Thursday 24th May 2012
I was up early this morning as I had to make a rather convoluted journey to get to Riverside around opening time. After a bus and two Metro lines I arrived at Los Angeles Union Station. Even then I couldn't catch a train on the direct Riverside Line as there wasn't one until early afternoon! To get around this problem I caught the 09.02 service on the Metrolink San Bernardino Line to its namesake city where it arrived at 10.35. The last leg of this odyssey was to travel on a train on the Metrolink Inland Empire - Orange County Line departing at 11.20 and arriving at Riverside-Downtown station 11.38; Phew!
After all that is was a simple walk of ten minutes or so to Big Cheese. The restaurant is quite subtly advertised from the street, just one sign. Inside I would say it is more sports bar than restaurant. The bar is separate from the pizza ordering counter which is self service. The furniture is varnished wood tables and chairs with an outside terrace having long wooden benches, German biergarten-style.
I settled at the bar and had a look at the list of eight beers. On enquiry it transpired that Blonde Ale wasn't available and I passed on German Wheat. I had the remaining six beers and they were as follows along with my tasting notes. Black Cherry Lager (5.0%) was much better than I expected with the cherry taste being noticeable but not in any way overpowering. Scottish Ale (5.3%) was very malty with just slight bitterness, which I know is the Scottish style.
American Brown (5.9%) was very good with a lovely aftertaste with medium bitterness in the body. Pale Ale (5.5%) was excellently balanced with a dry finish. IPA (7.2%) was not over the top as some are. It had a nice dry taste and didn't taste its strength. Imperial Java Porter (8.6%) was really good with a muted taste and only slight coffee notes.
The bartender asked what I thought of the beers and I answered that I liked them very much. She asked if I would like to meet the brewer and I said I would. So that's how I came to be in the brewery, located behind the back wall of the bar, chatting to Ron Gordon. He explained that Big Cheese is a small chain of four outlets. The others are all around the same area, in Hernet, Murrieta and Yucaipa. The brewery that I was standing in supplies the others in addition to Riverside.
Ron told me that the Canadian-built plant was of 15 barrels capacity and it supplied serving / maturation tanks of 7 bbls each. He was keen to be more experimental but he was limited to his seasonal specials.
The owner said that the restaurants catered the general public and not beer geeks, so the majority of customers wanted beer of recognisable styles. Ron said he completely understood the reason but still wished he could do more.
I returned to the bar when the brewers from Inland Empire Brewing, on the outskirts of town, turned up to acquire some yeast. I told them I was visiting them next and they said they were staying for lunch but someone would be there to serve me some beers.
I must say I liked Big Cheese a lot; the food looked good and the prices reasonable.
Big Cheese Pizza Co. & Brewery, 3397 Mission Inn Avenue, Riverside, CA. 92501
Tel: (951) 784 0555
Open: Sunday to Thursday 11.00-21.00; Friday and Saturday 11.00-22.00
From Riverside Railroad station cross the parking lot and turn right into Vine Street. Cross over University Avenue and turn left into Mission Inn Avenue. Continue under the Freeway and the pub is on the right.
Riverside station is served by three Metrolink lines: The Riverside Line to Los Angeles via Pomona, the 91 Line to Los Angeles via Corona and Fullerton and the Inland Empire-Orange County Line, north to San Bernardino and South to Oceanside via Santa Ana. Amtrak's South West Chief also calls here on its way from Los Angeles to Chicago and return.