Once a year, Mission Park in downtown Ventura transforms into a beer paradise when the California Beer Festival erects fences that will keep the revelers in and the envious out. This year’s festival seemed a bit tamer than usual — but that doesn’t mean there weren’t gems to be found among the tents.

Local brew heroes Surf Brewery and Anacapa both amassed massive lines that were sustained throughout the day as they poured standards, a sign of growing interest in their goods. The Lab, from over the hill in Agoura Hills, served samples of its Brew with a View winning milk stout, After Midnight Moo, which, despite the heat, was rather refreshing. Sadly missing this year was Ladyface Alehouse, which chose to kick off L.A. Beer Week instead.

Tucked away into the corner, where the Ventura Museum’s patio was transformed into a hidden alcove of breweries, the Ventura Independent Beer Enthusiasts had eight taps of its own homebrews. If anything, VIBE knows how to please the locals. VIBE wins the 5 O’Clock Award for Most Diverse Taplist featuring a maple bacon brown ale, a sage and peppercorn saison and a 100 percent brettanonmyces peppercorn saison, all three of which were superb.

It’s hard to complain about the festival, and improvements were very noticeable, including the addition of several food trucks (Scratch and ConFusion Sushi). It’s not very hard, however, to get me complaining, and I’m looking at you, Anderson Valley. Why serve a keg of beer that had been sitting in a cooler for over half a year? Alongside the Highway 128 session pale, Anderson Valley served the Spring Hornin’, an IPA that was clearly past its prime. A better choice would have been the Fall Hornin’, a recently released pumpkin beer.

That constant drumming you’re hearing in the back of your head signals that it’s time to award the 5 O’clock Special, a prize that comes with nothing more than bragging rights. This year the award goes to VIBE and the sage and peppercorn saison. Please, find a way to mass produce this, mostly for my own benefit.


Chris O’Neal prefers his beverages in the shade. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @agentoneal.