Drinking Beer in L.A.

I was lucky enough recently to escape the the doldrums of a cool, late Spring by flying to L.A. on business. This of course lent itself immediately to the prospects of beer hunting in a city that has only in recent years embraced the craft beer revolution. The last five years has seen a huge growth in interest and quality, local craft breweries and many beer bars now dot the landscape for those on the prowl. We were staying in the grand Hotel Bonaventure, right in downtown L.A., background to a host of blockbuster movies over the years, and still a majestic place to stay. On my first search, I came up with about a dozen places conceivably within walking distance of the hotel. ‘Excellent!’ I thought, as we arrived at the hotel, the sun setting and the clock ticking. The concierge informed me of a brewpub actually located in the hotel, up on the 4th level. But it was closed for a private event this Saturday evening. Also closed was the Weiland Brewery Restaurant, just steps from the hotel. So, with other enthusiasts in tow, we headed south on Flower Street in search of Bottlerock, a renowned restaurant/beer bar not far away. Instead, we first came upon a neon craft beer sign beckoning us. This was Public School 612, a cool little spot, self-serve sporty pub upstairs and a more relaxed dining area downstairs in the Daily Grill.

Public School 612 offers 10 great beers on tap, but also has a daily written list of 8 more rotating taps. All in all, quite a lovely variety of region and style. They also have 10 tall Belgian and other ‘Study Groups’ of specialties available in 650 ml and 750 ml bottles. No need to go downstairs, we found ourselves a table in front of the darts area, where we settled in, ordered tapas and watched the hockey game.

I started with Deviant Dale’s IPA, an 8%, well hopped, copper coloured contender from Oskar Blues Brewery in Lyons, CO, served up in a Belgian style tulip glass. Very fresh aroma, the hops float over a solid malt base, well balanced and smooth, light lacing, dryish finish. Next from the Lost Abbey line from Port Brewing in San Diego, CA, Lost & Found Abbey Ale, a 7.5% Abbey dubbel made with raisins. Yummy! Chocolate notes abound, deep brown, complex, hints of dried fruit and bread. Darkly aromatic, foamy head with a long, pensive finish. The night cap of the evening was an Avery Maharaj 10% IPA, out of Boulder, CO. Big hop nose here, tight head, grapefruit splashed palate balanced against a warm maltiness, beautiful amber hue, big beer yet smooth and intriguing. Also enjoyed at our table was the 4.5% Golden Road Hefe Weizen from Glendale, CA., appropriately cloudy, tart with hints of clove and banana, big rocky head, refreshing, nourishing and coy.

By now the young, latino darts crowd had arrived and drifted into heated competition and loud conversation in front of us, also immensely enjoying the selection of beers. We slipped out into the very warm and quiet night and made our way back up the few blocks to our hotel. Drinking beer in L.A. Cool start.

The next night, a Sunday night in the heart of downtown L.A, we found ourselves arriving late to the celebrations. The Staples Center had hosted two events that day, a Lakers/Mavericks basketball game in the afternoon, but also game 3 of the Kings/Canucks playoff series in the evening. The surrounding area, known as L.A. Live, is an entertainment district, and had been entertaining people all day. By the time we arrived, most places were closed or closing. But we were just in time for first Last Call at The Yard House. This is a high end beer operation, with loactions in other major markets, they offer 200 beers on tap, craft, international ales and lagers, a staggeringly good selection, should be more than enough for anyone. I enjoyed a McChouffe from Belgium, as I took in the ambience of the dying evening, the still-loud-and-boisterous-but-the-kitchen’s-closed crowd slowly drifting off into the night, the weekend done. We convinced our friendly and knowledgeable bartender to pour one more, so it was a Green Flash IPA from San Diego, CA. for me, a managerie of hops evident in this yummy, multi-dementional brew. I swear I floated right back to the hotel after this…

