By Brew Master, Ed Heethuis (aka The Keg Whisperer)
Beer, when deconstructed, has historically showcased the many treasures that Mother Nature has to offer. Combining traditional building blocks of golden barley and fragrant hops with local flora and fauna has been part of the brewer’s art since the Sumerians accidentally discovered fermentation over 10,000 years ago.
Enter Joshua Tree Brewery. From homebrew beginnings to the launch of the current incarnation in 2016, they have foraged local ingredients in an effort to showcase the natural beauty and culture of Joshua Tree’s unique surroundings. It’s no secret that wild and homegrown ingredients trump commercial examples, and as you will see, they take full advantage of the natural rejuvenating power and magical energy of the HiDesert landscape.
As I saunter through the parking lot to the front of the brewery, Dario Guerra is in a familiar place: greeting regular customers by name and leading new visitors to the brewery through the specifics of each brew via the menu board placed out front. We have yet to meet, but his ease and demeanor can only mean one thing…he is totally invested. As my turn arrives I introduce myself to him and discover that my postulation is correct; Dario is the Owner/Brewer and the blood, sweat, and beers that make up all that is good about Joshua Tree Brewery belong to him and his team.
With introductions complete, Dario gave me what I like to refer to as the Gilligan Tour; and while it certainly didn’t last three hours, it was totally encompassing. He took time to show where the indoor Tasting Room will be when build out is completed. We looked at the brewery which is currently working harder than an ugly stripper in an effort to slake the collective thirst of loyal locals and parched tourists.
Fermentation is managed in a spacious cellaring room where I received the good fortune of sampling Sharry Baby, a light Cream Ale infused with namesake Sharry Baby orchids from nearby Gubler Orchids in Landers. Though the yeast Brewing in Rhythm with the Desert By Brew Master, Ed Heethuis (aka The Keg Whisperer) is only midway through the fermentation process, the soft notes lent by the delicate (and edible) flowers lean toward notes of white chocolate and, to no surprise, sweet vanilla. Raise your hand and give yourself ten bonus reader points if you already knew that vanilla bean pods come from the orchid family.
With introductions and the tour in the rearview mirror, it was time to sample the wares. Ordering is accomplished by queuing up at the front door and selecting from the posted menu. I quickly chose the sampler flight of Farmhouse Saison, Watermelon Spearmint Ale, White Sage Lavender Ale, and Raspberry Seltzer. Upon confirmation of my beery medley, I’m directed to the outdoor patio where the flight would be delivered to my table of choice.
The patio is surprisingly spacious and runs the full depth of the building with a grand total of 18 tables, all of which will comfortably accommodate six patrons (eight if they’re really good friends). As I entered, Green Day’s Brain Stew greeted my ears from the ultra-crisp Bose speakers mounted on the south wall. Smiling at the music selection, I claimed lucky table #15. It was a sunny afternoon, but the thickly strapped shade structures provided ample comfort while serving as a reminder that the desert wind is something not to be taken lightly. While scribbling notes from the tour to the beat of Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes, my already good mood leveled up another notch. Despite my early arrival, the patio was already populated by a menagerie of folks; a table of construction workers celebrating the end of the workweek, a lovely young couple across from me who had just arrived from LA looking to erase their trail dust, and my neighbors at table #17, visiting the park from northeast Texas. Perhaps the brewery tour took longer than I thought.
Enter Dario’s wife Sharon carrying my flight to the opening strains of the Red Hot Chili Peppers Otherside. She thoughtfully placed my selections on the most shaded section of the table while acknowledging that light is indeed one of beer’s most dangerous enemies. It isn’t the warming properties that cause the most trouble; the sun’s UV rays will cause a chemical reaction with the hops in beer to create the dreaded skunky aroma beer lovers have learned to despise. Her thoughtfulness doesn’t go unnoticed, nor unappreciated, as my mental tip calculator slid upward another two notches. I quickly dashed off the rest of my notes from the tour, cleansed my palate with a splash of water and dove headfirst into my flight accompanied by 3 Doors Down and Kryptonite.
