Comparing L.A. Craft Beer to Chicago

Baseball Stadium Chicago

Being on the inside of L.A.’s beer scene can cause one to be a bit of a “Homer,” one who roots too hard and too easily for the home team. One way to truly gauge the craft beer scene in Los Angeles is to compare it to similar cities.

Now comparing and contrasting us with Denver or Portland or Asheville is a bit too much like comparing apples and a truck full of apples.  But comparing us to big, big cities is a bit more instructive and will show in starker relief where we are ahead of the game and where we are behind.  Cities like New York, Atlanta, or Chicago.

Let’s start with the last city on the list.  I recently visited the Windy City (not a weather related nickname, but a political one) to see what they have to offer and to learn what we can do to make our city an even better craft beer destination.  This isn’t an article on how to “beat” other cities in craft beer terms.  This is about picking what’s great about another scene and importing into our own to make our scene even more vibrant.

My first measurement is the amount of breweries and the profile of the breweries as well.  This is where comparing big cities really helps because they labor under a drastically different real estate market.  Their are around 15+ breweries and brewpubs in the greater Chicago area.  With the recent influx of openings in L.A., we are right in the game.  But where L.A. needs more is in national stature.  We know that our local breweries are great.  But when you get super beer geeky, we are yet to have a beer that people around the country desperately HAVE to HAVE.  A’ la Black Tuesday from The Bruery.  Whereas Half Acre brews Daisy Cutter, a 5.2% ABV West Coast style pale ale, which is one of those that fall into the gotta have category (even their website tells you to “hoard it”).

And that recognition isn’t just on “whales,” it is based on brewery name recognition as well.   Goose Island is based in Chicago but is a national name and Lagunitas has a brewing outpost coming into town.  Our Golden Road Brewing is working their way to a bigger footprint but we need our breweries to be bigger.  That will take time of course. We should be leveraging our L.A. advantages which is why I am surprised that considering our movie and TV dominance, the first feature film to feature a brewery was set at Revolution Brewing in Chicago.  Why not here?

We don’t necessarily need a L.A. beer like Chicago has Green Line from Goose Island to rally around, though 1903 from Craftsman might fit the bill for our sunny days. But we do need to be known for a beer, a brewery or a style.  San Diego has hoppy IPA’s, others have a nano brewery boom.  What is L.A. going to be about?

My second metric is availability and this to me is even more important in many respects.  When I travel, I make a point of checking out grocery stores, corner stores and bars to see what is pouring.  In respect to beer bars, I think we are ahead of Chicago.  HopLeaf and the Map Room in the Second City (named because the first Chicago burned, not because it is second to New York) are great but the sheer number of dedicated craft beer bars in L.A. gives us the edge.  But where we get burned, is at at local restaurants and stores.  In the area around Wrigley Field, the local pizza spot had multiple craft options and extra great prices on cans and bottles.  The local grocery store had a dedicated area to local beer.  Want Two Hearted IPA from Bell’s, they had six-packs plus a whole mix and match area.  Imagine that at Ralph’s or Vons.

Even crazier, I found a bar and a great craft beer selection at a MACY’S downtown right off the “El”.  You can find beer in Los Angeles.  It’s there but in Chicago it is woven into the fabric at more levels.

Your Homework assignment comes before the Beer of the Week for reasons that will soon be clear.  Now is the time to visit a bottle shop that you haven’t been to before and scan their craft beer shelves.  I recently headed to Ventura Boulevard to see what Valley Beverage had on their shelves.  I was happy to see many locals on offer including Strand Brewing Co. and Eagle Rock Brewery as well as Feminist, a Belgian-style tripel infused with hibiscus from Monkish Brewing Co. which is the beer of the week with a beautifully designed label that hints at the greatness of the beer in the bottle.  So check out that store that a friend said has a good selection, or that you read about on a beer blog.  Hint, hint.

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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Sean Inman

Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.

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