Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beer Travel Guide - Orange County

I've seen the same question frequently asked on beer forums. This question is "I'm traveling to [name a city]. What breweries, beer bars, or beer stores should I make a point to stop at?" Now, if you use BeerAdvocate a lot, then you know about the BeerFly directory where you can look up places by state, city, zip or whatever, and it will list all the different places with their ratings and user reviews. People know about this, will consult it, and will still want to see what "locals" recommend. So here is my attempt to help anyone that is traveling to Orange County, CA.

The first thing you need to realize is that Orange County is big. I like to define it simply as the distance between Brea (North) and San Clemente (South). And as we'll see, that is a convenient, beer-oriented definition. The distance between Brea and San Clemente via freeway is 42.4 miles and depending on when you are driving this could be a 30 minute or a 3 hour distance. I will tailor my recommendations to the usual person who has 2-3 days with only a limited number of time to hit the beer scene and doesn't have the time to go every beer place in the area.

I've constructed the following maps with zones that approximately separate the mystical North, Central, and South Orange County.

North Orange County (ex- Brea, Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana)

TAPS Fish House & Brewery, Brea - This is 1 of 2 locations in Southern California and they make very well crafted beers that have won medals as recently as 2007 at the GABF (Silver and Bronze for the Russian Imperial Stout and Cream Ale, respectively). They usually have ~8 beers on tap (inluding 1 on cask) which often rotate from their stock of about 30 or so. This is an upscale brewpub. They do have standard pub grub but also upscale meals from their skilled chefs. There is also an oyster bar if that interests you.

Hollingshead's Deli, Orange - This tiny little bar/beer store is in the corner of your standard strip mall. It's a beer store and deli with a bar that holds about 15 taps. It is family owned and thus you get family hours. You need to be lucky and be here during the week because they aren't open on weekends. Last call is also pretty early, say 8-ish. There are a ton of deli sandwiches to choose from and the tap selection is top notch. If you're looking for beer-to-go then grab a pint and peruse the shelves while you sip. If you don't want to drink anything on tap then grab something from the coolers to have with your meal. The family that runs this are huge Packers fans, so that could be a good thing if you're a cheese head.

Other places to consider:

  • BJ's Brewery & Restaurant (many locations throughout Southern California, there is one in Brea).
  • Oggi's Pizza & Brewing Company, Orange.

Central Orange County (Irvine, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach).

Hi-Time Wine Cellar, Costa Mesa - This is the place to go for beer if you're in the area. The store overall is huge, with a big underground wine cellar, tons of liquor on the ground floor, and a big walk-in cooler filled with beer. You can browse their inventory on their website but they don't usually list limited or special releases on there, so you won't know if they have them until you call or go for yourself.

Other places to consider:
  • Goat Hill Tavern, Costa Mesa.
  • BJ's Brewery & Restaurant in Huntington Beach.
  • Anthill Pub & Grill on the UC Irvine campus.
  • Steelhead Brewing Company & Restaurant, across the street from UC Irvine.
  • Newport Beach Brewing Company, Newport Beach.
  • Oggi's Pizza & Brewing Company, Tustin and Huntington Beach.

South Orange County

Pizza Port, San Clemente - If you are a beer geek you will do whatever it takes to make it here.

Other places to consider:
  • Oggi's Pizza & Brewing Company, Mission Viejo (can probably be considered south Orange County)

Other bottle shops: Often someone's significant other is the one traveling and doesn't want to make a long trip to the best places to bring back beer, so a good alternative is any one of the many Beverages & More locations which have a huge selection of beer as well. In fact, if you visit their website you can see what is in stock at each location and tell the person who is traveling which beers to buy.

Next travel guide: San Bernardino County