First up was the Farmhouse Saison, easily one of my top-ten favorite beer styles. Saison is French for “season” and was originally produced by Belgian farmers for the consumption of workers in their fields. It’s not an easy style to master and will severely test a brewer’s chops, if allowed. Looking at the beer, the color was appropriate, but tough to quantify. If I have one disappointment, it’s that San Bernardino County mandates that brewery Tasting Rooms use plastic glassware (a true oxymoron), and the translucent cup makes translating the appearance of a beer akin to reading this publication while wearing someone else’s prescription glasses.
As the virtual jukebox selected the Gin Blossoms Follow You Down, the dark gold liquid followed suit after first dancing on my tongue with perfectly attained spritzy carbonation. Saison yeast provides a myriad of flavors and the white peppercorn and melon rind made my senses happy while the finish was cotton-ball dry. Certainly, every scrap of sugar in this brew had been devoured and it provided the perfect finale while enticing me to take another sip.
I took a mental step back to savor the moment. The shaded sun provided warmth, but not too much heat. The western breeze was enough to tickle the branches on the nearby willow tree, however not strong enough to scatter the empty plastic cups which dotted the patio tables. The Chili Peppers returned to the stage with Dani California just as a Severe Thunderstorm Warning crashed the party via my iPhone. A quick glance showed that Blythe might be adversely affected, but we could believe the promise of the scattered cirrus clouds overhead that our perfect desert day would not end in a sudden downpour. The magic of the moment was surreal.
Next up was Watermelon Spearmint Ale and, to be honest, wrapping my cranium around that particular combination had my head spinning. Certainly, two flavors so disparate on the spectrum would clash violently…or so I thought. A timid taste alluded to zero conflict on my tongue, so I dove in headfirst and much to my surprise there was, um, ahhhh, whoa, there is balance! The minty sprig was gentle as a springtime drizzle up front, closely followed by a light dose of watermelon eaten close to the rind. As Third Eye Blind was wrapping up Never Let You Go, I surprisingly felt the same about this offering. It seems that Dario doubles as an alchemist and this is the liquid of an evil genius. No matter what wizardry was used in production, count me in as a solid fan.
Enter the Odd Couple. To be honest, neither one was truly odd, but to me, their presence together certainly caught me by surprise. Subject #1 was the quintessential Marine Corporal, right down to his fitness, haircut, and mirrored aviator sunglasses. Subject #2 was, well, definitely not a Marine. My description might lean toward bohemian with a touch of naturalist and definitely not someone I would begin to believe would associate with military authority. When their beers arrived, I watched them toast with December by Collective Soul providing the perfect soundtrack. This pairing of good friends amazed me until, after taking a step back, I realized that if strange bedfellows such as Watermelon and Spearmint could work together, why couldn’t they?
White Sage Lavender Ale was to follow, and I do not mind sharing my trepidation regarding this beer. Our family matriarch was from the Old Country and made soap by hand. In an effort to conceal the smell of lye, copious amounts of lavender were used, and as a spirited child with definite opinions about the world, I ended up eating what I feel is more than my fair share of that soap. Needless to say, lavender is at the very bottom of my favorite tastes…it is even ranked below the goop my parents painted on my fingernails to get me to stop biting them. Weezer came to the rescue as Island in the Sun buoyed my spirits and provided the courage to soldier on. As it turns out, my fear was baseless; the sage took center stage and the dreaded lavender actually added pleasant backing vocals while remaining in complete harmony. Sage has many anti-inflammatory compounds, but who seriously knew it could tame the dreaded lavender monster?
With all of the beery offerings vanquished, the last item on the flight was Raspberry Seltzer. Sugar Ray’s Someday provided a lighthearted backdrop for this refreshing option. Brewers all over the country have discovered seltzer as a viable option for visitors who are looking for a beer break or who don’t (gasp!) enjoy beer at all. Dario’s offering arrives as an olfactory treat since the aroma is of actual raspberry and not something out of a high school chemistry class. The carbonation is spritzy, lighting up not only the tongue, but the inner walls of the cheeks as well. The fruit tastes natural while spikey CO2 and soft berry combine into a wonderfully invigorating beverage.
Joshua Tree Brewing is currently open on Friday 4-9pm and Saturday Noon-6pm. You can follow them on Facebook and updates generally happen around Noon each Friday. Parking is plentiful in the front lot and along Sunset Road. The patio is highly recommended and the soundtrack seemingly perfect for soaking up all the Hi-Desert magic in unparalleled surroundings.