What to Drink in the Coachella Valley

Most Coachella festival-goers will sip on molly water, vodka, and Gatorade during their time in the Southern California desert, but there are other, more interesting things brewing in the area’s drinking scene.

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Apr 19 2016, 8:00pm

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All photos by the author.
The Ace Hotel's Heatstroke with blanco tequila, blackberries, lemon, ginger beer, and thyme. The Ace Hotel's Heatstroke with blanco tequila, blackberries, lemon, ginger beer, and thyme.

The world's most beautiful people have descended on the Coachella Valley for a groundbreaking assembly on climate change.

Just kidding—it's the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Annual Festival.

Most festival-goers will sip on molly water, vodka, and Gatorade during their time in the Southern California desert, but there are other, more interesting things brewing in the area's drinking scene.

"It's evolved significantly and gotten younger and hipper, for sure," Chris Anderson said of the Coachella Valley drinking scene in our email interview. Anderson is the chief operating officer and brewmaster of Coachella Valley Brewing Co. in Thousand Palms.

"We now have amazing craft beer selection just about everywhere in our valley," he said. "Craft cocktail programs are the norm now at most places as well."

Anderson credits that evolution to local influencers like Brent Schmidman of the recently shuttered Schmidy's Tavern, and Dean McFarlane of Liquid Catering. McFarlane used to be at the Ace Hotel, one of Palm Springs' most Instagrammable establishments.

The hotel's retro diner, King's Highway, is filled with Eames chairs and glass bottles of ketchup. I ordered the Urban Sombrero—with pineapple-infused Campari, tequila, lime, and agave—and asked the hotel's food and beverage director, Joshua Benitez, about life in the desert.

The Urban Sombrero with pineapple infused Campari, tequila, lime, and agave.

The Urban Sombrero with pineapple-infused Campari, tequila, lime, and agave.
The Desert Negroni, with tequila, not gin. The Desert Negroni, with tequila, not gin.

"This is such a mystical place," Benitez told me. "It's a place to come to and unwind."

While you can definitely have a hell of a time drinking mango daiquiris at the Hard Rock Hotel all day long, going through the lineup at the Ace might be more fun if you're into cocktails. There's a tequila negroni, and drinks that incorporate local ingredients like dates and grapefruit.

"We use local produce such as local Coachella Valley grapefruit juice in the El Ray," Benitez said. "It's not only about trying new product, it's about reaching out to the local area to see what we can use to support the local community."

Coachella Valley Brewing also champions local farmers.

"Our Dubbel Date is a rich belgian dark strong ale made with the best Medjool dates in the valley from the one and only Hadley's date gardens," Anderson said.

"We work with Seaview Farms for all of our citrus, and their quality is second to none. We use three varieties of grapefruits to make our Harvester Imperial Grapefruit IPA, all chosen for their individual contribution and flavor profile."

The Coachella Valley grows more than just palm trees.

The Coachella Valley grows more than just palm trees.

Desert Distilling, the Coachella Valley's first craft spirits distillery, employs local produce as well for its gin and rum, as well as its vodka, for which the fledgling company is already earning accolades.

It seems to be a no-brainer for companies like Desert Distilling and Coachella Valley Brewing to use local ingredients. The harder part of the brew process is being environmentally conscious in such an arid climate.

Along with IDD Process and Packing, Inc. and engineer Jeff Gunn, Anderson helped design some aspects of a High Efficiency Brew System (HEBS) to address that issue.

"In the desert, we will likely always battle drought, so using almost half the water other brewers use to produce the same beer is going to be better for our local water table," Anderson said.

"All of the spent grain we produce goes to a local farm where it's used to feed livestock. Our beers are produced in roughly one third of the time another beer is produced by our competitors, so we consume less energy to produce the same beer as they would expend."

Take it from this bear at the Amigo Room, Palm Springs is lit, fam.

Take it from this bear at the Amigo Room: Palm Springs is lit, fam.

All of the innovation aside, if you're around for the big festival, there's even more good news for you—and local businesses.

"We offer a 10 percent discount to anyone with a bracelet," Anderson said when I asked him about Coachella. "It's nice to have a good month of festivals and the influx of people going into our slow season."