With apologies to all those sentimental types out there, I am a Valentine’s Day Scrooge. What drives me crazy more than the idiotic hearts, cupids and stuffed animals of the phony Hallmark-invented holiday, is the traffic. A 30-minute commute becomes three hours of slow torture as half the population of the known world scrambles to get to the restaurant to profess their undying love. But this Valentine’s Day, Wade’s Wines in Westlake Village turned my least favorite holiday into a surprise romantic date with my yeasty lover – beer.
I was working in Chatsworth on Valentine’s Day, so to avoid battling the 405 Freeway to get home to West L.A., I headed over to Wade’s Wines in Westlake Village to drop off my two entries in the inaugural Romancing the Beer home brewing competition sponsored by Thousand Oaked Home Brewers club. As the name indicates, the competition is Valentine’s Day themed.
Todd Slater, Head of Wade’s Wines Beer Department, and President of Thousand Oaked Homebrewers, was working that night. He is also the Head Brewer at Wade’s own in-house nano-brewery, Sundowner Brewery, and as he helped me get my beer entries logged, he told me their wine tasting room also had beer. Not only that, they had all five of Sundowner’s beers on tap, as well as over 100 beers, and hundreds of bottled beers. Suddenly, the prospect of waiting a couple of hours until V-Day traffic subsided was looking up.
The cozy tasting room offers pints, 4 oz. taster glasses, and nine different pre-set, themed $10 flights, including IPAs, Belgians, light-to-dark, all locally brewed, and more. I had the Belgian flight, as well as a taster of each of their Sundowner beers, and finished with a taster of Avery’s Maharajah Imperial IPA.
My flight was delightful, consisting of:
New Belgium Abbey, (Belgian Dubbel, Ft. Collins, CO) – Winner of four World Beer Cup medals and eight medals at the Great American Beer Fest, brewed with six different malts, Willamette, Target, Liberty hops and an authentic Belgian Abbey yeast strain, bottle-conditioned, 7% ABV, 20 IBUs.
Triple Voodoo Brewing Grand Cru (Belgian Strong Pale Ale, Bellmont, CA) – Brewed with Belgian style grains and hops, with honey and blue agave nectar adjuncts, and spiced with coriander and orange peel.
Monkish Brewing Co. Red Tablee(Belgian Red Ale with pink peppercorns, Torrance, CA) – A “Belgianized red/amber ale” spiced with pink peppercorns, at 5.6% ABV. Deep red hues, a soft bready, biscuity taste accompanied by a stone fruity, and spicy finish.
Great Divide Colette Farmhouse Ale (Belgian Saison, Denver, CO) – A Belgian Saison farmhouse ale, brewed with barley, wheat and rice and fermented at high temperatures with a special blend of four different yeast strains. Fruity and slightly tart, with a dry finish, at 7.3% ABV. 2010 Great American Beer Festival, Silver Medal, French & Belgian-Style Saison, 2010 Silver Australian International Beer Awards, 2011 Australian International Beer Awards, Bronze Medal, Belgian and French Style Ales.
I consider it an honor to have the Head Brewer of any brewery pouring me tasters of their beer. So in my book Wade’s scored off the chart in the hospitality department. And the neighboring barstool was occupied by Dave Griffiths, Head Brewer at Ladyface Alehouse, a couple of miles down the 101 Freeway in Agoura, which brews and serves exceptionally good, mostly Belgian ales in their gorgeous brewpub. Dave was over visiting and sampling a few beers. He was happy to delve into a geeky discussion about the finer points of oxygenation, yeast pitching rates and fermentation temperatures when home brewing certain Belgian ales.
I also tasted each of Sundowner Brewery’s own beers, all of which were excellent, flavorful and very clean:
Black and Soul Stout – A thick mocha beige head, nose has a lot of bitter chocolate and burnt aromas. Burnt, roasty flavors round out the finish. A lighter body stout, low in alcohol with a dry finish, at 6.2% ABV, 12 IBUs.
