These days, nothing says “street cred” quite like a community with a killer craft beer scene. Again, Orange County is way out front on this trend with no less than thirty craft breweries—give or take, it can be a brutally competitive business and tap houses open and close all the time.
Within Costa Mesa proper, Barley Forge is operated by longtime LA lawyer turned homebrew artist Greg Nylen. It’s nothing-fancy industrial park façade gives way to a super-funky bar and bistro where new beers are chalked up on the chalkboard, there’s Tuesday trivia night, and the kitchen serves up a mean grilled cheese. Barley Forge’s proximity to the ultra-hip Camp anti-mall produces a steady stream of thirsty customers.
Gunwhale Ales has been open for less than a year, and channels a wild, West Coast ocean vibe in which to show off beers like their “raw, unfiltered IPA” that crashes onto the tastebuds like a rogue wave into the Newport Jetty. A relative newcomer to the Costa Mesa scene, Gunwhale’s eclectically decorated tasting room (rustic farm tools x kitschy oil paintings) and five table patio provide the perfect ambience for sampling seasonal concoctions. Definitely one to watch at beer awards time.
With a safe ride home only a Uber or Lyft tap away, the opportunity to piece together an “ale trail” is limited only by your alcohol intake. Craft breweries often keep funny hours and are located in hard to find industrial parks, so maybe map out a route before you go. Nearby Irvine, Anaheim, Fullerton and, closer to the coast, San Clemente and Newport all offer fruity saisons, pale pilseners and plucky porters.