And right into the Bonaventure Brewing Co. pub at our hotel. No one left, and the staff deep into clean up mode, but they were friendly enough to offer us last call. They actually brew on premise, small batches of their specialities, but are also paired with a sister company, the Belmont Brewing Co. in Long Beach where larger batches can be produced. They were serving four of their own this night; Pale Ale (5.5%) well balanced dry & fruity; Blonde Ale(4.8%) crisp & clean; Strawberry Blonde (4.8%) fruity, sweetish and finally, a lovely & surprisingly light tasting Black IPA, roasted malts evident, but balanced against a fresh hoppiness on the palate and in the nose, smooth, nutty, easy to drink, hints of chocolate & coffee, a swirl of flavour. They also offer a number of rotating guest taps. While we were there they had: Smoked Porter (5.9%) from Stone, Racer 5 IPA (7%) from Bear RepublicBlack Market Hefe-Weizen (5%), Ale Smith Nautical Nut Brown (4.8%) & Mermaid’s Red (5.7%) from Coronado, a ruby brew infused with cocoa, lavender & dates.
Needless to say, this was the last stop every night we were in L.A. Friendly staff, decent selection of beers and an easy stumble to our rooms made this a tasty no brainer.

 

Now came the real fun part, two days off in L.A. What a treat! Good friend Bubba insisted we take the express bus to Santa Monica and go from there to Venice Beach. We were on the Santa Monica pier by noon, did a quick, touristy walkabout on the main shopping street, then headed south vaguely wanting lunch, beer, entertainment. Half way to the beach we come across a no name Caribbean hut/restaurant with excellent island fare, from jerk to tostada to plantains to their own delicious ginger beer. No license, but you can BYOB, if you know in advance!
Sated after our journey to get there, we now hit the beach, rented bicycles and proceeded to the fabled beach strip. A pourporri of shops from trendy to tourist, a slew of bars and restaurants and a beach that seems to go on forever. The bike path runs in and out of parks, tennis courts, pickle ball courts, out door weight training facilities, and the commerce eventually gives way to residential, and much interesting architecture, the path ending at the water and across the bay is Marina del Rey.

Along the way we found the Venice Ale House, beach side with a wonderful little patio outside in the warm sun, a few tall tables and bar seating inside overlooking the 18 regular and 18 rotating guest taps, an impressive array, the chalk board must change every day. Here we found Oscar Blues Dales Pale Ale, Hi Hop XPA, Golden Road Hefe-Weizen and my Green Flash Le Freak Belgian IPA (9.2%). Few breweries make this Belgian/IPA style of beer, some are exceptional, this is one of them. Long and dry, with a Belgian yeast prominent, a parade of hops on displays, big & virile, not for the light-hearted, but rewarding, a good malt base, seductive floral aromatics, full marks.
Refreshed, we enjoyed the beach trail and some side adventures into the local neighbourhood to view the varied historical and modern unique houses and architectural statements. Fascinating and cool.

In several Top Ten lists I viewed on line for the L.A. beer scene, The Daily Pint was always at or near the top. That’s where we hiked to next, slightly uphill, about 20 blocks. Could have taken the 207 Pico bus, but it was a lovely day to walk the side streets amongst the palms and other indigenous  flora. Once on the main street, one could easily miss the front door, mistaking it for some sort of dive, but once inside there is no mistake. 34 beers on tap when we were there, all written neatly on the chalk board, rewritten as the beers change. I bought the first round: 2 Ballast Point Yellowtail Pale Ales (4.6%), a Bruery Humulus Lager (7.4%) and a Dogfish Head Festiva Peche (4.5%) for myself. On tap this neo-Berliner Weisse is positively refreshing, especially with the peachy sourness spiraling through it, fresh and effervescent, a perfect tonic for the walk up here. They also had a cask on: Firestone’s Velvet Merlin Bourbon Barrel Aged Oatmeal Stout (5.5%). Hard to resist such a mouthful. Deliciously decadent, tones of dark chocolate & rich espresso, creamy with only a fleeting touch of wood & whiskey, but full bodied and smooth, with enough hops to dry out a long wonderfully sensuous finish.

Bubba was beside himself when he ordered The Vixen, a chocolate chili bock beer from Sam Adams. I stepped up to the plate and helped him out though, for this was a big beer to finish on. This 8.5% brew pours black, hues of brown & a touch of ruby, has a subtle nose of roasted malts, nuts & oats. The chili remains in the background on the palate, mingling with the chocolate, just above the hops, this is a smooth, well balanced brew, heady, malty and to the point.

