During my recent travels in the south west I discovered a great book by Kevin Starr entitled ‘California’. It charts the state’s history, from the aboriginal peoples, through the Spanish to the Americans. He looks at the many reasons for California’s success (geography, immigration, weather, innovation to name a few) and tells an interesting story spanning 500 years. San Francisco rose first, LA slow to follow. The beer scene here was following that historical pattern too, until recently. To be fair though, LA (and environ) has caught up quite dramatically, supporting some major brewers of great craft beer and that number is growing. Wonderful beer bars have popped up all over the city, including the downtown core.
One of my fave stepping off points is the Spring Street Bar. 26 solid taps, great sandwiches for the lunch crowd, small patio, 2 small TVs, knowledgeable staff, close to the core.
Eagle Rock Revolution XPA (5.2%) 37 IBUs, a good starter, local LA brewery, good malt backbone laced with hops, well balanced, dry finish, very enjoyable. Next up, from San Diego, Stone Go To IPA (4.5%) citric nose, generous head, good bitter palate, floating on malty goodness, medium bodied and balanced to go!
Another stop, day or night downtown is the Sixth Street Tavern, only a few blocks from the Spring Street Bar. No wait staff means you order at the bar and there’s lots of choice with 26 beers on tap and a great menu whether you are sharing or going solo. Angel City Angeleno IPA (6%) brewed in Culver City is very good, floral hop nose, grainy palate opens to grapefruity hop goodness, well balanced, with some zest, light copper colour, dry finish. Smog City Sabre Toothed Squirrel (5.9%) from Torrance, well carbonated, nicely hopped American amber, some nutty notes and hints of toffee, herbs, citrous.
A great place for a night cap and another super beer bar at 6th & Flower, Public School 612. The menu features daily rotating taps printed on foolscap paper, delicious selection of tapas always available, busy dart board, opens at 4 pm. Had another Torrance, CA brewery brew late one night here, in a tallboy 500 ml can, The Dudes Double Trunk Double IPA (10.8%). This is a big monster of a beer, heavy on the caramel malts, dense sweetness builds the bridge, load after load of hops crossing over, complex, swaggering, spicy, fruity bitterness, delivered in a copper orange vehicle, with a frothy head and sticky lacing, drying out smoothly in the end.
Not 3 blocks from Hollywood and Vine you’ll find the Blue Palm Brewhouse, one of the many LA beer parlors that only open at 5 pm. I’d missed this place on previous visits to LA, so this time I grabbed my friend Paul for an evening out. Sporting 24 taps and an a hand pump, the Blue Palms is an alehouse dedicated to excellent craft beers made locally and from around the world. They also have an eclectic and extensive bottle list. On this day though, we walk into a tap takeover by San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing Company. Wow, every tap is a Ballast Point product and they range from light to dark, straight forward to whacky hybrid brews. I went to flights to take in as many as I could.
Lenzo Lollipop IPA (7%) this is basically an oak aged Sculpin (their flagship IPA), originally brewed for and named after Blue Palms owner Brian Lenzo. Orange-amber pour, tropical fruit nose, grainy, grassy palate, some pine, sweet caramel malts, 70 IBUs.
Indra Kunindra Curry Export Stout (7%) if you like cumin, cayenne, coconut, and kaffir lime leaf in your brew, then this is for you. Definitely some curry, but vanilla dominates, good idea, but unbalanced, too much infighting on the palate to enjoy properly.
San Salvador Winter Black Lager (8%) made with sage, bay leaf and filtered through oyster shells, this is a unique Shwartzbier, definate herbal notes, roasted malts, some hop bitterness below the surface, but clean and earthy, with a hint of chocolate, 23 IBUs
Abandon Ship Raunchbier (6.5%) I really like this beer, reminded me of my trip to Bamberg, Germany, where these beers are famous. Dark brown, off white head, smoky aromatics prevail, but rich, clean beechwood smoke dominates the palate, sweet malt shining through, went quite well with Blue Palm‘s famous Truffle Burger, the interplay of flavours quite delectable.
Even Keel Session Pale Ale (3.5%) a solid session brew, good hop values, balanced, crisp, clean, nice white head, decent lacing.
Big Eye IPA (7%) pours amber, spicy nose, fruity palate, zesty citrous, crystal malts, excellent long lasting lace, bready notes of sweet malt underneath, creamy mouthfeel, beautiful balance, lovely dry finish.
Sour Wench Blackberry Sour (6%) rather red, but clear, fruity aromatics, berries on the palate, rather vinous with hints of grainy sweet malt, some lambic qualities, but more sweet than sour, needs more aging perhaps to bring out proper sourness.
Navigator Barrel Aged Dopplebock (9%) perhaps aged too long with 4 Roses Bourbon, this brew was over-the-top for me. I’m not a big fan of bourbon, but something else might be off here, not astringency wise, but something over attenuated, floral overtones, dark, strong, yes, unfortunately, fusel alcohol dominates the nose & the palate, unbalanced, leaving an overwhelming bourbon aftertaste, is this a beer aged in bourbon or a bourbon with some beer in it?
