Summer is beer festival season, and one of my all-time favorites is getting nearer. The OC Brew Ha Ha is by far the best local (for those of us in Southern California) beer festival of the summer. I've been a loyal attendee and fan since the the inaugural event four years ago, and each year the festival gets better and more popular. This year's event is shaping up to be an incredible one.
Since it started in 2010, the OC Brew Ha Ha has become Orange County's premier beer festival. The organizers do a fantastic job bringing in both the stalwarts of the craft beer industry (Stone, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, Deschutes, Lagunitas, and Firestone Walker, for example), but you'll also find much smaller breweries and some who have just started brewing.
Indeed, it's the small brewers and upstarts who I most look forward to visiting. Scanning my notes from previous festivals shows I've tasted the first year's productions of many of Southern California's now popular brewers: Old Orange Brewing Company, Golden Road, Tustin, Smog City (When they were still brewing out of Tustin), Beachwood, Monkish, I & I, Inland Empire Brewing, Ritual Brewing, and many others.
In a way, these past OC Brew Ha Ha festivals reveal the growth of the craft beer industry in Southern California. Re-reading my tasting notes through the years I can track the progression of breweries that were in their infancy when the festival began—like Noble Ale Works (Anaheim), The Bruery (Anaheim), Hanger 24 (Redlands), Black Market Brewing (Temecula), Bootleggers (Fullerton), and others—and see how they have matured into solid and successful operations. Their recipes fine tuned, their flavors becoming more consistent, and their popularity, especially with the Bruery and Hanger 24, growing immensely as a result of this maturity. Sadly, I also have tasting notes from those who didn't make it.
But in many ways that's the beauty of the OC Brew Ha Ha, or for that matter any other well-run beer festival: they provide craft beer enthusiasts a place where we can indulge in and celebrate our favorite brewers and beers. A place where we can compare and contrast styles, where we can sample hard-to-find beers and explore the unfamiliar, where maybe we'll find a new favorite brewery or beer—and it's done all in one place without the inconvenience of having to traipse across the state or country from one tasting room to the next (although if anyone wants to pay me to do that, I'm available).
That's what I'm looking forward to most. Getting together with other beer enthusiasts to share in our passion. This year the festival promises more than seventy breweries pouring 175+ beers, food trucks, live music, home brewing exhibitors, and talks by Greg Koch and Dr. Bill Sysak from Stone, David Walker from Firestone Walker and Ed Heethuis from Ritual Brewing. If that's not enough to motivate you to buy tickets and participate in this great festival, maybe their most recent announcement will.
A recent email revealed a special collaboration beer is being planned for the festival. A beer conceived of and brewed by the brewmasters from Bootleggers, Cismontane, and Tustin Breweries, the collaboration ale dubbed the "Hop Monster," is hoppy, red ale featuring a heavy dose of Citra, Nelson Sauvin, and Galaxy hops. The beer will be released in bottles and on tap at various bars, restaurants and tasting rooms throughout Southern California on August 23rd two weeks prior to the festival. The organizers hope this pre-release will whet the appetites of those planning to attend and convince others that they need to.
Review of the event to follow in September.
Disclaimer: I'm in no way affiliated with the OC Brew Ha Ha. I buy my own tickets and I have not been given anything from the organizers to promote their event. I'm just a beer writer who's a huge fan of this festival and I want to see it succeed.