Downtown SanTana!
CervezaCito

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Orange County California is truly the Land of Hopportunity.  Even before Covid-19, breweries were unfortunately shutting down, 2019 saw over 300 breweries close across the U.S. Not true in the Big Naranja, according to Advanced Cicerone, Charlie Perez there are expected to be 10 new brewery locations opening in 2020 somewhere near you in Orange County. Cheers and good luck to everyone involved with those new adventures.

One of the more recent openings is Cerveza Cito, brought to you by the good folks at Suavecito Pomade, both businesses operate in Santa Ana. Located in the space formerly occupied by The Good Beer Company, Cerveza Cito has opened the upstairs which was being used for office space and have also added an outdoor patio so there will be plenty of elbow room for drinking and some fun stuff, who likes trivia?? 🕵️‍♂️

Pre Covid most breweries allowed you to bring in food but because of the current Covid-19 regulations food will always be available as it is now required along with purchase of alcohol. Expect some delicious grub from local restaurants and food trucks. The patio is pet friendly and will always be open, inside the brewery is a family friendly atmosphere. Cerveza Cito is open everday from 4pm to 9pm Monday thru Friday. On Saturday 12pm to 10 pm and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm. You can also find your favorite pints of Cerveza Cito brew at Mission Bar Downtown Santa Ana and Chapter One: the modern local.

Kevin Buckley is the Brewmaster, Kevin brings his vast knowledge of brewing from his time at Barley Forge and San Diego breweries. The beer list is already formidable with a refreshing variety of lagers, a seltzer, pale ale and a delicious stout. Brittany Costello brings her high energy and skillset leading #TeamCito with social media, events, and of course brewing.

On my first visit I really loved their taster flight trays, they have a little chalkboard where they write the style of the beer you’re trying. I also noticed they had hand sanitizer on every table, use it! This way we can secret handshake like the old days!!

The beer list has a enough tasty choices to satisfy everyone. Hoparoni is a West Coast Double IPA 8.9% ABV, a collab with Santa Ana River Brewing, they used Cashmere, Idahoe 7 and Cascade cryo hops. Dank AF! If you would like something not as dank try the Pale Ale 6% ABV, Cascade and Laurel hops, this is a traditional Pale Ale along the style of a Sierra Nevada. The Firme Lager will pair perfectly with at least 2 or 3 carne asada tacos! It goes down easy at 5.7% ABV. Holy not Mole 8.8% ABV, uses Ibarra Mexican Chocolate, cinnamon and Allspice, it is so smooth, rich, delicious, save room for this dessert of beers.

Stay safe! Mask up! Don’t drink and drive. Cheers!

Cerveza Cito is located at 309 W 4th Street Santa Ana ca 92701

 

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Coffee Muse Pouring it Over in Downtown Santa Ana!

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Like most people I start my day with a cup of coffee, but my love affair with the coffee bean didn’t start until late in life. In 2011 I read a fascinating article in the New Yorker about a woman, Aida Batlle, that took over her family’s coffee plantation in El Salvador and became a world class producer of award winning coffee. Not only did the article detail Aida’s story but dropped all kinds of knowledge on how to brew these pricey beans at home. A 12 oz. bag goes for about $30 so you want to make sure you get the most out of them, I went out and bought a French Press and a burr grinder, later I would buy myself the whole pour over set up. Yes, I was hooked!!

In 2011 I was still working so I would only drink coffee on my days off, it gets me so amped there was no way I could safely do my job as a meatcutter, I enjoy the use of all my fingers! Now that I am retired I frequent the local coffee houses in my area, nothing against Starbucks but I like to spend my money with local owners, whether it’s coffee or food. One place where I really enjoy is Coffee Muse in Downtown Santa Ana, on Calle Cuatro, across from the Frida Cinema. Owner Ricky “Muse” Martinez opened Coffee Muse in June of 2018, everything is hand made, all coffee’s are pour overs, teas are made to order. I drink my coffee black, no sweetener or milk, I enjoy the notes that a good roaster can attain from certain beans. Ricky roasts his own beans and is very good at getting every nuance out of the fruit, he roasts frequently to keep the freshness at the optimum. I also homebrew craft beer and have used Coffee Muse’s beans in 2 of my beers. I used the Honduran beans in my KRACK Cream Ale, I was going to name the beer something different but when we first tasted it I knew it was going to be addicting! I also used the Mexican beans that are from Chiapas in my award winning Mexican Stout hecho en Aztlán. If you homebrew and are looking for a certain roast come over to Coffee Muse and talk to Ricky, he will dial it in for whatever flavor profile you are looking for.

