California impressions

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If I lived here a month, I’d be in much better shape.

At least that’s what I tell myself as I’m scrambling over a low, flat rock on the bank of the lazy but insistent Kaweah River. I’m out of breath and my singed feet and knees are crying, but I’m happy to be out in nature, under a cloudless sky, and with family.

I’m in the first half of my weeklong trip to southern California, at the beautiful home that my aunt and uncle maintain and offer up to guests looking for a romantic, peaceful getaway. It’s tucked into the hills about 3 hours northeast of Los Angeles and quite close to the Sequoia National Forest.

Of course, I’m not hear merely to breathe deep the glory of nature. I’m here for the beer.

Bottles

My uncle is a recent convert, so he was happy to procure some local craft beer to sample while the sun set on each dry day. We enjoyed Bear Republic‘s Apex Special IPA, which delighted with an apricot/pineapple nose and featured a bright, crisp citrus mix. It’s from Sonoma County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. We followed this with a breather: the easy drinking Taco Truck Lager from Dust Bowl Brewing of Turlock in north central California, not too far from Modesto.

Over the next several days we tucked into more West Coast IPAs, including Plunder from San Diego’s Mission Brewery. After months of New England IPAs and their aggressive, soupy, throw-every-alpha-acid-into-the-bathwater approach, it was nice to experience some subtlety.

This reached its zenith with my favorite beer of the trip (so far): The Denogginizer by Drake’s Brewing Company of San Leandro, which is near Oakland. This double IPA was so smooth and inviting with its hints of overripe apricot and pineapple juice; with a solid malt backbone it was still hard to tell that this clocked in at 9.75% ABV. Stunning. I’m still remembering every luxurious sip.

We veered off into what for me was an unfortunate direction: Joaquin Murrieta Chile Pepper Beer from Tioga-Sequoia Brewing in relatively nearby Fresno. It was an assault on the senses, and my senses could not compute what was taking over. But that’s me. My uncle liked it a bit better after stashing the opened bottle in the freezer for about an hour.

The unifying quality of the beers I’ve liked best here is the bursting hops that still leave room for accompanying dishes, most of which seem to feature avocado. As I continue my week in Los Angeles, I plan to focus on the breweries themselves.

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