When a recent OC Register brewery guide stated, “[Tustin’s] house beers pale in comparison to the 21-year-old brewery’s stellar guest tap list and bottle selection,” they couldn’t have been more wrong. No disrespect to Tustin’s guest taps (which are great), but I find brewer Jerrod Larsen’s house beers to be a more compelling representation of the local flavor in this bustling brewpub. Sure, sometimes there are beers like Pliny the Elder on tap with a respectful bottle program, but beers like Tustin’s Old Towne IPA, Portola Breakfast Stout, and other house beers are just as bright, aromatic, delicious…not to mention award-winning on a national and global scale.
On an average weeknight, one shouldn’t be surprised to hear a loud roar when opening the brewpub’s squeaky chalet-wooden door. After walking past a few stout-filled bourbon barrels, don’t be shy squeezing into a spot at their bustling wooden bar. If you’re a cigar aficionado, head straight to the outdoor patio which is easily Tustin’s most lively unofficial cigar lounges.
During O.C. Beer Week late last month, I was completely blown away at the pub’s first spring beer dinner, where the new general manager and ex-chef Robert Setina joined forces with kitchen maestro Ivan Perez, sizzling up a four-course meal as great as any local gastropub. For a scant $50, each plate paired perfectly with brewer Jarrod Larsen’s beers…most of which happened to be a sampling of award-winning beers spanning the last decade.
The dinner started with Golden Spike (2009 GABF Gold), went on to Old Towne IPA (L.A. IPA Fest 2013 2nd place), Blimp Hangar Porter (2010 GABF Bronze), Jon Flanders (2014 GABF Bronze), finishing with the two-time World Beer Cup-winning Portola Breakfast Stout, which took bronze in 2016 and gold 2018. Tell me again how Tustin’s house beers “pale in comparison” to the guest taps?
The bearded brewer Jerrod Larsen started at the brewery in 2011 as the assistant brewer under Jon Porter who went on to open Smog City Brewing in L.A. in 2013, when Jarrod took over as head brewer. That year, Tustin took 2nd at L.A.’s prestigious and hard-fought IPA Fest against such guest taps as Pliny. Although Jarrod wants to keep up with making specialty beers and lagers, the extra production time is prohibitive. “I have to keep the regular house beers on just to keep all these people happy…we don’t have enough space to do specialty stuff,” he said, pointing at the nearby fermentation vessels.
After winning gold at world beer cup for Portola Breakfast Stout, Jarrod noted, “the base beer is designed to be full-bodied with a big malty sweet finish. Let’s just say its very pastry-rich! The beer is a collaboration with Jeff Duggan at Portola Coffee Lab and I gave Jeff the base beer and he came up with the perfect coffee blend to bring balance and big coffee aroma and flavor to the beer.” Portola coffee has been used in numerous award-winning coffee beers.
During the World Beer Cup award ceremony (2018), the very first medal called was for Tustin’s wheat ale, which took bronze. “It’s actually our Lemon Heights Hefeweizen, just renamed. I used to always enter this beer in competitions but it never did well. I decided to enter it in World Beer Cup this year after making a few adjustments and we changed the name to Clutch’s Wheat in honor of our favorite customer who was also the number-one fan of the beer; Marine veteran, Clutch Keuster.”
Next time you visit Tustin Brewing, be sure to try the house beers and compare them to the guest taps. I think you might agree with the hundreds of beer judges at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup!
Tustin Brewing Company is at 13011 Newport Ave. #100, Tustin // tustinbrewery.com