What a year. 2019 was a year full of interesting turn of events in the beer industry. I wish it could all be great news, but once we remove the beer goggles, the astringent bitterness of the industry lingers on. But there’s always hope, and we take the bad with the good.
A few breweries opened in 2019 despite some having been in construction since before the year began. The notable beer slingers to join the O.C. scene include Santa Ana River Brewing, Salty Bear, Brewing Reserve of California, Helmsman (formally Newport Breach Brewing Co.), and Brewery X. Gunwhale ventured into North O.C., opening a second location in Orange. The quality of most O.C. breweries keeps improving. There is a downside to this, but I’ll mention that later.
The Oktoberfest celebrations by breweries this year were plentiful and the most I’ve seen. Stereo had a two-day-long party that was particularly entertaining, and Tustin had a great deal when you purchased a mug for their its Oktoberfest beer. I also really enjoyed Backstreet’s Märzen this season, too. As someone who loves the tradition and history of beer, that was a joy for me to experience.
The two major award ceremonies in 2019, California Craft Brewers Cup and Great American Beer Festival, continued to demonstrate how strong O.C. beer is. Between the two, O.C. brought back 27 medals (17 from CCBC and 10 from GABF)! Phantom Ales and Game Craft graced the stage for the first time at GABF, and I could not be happier for them. Bravus also took two medals for nonalcoholic beer.
However, it wasn’t all good news. The worst of it was when we lost two players in 2019; Hoparazzi and Barley Forge closed for good in the final quarter of last year. Also, the Orange County Brewers Guild seems to be going through some hiccups, and it shows by the lack of public visibility it has now.
There’s always hope that the future will be bright. And the pun is absolutely intended when the context is beer. I don’t expect the current trend of hazy beers to go away at all, but I do expect them to plateau. I predict this will give way for the lagered beer trend to finally take center stage with the Italian pilsner shimmering through the fog as a delightful gateway. Breweries such Brewery X, Green Cheek, Chapman Crafted, TAPS, and even The Bruery provided some amazing examples last year, and we can expect more breweries such as Game Craft to have their time in the spotlight.
Green Cheek will take over Barley Forge’s space and convert it to a second location with a larger production facility. Bottle Logic has begun its expansion, and we can hope it will have it complete before the end of the year, although the new tasting room is still further out (unfortunately). Modern Times Anaheim is also in the horizon this year.
The unfortunate reality is we will continue to see consolidations. With at least two breweries on the verge of pouring their last beers, the harsh reality will keep us sober when we think we’ve had too many. As mentioned above, the overall quality of products our breweries provide is impressive and continues to improve. The drawback is when we notice the quality is not up to par from certain producers. Eventually, those producing well-crafted beer will prevail, while others will fall, regardless of production size and/or value.
Here’s to a promising new year in beer and the hope of hindsight being 2020.
Editor’s note: Charlie Perez is an Advanced Cicerone® who covers the Orange County beer scene for the Booze Blog.