The 2020 iteration of the L.A. IPA Festival landed on Leap Day this year. People judged 60 IPAs. This month Yorkshire Square Brewery hosts their annual N’Owt but Stout Festival where the darker style takes precedence. February is Stout Month at Fort George Brewing in Oregon culminating in a Festival of Dark Arts.
But for a burgeoning beer scene, why are there not even more festivals devoted to a singular beer style every month in Los Angeles? Especially when the Great American Beer Festival awards medals in over 100 categories.
Across the country you will find festivals for Barrel-Aged beers, Extreme beers, Fruit beers and Pilsners. But if you want that last category, you will need to head to Buellton for Figueroa Mountain’s Lagerville celebration for the closest one to SoCal.
Make no mistake, this is no lament for a lack of festivals. Los Angeles is rich in beer events almost all of the 52 weeks in the year and we are in close enough proximity to what are probably the two most high-profile events on the national beer calendar in Firestone Walker’s Invitational Beer Festival and the aforementioned Great American Beer Festival. Not to mention our own Los Angeles Beer Week Kick-Off Festival and its sibling the L.A. Beer and Food Festival.
Perhaps part of the reason is that there are so many festivals and anniversaries already on the scene and only so many times that beer fans will pay an entrance fee in a year or maybe there is just fatigue from the sheer number of choices. I have a remedy, in the form of a list of possible style-centered festivals that SoCal can add to the calendar and how to make it easier to attend.
Flagship IPA Festival – The idea of a brewery having a flagship was so passé that it needed someone to come in and create a reason to drink them via the Flagship February program. Though most breweries do not have a true flagship, most have their standard bearer in the IPA world and this festival could be broken up across brewery tap rooms. A brewery could pour their own IPA and one to two others from other nearby breweries. Make it more of a scavenger hunt than a traditional festival.
Obscure Style Festival – This would be a fun way to educate beer consumers and to have fun with recipes that normally are not feasible for a lone brewery. Separate “worlds” could be mapped out. Gose-Land to one side, Gruit-town next to it and another “G” beer, Gratzers next to Smoked beers. Position this festival as full of “new” and “rare” and “one-off” beers and that could draw people out from their couches.
Collaboration Festival – I envision this as a yearly event where, each year, a style is chosen and invited breweries get paired off and create a beer following guidelines set for each year. Saison would be a great choice for this since most brewers have brewed a few and more than likely have one on tap already. Other styles like kettle sours or cocktail themed beers would make for interesting beers.
Christmas Beer Festival – Yes, Christmas is not a “style,” but despite the fact that this festival could cover a lot of stylistic ground, it would be very new to Los Angeles where holiday beers aren’t really in vogue. Most people make do with the Anchor Steam Our Special Ale or Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Fresh Hop IPA.
Fruit Beer Festival – This is a blatant rip-off of a Portland beer festival that has been running for years but Los Angeles could put a distinctive spin onto fruit forward beers. You could also pair with the Food Forward charity and have part of the proceeds benefit their cause. Orange and citrus would be a focus, but I would expect to see all sorts of plums and apples and grapes in the mix as well.
To steal another idea from Portland, instead of an inclusive all-you-can drink admission price, a move to a token based, pay-as-you-go system would encourage those who either do not have the time or money to attend a multi-hour festival, to stop in and try a few. Day passes could be sold in conjunction with tokens to give purchasing options as well.
A beer festival can be a blank canvas and for too long, the same paint-by-numbers has been used. Time to throw some new ideas and colors onto that white space.
This month, be on the lookout for the latest style trend. Lo-Cal IPA. There are many on the market now from Firestone Walker Flyjack, part of their “Jack” series of IPA. Bell’s Brewery has Light Hearted which is an extension of their “Hearted” series or you can head to Oregon for Wowza! from Deschutes or Delaware for Dogfish Head and their Slightly Mighty. The key to evaluating these beers is to see how well they can balance when the alcohol level is under 5% ABV. Do the malt and hops work together and give enough of a bitter kick or is it too watery?
If you want to learn more about hops from a brewer who has gone Simcoast to Coast and 28 Haze Later then March brings a Hop-Adelic Trip with Julian Shrago from Beachwood Brewing. Billed as a “guided IPA trip and B-B-Q Dinner,” this will be a “full hop sensory experience.” There will be an IPA dinner pairing, “followed by a hands-on hop sensory experience where you’ll learn about 7 different hop varieties that we will blend as a group to create a truly one-of-a-kind IPA for the people!” Tickets go on sale March 9.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.