We had just enough time to catch the last express bus back into Downtown L.A. As fate would have it, we were dropped off right near the Staples Center at L.A. Live, and as we headed instinctively for Flower Street we found Bottlerock, the aforementioned beer bar/restaurant and bottle shop, a perfect place for rest and refreshment. This funky eatery is modern open concept, with their walls being shelves full of the wine and beer they sell.

 You can buy it to go, or stay in and enjoy the wide variety on the menu. They have 22 beers on tap, at least 20 in various sized bottles and a huge wine list. There was a special event going on in one end of the restaurant, people were shopping in the other and we were eating in between. The food was quite good, modern Italian, from lasagna to seafood, very tasty.
We ordered North Coast Scrimshaw American Pilsner (4.4%) and Hangar 24 Alt Bier(6%). The former is pale straw, crisp and clean pilsner, with subtle hop and a dry finish. The latter is a deeper amber, displays copper hues & caramel notes, with a malty edge and a long smooth finish.
Bottlerock has a delectable cheese list too, so I opted for a trio to go with the Russian River Sanctification (6.75%) I just had to have. This refreshing sour golden ale, humming with subtle Brettanomyces, aged in corked champagne bottles, went very well with the piquant St. Peter’s Gorgonzola (Wisconsin), the sharp Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (Vermont) and the gooey goat Capriago (Bohemia). What a great way to close out a great day! Oh, after of course, a night cap at the Bonaventure!

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The next day started at the Weiland Brewery Restaurant Underground, a mere two blocks from the hotel and one storey below ground in a mall. Once a large regional brewing concern, before prohibition, Weiland now operates this restaurant in the heart of the business district and contract brews off site.They offer 4 taps of their own: an Amber, anIPA, a Honey and a tasty Hefe-Weizen. The Hefe is citric, American style wheat beer, light, cloudy and refreshing. Weiland’s also features 7 guest taps, from Firestone IPA to Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout. We were offered a taste of the Ommegang Witte, an excellent Belgian style White beer from Cooperstown, NY. A soft and hazy beer, mildly spiced with coriander & dried orange peel.

From here we jumped on L.A.’s Metro system to Koreatown, hoping to lunch at Beer Belly, I’m told a well respected beer bar specializing in California’s best brews, but alas, not open until 5pm. Just up the street is Biergarten, but not open until 4 pm. Whoa, bad karma or something. Koreatown in daytime isn’t much too see. Hidden in behind Western Ave. are some nice neighbourhoods and homes, but on the main drag used furniture stores abound between Pho and Korean BBQ. So, we bus it up to Hollywood Blvd. and then walked to Vine, reading all the stars in the sidewalk
and hoping along the way to drop by the Blue Palms Brewery, but, also not open until 5 pm. Should have done my homework, three strikes, you’re out!” I think to myself as Jimmy spots Dillon’s Irish Pub. It’s hot, we’re hungry, we’re at Hollywood & Vine, this will do nicely. And it did, 33 beers on tap and an extensive pub menu, a large, sprawling place, tall ceilings, old school island bar, cute servers in short plaid skirts. They didn’t know much about the beer, but there you go, that’s the trade off. We’re in Hollywood! Everyone’s auditioning for something! The Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA was a nice hoppy accompaniment to the spicy pulled pork sandwich I ordered. Oh, I almost forgot the best part – all beers are $3 a pint, some rotating
specials might be $5. Not bad for Hollywood & Vine.

After lunch we did the tourist thing, walked to Grauman’s Chinese, gawked at the hand and footprints of long dead stars, encountered a 6 foot tall Yoda, 2 Darth Vaders, Spider Woman, Snoop Dogg and a handful of other characters all vying for our attention and wallets. But we weren’t far from Lucky Devils, a great little beer bar right on Hollywood Blvd. We continued our people watching from the tiny patio out on the street, whilst enjoying a Golden Road Point the Way IPA (5.2%) and a Coronado Islander IPA (7.5%), which was one of my favourite IPAs in L.A., a citric grapefuit/orange hop character, with a caramelly malt backbone. They have 22 other craft beers on tap, and one I just had to try, Stone’s Ruination Double IPA (7.7%), a dense and resiny brew, with just enough malt to keep the overwhelming hops in check, just barely.