Along with all the yummy latte’s and mocha’s are delicious pastries that Ricky hand selects from the Mill Bakery on Main Street, on the weekends you will also find vegan treats from Victoria’s Bakery located on Bristol and Civic Center. Recently Ricky has brought in freshly baked sourdough bread from local baker Aero Bakery 

The bread is Bomb Dot Com! You can get it as avocado toast, with butter and jam or recently they now do a cream cheese with fresh fruit, drizzled with honey that is next level delicious! Aero Bakery bread can also be found at Chapter One: the modern local, one of the finest restaurants in Downtown SanTana!

Coffee Muse is also about community, every first Saturday of the month is Artwalk in Downtown Santa Ana and Coffee Muse hosts an open mic night where you can enjoy music or poetry along with your Iced Mexican Mocha. Featured on the walls of Coffee Muse are works of local artists, a different artist every month. Coffee Muse opens at 7 am Monday thru Saturday and at 8 am on Sunday. Go to mycoffeemuse.com for more info.

“Coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and sweet as love” -Turkish proverb

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Playami Beer Garden in Playas de Tijuana

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The craft beer scene in Baja California continues to grow with the opening earlier this year of Playami, a beer garden by Border Psycho, located in Playas de Tijuana. Playas is a short, $10 Uber from the border, it’s a small, sleepy beach town that everyone drives by on their way to Rosarito and Ensenada. I have friends that have lived there for the past 5 years and on my first visit I was surprised by how quiet the town is, but that was 5 years ago and there is now a fun night life. 5 years ago if you wanted to drink and whoop it up you had to go to Tijuana so with the opening of Playami you can just walk or Uber it over and enjoy craft beer from 5 Baja breweries. Yep, Border Psycho has not only their delicious suds on the menu but they carry beer from Insurgente, Agua Mala, Fauna and Wendlant. There is also Mezcal, tequila and wine on the menu and if you’re hankering for a Heineken they have that too!

But wait, there’s more..

Border Psycho Brewery was founded in 2010 by brothers, Roberto and Javier Albarran, and they have built one of the most popular Baja craft beer breweries in Tijuana and are distributed throughout Southern California, they also collaborate with San Diego brewery, Mason Ale Works. Playami is their third tasting room and they went all in with a coffee roaster, Sur A Norte, that opens at 8 am, Karbon, a grill that also open at 8 am for breakfast, wine from Valle de Guadalupe and the 36 to 40 taps of beer. The tasting room is very comfortable, there’s plenty of room inside and the patio outside is pet friendly and features second story patio to soak in the rays while you enjoy the food and drink.

On my first visit I enjoyed some shrimp tacos with a few brews, I had the hoppy Mako Pale Ale from Agua Mala and then I had to try the Zonkey Coffee Stout which is a collab with Mason Ale Works, this version was barrel aged and was so good! My second visit was to try the coffee, I went with a French Press of some mild roast beans from Veracruz and an order of churros that were made in house. Awesome!! The third wave coffee movement game is strong in Playas, they source their beans from different regions in Mexico and I found them to all be very tasty.

Playami is a one stop, get your beer/coffee/food/tequila/mezcal kind of a place, a real game changer as far as I’m concerned. Everything was top quality, the menu at Karbon had a good variety from breakfast, lunch, dinner and appetizers. If you don’t want the hassle of dealing with traffic in Tijuana I would definitely make a trip to Playas de Tijuana! Cheers!!

Playami is located at 795 Av, Paseo Ensenada, Playas de Tijuana

 

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WELCOME TO GUNWHALE BREWERY AND TAPROOM CITY OF ORANGE
Gunwhale Brewery and Taproom

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The award winning brewery, Gunwhale Ales, has opened a second location in the city of Orange. This new Brewery and Taproom is a few blocks east of Anaheim Stadium and just south of the Honda Center, it’s also a few minutes from Old Towne Orange. The address is 1501 W. Orangewood Ave., it’s set in an industrial park across from El Camino Park, with a huge outdoor patio this new Gunwhale Brewery and Taproom will be the perfect spot to chill before an Angel game, Duck game or concert.

