Morels Hosts Meet the Brewer with Verdugo West Head Brewer

Photo by David Canela

Morels Steakhouse & Bistro at The Palazzo hosted a “Meet the Brewer” beer tasting on Nov. 9 with Verdugo West Brewing Company Head Brewer Chris Walowski. The brewery is located in Burbank and just happens to be owned by Market City Caffe Hospitality Group, the parent company of Morels. Chris was an excellent host and happy to talk beer with all attendees. I learned that he is well equipped to be a brewer, with a Master’s degree in biochemistry and several years of professional brewing and consulting experience for some of L.A.’s top craft breweries, including Smog City Brewing. 

The tasting included the five Verdugo West core beers: Wax Wing Blonde Lager, an easy drinking, clean tasting, nicely balanced session beer; Brass Jar Hoppy Amber Ale with malt notes of caramel and toffee matched with earthy Columbus and Chinook hops; What Plane? Oatmeal Stout with character of roast, baking chocolate and espresso rounded out by a silky body, compliments of oatmeal; Trustworthy IPA, a solid West Coast IPA that’s not too bitter, but a representative of the style that lets the citrusy hop flavor dominate; and Gigil, a 4.7% ABV pilsner made with puffed jasmine rice. (Pronounced just like giggle, in Tagalog, gigil is the irresistible urge to pinch something cute.) In addition, Chris brought a brett-soured beer and a cask containing Trustworthy IPA with whole leaf Citra hops.

I was most impressed with the Gigil, which Chris said was originally served only at the brewery and their Dragon Noodle restaurant (which was at the Monte Carlo but is now closed), but after it became wildly popular it quickly was moved into the core beer line-up. Of brewing lagers Chris said, “I love making lagers—there is nowhere for flaws to hide behind, so it’s challenging. Lots of restaurants right now are looking for light lagers.”

You can head out to Burbank to the brewery tasting room where you will find 12 brews on tap, or make a much shorter trip to Morels where you will always find the five aforementioned core beers pouring. 

Two Holiday Ales with Notable Label Artwork

Holiday Ales, also called Winter Warmers, typically appear around the prelude to winter and are usually robust malty ales. Here are two quality releases with long histories from breweries that can always be counted on to provide an annual novelty brew for the season.

Anchor Brewing Company 2017 Christmas Ale

Since 1975 Anchor Brewing has created a distinctive Christmas Ale, available from early November to mid-January. A collector’s item for many beer aficionados, the fun is having some now and saving some to taste later to compare with other vintages. The recipe is different every year, along with the ubiquitous tree depicted on each year’s label. Since ancient times trees have symbolized the winter solstice and the earth’s rebirth, and this year’s label depicts the Santa Lucia fir, which is limited to California’s Santa Lucia Range along the central coast of California. (To view all 43 versions of the Christmas tree label, visit https://www.anchorbrewing.com/beer/christmas_ale/labels. The recipe and ingredients are a heavily guarded secret, and while each year’s version has similarities of spices and floral characteristics, Anchor Brewmaster Scott Ungermann says, “This year’s Christmas Ale has a strong malt profile that is enhanced with wintry spices. It has flavors of creamy bittersweet chocolate, coffee, roasted malts and toasted nuts, with a rich, smooth, velvety mouthfeel.”

Deschutes Jubelale

This annual treat from the Bend, Oregon Deschutes Brewery has been been helping us get through the winter season since 1987, with this year’s version marking its 30th anniversary. The brewery’s dedication to art is evident, as it has selected a local artist each year to illustrate the label. The 2017 version features Bend, Oregon artist Marylea Harris’ work, which for the first time ever, features not one, but a series of custom snowflake-themed illustrations. Each snowflake, the artist says, is “unique and full of complexity and detail.” Jubelale differs from many of Deschutes Brewery’s other beers in its malty and dried fruit character, along with notes of cocoa and toffee and the use of EKG hops, which have a light herbal and spice quality. 

Local Brewery Releases Beer Named for Nevada

Henderson-based CraftHaus Brewery has joined the ranks of breweries brewing lighter hued easy-drinking brews with the release of its new Silver State blonde ale. Named for the nickname of Nevada and released on Nevada Day weekend, the new branding of the label was designed by Head Brewer Steve Brockman. He intentionally left out the brewery’s iconic cuckoo clock logo and depicted Sunrise Mountain, a Southern Nevada landmark, to represent strength and Nevada’s pioneering spirit. Silver State is now available year round in twelve-ounce six-pack cans and on draft.