Little did I know when John “I have 400 Twitter followers” Rockwell roused me from a nasty haze a couple Saturdays ago that our local “Beer and Baseball” outing would, by the end of the night, compete for the title of “Greatest Day Ever.”I had decided on doing a local brew and hardball daytrip because, after getting back from our tour of the Midwest, I realized that Josh and I didn’t need to fly across country to get a fix. We could do a one-day tour locally and bring along friends who couldn’t “travel around and not work for two weeks straight.” Whatever.
Anyway, I chose Lake Elsinore, since I’d never been to a Storm game, then I looked for local breweries. I found the nearby Craft Brewing Company and was sold instantly by its wicked-sick wizard-filled website.Along with John and my roomie Scott, we hop-scotched throughout the OC to pick up Josh and another (awesome) friend Fabian. It was roasting on the coast, so you could only imagine how butt-hot Lake Elsinore was when we got there. The girl at the Craft Brewery counter was very friendly but her greeting was nothing compared with the startling reception as we walked back into the tasting room. People rose up, cheering, and high-fived us in a gauntlet as we headed to our table.
Let me say right here that I still have no idea why that happened. A guy at the bar even asked John if we were celebrities. Josh hypothesized that the crowd mistook us for a boy band. I think it was because they were just happy to see fresh blood in the brewery. Everyone there seemed to know each other and many were family members of the owners. Either way, the Craft folks showed great hospitality, coming by our table to say hi and give us drinking advice. (Ha! As if we needed any!).We got to work sampling the five beers on tap (purchased for a dollar each). I asked John – certified beer yada yada, whatever – to make notes on each selection so most of the following descriptions are his.
We started with their blonde ale: Fallen Angel. It had a sweet, malt nose with piney, hoppy aroma. Fabian chimed in that it had “light citrus overtones.” We moved on to the Four Headed Hef with its banana, fruit nose. It was cloudy and lightbodied with hints of clove. I’ll skip the raspberry beer (not a fan) for the Devils Daughter, Holly – Belgian Pale Ale. It was dry and fruity with tartness and a moderate Belgian yeast character. The hops were slightly floral with a clear, dark amber body. Last of the sampler was the Ninth Order Double IPA. Fabian liked it, saying “For an IPA it was surprisingly not bitter. It didn’t ‘attack’ you like other IPAs.” It was sweet, balanced, with a big ABV (yay!) and English hops, giving it an earthy floral aroma.By the time we finished the sampler and had each downed a pint of our favorite, we’d probably overstayed our welcome. When I accidentally spilled a beer (at the expense of a really funny joke, If I remember correctly) a coaster came whizzing at me from the bar. By that time, the brewery was closing and, with a bit of buzz, we said our goodbyes and headed south for the game.
The Storm’s stadium, The Diamond, was pretty packed when we arrived. I was thought it was because fans wanted see their beloved AA affiliate of the Padres clinch the playoffs. When we got to our seats and saw armor-clad stormtroopers marching across the infield, I knew the real reason: Star Wars Night! You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Darth Vader’s finest salute the flag with fist to chestplate for the national anthem.
Apparently, Lake Elsinore is known for its wacky promotions. Case in point: Charlie Sheen’s number from Major League is retired on the outfield wall. It was part of a PR stunt on May 5th entitled “Sheen-co de Mayo.” The stadium was nice even without the hype. There was an old-school manual scoreboard in the outfield and a fancy, sit-down restaurant down the third base line.
The Storm really did up the Star Wars promotion. The home and away players were given Rebel and Imperial pictures, respectively, on the vision board. The video team made a multi-part, mostly unintelligible “Storm Wars” epic that played between innings (and was surprisingly violent). And the San Diego Star Wars Society, who provided the troopers, had a Death Star set on the concourse where fans could take pictures.
The Storm even had the Imperials handle the free pizza giveaway between innings. See those kids in the pictures straining for a slice from the stormtrooper? Well, they went hungry because the self-described “47-year old elementary school teacher” sitting next to us vigorously shook her moneymaker and won the pie. Not only that, she gave us each a slice. Actually, despite some overly-loud, off-color comments from our group, we made good friends with our neighbors. Scott caught a ball and gave it to the little boy in front of us, instantly winning an admirer for the rest of the night.
John and I took an inning or two off to walk around the stadium. He, being a minor league baseball rookie, was amazed by the friendliness of the people, commenting that no one’s this nice at Dodger Stadium. Even more importantly, he was impressed that The Diamond served local microbrews – Hangar 24 Brewery and Temecula’s own Black Market Brewing Co. – which were cheaper than the watery macro-swill you get at a big league stadium. I think I made at least one MILB convert that night.
The Storm won 1-0 to clinch a berth in the California League playoffs and we headed to our car for the first minor league traffic jam I’ve ever experienced. Even then, it was only about 10 minutes before we were on the road (about 30 minutes less than trying to get out of Dodger Stadium.) The plan was to get some Wienerschnitzel and head to an Indian casino. We got the dinner in but our plans to deplete our wallets at blackjack were thwarted by John’s early morning plans to work on the LA Aleworks beer sculpture. …At least, it was for a good cause.It was so close to being the greatest day ever. But I’m not too upset. I think I’ve spread the minor league baseball gospel to a few neophytes. Even though summer’s at an end, I foresee a bigger roster for next year’s beer and baseball adventures.