Our third stop on our tour of GABF medal winners takes us to LA’s TAPS Fish House and Brewery where beer tasting and dining are turned up a notch.
By Hudson Lindenberger
Los Angeles, long known for sands, starlets, surfers and all things shiny, recently brought home some coveted brewing hardware. On the third stop of Wine Food Explorer’s tour of multiple-medal winners from the recent Great American Beer Festival (GABF), I decided to put the top down and cruise to the city of angels.
TAPS Fish House and Brewery (two locations, in Brea and Corona) is an outlier in the craft beer universe, a restaurant that wins as many accolades for its menu as it does for its beer. Since its founding in 1999 by Joe Manzella, the restaurant and brewery has consistently won awards – not just for its stellar beers, but also for the ZAGAT rated food and Award of Excellence wine list. As soon as you enter, soaring ceilings, cherry-wood accents, brick walls and white tablecloths quickly tell you that you are in for an experience that goes well beyond the average brewpub standard.
For most breweries, brewpubs and tasting rooms, the beer is both the main draw and the main event. Food is usually an afterthought; simply an accompaniment for the hoppy happiness that is flowing. TAPS takes a holistic approach to your visit with a fresh oyster bar, abundant seafood, and a bevy of steaks. This is a place to bring a date for a great night out while enjoying some foamy fun. Much to my wife’s delight, they also have won numerous Wine Spectator Awards for their wine list.
If you are looking for a more relaxed atmosphere to sip and savor, you can also head for the bar. The long cherry-wood bar top is the perfect place to relax and watch the game on 100-inch televisions. Today’s craft drinkers are usually a younger crowd used to small tasting rooms and food trucks; with flip-flops and beer t-shirts the norm. TAPS seeks to attract beer aficionados of all stripes by creating a bar that is both relaxing and a tad more upscale than the norm. You’ll feel comfortable sampling a pint in the bar whether you are sporting a suit, a Hawaiian shirt or your favorite t-shirt.
When it comes to their beer, TAPS has a Euro focused approach to brewing driven by their brewmaster Victor Novak. Victor’s steady hand on the helm has guided the brewery to numerous awards. In 2010 and 2011 they were named the Brewpub Group of the Year at the GABF and have taken home a notable sixteen medals since 2001. They added to their already impressive haul with two bronze medals in the Schwartzbier and Munich Style Helles categories this year.
Victor grew up in California, graduated from Berkley, moved to the east coast and started apprenticing at Dock Street Brewery in Philly. Under the inspired tutelage of his English Brewmaster he developed a taste and appreciation for European-style beers that he brought back to the west coast. His roster of 35 beers rotate through the 12 tap lines at their Brea location and eight lines at their Corona location. Victor, not a fan of having his tap handles tied up with core beers, likes to change it up. He explains his philosophy thus: “We are in a golden age of beer where our consumers are constantly looking for something different. I believe our job is to keep the lines rotating so there is always a new beer to try. Right now, obviously, you must have an IPA on at all times, but besides that I experiment. We will usually have a Heffe or Belgium White on tap and a Stout or Porter. But, who knows? You have to come in to find out.”
The brewing motto of TAPS is “Old world tradition meets new world inspiration,” and to accomplish this goal they employ a variety of brewing methods. In order to stay true to European styles, Victor imports many of the hops, malts and yeasts used during the brewing process. For their Helles beer they use German malts; for their Brown Ale they use a British yeast strain; and so on. The desire to replicate the old world feel also extends to naming their beers: no fancy elaborate monikers to be found here just simple, straightforward style-driven names. It is refreshing to not have to decipher the beer you order; order an ESB and you’ll get an ESB. No need to figure out what Captain Horn Blowers Twisted Ale might actually be.
At the most recent GABF, TAPS brought home Bronze for their Schwartzbier, a German black beer with 5.3 percent alcohol that has won three medals over the years at the festival. The dark mahogany liquid oozes a strong roasted malt nose with a slight chocolate taste that slides down your throat surprisingly well. Unsurprisingly, another of their German style beers brought home bronze also; Helles is a golden Munich-style lager, the perfect compliment to most meals. The Helles style was created in the 1800s as the German brewers answer to a new popular Pilsner style that was sweeping Europe. A bit more malty than your normal pilsner, but still in possession of a bright hop flavor, Helles is a superb sessionable beer. TAPS version of this beer pours light gold with a large creamy head and a slight hop bouquet teasing your nose. It goes down quite smoothly with a hint of biscuit that has a mild floral finish.
TAPS also offer several IPA’s for the serious hopheads – a must in California. Their Cali Gold XPA is one to try when you visit. A beer with ample flavoring from Amarillo and Columbus hops that lend it a huge citrus and pine nose with an excellent sharp dry finish as it goes down.
Overall TAPS is a refreshing change from the normal brewery and brewpub experience – an elegant yet approachable establishment that brews a large variety of top-notch beers and excellent food to enjoy them with.
In Orange County: 101 E. Imperial Hwy. Brea, Calif., (714) 257-0101
The Promenade Shops at Dos Lagos: 2745 Lakeshore Drive, Corona, Calif., (951) 277-5800. For complete information visit www.tapsfishhouse.com.
Featured image above: The Pumpkin Beer and a TAPS Growler. Photo courtesy of TAPS.