My next free day in LA turned out to be the best and it was my birthday. The weather was a clear and sunny 25, I was meeting a friend for lunch and Rebecca was taking me to the Golden Road Brewing, a brewery in Glendale with a large indoor taproom and an outdoor patio alongside their production facilities. They give tours, but only on weekends, so we concentrated on the job at hand, the beers and a nice lunch!
329 Days of Sun Lager (4.8%) a crisp, clean, straight up brew, straw coloured, some grainy malt notes, grassy bitterness, 25 IBUs.
Hefeweizen (4.8%) a good weizen, requisite clove, citric qualities, foamy head, tart, cloudy, tiny banana notes, long, creamy mouthfeel, smooth and quenching, 15 IBUs.
Point the Way IPA (5.9%) pours amber, floral nose, hop forward palate, pine, citrous, good malt base, some caramel, well balanced, sweet malt dries in the end, 60 IBUs.
Get Up Offa That Brown (5.5%) an English style brown ale, toasted malt sweetness, nutty,chocolate, some roastiness, 20 IBUs.
Session IPA Citrus Bend (4.8%) Nice, hop dominant but balanced, not too wheaty really, citric nose, zesty, tropical notes, light bodied, smooth, long, dry finish, 15 IBUs.
Wolf Among the Weeds (8%) golden yellow pour, excellent aromatics of grapefruit, citrous, pine, palate is nicely bitter, smooth, good malt balanced double IPA, long & strong, 80 IBUs
Darts Away Triple IPA (9%) this is a bigger headier brew, originally made at Tony’s Darts Away, one of the original brewpubs in LA, Tony now part owner of Golden Road. All their IPAs are golden variations (and there were a few more), different hops, very aromatic, from malty sweetness to floral aromatics, fruity palates from citrous to tropical, an amazing range of subtly and diversity. They also were serving a mighty Imperial Russian Stout (8.7%), an excellent Berliner Weisse (3.3%) a refreshingly coy sour beer, a Mild (3.8%) 30 IBUs, and El Hefe Anejo (11%) a wheat beer aged in Tequila barrels. Did I mention that their tacos were excellent, fish or pork, and the deep fried artichoke was to die for!
Since we were talking about Tony’s Darts Away, Rebecca thought we should go there, as it was on our way and I was keen to visit the iconic brewpub. So off we went to Burbank, along the way I got the 50 cent our of the neighbourhood where Rebecca grew up, saw Bob Hope’s house, Red Fox was near by and others too. She gave me the quick history of some of the families and their antics, kind of cool really, nice houses, tidy streets, quiet and unassuming.
Tony’s Darts Away has all California beers on tap, of course, concentrating on Golden Road. Derenik and Neza were behind the bar, very informative, knowledgeable and conversational barkeeps, and when Rebecca told them it was birthday, well, the first round was on the house! I really got to like this place. They had 14 IPAs on tap to start, all Californian, what’s not to like? They also had a Berliner Weiss, a kolsch, a mild and Russian River Pliny the Elder. Yup, definitely one of my favourite places in LA.
We were having too much fun, but Rebecca had to scoot, and Long Beach was in my sights for the rest of the afternoon, so she dropped me at the nearby Metro station and I was off. Thanks again Rebecca for the great tour and lunch, you are a mighty hostess and great ambassador for your city!
The Metro ride to Long Beach was about 40 minutes from where I was in North Hollywood. It’s a great system and cheap to get around. $5 gets you a day pass, unlimited on and off privileges. When you get off at 1st Street, the beach is beyond the Convention Center straight ahead, to the right a few blocks is the old downtown, plus there’s a Marina area with walkways and restaurants, lots to see and do.
There is a Rock Bottom here in the old downtown core, a restaurant and brewery chain with over 30 locations coast to coast. They served up the following one afternoon when we dropped by…
Kolsch (5%) a light and drinkable ale, no hops, sweet grainy malt, plain, 20 IBUs
Belgian White Ale (5.3%) well carbonated, subtlety spiced, cloudy, some citric highlights, creamy mouthfeel, whaeay palate, 11 IBUs
IPA (6.6%) best of this bunch, okay I guess, but in a land of exceptional IPAs, this does not shine, basic malty architecture does its job balancing the citricy hop bitterness, 60 IBU.
Red Ale (5.7%) basic American amber, crystal, caramel malts forward, toasty, toffee, some herbal hops float beneath the grainy, biscuity palate, 38 IBUs.
The Specialty was dark this day, Wild Boar Brown (5.7%) a roasty, toasty number with accented black malts, coffee, cocoa notes, sweet malt overtones, long finish, not bad, 24 IBUs.
But the better place and one I came to see was the Beechwood BBQ & Brew, only a couple of blocks from the Metro stop or the Rock Bottom.
They have 17 of their own beers on tap, plus 17 guest taps, all and all, a very impressive selection no doubt about it! If that’s not enough, they have cellared a huge selection of bottles (80+) and they are famous for their BBQ, “Where the fork meets the pork!” They have a fairly bright room, long bar, some booths at one end, tables at the other and a large patio. A good place to settle in for some eats and flights!
