Photo by Jason Lin
Photo by Jason Lin

Probing Area 51

Aliens have landed in Riverside, and while they didn’t probe anyone, they did leave behind some tasty beers. Area 51 Craft Brewery is just one of the many new breweries popping up in Riverside. Located on Arlington Avenue right next to the Riverside Municipal Airport, Area 51 opened up back in February of 2013 and hasn’t looked back since.

Area 51 is a real grassroots brewery. It’s tucked into an industrial park and is the size of just a two-door garage. The walls are covered in alien memorabilia including UFO photos, newspaper clippings from Roswell and pictures of the iconic Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. They also have a life-sized, bug-eyed Martian standing behind the bar. Just a few feet from the tasting area stands the stainless steel, 310-gallon brew system, mash tun and fermenter. The fermenter stands over 10 feet tall and appears ready to blast off into space toward the mother ship. The close quarters of the brewery provide a very relaxed atmosphere while you sip on one of their many beers. It feels like you are hanging out in a friend’s garage or man cave and offers a great venue to unwind. But the locale of Area 51 isn’t the only reason to come. For the owners, it really is about the beer.

I started off the night with their Blond Alien, a light American ale that was a bit wheaty and very refreshing. I followed this with the Planet Red. It’s their version of a red hefeweizen that left your tongue with a delicious, malty caramel flavor. Next up was the Martian Red, the beer that Area 51 first brewed. It’s a red ale with a light hoppiness and bite. It stands strong at 6.2 percent Alcohol by Volume (ABV). I finished the night with their Alien India Pale Ale (IPA). It has a very beautiful amber color and a good hop kick without being overly bitter, which surprised me since it has a 7.2 percent ABV and is at 75-plus on the bitter units. In a month, a new chocolate porter will come out just in time for the winter and offer a seasonal Imperial IPA, Alien Head. While some of the more serious hop heads won’t be going nuts about these beers, Area 51’s brews are crafted very well and have serious taste. You can tell the person behind these beers puts in great effort and truly cares.

Mike Hawkins is the captain of this ship. He’s the master brewer, the owner, bartender and pretty much everything else involved with Area 51. He worked in the film business his whole life and always wanted to have his own wine vineyard. Thankfully, he switched from grapes to hops and brewed in his own garage for a hobby. He teamed up with Mark Torrance and started Area 51. You can see the passion in his eyes as he gives you a personal tour of the entire brewing system.

“The beer is going to speak for itself,” Hawkins said as he poured me yet another IPA. “It’s the reason we’re starting to get bigger.” Area 51 started out with just the tasting room but is now preparing to get its suds into restaurants and bars across Riverside County. They even bottle their own beers for customers to take home to enjoy and offer growler fills. Hawkins also has plans further down the line to expand the tasting room to offer more space for a college crowd. Currently, they offer a college night on Thursdays where all pints are a dollar off from 4 to 6 p.m

I suggest stopping by with a few friends after a long day of classes and grabbing a few pints. Hawkins will most likely be pouring, so don’t be afraid to ask about the beer. It’s a chance to really learn about what goes on behind the entire brewing process and makes it even that much more fun to drink beer.