Written by Tom Becham for professorgoodales.net
Recently, my wife and I made a stop at The Bruery Provisions, in Orange, California.
This stop was notable for several reasons. First, because my wife is fully on-board with craft beer destinations while on road trips. Secondly, because The Bruery is one of the best craft beer breweries in Southern California, if not the entire country. And finally because Old Town Orange is a unique and unexpected slice of Americana that I had no idea even existed before now.
Orange, California is one of the first communities established in its area of the state. The Old Town area is the largest historic district in the entire state, and contains buildings of many distinct architectural styles, built from 1888 to 1940. Wandering on foot in this area is like stepping back into a SoCal version of Leave it to Beaver. Except there’s a lot more liveliness and activity than that old hackneyed television show would ever countenance.
In the midst of this delightful blast-from-the-past, The Bruery has set up a bottle shop and tasting room that they have called The Bruery Provisions. It is a somewhat small storefront, but charming nonetheless for its French Country design details. Indeed, upon entering this establishment, it is obvious that The Bruery is not just selling beer, but a lifestyle involving the drinking of craft beer, which includes genteel surroundings and gourmet foods. Of course, any place that serves prosciutto and speck, complemented by Humboldt Fog cheese and date-rind chevre’ is worth a look to me, without any consideration of the further temptations of craft beer.
And the decor is no accident. When Patrick Rue founded The Bruery in 2008, his flagship beer was Saison Rue, a Belgian-style Saison made with brettanomyces wild yeast and rye (which is still their best-selling beer). The Bruery specializes in Belgian and French beer styles, made with distinctive, signature twists.
Saison Rue is indeed a spicier and fuller-bodied interpretation of the Saison style, but still recognizably a Saison. It is world class, and justifies The Bruery’s existence all on its own.
While there, my wife and I sampled a number of other beers The Bruery produces. Here are my impressions:
Humulus – an “India Pale Lager” is how The Bruery describes this one. It could well substitute successfully for any of the lighter, pale “lawnmower beers” America seems to love so much. It has a very strong herbal nose, with a grapefruit-rind hop flavor. It is crisp, refreshing and very well integrated.
White Oak – A bourbon barrel aged Wheat Wine. Imagine a bourbon nose, and strong vanilla and oak flavors on the finish, with the light body of a wheat beer. A novel, delicious conception, well-executed and deceptively smooth for its 11.5% ABV.
Mischief – A Belgian Strong Golden Ale. Much better than most other American-made Duvel clones, almost as good as those made by Lost Abbey.
Saison de Lente – A lighter bodied and paler Saison, all yeast and funk on the nose. Yeast on the palate with a citrusy hop. Seems fuller-bodied on the finish, for some reason.
Loakal Red – An oak barrel aged red ale. VERY strong resiny hop aroma, moderated on the palate by oak flavors. Intriguing blend of flavors which actually has session-beer potential.
Filmishmish – This is a sour ale. Not sure if it is a lambic, but doubt it since The Bruery tends not to work with wheat. In any case, it is mildly sour, and is flavored with apricot. Tart, crisp, strong apricot on the nose, but the fruit is only faint at the back of the palate. Still, a very nice fruit sour, that is first and foremost beer rather than a fruit delivery vehicle.
Sour in the Rye – Just what it says it is: a sour rye ale. A stronger sourer bite than most of The Bruery’s other sours, but not astringent in any way. Strong rye spiciness moderates what could have been a real mouth-puckerer.
Chocosaurus Rye – This one sounds wild and weird, but winds up not too unusual. It’s a sweet stout with cocoa nibs and rye malt. And yes, the chocolate and rye are apparent both on nose and palate.
Hottenroth – a Berliner Weisse, a little stronger than the genuine German article (5% ABV), but spot-on with the strong lemony sour flavor: A World Beer Cup Silver Medalist this year.
Mother Funker (yes, you read that one correctly) – A blonde INCREDIBLY sour ale. I love sours, but this one was just a bit too much for me. Like drinking vinegar. Not even The Bruery can make all of its sour ales successfully…
Burly Gourd – A sweet stout made with pumpkin. Sadly, not much pumpkin apparent on nose or palate. Still a nice sweet stout, a style which doesn’t get much play in the U.S. What pumpkin qualities appear come across in the sheer viscousness of the body.
Oude Tart – A barrel aged Flemish Red sour ale – Such a quintessence of the style that it rivals Rodenbach Grand Cru in its flavors, though does not quite equal Duchesse de Bourgogne in sheer soury-malty goodness. A World Beer Cup Gold Medalist this year.
The Bruery also makes a range of seasonal offerings, the most famous of which is their Twelve Days of Christmas series. Their Autumn Maple is also an incredible beer, made with yams and molasses, and managing to be very full, VERY strong, and very malty without being overly sweet.
As you can see The Bruery loves to play with wild yeasts, rye, barrel-aging and sourness. And they do it exceedingly well. Next time you are Behind the Orange Curtain (as we jokingly refer to sojourns to Orange County here in Southern California), stop at The Bruery Provisions. Your taste buds will be extremely happy and grateful.