Flight 1: IPAs
Alpha Galactic (5.5%) straw appearance, fruit laden nose, good biscuit malt underneath, but the singe hop pulls this all together, a rather hoppy pale ale.
Hop Ninja West Coast Double IPA (8.9%) golden, juicy hop aromatics, solid malt backbone, palate awash in grapefruit, tangerines, grass, floral notes and soft malt accents, long, wonderfully dry finish.
Hoppa Smurf Belgian style IPA (7%) orange amber hued, nice head, yeasty nose, citric and Belgian, dry spiciness abounds, bright malts shine, fruity esters, a lasting bitterness, this brew has it all, including a long, dry spicy finish, 99 IBUs.
Pole Position West Coast IPA (7.1%) hopped and then dry hopped, this beer is bitter, but balanced on a bed of caramelly malt, big citrous values, pine, spice, grapefruit, good head, leaves lace, one of their flagship brews, 99 IBUs.
Flight 2: Others
Tart Simpson Berliner Weisse (3%) lovely version, pale yellow, light sour palate, good carbonation, citric nose, lemon, some acidity on tongue, refreshing carbonation, tart, some lasting head,
Wholly Smoke (7.2%) a black, robust porter, tan head, smokey nose, wood smoke palate, chewy, great with BBQ, nutty, roasty, cocoa notes, bitter malts balanced with sweet caramel malts, smooth, balanced, 44 IBUs
El Verado Saison (6.7%) pale, cloudy, tart, great lacing, funky elements nicely understated, well carbonated, hints of lemongrass, rind, yeast in the nose, good balance, long finish.
Hops of Brixton Extra Special Bitter (6.1%) coppery hued, earthy hop aromatics, ivory head, good lacing, malty architecture, biscuity, bready, some fruitiness, dries out, 44 IBUs
Try any of their sausages, the pulled pork, brisket, smoked chicken, it all goes so well with so many of these great beers. The list is always changing, check their website for updates. Then there’s the huge number of guest taps, I didn’t even talk about the Smog City Little Bo Pils, Verige Doppelsticke Altbier from Germany and Russian River Blind Pig IPA. Oh man, to live in Long Beach and have this place as your local… heaven.
It was getting late in the day and I’d had my fun in Long Beach, so it was back on Metrorail and up to Koreatown, where I was to meet my buddy Paul for a night out at Beer Belly, one of the best little beer bars in mid-town. Just so happens there was a tap takeover this night too, the Mother Earth Brewery of Vista, CA was in the house, serving up some new and exciting brews! The place was packed, but it was a warm evening, so we managed to slide into the tiny outdoor patio. We chatted extensively with Kevin Hopkins from MEB, a very articulate and knowledgeable conversationalist, who imparted much info about the brewery, its growth and beer in general, steering us towards some of his fave brews, and bringing out a few samples along the way.
Kismet IPA (7.2%) pours golden amber, aromatics reveal grass, pine, grapefruit, and takes it right to the palate, sharp bitterness sitting atop a layer of understated malts, mango, flowers, passion fruit, complex and balanced, delicious, 80 IBUs
Cali’ Creamin’ Vanilla Cream Ale (5.2%) pale gold, sweet toffee nose, malt balanced brew, notes of caramel, cream, vanilla, not their flagship beer, but their best seller, a bit of a sweet finish, but I recognize its drinkability, 21 IBUs.
Boo Koo IPA (6.5%) straw coloured, single hop brew, delicious tulip glass served specialty, pilsner malts accentuate the tropical hop values, pineapple, mango, oranges, good lacing, citric hops noisily walking a malty plank with this one. Very good, late night, after many IPAs, kind of brew, still able to flaunt its bitterness and balance, 65 IBUs. Now, Paul had been the most congenial host all evening long, getting us beers when needed, bringing out tasty plates at regular intervals: breaded chicken, grilled cheese extraordinaire, duck fat fries, oh man, this is cholesterol heaven, such is the excellent menu at Beer Belly. Now he brought out dessert…
Sin Tax Peanut Butter Imperial Stout (8.1%) something big, dark, creamy & strong to finish, this stout is full bodied, robust, rich, pours black with tan head, aroma of dark malts, vanilla, palate displays chocolate, coffee, peanuts, booze, molasses, should I go on? A big, bad brew to end the night and my day of celebration. Thank you Paul, you are the best!
There was not much time left now. A couple of late nights working left few choices for late night watering.
Dublins at 7th and Figueroa is always a go to, kind of a dive bar, but with a good beer selection. You can always get a Fat Tire or a
Magic #9 when everywhere else is closed.
I believe I found Pursuit of Hoppiness Double IPA (9.4%) here late one night, a fitting last beer in LA. It was quite remarkable really, best brew on the menu, cutting through the haze, a big, malty base, hop dominant, fruity, piney nose, medium body, soft amber in colour, sweet malt, a secure foundation built to support a wealth of hops, notes of candied fruit, citrous, caramel, toasted malt, a long beer nectar, silky and smooth with a dry earthy finish, 100 IBUs.
Hasta la vista ciudad de ángeles! I’ll be back!