Southern California Homebrewers Festival (SCHF) is a place where the beer flows like wine, where homebrewers instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano… I’m talkin’ ’bout a little place called Vail Lake (near Temecula).
SCHF operates as a private event put on by the California Homebrewers Association (CHA). All attendees pay a $10 membership fee to join CHA and then around $40 for a festival ticket. This funding allows the beer, mead, and cider to pour annually.
I’d heard the stories from years past: one involving a frisbee-related broken arm, others of derrières ripping through sun-damaged woven beach chairs, and always the beer and food-related fun.
Upon the arrival of spring, my beer-ish friends would collectively tug my arm towards this event, and every year my resistance persisted, until now.
I spent an early May morning at home getting ready by filling and labeling growler after growler: Düsseldorf Altbier, Cream Ale, and a Barrel Fermented Lambic. Camping gear, ibuprofen, chewable antacids, three pounds of bacon, hipster fizzy waters, socks, and gutchies… check!
After just over an hour driving, I joined a caravan of cars, RVs, trucks, and trailers overstuffed with kegs, E-Z UPs, full bars disassembled, and outdoor cooking equipment making their way into the grounds. I pulled up to the Mash Heads / QUAFF dual-brewing club area and pitched my tent. Fortunately, we enjoyed days in the upper 70s, with crisp, cool upper 40s at night (2018’s highs were in the upper 90s, while two years ago it was raining).
After everybody got set up, I opened some refreshing Cream Ale to share with Mash Heads and QUAFF. Our amuse bouche: smoked fava beans, Fromager D’Affinois, Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar, lox, and assorted charcuterie. Off to the side, BBQ ribs were being prepared — some over charcoal, and more in a smoker. Our dinner included plenty of gourmet munchies, the aforementioned ribs, baked beans, cornbread muffins, and wasabi coleslaw. It was a home run pairing when coupled with Tricia and Jamie Gallant’s award-winning English Brown Ale.
Everybody was so busy eating, drinking, and cleaning up after dinner that we missed the Pro Brewing event with two handfuls of breweries pouring, including Wild Barrel from San Marcos.
As the sun was setting, it was time to head over to the Society of Barley Engineers’ Epic Bottle Share, a.k.a. Epic B.S. I quickly jammed a gallon of Lambic in my backpack and jumped on the school bus (with yellow duct tape over the word “school”) running circuit loops around the Vail Lake campground.
Exiting the bus, I walked past a large table of folks all wearing the same hop-adorned shirts, their noses jammed into samples of brownish-colored beers. Here, the CHA was judging the Bragging Rights Only competition (aka BRO); every year a style is chosen and each club busts out their best (2019’s style was Wee Heavy). The winning club simply gets Bragging Rights Only. Historic winners of the BRO competition include Patrick Rue (The Bruery) and Julian Shrago (Beachwood BBQ & Brewing).
I arrived at the Society of Barley Engineers’ Epic Bottle Share. The convex arcs of lights strung overhead played off the rosy-cheeked revelers and the cool, starry infinity above. The party was packed, humming with jovial banter and florid descriptions of beverages. Roaming around the scene were some old friends (and soon-to-be new friends) generously pouring special bottles. I tried but lost count of it all as the night stretched on. The cacophonous finale came in waves, as even bigger beers appeared, alongside homemade ‘shine, spirits, and sake from various Ball jars.
Instinctively, and thankfully, floating feet guided me back to my home campsite, with my ability to operate tent flaps and sleeping bag intact.
The next day started off with a hearty breakfast and much needed hydration. Then came the work of getting kegs situated and bars assembled in preparation for the festival (yes, the previous night was just a preamble).
The gates opened and a steady procession went to drink, eat, and be merry (in that unique order). A large, central festival tent hosted some educational seminars. I attended the advanced mead making seminar presented by Billy Beltz (Lost Cause Meadery) and Pete Bakulic (Mazer Cup). With so many delicious, award-winning meads pouring non-stop at their talk, it was no wonder the crowd packed that tent.
In total, Southern California Homebrewers Festival 2019 consisted of more than 1,300 attendees, forty homebrewing clubs (including three first-timers), 538 taps, 738 kegs, and numerous bottles, cans, and growlers.
Post-festival, the Mash Heads and QUAFF circled around a campfire to help lighten the load. Passed around was Lost Cause’s Zydeco Buzz, AleSmith’s Vietnamese Speedway, barrel-aged Barleywines, and Imperial Stouts.
Needless to say, Sunday morning shone brightly, illuminating the previous night’s fireside carnage of empty bottles. It was time to clean those up, pull tent stakes from the earth, gather our belongings, and direct vehicles homeward. All I wanted was a hot shower and a plethora of fruits and veggies.
If you’re interested in attending or participating in the 29th annual fest next year, simply visit with the many local clubs and wait until the details get announced around the beginning of next year.