A war-torn man comes home from a tour in Iraq searching for a new life, a new identity, when he is reunited with three of his high school friends in the city where they grew up together – Orange, CA. To cope and readjust to the world he’d left behind, Brian Lambros and his friends turned to the thing that solidified their friendship: beer. Not just drinking beer, but MAKING beer! (Queue Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait”). This story may sound like the latest Ann Brashares book for dudes, but this is the real life, only somewhat dramatized, story of the Old Orange Brewing Company (OOB) in Orange County, California.
When Brian came home from Iraq, he didn’t know much about craft beer. In fact, he only drank Coors Light. Brian’s friends and now co-owners Tony, Jerry, and Mark got him to ditch the silver bullet and check out the craft beer scene in the South Bay of LA and in OC. He then trained under Mike Anderson, a brewing consultant and brewer for several different breweries. Once Brian was Daniel-san to Mark’s Mr. Miyagi, the four friends leased a commercial suite three years ago and paid cash for their brewing equipment. The OOB was born.
OOB’s first flagship beer was their Street Fair Summer Ale, a hopped-up pale ale made with Cascade hops. It seems like Orange’s cultural heartbeat is centered on their sacred street fair, so it’s fitting to name OOB’s first beer after this event. OOB then added an IPA and their Old Dummy Strong Ale. Brian has 12 beers that he serves in OOB’s tap room, which opened in July 2011. I had the Holy Jim IPA, which has fruity notes and is not overly hoppy. I was also impressed with their Smudgepot Russian Imperial Stout on nitrogen. I love stouts on nitrogen, and the Smudgepot was creamy and sweet, with a coffee-like aftertaste. There’s a high demand for the Back Seat Blonde among the regulars in the tap room, and Brian assured me that if they ran out, a full-on riot would ensue, complete with pitchforks and torches. I don’t blame them because the blonde is crisp, refreshing, and perfect on a warm day (which is practically every day).
Currently, the beer scene in OC is growing faster than people’s fascination with crappy internet memes, but OOB strives to remain small and independent. Brian is not sure why breweries are flocking to start up in OC; it’s a conservative county with a strict health department and difficult brewing laws. Plus, breweries take up precious space that could be used for filming teenybopper beach TV shows. OOB has no choice but to be in Orange because that’s where their roots are, but they reach out and support the other breweries in their tight-knit area.
Brian is currently talking with distributors to get OOB’s beers into the hands of more Orangeanites… Orangealinos… um… Orangers? Umpa Loompas? He plans for slow growth for OOB and wants to pick up another bay in the building they’re renting in. You can find their beers in bars and gastropubs around OC as well as a few places in LA.
The OOB is one of several breweries in OC helping to develop the county’s booming craft beer scene. Brian has a fantastic array of beers that are contributing to the community that he and his friends grew up in. But don’t take my word for it – check it out at your local library! (Or bar if you’re in Orange County).