Do you hear that low rumble? That’s the sound of the South Bay, exploding with unbelievable craft beer breweries. It started slow at first, with a few noticeable blips on the Los Angeles beer radar, and has steadily jostled its way into the spotlight. With half a dozen breweries, some just emerging now, centered primarily around Torrance, there’s no denying it anymore: sand, sun, surf and suds go together really, really well.
Despite the growing accessibility of great craft beers in Southern California and beyond, beer culture can be quite intimidating for the uninitiated. It’s certainly not intentional; many of the best brewers working today are fun, approachable and seriously intelligent folks who just love to talk about their craft. But, because of the constant expansion and overwhelming array of choices often found in these dimly lit beer bars, where the staff takes their pours very seriously, it can be a difficult transition for non-beer lovers to ease into the craft beer world.
So where is a newbie to drink the best in local, regional and international craft brews, if not at one of these high falutin’ establishments? The answer, apparently, is Downey. That’s where you’ll find Uncle Henry’s Deli, a strip mall sandwich spot with well over fifty different taps full of great craft beer.
You don’t have to be Cedd Moses to know that drinking in downtown is all the way back. While places like the now-revamped King Eddy’s Saloon have been pouring pints for generations, newer operations like the up and running Angel City Brewery have helped to revitalize a downtown that was once nearly devoid of quality booze. We as a city have several places to thank for the slow transformation that has made downtown a drinker’s paradise, not least of which is BUZZ Wine Beer Shop.
The Spring Street marketplace is owned and operated by Scott Kamalski and David Bakhshi, two friends with prior restaurant experience who found great bottles of beer and wine to be in short supply downtown, even after revitalization had begun to take hold. So in June of 2011 the two men opened the doors to their glass-lined corner market, complete with taps and tables in the back for occasional tasting nights. The idea was simple: bring quality, under-served drinks to a downtown that was bursting with new apartment dwellers looking to stock their fridges and maybe step out for a drink or two when they felt like it.
It makes perfect sense, in a way, that the ballooning craft beer scene in Los Angeles would eventually get its own paper. Through that “everything old is new” looking glass, why wouldn’t the resurgence of hand-crafted ales and lagers in this aged city help bring about the small growth of a traditionally withering information medium? And so Beer Paper L.A. is born.
Weeks like this, when spring seems just on the cusp of appearing, it’s easy to get the travel itch. You could slip away down south and hope for a warm Saturday afternoon at one of San Diego’s pristine beaches. You could head inland to turn up the heat and lay by a Palm Springs pool, or try to catch the last little bit of snow, melting away near Yosemite. But if you’re truly hearing the call of the wild, head north on the 101 to Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks location in Buellton.
It seems that in the swelling seas of the craft beer movement, Los Angeles has not yet begun to fight. From longtime brewers like Craftsman in Pasadena through the first new wave at Eagle Rock Brewery, up to and beyond Golden Road Brewing, Angel City Brewery downtown and even Smog City, Los Angeles continues to flourish with up-and-coming brewers doing inventive things with hops, ryes, wheats and barley. And there’s still plenty of room in this pond for more.
One of the strongest new swimmers has been L.A. Aleworks, a two-man unit comprised of home brewers John Rockwell and Kristofor (Kip) Barnes. The pair have been brewing batches together for nearly five years, and have produced the sort of award-winning brews that would make anyone consider making a run at going commercial. So, after their pseudo-flagship roggenbier named Gams-Bart took home a bronze medal at the highest level of the National Home Brewers Competition, the duo set up an LLC, tossed in a few grand on some large-scale brewing equipment, and have readied themselves for the next step. That’s where you come in.
In alcohol production, “rare bottles” abound. That is to say, there is nearly no end to the hoarding of particular wine vintages or once-a-decade distributions of selected mezcals. This is true in the growing craft beer world as well, as Stone Brewing’s recent Vertical Epic finale will tell you. Just last year, the rare Westvleteren 12 was released to the general public in limited quantities for the first time ever, when the hawkish Belgian monks who brew the Trappist ale in small batches needed to raise funds for a new roof. And don’t forget Pliny the Younger, a hopped up super-IPA released to draught accounts only by Russian River Brewing Co. in early February. Dedicated beer drinkers often line up for hours just to grab a pint of Younger.
Now that the craft beer revolution has officially swept across the nation, there are more and more people on the hunt for tasty small-batch beers, made with love by individually-owned breweries across the country. As a result, there has never been a better time to seek out and sample the craft beer offerings from upstart brewers right here in Los Angeles County. But what do you do when your local watering hole isn’t as up to date as you’d like it to be, and it just never seems to have that Ladyface saison you’re always craving? Or when you’re itching for some Smog City XPA, but the fledgling brew operation doesn’t have the equipment (or manpower, or financial resources) to bottle or can the good stuff just yet? Just head to your favorite brewery and pick up a growler.
Have you driven down Alameda lately, as it skirts Little Tokyo and dips into Arts District territory? Then surely you must have noticed the hulking brick building at the corner of Alameda and Traction, a mere stone’s throw from Wurstküche and Far Bar, two well-respected craft beer locations in their own right. Or, perhaps you once tasted the malted hops yourself at this corner lot, early last year or sometime in 2011, when the loading dock doors were open, walls were stacked high with street art and the taps flowed freely with Angel City beer. If so, you’re probably thinking to yourself about now: What the hell happened to Angel City Brewery?
In short: a lot.
This is as tough a week as any you’re likely to face in 2013. The long holiday run is behind us, and the next time your office is scheduled for a day off is in May – five months from now. Plus, it’s still cold out there (not “normal people” cold but, c’mon, it’s L.A.), and spring has yet to sprung. Thankfully, there’s a beer for that.
Well, many beers in fact. The idea of brewing special beers to commemorate holidays, anniversaries and cold-weather seasons is as old as the brewing tradition itself, and over the years an array of seasonal ales have come to be defined in their own sub-genre. While not entirely inclusive, terms like “winter warmers” and “old ales” generally contain the sort of malty, bready caramel and spice notes that do more than just quench your thirst during the winter months. These are beers that warm you from the inside out, with higher alcohol levels than summertime lagers and simpler ales. Plus, they often evoke the aromas of the season, with yeasts, dried fruits and smooth, sometimes syrupy flavors emanating from their dark and heady pours.