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.
As any Angeleno knows, there are a lot of gripes from outsiders that often befall the City of Angels. Not least of which come from the drinking crowd, who consistently decry the lack of public transportation to and from their favorite watering holes. This, of course, is only partially true, and largely depends on where you like to take your sips. For example, downtown is chock full of transit access from all directions, whereas Eagle Rock Brewery or Golden Road… not so much. So what is a beer fan to do in Los Angeles when they want to brewery-jump on a warm Saturday afternoon, but can’t find anyone willing to drive them? Take the L.A. Beer Hop.
Hard cider can often get a bit of a bad rap, especially among people who have strong opinions about what they drink. Ciders tend to have all the effervescent qualities and sugary undertones of a white wine, but pitch themselves as an offbeat alternative to beer. And while their popularity has certainly held strong in the United Kingdom, ciders in the United States are seen as odd remnants of an older time. But with a craft alcohol culture taking over the States, more and more folks are looking to expand their tastes using local ingredients from small-batch purveyors. Julian Hard Cider from San Diego County certainly fits that description.
If you’ve noticed any caution signs in your local beer aisle lately, it’s likely due to the bulging shelves full of pumpkin beers. As case after case of double-pumpkin ales and Halloween lagers roll off the trucks from around the country and onto the heaving planks that support your local beer supply, things can certainly start to feel a bit overwhelming. So what’s a fall beer aficionado to do, when the weather has turned away from hoppy summer styles but it’s still too sunny for the ink-black stouts and porters?
Enter The Bruery, Orange County’s answer to everything awesome in the world of craft beer. Their expansive line up of local brews runs the gamut from fruity saisons to the highly anticipated yearly unveiling of their mega-heavy Black Tuesday bottles, so it’s no surprise that they’d put an interesting twist on fall’s gourd-heavy lineup of brews. Hence their popular fall release Autumn Maple, a dark, 10% ABV bottle for cold nights with friends, or perhaps even around the Thanksgiving table.
Wolf Among Weeds is the type of west coast IPA that will sneak up on you. As the name suggests, the sleepy orange amber-colored brew doesn’t do much to show itself at first sip. With a decent head at the top of your pint, you may only smell the crisp, hoppy aromas at first. But rest assured that Wolf Among Weeds is in there, lurking. And it’s ready to bite.
As the flagship beer in what is slated to become a full run of individualized IPAs put out by Atwater Village’s own Golden Road Brewing, Wolf Among Weeds is a hop-heavy 8% double IPA with plenty of stretch. In other words, it’s the perfect beer to stake the beginnings of your custom IPA series on, which is exactly what Golden Road is doing.