Skip Madsen is a soft-spoken beer master, modest about his Seattle reputation—he was a star of Pike, Boundary Bay, and American Brewing, among others. But at his new digs, he makes a detour to show off the laundry line of beer awards he’s scored in his two years here in California’s Coachella Valley. They hang like championship banners in a sports arena: gold after silver after bronze. La Quinta Brewing had modest success before he joined up, but his arrival led to this award corner flag party.
Palm Springs is a strange spot for a beer pioneer, a practical beer desert—only three small breweries for half a million people. But the landscape is striking, from the gnarled beauty of Joshua Tree to the daunting San Jacinto mountains.
“It was kind of calling me, the sunshine,” says the bashful Madsen from behind a snow-white goatee. This desert boasts 350 days of rays per year, so drinkers lounge outside La Quinta’s Old Town taproom year round. The angled midcentury architecture harkens back to Palm Springs’ Hollywood heyday, but this end of the valley is practically emerald with golf courses, leading Madsen to dub his IPA Even Par—its 7.2 percent ABV mirrors golf’s 72-stroke standard.
If La Quinta was expecting their Washington beer guru to show up and throw a hop party, they were mistaken; one of Madsen’s first moves was to balance the IPA with more malt (“I like them beefier, meatier,” he says) and pull hops from the blond ale. His tweaks led to a sixth-place overall showing at 2017’s U.S. Open Beer Championship.
The Palm Springs region is already famous for vintage shopping, midwinter hiking, and a little music shindig named for the Coachella Valley. But Madsen just might put it on the beer map, especially as he ponders his current lager tinkering, his pilot batch of pilsner, and the porter he might craft for winter.
“Winter,” says Madsen with a chuckle. “Whatever that is.”