I shuffled to the metro after this, heading back to Koreatown, to meet a friend at Biergarten, now open and his local haunt, it turns out. They sport 30 taps, local, national and international brands, plus a few specialty bottles, Japanese sake and its Korean equivalent. I stuck to beer, sampling a very delicious Eagle Rock Solidarity Black Mild Ale (4%) from the fairly local LA Brewery. A little too cold out of the tap, but once a touch warmer displayed a subtle complexity, a nice balance of dark malts and an underlying, hidden hop, smooth and long in the finish. They make their own good, light and crisp potato chips here too, yummy.

IMG_1274By this time Beer Belly had also opened its doors. 12 unique taps available in this tiny beer bar and about 24 big bottles available from their cellar. Big tasters are 4 for $10, a great deal and the friendly staff can tell you everything about any beer. Their Happy Hour beer was local brew Smog City XPA (4.9%), a very sessionable ale. Deep yellow, with a bright white head, hop in the nose and some fruitiness, a bit tart on the palate, but long and dry and at $4 a pint, pretty easy to drink! I could not resist the next beer just because of its name. Clown Shoes Muffin Top (10%) a Belgian style Tripel IPA from Massachusetts. Gold coloured, big frothy head that does indeed stand tall and laces well, big malt accented nose, hints of yeast, grain, candied fruit, seductively and way too easy to drink for a beer this strong, some spice and bitterness on the palate, crisp and medium bodied, sweetness dries in the long finish. Craftsman Cave Art (10%) aged 14 months in French oak is from Pasedena. This is a dark brown imperial sour, thin, puckering, little carbonation, a Brettanomyces bite shines throughout the palate, fruity, woody, funky yet fresh, wow! Up next, local El Segundo White Dog IPA (6.7%), a filtered 50% wheat based IPA, clear gold in colour, not much head but good lacing, complex hop character, well balanced, refreshing, dry finish. Almanac Biere de Mars (7%) starts out odd. Fennel-clove notes in the aromatics give you the first clue, it pours amber giving way to light caramel, toasted malt, dried fruit and of course anise swirls throughout. They call this a French-style farmhouse ale, or more precisely it is aBière de Garde. There is some malt sweetness in the long lingering finish. Ladyface Trois Filles Tripel (8.3%) gives nothing away. Another California tripel, it’s neutral nose, white head leads to a very good balanced palate, malt and hop in perfect harmony, some fruitiness, hints of candi sugar, too easy to drink, alcohol well hidden in the complex flavour profile.

All these beers go so well with the tasty deep-fried snacking menu – not for the light of heart mind you. Duck fat fries, pork belly chips, deep fried cheeses, ribs, wings, etc. It’s service at the bar only and the place fills up fast after 5. I am surprised to realize that the majority of imbibers at this time are women. Craftsman Heavenly Hefe (4.8%) is expectedly cloudy, aromatically citric with hints of clove and smooth wheat, but not much of a head, some loose lacing and a refreshingly long finish. We finish with an interesting co-brew with a Japanese brewer, Coedo/Ballast Point West to East IPA (6.9%). Nice hop constituents, complex nose, gold colour, white head, good lacing, certainly balanced towards hop bitterness, with a malty architecture below ground and a rich, crisp, dry finish.

BottlRckt2I didn’t really see much in the way of liquor or beer stores in my travels around Los Angeles, but I didn’t travel too far from the center of town. I did manage to make it back to Bottlerock before I had to head out of town. I picked up a few things I knew I wouldn’t find at home, like the deliciously fresh & hop accented Pliny the Elder (8%) and the cherry infused, Pinot Noir barrel-aged Supplication (7%), another corked specialty, both from Russian River, in Santa Rose, CA. I also picked up the Coronado Islander IPA, some Hangar 24 Altbier and Pale Ale for the boys at home. There sure are some delicious beers to be found for those interested in hunting them down, and I only scratched the surface. There are more popping up all of the time, as beer bars and brewpubs are becoming even more popular in this vast urban sprawl known as the city of Angels.