Top Breweries in Orange County
A stretch along the Orange Freeway is home to Orange County’s best breweries.
Adapted from The 57 Beerway by Greg Nagel
With nearly 500 breweries in California, it’s safe to say that craft beer is flourishing here. Orange County comes to the party with a full case of breweries—24—with more in the planning. In contrast to wine tasting in Northern California, which might entail endless meandering among rolling hills, most of OC’s beer production lies in unassuming industrial parks just off the 57 Freeway—making an afternoon beer crawl most convenient.
Brewery ambience in Orange County is relaxed and welcoming. Amid the euphoria-inducing smells of beer being made, you can order a pint or a taster in a well-lit but cozy tasting room that is more neighborly than a bar. The setting seems to spark spontaneous conversation among strangers; brewery-goers like to chat about their latest hopped infatuations and are happy to dish as if they’re the best of friends.
The first thing you will need for a proper beer crawl is transportation. When a designated driver isn’t an option, many people use ridesharing options such as Uber or Lyft. The Amtrak/Metrolink stop in Anaheim is within walking distance of Noble Ale Works, a suggested first stop.
Noble Ale Works
One reason Noble Ale Works is so popular is its proximity to the city’s stadiums: You can park for free, drop a pint and walk to an event. Old oak barrels make for rustic tasting tables; autographed Ducks/Angels gear is framed on the walls. Head brewer Evan Price specializes in fun flavors, but he’s also known for his India Pale Ale and British-style-beer program.
If the beer Naughty Sauce—”inspired by a creamy cappuccino,” Price says—is on the board, order it! Brewed and infused with a special coffee blend from acclaimed Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa, the blonde milk stout has a signature froth guaranteed to give you a beer mustache, and its creaminess strongly suggests a coffee drink. This beer alone should prime you for your 57 crawl.
JT Schmid’s Restaurant & Brewery
On the other side of the 57 from Noble, also near the stadiums, is JT Schmid’s Restaurant & Brewery. A brewery with a kitchen is called a brewpub. Since it’s illegal to tailgate in stadium parking lots, you just might find yourself in a sea of Ducks or Angels team colors before events. Consider the gooey ale-and-cheese soup made with JT’s Basic Blond; the Bigger Badder Asser Burger feeds up to eight.
Taps Fish House & Brewery
At the north end of the crawl is Taps Fish House & Brewery in Brea, home of one of the county’s best brunches. It also happens to brew the most award-winning Euro-style beers in Southern California.
You can actually see The Bruery in Placentia from the freeway. You won’t find IPAs here; you will find beers that defy the expected rules of flavor. Sour beers are a specialty; you might fall in love with a bourbon-barrel-aged stout or a beer so wild you’ll feel like you’re horseback-riding. Order flights for the table and share; don’t feel you have to finish everything.
Some Bruery beers do better at cellar temp (54 degrees Fahrenheit), so be mindful to let the bigger beers sit for a bit to open up. With 40-plus taps and bottles, there really is something for everyone—though with that many choices, it can feel like a visit to IKEA. Ask for a flight of the house specialties.
Bottle Logic Brewing
“Welcome, Fellow Innovators,” it says above the tap list at Bottle Logic Brewing, an exciting new brewery and tasting room in Anaheim southeast of the Bruery near the 57 and 91 freeways. Not yet a year old, Bottle Logic has already earned a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for its dark American lager, Lagerithm.
The tasting room has a wall of vintage sci-fi books and artwork. Imagine what a brewery might look like on the starship Enterprise; if beer were their thing, and what with the word “logic” in the name, Leonard Nimoy and Stephen Hawking might feel at home.
Despite Bottle Logic’s laboratory feel, the beers are approachable. Instant classics include She Shot First. Leche Mole is a smooth milk stout with a spark of chili-pepper burn. Experiments such as coffee-coconut versions keep visitors coming back.
For those who have caught the craft-beer bug and want to start home brewing, Phantom Ales in Anaheim both brews beer and sells the equipment. Stop in for a pint, watch a demo and marvel at how easy it is to make your own great beer.
Downtown Santa Ana
Downtown Santa Ana, aka DTSA—south of the 57 freeway near Interstate 5—is also becoming a brewery magnet. With the opening of The Good Beer Co., DTSA is worthy of a beer crawl, too, one that could end at beer-friendly restaurants such as Little Sparrow and Playground. At one intersection you’ll find Chapter One: the Modern Local, the Copper Door bar next door and C4 Deli: The Cure for the Common across the street. If there’s a wait at the restaurants, put your name in and enjoy a Native Son Alehouse.