I don’t think I have to tell you how psyched we were to attend a holiday beer festival with unlimited samplers from some of the best breweries in Southern California. We were like kids in a tipsy candy store, and the only problem was how to double-fist multiple tasting glasses at once!
The Anaheim Brew-Ho-Ho comes but once a year and is held at the venerable Anaheim Phoenix Club, which is a German cultural and community center year round (though you might know them best for their amazing Oktoberfest they put on each season). For a ticket price of $50, you can imbibe for 4 hours, and go back to your favorite breweries as often as you like, while taking occasional breaks to sit on Santa’s lap and order Viking fries from food trucks standing by. AWESOME.
The beer samples were unlimited, but despite this invitation to over-do-it, the crowd never got too out of hand. In fact, it was great to be around so many festively dressed beer drinkers. Ugly Christmas sweaters and costumes were plentiful! This festival had a great “beer + Christmas nerd” vibe to it.
Most breweries bring special offerings for this event or offer collaboration brews they’re testing out. In fact, this might be the only place you’ll find some of these beauties. And don’t worry, no “commercial” beer giants like Budweiser here, though some of the best known players in the California beer field (Stone, Ballast Point, Noble Ale Works) are on site. Worth a visit and we’ll be back next year!
Of course, Hoppy’s focus was on the dankest IPA’s she could find, and she was thrilled to check out some new breweries to sample them for the first time:
RIIP BREWING (Huntington Beach, CA):
One of my current favorite breweries, this family-run hot spot whips up some of the best IPA’s I’ve ever had. If you enjoy their regular tap, the Dan-K, check out Hop Chraze (Hazy IPA). Robust, delicious, and with a strong, citrusy bite, Hoppy gives this one 5 out of 5 stars.
KNEE DEEP BREWING COMPANY (Auburn, CA):
This was a new brewery for me, but the Big Sipper (Double IPA) made a lasting impression. Full-bodied, deep golden, and deliciously fragrant, you can taste the spiciness of the hops lingering on your tongue with each sip. A true go-to for the IPA enthusiast.
GUNWHALE BREWING COMPANY (Costa Mesa, CA)
Wouldn’t you know it… Hoppy is actually writing this review from the Gunwhale taproom while she enjoys their fine beers. That’s because this new brewery blew me away with their Barno (Oak Fermented Rye Nelson Saison) at the Brew Ho Ho. Now, this isn’t as hoppy as Hoppy would normally indulge in, but the cloudy, pale golden color and flavor of this gorgeous brew captured my tastebuds. Incredibly crisp, delicious, and assertively zesty for a saison. Big thumbs up.
HOPPY’S DARK BEER PICK FOR THE NON-DARK BEER DRINKER:
Sometimes I’ll be brave at Malty’s urging and try a stout… and occasionally I’m pleasantly surprised. If you’re more of a hop-head, don’t fear, Naughty Sauce, Noble Ale Works’ signature Golden Stout is a great way to enjoy a “dark beer”. Of course, this one happens to be a gorgeous golden color, even though it has a deep, smooth coffee finish and a beautiful creamy head.
FOUR SONS BREWING (Huntington Beach, CA)
One of the best things about the Brew Ho Ho is the seasonal (i.e. Christmas!!) beers that are available. First up is “To Grandmother’s House We Go,” an oatmeal raisin cookie Belgian ale. It tasted just like a deliciously spiced oatmeal cookie and wasn’t too overpowering at a moderate 7.9% ABV. Leave this out for Santa instead of the milk!
NOBLE ALE WORKS (Anaheim, CA)
Or, you could leave this “milk” stout out for Santa: “Naughty Sauce Golden Milk Stout with Coffee on Nitro.” This unbelievably light and drinkable 5.4% ABV milk stout still manages to feel like a hearty stout. This stout was made with oats and milk sugar and Portola Coffee Lab coffee instead of roasted grain. It had flavorful layers of pecan pie, cinnamon, and cookie dough. Drink up, Santa!
BARLEY FORGE (Costa Mesa, CA)
Another winter warmer, brewed with Chinook and Styrian Golding hops and spiced with cinnamon, ginger and orange peel. This dark ale is perfect for a southern California winter evening when it dips down to a balmy 58 degrees. Extra points for the Dickensian-themed name, and the kitty on the label.
MALTY’S IPA PICK FOR THE NON-IPA DRINKER:
I second Hoppy’s nomination for Riip Brewing’s Hop Chraze. It had a good citrus flavor to balance out the bitterness of the hops, and wasn’t overly pine-y.