Gunwhale Ales was founded in 2016 by Justin Miller, JT Wallace and Bobby Fitzgerald, in 2017 they brought on Head Brewmaster and Orange native, Kevin Hammons, they specialize in yeast driven Saisons and Farmhouse Ales. In 2018 they won a Bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival for their Classic Saison, Hayshaker. Along with the Saisons you will find a great variety of IPA’s, Hazy IPA’s, Sours and Stouts. On my recent visit I enjoyed Shellmaker 5.5% ABV Oyster Dry Stout, using whole oysters in the boil this stout was such a treat. A hint of brine with a full roasty stout profile and at 5.5% it’s not so boozy woozy, it was extremely enjoyable. Of course I couldn’t leave without having a Hayshaker 6.4% ABV, it truly is a Classic! Crisp and refreshing, this Saison is on point!

The Taproom is nice and roomy, plenty of seating with a view of the production area, this new location will allow Gunwhale to increase their output and creativity. Like their Costa Mesa location the founders have put their personal stamp on the art and woodwork both inside and out. There’s plenty of parking and it’s pet friendly with a family atmosphere. Food trucks will be scheduled but if you know the area there are plenty of places to pick up a bite. I have the number of the local Zito’s Pizza on speed dial if you want it!! 🍕🍻😊

I encourage my fellow homebrewers, Cerveceros and Cerveceras, to visit Gunwhale Brewery and Taproom for some tasty brews, let’s meet up! Cheers and Congratulations to everyone at Gunwhale Ales on  the new location!!

Gunwhale Brewery and Taproom, 1501 W. Orangewood Ave.,Ste 101 Orange Ca 92686  949-239-9074

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JENGA!!

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Landing Strip Raspberry Blonde Ale; SoCal Cerveceras!
SoCal Cerveceras Brew Day

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Every weekend homebrewers meet up for a brew day which typically can last 6 to 8 hours so food is also included in the planning. They will decide on the style of beer that will be brewed, build the recipe, maybe add some fruit, coffee or spices to the mix. Typically brew days are male dominant occasions but on this particular brew day in a backyard in South Central Los Angeles the participants were all female. They are all members of the fastest growing Latino homebrew club in the United States, SoCal Cerveceros, the club was founded in 2015 in a backyard with 6 friends and at last count has over 150 members. With the encouragement of co-founder and current club President, Ray Ricky Rivera, the women of the club wanted to get together for an all women brew day so they invited current female members and home brew curious friends to the home of Laurie Gutierrez. The results of that brew day were a Raspberry Blonde Ale (using Kölsch yeast) that was labeled Landing Strip, the members also named their group SoCal Cerveceras and became a group within the SoCal Cerveceros. 👏👏👏👏

A momentous event especially when diversity in craft beer is a major topic. A recent Boston Globe article addressed this issue, titled, “Craft beer’s diversity problem: Too many white male hipsters” written by Shirley Leung was blunt and to the point, “whites account for 77 percent of the market, while Hispanics are 10.6 percent, blacks constitute 5.4 percent, and Asians are 5.1 percent”. The Brewers Association recently appointed a Diversity Ambassador, Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, this past April SoCal Cervecero co-founder Agustin Ruelas was invited to participate in a panel conducted by Dr. J, as she is known in the craft beer community, at the Craft Brewers Conference held in Denver, a seat at the table is always a good first step.

Women brewing craft beer shouldn’t be such a surprise, the original brewers were women, dating back to 1800 B.C., Ninkasi Sumerian Goddess of Beer, women were the brewers up until the 1500’s when men formed brewing guilds and started to make specific rules for brewing. In 2007 Teri Fahrendorf founded the Pink Boots Society, the first meeting was held with 22 women and now has a worldwide presence to help promote and train women in the craft beer community. In Atlanta you can find the Dames and Dregs Beer Festival which honors past, present, and future women in the beer industry.

The first brew day of the SoCal Cerveceras was led by Laurie Gutierrez of Cimarron Street’s Finest, (she brews delicious ciders), Janet Aguilar of Wasted Brewery, Janet brews with her boyfriend, Sal Bernal, they can be found drinking beer from Ensenada to Delaware and everywhere in between, and Tyler Sadler, Tyler started brewing in her kitchen in 1 gallon batches. The other Cerveceras in attendance were Catrina Acosta, Maria Preciado, Melanie Faure, Sarah Flora, Ash Eliot, Jackie Correjo, Lourdes Ceja, Marie Madrid and Adriana Bautista. I was fortunate to get a couple of swigs of Landing Strip, it was very crisp and refreshing, the Kölsch yeast was a great idea, it gave the Blonde Ale that extra brightness, the raspberry was subtle, not too sweet at all, it was perfect for the summer heat. The next SoCal Cervecera brew day is tentatively planned for November, follow the Cerveceras on Instagram for any future news and info.

