For the longest time, I have always spoken about the great microbreweries of Orange County, CA, and how it will soon trump the hundreds of breweries that San Diego County boasts. Most people prefer quality over quantity, which lends to the legacies that some breweries in Orange County have. And at that point, we can start to see an emerging problem with the craft beer community of Orange County: Spoiled Favoritism. In other words, microbreweries have spoiled craft beer fans so much that the people clearly exhibit favoritism with certain breweries, and enthusiastically denounce all other breweries that do not meet their expectations. Unfortunately, some breweries have set the bar so high that craft beer fans perceive high expectations for just about any beer now.
As a loyal craft beer community, the people should want to support all local microbreweries in the ever-growing struggle against the big corporations who seek to stomp out all competitions by buying out microbreweries that may pose a threat to the corporation. Times have greatly changed, as the general populace now wants better quality in their drinks instead of mass-produced junk that the corporations spit out. As such, whenever a new brewery pops up, I make it a mission to visit them and gather as much photos and coverage as I can. I do not play favorites – I will give all breweries a shot at least once. After visiting many breweries throughout the southland, a great disparity exists in the starting capital of each brewery. Some breweries start out with a lot of money, while many others do not. Before I get to that, I will list every brewery in Orange County that either has a tasting room or has appeared at recent beer festivals as of the date of this post.
- Taps Fish House & Brewery
- Bootlegger’s Brewery
- Evans Brewing
- The Bruery
- Phantom Ales & Ciders
- Hoparazzi Brewing
- Bottle Logic Brewing
- Anaheim Brewery
- Legends Craft Brewery
- Valiant Brewing
- Old Orange Brewing
- Noble Ale Works
- JT Schmid’s
- Chapman Crafted Beer (coming soon, formerly Haven Brewing)
- Riip Beer Company
- Beachwood Brewing
- Four Sons Brewing
- Newport Beach Brewing Company
- Barley Forge
- Network Brewery
- Unsung Brewing (coming soon)
- Good Beer Company
- Santa Ana River Brewing Company (coming soon)
- Tustin Brewing
- Stadium Brewing
- Artifex Brewing
- Left Coast Brewing
- Stereo Brewing (coming soon)
The following have establishments in Orange County, but fall into this separate list for the reasons listed:
- Huntington Beach Beer Company (brewpub, does not distribute nor attend beer festivals)
- Oggi’s Pizza & Brewing Company (brewed in San Diego County)
- Backstreet Brewery (brewed in Irvine, but has locations outside of Orange County and rarely appears at beer festivals)
- Pizza Port (brewed in San Diego County)
- Bayhawk Ales (contract brewer only, no tasting room)
- Laguna Beach Beer Company (brewed in Northern California then shipped to Laguna Beach)
- Archaic Craft Brewery (brewpub, does not distribute nor attend beer festivals)
- Dean Brothers Brewing (no tasting room, allegedly contract-only)
- Karl Strauss (brewed in San Diego County)
- BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse (corporate chain, founded in Brea but now brewed out of state)
- Golden Road Brewing (brewed in Los Angeles)
So there you have it: approximately 40-ish breweries exist in Orange County, give or take a few. Bold means the breweries consistently have large crowds. What do these breweries have in common? In addition to overwhelming popularity, they all have boatloads of capital. When you have more starting money, not only can you produce, sell, and distribute more product, but you can pay for more workers and more marketing. For example, let us identify two breweries located somewhat close to each other that have opened within the last three years: Bottle Logic and Valiant. On one hand, you have Valiant that opened with simply the founder’s bank account, so they had a slow rolling start until they got well-known. On the other hand, you have Bottle Logic that started with investors and lots of money to make a beautiful fully-decorated tasting room, plus an actual STREET TEAM that appeared at beer festivals for years prior to their opening, allowing them to build hype. These breweries that have a lot of money can afford to produce more beer, do more marketing, and distribute to many locations. Understandably, these breweries tend to have packed tasting rooms almost all the time.
What has happened as a result? These lavish breweries with all their money have spoiled the local craft beer community. They employ a bunch of bells and whistles to attract people, and since they have money, they can afford to enter into beer competitions to win awards. Once a brewery has a huge enough following, they can afford to knock a dollar or two off their drinks as well, thus spoiling the people with $5 pints of “award-winning”
beer IPA’s, because Californians love their IPA’s so much. Any brewery that specializes in other brews besides IPA’s basically had to start making an IPA in order to stay open, as the beer people simply want an IPA and do not care about anything else. You could be Hoparazzi who specializes in fruit ales or Brouwerij West who specializes in Belgian beers. The people do not care what air you breathe – if you do not have an IPA, they will not give you their business.
The great problem lies with favoritism. Louis C.K. said it best, that people only want their favorite things and will absolutely not consider any other option, not even a second favorite thing. Thus people will only visit their favorite brewery, and will denounce all other choices. Want people to visit that other brewery around the corner? “But their beers cost $6, while I can drink a pint of award-winning IPA at my favorite brewery for just $5.” First, fuck off with your elitist beer snob attitude. Second, do you even care about local craft beer? Many of the original Orange county breweries started with a vision to make craft beer a great thing in Orange County, and to not exclude anyone. Heck they even formed a brewers guild as a support group to help each other out to combat the big corporations from stomping all over us. As if the breweries did not already support each other enough (below: Evan from Cismontane gives yeast to Chris from Smog City), the brewers guild represents a fraternity of sorts, so the breweries pay to have that official title of having that group support. But now the rich breweries have spoiled the people so much that they no longer care about the little guys. Smaller breweries struggle with shelf and tap space because the popular breweries paid their way there. And now, California has a bill on the table that would allow manufacturers/sellers/distributors to pay retailers to promote their products, meaning that richer breweries can essentially buy all the shelf space, preventing the smaller breweries from distributing their product. Even worse, the big corporations that have millions of dollars floating around can buy all of the shelf spaces. I guess it goes to show you that money truly rules everything.
If the local community remains spoiled like this and keep playing favorites, we may not see diversity in future breweries because only the rich people can open breweries. Anyone with an entrepreneur’s spirit but without funds will not get far trying to open a brewery if the people will not give them a chance. Try as you might – if you do not have the money or the people, you can forget about opening up a brewery that may one day find success in the future.