Big Night Out with Allagash and SideDoor – Tap Takeover
By Cord Montgomery | Photographs by David Tran
The rain is drying in the streets of Corona Del Mar, leaving a smell of wet asphalt. My friend David and I approach a two-story building that looks like an old Inn one would find nestled on the British countryside; and dangling from its second story is a red skeleton key, a black sign underneath welcoming visitors to SideDoor, the cozy gastropub tucked within Five Crowns Restaurant & Steakhouse.
The quaint charm outside of SideDoor isn’t lost as you enter, it follows you inside, boasting a full bar surrounded by tables and stools carved of various woods, and a large inscription on the wall assuring visitors they “have found a key that unlocks for ye a night’s keep of good food and cheer.” Indeed the decor and homey atmosphere suggests just that, feeling more like a pub in England than Newport Beach, a place you might find rosy-cheeked patrons raising a pint to a game of football.
We arrive before the rush. Justina Begemann, the Five Crowns manager, emerges from the kitchen with a warm smile, wearing a grey Allagash Brewing Co. shirt lightly stretched by a baby on the way. She tells me of the night’s event, a Big Night out with Allagash, and how it took eight months of preparation to organize. It is part of an ongoing Tap Takeover series hosted here at SideDoor, where breweries and brew masters from around the nation come to highlight their greatest work (Ballast Point and Anderson Valley participated earlier this year). We walk behind the bar, taking photos of wooden taps with bizarre, chalked-in names like Odyssey, Yakuza Tripel, and Interlude, many of which rarely make their way across the Mississippi River. For self-proclaimed beer nerds like us, it’s Christmas morning.
Justina rushes back into the kitchen as we take a seat in a small booth underneath a glass frame holding weathered bar coasters. We order a selection of beers that arrive on two platters that look like cricket paddles, organized from yellow to black in color. We both smile and clink our glasses together, knowing we probably won’t see these beers again, and try to savor every sip.
Our first adventure, Allagash’s Blonde, a wonderfully mellow farmhouse ale, with hints of marshmallow on the nose and graham cracker on the tongue. It tastes like childhood. Light-bodied and refreshing, a decadent introduction to Belgian-style ales and a welcomed escape from American lagers most associated with silver cans and Rocky Mountains.
Although the SideDoor boasts a maximum occupancy of 43, the crowd continues to swell into what feels like 103. Even more intriguing is the variety of people that have gathered, men and women ranging from ages 21 to 81, some wearing sundresses with flip-flops, others sporting business suits with silk ties, yet there’s a unanimous excitement filling the room as each new person adds to the bunch, eager lips trembling at sweaty glasses of Allagash’s finest.
The Blonde is a good start, but we crave something more complex, and find it with Grand Cru, our second beer, and oddly enough one that has nothing to do with wine, rather boasting peated malt, orange peel and a hint of anise.
“It’s the pho of beers,” David says. On the nose it smells of licorice and mint, similar to street food in Southeast Asia, but the flavors scream of an Islay distillery, touting a peaty smokiness like a glass of Lagavulin chased by a fine cigar. This beer is a whiskey lover’s godsend, and single malt scotch being both our spirit of choice, draws an eyebrow raise of quiet approval.
There is an hour-long wait as the clock ticks past 7 pm and Justina is out of the kitchen, now behind the bar, fulfilling drink orders and pouring pints into hungry glasses. It’s a madhouse—but in a good way—because in between the pandemonium are conversations, smiles and a collective love for micro-brews that events like these attract.
Begrudgingly, we delve into our last beer of the evening, Midnight Brett—a dark brown American Wild Ale with a bready, molasses-like essence reminiscent of maple syrup drizzled on pancakes. The flavors are like free form jazz, unpredictable turns as it lingers on the tongue–opening with the tartness of a Belgian sour, riffing unexpectedly to roasted butter toffee, then fading out in a fruity, plum finish that’s as succulent as it is surprising. It is unlike anything we’ve ever tried, which makes finishing it bittersweet. Yet, we wave goodbye to Midnight Brett, drinking what remains, leaving a ring of foam at the bottom of the glass.
We head for the bar to thank Justina for a wonderful evening. She stops to shake our hands, before rushing again to fill a lineup of new orders. On our way out, we are stopped by Jim Colombo, the general manager of SideDoor, brimming with excitement and eager to tell us about future Tap Takeover events –namely Firestone Walker on July 31(I share his exhilaration)–and explains what he hopes to accomplish with events like a Big Night Out With Allagash and other events like Sunday Sessions, where great food, musicians and poets meld to reveal a side of Newport Beach often lost under the grandiosity of surrounding boutiques and shopping centers. He wants the nights here to build a community, a culture that brings people together and exposes them to things never witnessed. And if the smiles resting above frothy pints are any indicator, word of mouth is going to spread fast.
A special thanks to Justina, Jim, Jeanine and the rest of the staff at SideDoor for filling us with great beer and warm welcomes, and my friend David Tran for taking photos. We hope to see everyone later this month when Firestone Walker drops by to say hello.