The importance of the SoCal Cerveceras can not be understated, the group is open to all levels of experienced women brewers, it’s a great opportunity for anyone that is interested in learning about craft beer, I’d like to tell you more about the SoCal Cerveceras Brew Day but what happens in South Central, Stays in South Central!!!

BobbyKnowsBeer! Cheers!!

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SoCal Cerveceros presents ColdXela 2019
How I went from Writing about SoCal Cerveceros to brewing with Socal Cerveceros

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On April 27, 2019 SoCal Cerveceros held ColdXela 2019 in Downtown L.A. at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes. SoCal Cerveceros is the largest Latino focused home brew club in the United States, they formed in 2015, with a handful of members and now have 140 members and counting. In 2018 Anchor Brewing named them the 2018 California Homebrew Club of the Year, many of the members are award winning home brewers and soon a few of the groups will be opening their own breweries.

I’ve been writing about the group since 2017, at the time I was  the beer critic for the OC Weekly, my editor, Gustavo Arellano, forwarded an email sent by then SoCal Cervecero Vice-President Ray Ricky Rivera, an invitation to their event, the email also included a short promotional video that I watched over and over again because I couldn’t believe that these Latino homebrewers existed. I had been approached earlier that year by a couple of guys looking to make a documentary about homebrewers and asked if I knew any POC brewers. Of course I said no, in my visits to the breweries in Orange County the only person of color was usually me, I even asked around and I couldn’t come up with anyone, male or female. But here they were brewing in plain sight, the SoCal Cerveceros! That year the event  featured 9 groups and was a great success which led to last year’s Coldchela 2018 with 20 groups pouring their home brewed beers and 400 people attending. I was a judge at last year’s event and I was considered an honorary member until this past year when I joined as a full member. This review will not be about the specific beers poured at this year’s event, sorry, I will tell you how I went from writing about beer to brewing my own beer and pouring it at ColdXela 2019. I’ve been on the brink of homebrewing but I wasn’t quite ready, now that I have retired I have plenty of time to brew, I had a lot of help along the way, which is one of the reasons for joining a home brew club. If you are interested in home brewing this story might help you decide, there are home brew clubs everywhere and I recommend joining one for the support.

I initially hesitated at home brewing because I knew that I would disappear into my garage and no one would ever see me again, which pretty much did happen. This isn’t a hobby you can just dabble in, especially at first, there is so much to learn, whoever told me that brewing beer was easy was lying!! Ha! Writing about craft beer gave me an insight to what goes on in the craft beer community, then when I decided to start my own website so that I could write more than just reviews I also conducted interviews with a couple of home brewers and I then had a front row seat to their world. My very first interview was with Thien Le, an award winning home brewer from Anaheim, he belongs to the OC Mashups, they meet at Barley Forge Brewing in Costa Mesa. We of course talked quite a bit for his interview, we then have become friends and he has been a tremendous help, I hope I can follow in his footsteps and eventually win a few awards, if not I want to at least brew a decent beer for my friends. I was very interested in the brew in a bag method of brewing beer, I even attended a class  in Santa Ana at El Indio Cerveza y Botanas, held by bartender and homebrewer, Robert Ramirez,  it was very helpful in making my decision, Robert and his girlfriend, Bee Ramirez(@beer_and_adventures on IG) also poured at ColdXela 2019, they’re brewery is named Obscuridad Brewing, follow them on the gram.

I decided to buy a Grainfather brewing system when I saw one on Craigslist selling for $500, they cost $1000 brand new so I asked Thien(who brews with one) if that was a good deal, he said, “if you don’t buy it I will!” Done! The seller had a stainless steel fermenter which I also bought along with a few odds and ends. I bought most of my stuff on Craigslist, it’s cheaper but beware that you should know exactly what you are buying, the fermenter was missing the racking tube which I had no idea what that was until I was going to brew one day and realized that I needed to buy one. My mistake for not knowing!! You can get good deals on CL but please do your research or have an experienced brewer go with you so they can help inspect the item. It took me a few months to accumulate the parts and equipment for my brewery, chest freezer I bought new, mini fridge I found one on CL, CO2 tank CL, everything else I am going to Windsor Home Brew Supply Co. in Costa Mesa, Scott is very helpful, he carries just about everything you need to brew.

