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Drink Local: Orange County Brewerts Guild

The Orange County Brewers Guild represents so much more than just the delicious, sudsy, craft brews it stands for. The board members and member breweries share a commitment to the local economy, a sense of community, area nonprofits, the integrity of independent artisanal brewing, and, of course, a damn good pint of beer. California is home to the nation’s largest population of breweries—ahead of Washington State and Colorado—and Orange County stakes claim to nearly 40 alone. The county even came home with 12 medals from the 2018 Great American Beer Festival.

DiningOut sat down with Aaron Barkenhagen, president of the OC Brewers Guild and founder/CEO of local favorite, Bootlegger’s Brewery, to discuss the OC craft brew scene, the guild, and the guild’s most anticipated event of the year, the annual Halloween Brewers Mash, a beer festival touting dozens of the area’s beloved brewers, unlimited tasters, live music, and food trucks galore. After all, clinking cups of craft beer with old and new friends is what it’s all about, so elevate the experience with the brewhead event of the year!

DiningOut: What does ‘brewing culture’ mean to the OC Brewers Guild?
Aaron Barkenhagen: Since beer was first brewed, brewers have always had a special bond with other brewers. Brewing culture is really all about collaboration and helping out fellow brewers. This year, we started a new tradition of brewing an official collaboration beer, for an official OC Beer Week beer. The brew day at TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room in April drew member breweries from all over the county, working together to create a special citrus IPA.

What does the OC Brewers Guild bring to the Orange County community?
The OC Brewers guild is focused on unifying and promoting local, independent craft beer producers, and educating the public about the breweries and their unique beers.

Is the brewery scene new to Orange County?
Orange county has had several breweries reaching back to the 1990s, including Tustin Brewery, and Oggi’s, however there has really been an increase in new brewery openings over the last several years. People are really rediscovering and supporting the unique offerings of our independent craft breweries.

Where do Orange County brewers source their hops and other ingredients?
There are a few local sources in California, and a few breweries have made special releases with exclusive California ingredients. However, most grain used in brewing comes from the grain belt, and hops come primarily from the Pacific Northwest, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.

Why do people need craft beer?
Mass produced “big” beer is all about efficiency, while craft beer focuses on emphasizing flavor. Rather than focusing on how to most cheaply make a product, craft brewers focus on locally producing a wide range of flavorful beers that appeal to a more discerning customer. In addition, money spent on local independent craft beer promotes jobs and the local economy.

Why is the Brewers Mash a major focus for the OC Brewers Guild annually?
Several years ago when this event was conceived, we really wanted to get away from holding just another beer fest, so we decided to focus this event as an evening event with a fun Halloween theme, complete with decorated booths and costumes. The proceeds from this event help to fund the Orange County Brewers Guild budget for the year and allow the guild to fulfill its mission to educate the public of the benefits of fresh, local beer; promote the interests of breweries located within Orange County; and participate in and create local community events to raise funds for charities.

What are you most looking forward to this year?
Each year we present an award for best booth design, and each year the booths have become increasingly creative. We are excited to see the amazing brewery booth designs this year. They will all be vying for the coveted Best Booth Award.

What new breweries are included in the 2019 event?
New breweries will include Brewheim, and Santa Ana River Brewing. There should be over 40 breweries in attendance this year.

This year’s Brewers Mash is slated for October 19, 2019. To stay up to date on information regarding the event, check the guild’s event calendar at ocbrewers.org