There is an old oak tree on Main Street in Orange, less than a half mile south of Chapman. This tree goes by the name of Hollingshead and it is the senior to the now blooming forest that is the Orange Country craft beer community.
Regrettably, I only discovered Hollingshead Deli last year, but upon my first arrival fell in love (like many before me) with the deli and beer bar. Few locations can express an identity as colorful and jovial as the historic Orange locale. The Hollingshead family have owned and operated the store since 1963. Before the craft brewing movement was even a concept in the minds of our pioneers (like Maytag, Papazian, Eckhardt or McAuliffe) Hollingshead has been slinging sandwiches and fine pints to its patrons. For Angelenos, the only comparison I can make is with The Stuffed Sandwich.
Welcome to Hollingshead
I visited on a Tuesday, slightly after noon, during a recent Bayern Munich v. Real Madrid match. Not much of a Fußball fan myself, I still felt the need to support the red and white. Feeling Teutonic, I ordered a Liverswurst sandwich, a pickled egg, and a mug of Hofbraü Original. Seating was very limited at the time, but that is to be expected during a sporting event.
(I can only imagine the bedlam that takes place during a Packers game)
Before the shelves of the store were stacked with bottles of craft beer from California, the store served as a purveyor of fine German and Belgian beers, as well as a wine boutique. According to Michael, the youngest of the Hollingshead men, the fair trade laws in the early to mid-1980s left American stores awash in cheap state subsidized European wines. The Sr. Hollingshead, Ken, opted to focus on finely crafted beers from around the world. Evidence of this still remains when one sees the left rear corner of the store and the dozens of German beers (like Ayinger, Weihenstephaner, Erdinger, and the aforementioned Hofbraü) or variety of Belgian beers as well. I recall having my first Orval here; the story of the trout and the ring was regaled to me by Kenneth, the current head of the establishment.
Kenneth and I spoke once last year at length about where Hollingshead situates itself in the history of craft beer in California. His father Ken welcomed the likes of Fritz Maytag of Anchor and Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada to his fine beer holdout. The early kegs that were purchased for Hollingshead from the craft pioneers are likely the first time craft beer flowed in Orange County. Every time I have visited I am surprised at the selection that is on tap. This random Tuesday they featured four Lagunitas taps, one of which was a rye whiskey barrel aged Cappuccino Stout. They also carried a cranberry stout by Allagash, Oskar Blues Ten Fidy, 2013 Stone Double Bastard, and their seemingly ever present Pliny the Elder. Speaking of which, the Hollingshead Deli is one of the few Orange County locations where you can find a coveted glass of the Younger Pliny, but only in a short window at the end of February. The family maintains these close ties to craft breweries in the state, often obtaining rare and limited treats that would make any self-respecting beer bar green with envy.
Speaking of green I may as well address the obvious. I am not a sports fan by any measure but even I am impressed by the amount of Packers memorabilia and décor that surrounds the walls of the shop. In talking briefly with the younger Michael, he told me of visits by famous Packers such as Willie Buchanon, Bruce Wilkerson, and Marv Fleming; the latter of which he was quick to inform me was part of the Miami Dolphin’s perfect season. Near the front of the store is further proof the family’s connection to the Packers, two investment receipts in Packers stock are framed and hung prominently above the cash register.
I sat at the bar watching Bayern Munich get pummeled by Real Madrid. Not that it mattered, I was there mostly for lunch. Atop the bar were copies of The WestCoaster and Beer Paper L.A. and bottles displayed to tantalize patrons into purchasing them. My eyes were drawn to the chilled shelves to my right which displayed hundreds of craft bottles going begging. Upon finishing my sandwich and lager I spotted a bottle of Russian River Damnation and Blind Pig. I snatched them up along with a magnum bottle of 2013 Anchor Christmas Ale, as I was all too eager to polish off my last magnum bottle on New Year’s Eve. Lunch cost around 14 dollars, my bottles ran about 35.
While waiting for my turn at the cash register I listened in on a conversation between Kenneth and a regular patron. They spoke as if they were family, inquiring about the sporting activities of their children, the status of loved ones, and recalling memories of loved ones since passed. The customer in front of me mentioned Louisiana, and I chimed in with my experiences of New Orleans last year. I could only describe it as effortless, comfortable conversation. I’ve yet to be turned down to speak by one of the Hollingshead men. If you are familiar you are like family, and strangers are welcome to enjoy this great good place, alongside the regulars.
There is a comfort… a certain warmth that is embodied in this Orange County treasure. One feels that they are sitting amid artifacts of craft brewing history when at the Hollingshead bar. The many hundreds of tap handles above and behind the bar were all once kegs that passed through the lines that have seen so many brews in the past fifty years. Of particular note to me was the many Anchor Christmas Ale tap handles that were prominently displayed near the bar. For decades they have been following that tradition; one among many that must take place within its walls.
Perhaps that is the beauty in an establishment like Hollingshead, tradition. Think about the bars that you or I frequent on a regular basis. Is there anything special, unique, or timeless about them? Is there anything to my local watering hole that brings about a sense of pride and self-identification to it? Every time I visit I feel as though I’ve only caught a short glimpse of Orange County beer history. There are other bars with a larger selection, there are other bars that I would feel more comfortable in, and there are other bars that I hold a profound affection for. Yet I cannot deny, of all the barstools I have sat at, there are none that hold a legacy that is embodied by Hollingshead.