“Arrowhead’s got the water … Big Bear’s got the beer!” That’s the sentiment behind Big Bear Mountain Brewery, the small yellow house just off Big Bear Boulevard that’s home to the mountain’s only commercial brewing operation. Sure, pulling into the parking lot might make you think you’re stopping over at someone’s private residence for a beer. And sure, you’re just as likely to find yourself sitting inside on a floral love seat as you are a barstool, but that’s just the way Big Bear Mountain Brewery is. Cozy, quiet, unassuming; their beer is much the same.
Still, it’s a fun atmosphere at Big Bear Mountain Brewery, with plenty of beer signs, old glass bottles and signed dollar bills tacked up to the wood paneling. There’s a small piano in one corner, lots of old black and white photographs, and enough Americana to make you red white and blue in the face. In other words, it’s classic Big Bear: woodsy and historical, with a fun sense of exactly its place in the universe. And with a chatty staff that will happily let you nose around all the kitsch, it’s not a bad place to spend a Saturday afternoon, after a few hours in the snow or lakeside summer sun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just last year, Hangar 24 Brewery in Redlands took a leap — from “microbrewery” to “regional craft brewery,” that is. While the distinction may seem small to most, in the beer world, it’s a pretty big deal. The subtle change in nomenclature has to do with the popular Inland Empire brewery’s production increase, which rolled them over the all-important threshold of 15,000 barrels per year. That’s some serious brewing. But with a small crew dedicated to the craft, a commitment to local farmers and an award or two hanging on the walls, this is the type of seriousness that comes with a smile.