Those who think Kern County is strictly Bud Light territory better reconsider. With the diversity and growth of local festivals, the region is heeding the call of craft beer, and Tehachapi Mountain Brew & Grill Fest is popping the top on the trend with a competition/festival July 19.
Organizer David Brust said the festival is a way for Tehachapi and Kern County to tap into the growing popularity of microbreweries and craft beer.
"It's going nuts. There are well over 300 breweries in the state of California. There are new breweries coming in weekly."
The Bakersfield Craft Beer Festival, now in its second year, was first on the scene, but Brust said his festival goes a bit further with a competition sanctioned by the Beer Judge Certification Program, which oversees judges in Canada and the U.S.
"We're doing something that no one else in Kern County has done. It's not just a beer-sampling event. It's a beer-sampling event with a barbecue contest and a craft beer contest.
"We're bringing some of the top judges in the western United States -- definitely California -- to judge California-produced craft beer."
More than 30 breweries will compete, both from California (Kern River Brewing, Indian Wells Brewing, Golden Road, Hangar 24, Green Flash Brewing, Tioga Sequoia) and beyond (Deschutes and Full Sail from Oregon, Oskar Blues from Colorado, Dogfish Head from Delaware).
Organized as the Central California Beer Competition, the event will focus on five beer styles: IPA, pale ale, brown ale, hefeweizen and stout/porter. The top three in each category will earn gold, silver and bronze metals made for the festival and an overall best in show also will be awarded.
Although breweries may not bring enough of the competing brews -- which Brust said are often brand-new beers -- for the public to sample, there will be plenty to taste.
"Some of the beers will definitely be sampled. Kern River Brewing will have the beers they are entering."
In addition to the beer judging, a barbecue "backyard competition" will be held.
Teams of four have until Wednesday to sign up vying in the fields of chicken, tri-tip and pork ribs. Food will be judged with cash prizes awarded for top finishers, as well as a people's choice award based on samples of tri-tip and chicken given to the crowd. Potential competitors can visit tehachapibrew.com for details.
Hungry attendees don't have to content themselves with samples since admission includes dinner from one of six participating restaurants from Bakersfield and Tehachapi.
On the menu:
Red House BBQ: Pulled pork or brisket slider, hot links, macaroni and cheese and a red slaw;
Old River Grill: 50/50 burger (half chuck, half bacon), potato salad and green salad;
Sandrini's: Macaroni and cheese bar ("You pick what you want in it.") and salad;
Pacino's: Pasta Bolognese with garlic focaccia and salad;
Garden Spot: Chili verde or chicken fajitas served with rice and beans;
Jake's Steakhouse: Beer-marinated tri-tip, baked beans and a champagne broccoli slaw.
For the extremely hungry, additional meals can be purchased for $10.
Brust said offering a full meal was key for encouraging responsible imbibing, as is the shuttle service, which will run between the event and five Tehachapi hotels.
The location -- Benz Visco Youth Sports & Cultural Center -- is also large enough to accommodate RV parking for $75, which is available from Friday night until Sunday morning. (Full details on the website.)
Brust said the event is a labor of love for the mountain town.
"There's no way without Tehachapi community help that this could go on."
Aiming to make the festival an annual event, Brust said he'd like to draw people east.
"We have so much to offer. I'm hoping this will be a conduit for that. Tourism is the biggest part of our business."