Great news for Bakersfield beer drinkers: You're just an hour and some change away from a Kernville microbrewery that recently won the equivalent of Olympic gold in the craft brewing world.
But before you gas up and head east to try it for yourself, call first.
Because the hops required to make Kern River Brewing Company's Citra Double India Pale Ale are hard to get, so, too, is the beer. As of Tuesday, the specialty ale was not available at the brew pub, said Kyle Smith, whose concoction won a gold medal at the great American Beer Festival in Denver earlier this month.
"(The citra hop) is kind of a sought-after variety, and there's only so much allotted to each brewery," said Smith, co-owner of Kern River Brewing. "It comes from Washington state. It's kind of described as having a tropical fruit flavor to it. It tastes like you're drinking mango juice."
There are four basic ingredients in the ale: malt, water, yeast and hops. It's what you do with them that wins medals. In the case of the Citra, the magic takes place after the beer has fermented, during the "dry-hopping" phase, when additional hops are introduced to the tank. Most breweries include only one addition, Smith said, but he mixes in several.
"It's a really hoppy beer."
Though Smith has yet to receive the judges' comments, they must have been happy with "hoppy," because the Citra beat out 102 other double IPAs to win gold.
"We had entered before and never won anything. This is the first medal we've won for this beer," said Smith, who came up with the recipe a couple of years ago.
"We were pretty much shocked."
According to the Great American Beer website, industry professionals from around the world are invited to judge the entries in a blind tasting. Gold medal winners are described as: "A world-class beer that accurately exemplifies the specified style, displaying the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance."
But the Citra isn't the only award-winning ale brewed in Kernville. Smith won a gold medal over the summer at the San Diego International Beer Festival for his Just Outstanding India Pale Ale, which is one of the flagship beers at the brew pub and always on the menu. In fact, Smith said he had hoped Just Outstanding would be the beer that would win him the Great American Beer Festival medal because he's been making it since he was a home brewer.
"When I first moved up here and started brewing, you couldn't find any craft beer -- it was just the normal mass-marketed Bud and Coors type of beers, so that's what got me into it," said Smith, 39, who moved to Kernville 20 years ago.
Partnering up with Eric and Rebecca Giddens, who run the restaurant, Smith went from home brewer to pro in 2005 when the trio opened Kern River Brewing.
"A typical brewing day would be a 10-hour day to actually brew the beer itself," Smith said. "The fermentation process takes anywhere between 14 to 21 days."
The microbrewery "is on the small side," said Smith, and limits itself to ales because they require less brewing time than lagers do. The brew pub usually has between seven to 10 of its beers on tap, four signature varieties and seasonal beers like the Pumpkin and Holiday ales, currently available. As for the gold-winning Citra ...
"The last time we had it on tap, we sold out within two days," Smith said. "It goes really fast. Call ahead or go to the website. I've had people drive all the way from L.A. and it's not on tap."
Though the microbrewer is thrilled with his recent win and the popularity of the Citra, he's not about to start phoning it in now.
In fact, the fun is in the creative process and playing around with new varieties of hops, said Smith, who estimates he comes up with seven or eight new beers a year.
"The craft brewing industry is a tight-knit industry," said Smith, who offered a shout-out to his friends at Lengthwise Brewing Company in Bakersfield. "We're all friends and know each other, and what we do in our off-time is basically visit other breweries.
"That's all we really ever talk about when we get together."