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!!