Big Wheat – Sundowners say this amber colored beer brewed with 45% Pilsen Malt, 39% White Wheat, and 16% Crystal 45 doesn’t fit a category. It does however, fit a category of Incredibly Delicisous. This is one of the tastiest and most unexpected beers I have had in months. They say they used low hops during the boil. It was dry-hopped it with the 7 C’s, a blend of Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Cluster, Columbus, and Crystal hops. They give it a heavy fruity, citrus, spicy, and earthy aroma that smells like a double IPA but has none of the bitterness, and a rich, smooth, sweet maltiness at 7.9% and 17.5 IBUs.
Rosewood – This was a top-notch example of a Black IPA. Brewed with Chocolate, Roasted Barley, and Crystal 45 malts, with five different hop additions during a 90-minute boil using the 7 C’s and Simcoe hops. It was then dry-hopped with a pound of 7 C’s & Simcoe to make this beer smell like a chocolate covered grapefruit. This beer is light bodied with an intense hop bitterness, at 6.2% ABV and 77 IBUs.
36 Red – The West Coast-Style Red Ale was brewed with 100% Centennial hops, giving it a thick bouquet of floral aromas on the nose, and as slightly bready, sweet malt character on the back. Medium bitterness with a clean, dry finish, at 7.9% ABV and 71.3 IBUs.
Sundowner Barleywine – Extremely smooth with out any alcoholic burn, with sweet caramel flavors, lightly hopped with only an earthy hop flavor, and a silky mouth feel. Lighter in color and body and less complex and sweet than is common with Barleywines, at 9% ABV and 21 IBUs.
The two large, high-ceilinged rooms, which Wade’s added in 2011, have loads of wooden wine pressing equipment, barrels, heavy rustic wood furniture, and beer and wine-inspired art pieces that give the place a very cozy French farmhouse vibe. The tables are made from re-purposed wine barrel tops.
The back story on Sundowner’s website says that Todd got hooked on home brewing beer while in college in San Diego. He and Alyssa Schlosser, daughter of proprietor Wade Schlosser, who works there as well, got to go to Sierra Nevada’s famous beer camp and brew their own private batch, and soon after she launched their micro-brewery with Todd as the Head Brewer in Sept. 2012. They have a Morebeer 2100, 20 Gallon Flat Brewing sculpture right on premises and their tasting room is the only place you can get it. Todd said that they hope to be filling growlers soon. Wade’s stocks nearly 1,000 different beers, with lots of rotation and seasonal beers.
“This is what a lot of breweries use as a pilot system,” Todd said. “We pretty much max out the system on every brew. We try to get about 22 to 23 gallons into the are 27-gallon Morebeer conical Fermenters to get 20 gallons of clean beer. Since the system is so small, it allows us to create and experiment with each batch. Also by having no ‘regular releases’ we are always tweaking and trying out recipes that a larger brewery might not be able to do.”
This is Bierkast, but for you folks who like to play for both teams, Wade’s Sundowner Tasting Room has a massive selection of wines on a high-tech nitrogen-push tap system that is temperature-regulated for different types of wine. They hold guided tastings every weekend and some weeknights, and offer thousands of wines for sale including some that are commissioned by Wade’s on labels such as Malibu Sundowner, Mulholland Highway and Palm, and a friendly, helpful and extremely knowledgeable staff. They also host regular guided Scotch tasting events, and offer artisanal cheese, charcuterie, salamis and olives.
Overall, my surprise date with beer at Wade’s Wines turned my Valentine’s Day around. Don’t wait until next Valentine’s Day to come here. It’s a perfect place for a romantic evening, or a cold winter afternoon. Bring any beer lover here and they will go weak in the knees.
Wade’s Wines is located at 30961 West Agoura Road, Suite #321 in Westlake Village. Click here for a map. Open Monday – Wednesday, 11:00 am – 7:00 pm, Thursday – Saturday, 11:00 am – 9:00 pm, and Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm. Wine tasting hours are Thursday – Friday, 4:30 pm – 9:00 pm, Saturday 2:00 pm – 9:00 pm, Sunday 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm. Phone: (818) 597-9463.