Craft Beers, Great Chili, Bands & Lots And Lots Of Happy People
That was my first – and lasting – impression of the Microbrew Festival held on a Saturday afternoon on an otherwise Southern California June Gloom day at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, CA, outside of Los Angeles.
Wow, because frankly I did not expect such a large, well-put-together and big event.
Wow, because I did not expect bands at it.
Wow, because I did not expect some 1,200 people at it, did not expect to get stuffed with not just chili but having servers come at me inviting me to try their food as if a fun relative is inviting me into their house for a BBQ, did not expect to be “line-hopping” from craft beer stand to craft beer stand that had me in a complete “wow this is fun” daze for the first half hour (and for which I never truly emerged) and because it was way better and beyond what I had envisioned in advance.
And, finally, wow because I did not expect to be typing “go to this event next year and don’t even question it” in my review.
Where to start? Okay, with the scene because frankly, that’s the most important thing as far as PubClub.com is concerned.
It’s held in a convention hall of Pechanga – better there than outside where the desert heat could melt away the fun of the event – and it’s divided into two sides.
The beers are along the walls to the left and to the right.
You get a two-ounce glass (VIPs get a four-ounce glass and entry an hour early), there’s a band playing rock music (and even punk surf in 2017), chili stations from all 11 Pechanga restaurants well-placed between the beer stations, tables and chairs in front of the band stage which nicely separated the event into two areas and several tables of auction items, as the event is a charity function for the very worthwhile Habitat For Humanity.
The crowd is mostly young-ish, from late 20s to early 40s, a pretty good 55-45 mix of guys to gals (tho most are couples) who are very friendly and eager to talk about the beers and food.
The beers are mostly craft brews from Southern California breweries and even when the “big boys” of Sam Adams, In-Bev and Lagunitas are here, they bring in selections like Kona from Hawaii and a Lagunitas selection the server joking called the “cut off beer” because the organizers threatened to cut if off it’s so strong.
Actually, that was just a funny line she used because they poured it until the end (it was a very tasty pale ale and didn’t knock me silly) and it was nowhere near as potent as the most popular beer at the festival, a selection from Indian Joe Brewing of San Diego appropriately called Blurry with a 13.5% alcohol content. It tasted like a shot of liquor.
As far as the chili cook-off, this was the part that overwhelmed me the most.
I’ve been to several beer/chili events where they put up a few tents, serve small amounts of chili in those tiny round plastic things that are better suited as holders of Jell-O shots, and then you get back to the beer hoping to get bombed to get your money’s worth out of the event.
Well not here. The chili was on par – 50/50 – with the beers. And that’s really saying something coming from me who generally prefers drinking beer at these events to getting distracted by offerings of food.
Foolishly, I ate a small sandwich beforehand and even brought along some crackers figuring I might need to fill up afterward to soak up some of the beer. Both turned out to be completely unnecessary, as the chili was not just chili but mini feats, with with proud presentations to match.
Frankly, it resembled a high-end food festival. Clearly the best chili was the least expected, made by – of all places – the Pechanga sushi restaurant.
No kidding. It featured steak marinated for 12 hours and was so mind-blowing awesome that it really wan’t chili but more like a gourmet dish. The restaurant was Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar and not surprisingly, it won the event’s award for Best Chili. It was so good that it because I had it first, it really put everyone else at a disadvantage because nothing else quite measured up to it.
But why stop there? Great Oak Steakhouse made corn fritters as a side dish just for this event that were incredible and Blends Coffee Bar – yes the coffee bar! – had an incredible and incredibly creative cornbread waffle as a side dish.
Kelsey’s, which features a BBQ smoker in its restaurant, made large smoked brisket sliders topped with chili and was also offering slices of its brisket. The Pechanga catering folks were slicing rolled-up sausages and giving them to people.
Journey’s End, the cafe at the golf club, served chili cheese fries, which were not nearly as hot as the girls serving them.
I was so stuffed from food and beers after two hours of the four-hour event that I kind of walked around in an amazed daze for half an hour. I then kept going back for more beers and tastes of more chili and side dishes, coaxing my body to accept more of these awesome treats until the event ended at 5 o’clock.
The whole event was incredible. You make your way from beer station to beer station – there are lines, so you get a beer and get in line two feet away for more beer, talking to others the entire time – then someone from a chili station comes over to offer you something creative and delicious, you have it, get in another beer line, talk to more people, drink more beer, have more food and, well, you get the idea.
This is why you need to put this one your must-to list of Los Angeles events.
PubClub.com Microbrew Festival & Chili Cook-Off Awards
• Best Chili: Umi Sushi & Oyster Bar
• Best Side Dish: Corn fritters at Great Oak Steahouse
• Best Creative Side Dish: Cornbread waffles at Blends Coffee Bar
• Prettiest Servers: Journey’s End
• Best Beer: Have to keep tasting!