My first brewday I started at 10 am to clean and sanitize my equipment, first rule about brewing: Clean. Clean. Clean. Then Clean some more. I worked for 43 years as a meatcutter and having a clean shop was also a very important rule in the meat department so I’m pretty good at getting everything spic and span. My Grainfather works hand in hand with my iPad where I have the Grainfather app, as a beginner I feel the need to have as much guidance as I can get and the app will tell you what you need to do as you brew, when to add the hops, it will automatically start the boil, etc. I also watched a ton of videos on YouTube so I could get familiar with the Grainfather but nothing can prepare you for anything until you actually do it. I found this out right away, my first mistake, and I made plenty, led to all the other mistakes that I would encounter on my first brewday. I really fucked up and I’m still surprised that the beer survived and was drinkable, it took me 12 hours to finish brewing my first beer. It reminded me of my first time skiing, my friends took me to Snow Summit and we went to the top of the ski slope, they said see you at the bottom! It took me over an hour to get to the bottom, I was exhausted.

When my water got to the right temp and the Grainfather app indicated to start the mash, I forgot to put the basket in the Grainfather, I started the mash and I felt like, wow, this is cool, I’m making beer, then about halfway through I saw the basket and realized I made a huge error, I had my brother help me pour out the mash into a bucket and put the basket into the Grainfather, I then poured back the mash and continued, everything seemed fine, it took me until the next day to realize that when we lifted the Grainfather to pour out the mash, we partially pulled out the power cord, the cord did eventually fall out right when the water got to the boil temp, it took me some time to figure out what to do, we reset the Grainfather, I panicked when the power went out, I didn’t know what was going on so I threw all the hops and orange zest into the wort, I thought if this is the hottest it’s going to get I better get these hops in there. I don’t have a kettle or I would have just continued to boil the traditional way. Everything just seemed to take so much time, once I got it going again, cooling down the wort took forever, I finally got it into the fermenter around midnight, I was done. I closed the garage up, went inside and said to no one, who wants to buy a Grainfather!

I did take a gravity reading but honestly I don’t know what it read, I was too tired. A week later I checked on the beer, it tasted ok, a little hoppy and the finish was somewhat bitter. On the tenth day I added a can of mango puree and some Tajin, I wanted to see if that would temper down the hoppiness and mask the bitterness. After another week I kegged and carbonated it at 30 psi, I didn’t taste it at that point I wanted to wait. Two days later I poured a glass, it was foamy, I think there’s a leak in the gas out post, after it settled it tasted fine, I’ve had worse, it wasn’t going to win any awards but as I sat there I poured a few tasters and I liked it. It wasn’t what I intended it to be, an Anchor Steam clone, but I felt I could pour it at SoCal Cerveceros event, ColdXela, so I emailed the club Presidente, Ray Ricky Rivera, he told me that someone had dropped out so I was in luck, there was a spot for me. Yay!

ColdXela 2019 had 52 brewers, we were paired up so there were 26 tents, my partner was Daniel Moreno, his specialty is ciders and he’s very good at making them. There were 3 live bands, DJ’s and food vendors, the event attracted 1500 craft beer enthusiasts, it was a tremendous success raising money for the Gumball Foundation. I brought my one keg and knew I would run out which would give me time to walk around and try some of the beers, well it got pretty busy, we had a great time pouring and talking to all the guests, which included the founders of Cerveza XTECA, Fred Sotelo, Mario Lopez and Xavier the X-Man, they were very gracious with their support and advice. Also in attendance were David and Carmen Favela, owners of Border X Brewing, they also tried and liked my Orange County Common, I’m looking forward to visiting their new Brewery in the city of Bell, where fellow Cervecero, Lewis Martinez of Preston Brewing is working his hops off.  When my beer kicked at 4:30 I was too tired to walk anywhere, my brother and I just kicked back and watched everyone else as most of the other brewers also ran out of beer. I saw a lot of feedback on Instagram and from what I read everyone had a fantastic time trying all the different styles of beers that were offered, IMHO at niche craft beer festivals like ColdXela you will find more experimental type of beers that you won’t find at the commercial type of fests, homebrewers brew usually in 5 gallon batches and will take more risks with exotic adjuncts than a bigger commercial brewery that brews in huge amounts.

I wish I could tell you about the different beers that were poured at ColdXela 2019, I talked to Sarah Bennett for a bit so I hope she will write a review, I can tell you that it was an amazing experience from the brewer point of view, I received constructive criticism from my fellow brewers, for the most part they said I did good for my first time brewing, the guests liked my beer, I provided lime juice and Tajin on the rim of their cups, that was a big hit. My next beer to brew will be an British IPA, I like maltier beers, I learned a lot just watching how the experienced brewers set up their equipment, next year I hope to bring more than one keg, because next year’s ColdXela will be bigger and better!! Cheers!!!  BobbyBrewsBeer!!

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