It was sometime in 2014 when chef Justin Miller of Pizzeria Ortica slid a couple bottles of his homebrew my direction. Little did he know I would take them to an industry-only event and share them with the likes of Victor Novak, Patrick Rue and other notable brewers from our region. We all agreed Justin’s beers didn’t taste like homebrew. They were bright, crisp, and full of fresh hop notes on his IPA, and his saison was rustic, peppery, and full of character, just like his cuisine. My next visit to Pizzeria Ortica, I joked that he should install a small brewery to play on, and the restaurant would quickly be my happiest place on earth.
On November 19th, my dream will (sort of) come true, as chef announced he is stepping down from his brick oven post to focus on his dream of running a brewery. He co-founded Gunwhale Ales with friends JT Wallace and Bobby Fitzgerald, and the three beachy bros will be putting out coastal-style laid back ales a few miles from Newport’s pier. On the brewing side is east coast transplant Derek Testerman, their head brewer, who makes wort at a nearby brewery, chills it down to a fermentable temp, and transports it back to Costa Mesa to ferment the premises.
Singer Jack Johnson would feel right at home in Gunwhale’s cozy tasting room, where a distinct chill ocean vibe is felt throughout. Cowhide, boat ropes, log tables, and various taxidermy decorate the tasting room. Their patio makes a nice place to groove out to bongos and a ukelele, over a tall golden beer.
Gunwhale’s beers run a cobblestone street of bright and unfiltered hoppy IPA to rustic and floral saison, all too familiar with what chef presented years ago. Cold brew coffee and kombucha will be available as well, which is quickly becoming a trend in brewery tasting rooms throughout California. Although food trucks will be an option, I suggest pairing Gunwhale’s beer with nearby Barley Forge’s food, who’s kitchen is a short crawl away. After all, beer is about being neighborly, and the area is now ground zero for Costa Mesa craft beer, with two breweries and a homebrew shop.
Gunwhale Ales opens at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, at 2960 Randolph Ave., Costa Mesa; gunwhaleales.com