L.A., we have a problem. That was the popular belief leading up to the first annual Craft Beer Fest L.A., which confirmed that Los Angeles has a viable craft beer scene after all. Over 850 beer-crazed Angelenos stormed the Echoplex to sample a variety of California craft beers and to learn from passionate beer professionals. Early aggravation quickly dissipated and the festival delivered a pivotal beer experience that generated thousands of dollars for 826LA, the nonprofit tutoring program and children’s writing workshop founded by author Dave Eggers.
It was a hassle to get inside, with more than a 30-minute wait for people like me who already bought tickets. Thankfully, that was the afternoon’s only true aggravation.
At the entrance, volunteers dispensed paper programs, commemorative three-ounce glasses and 15 drink tickets. The organizers planned to have four bars, but only two were in effect. Lines were long to sample the 28 different craft beers, but the volunteer bartenders moved swiftly in the sweltering venue. It would have been more comfortable to have the festival at an outdoor venue, for circulation’s sake.
Christina Perozzi, The Beer Chick, moderated a panel discussion with Verdugo co-owner Ryan Sweeney, Craftsman Brewing Company owner-brewer Mark Jilg, TAPS brewmaster Victor Novak, Sierra Nevada brand Ambassador Steve Grossman and Wine Warehouse distributor Larry James. Perozzi called L.A. “the wicked stepchild of the craft beer world,” pointing out that Craft Beer Fest L.A. was the first craft beer event in the history of Los Angeles. The panel didn’t directly address what defines craft beer, but Jilg hit on one core characteristic: “Craft beer is all about the passion…a personal expression. Is the person who’s making the beer passionate about the experience? If they are, you’re going to have a great beer.”
Sweeney was grateful that we’re no longer “stuck with an adjunct lager of crappy knockoff beer.” Los Angeles might not have the brewery culture of a San Diego, we have some of the best beer bars on the West Coast, including Verdugo, Blue Palms Brewhouse, BoHo, The Daily Pint and Lucky Baldwin’s. Also, there may be hope for L.A. brews. Craftsman is going full-force in Pasadena, Jeremy Raub and father Steve are on the verge of opening Eagle Rock Brewery and The Bruery is short drive south in Placentia.
Craft Beer Fest L.A. showcased 28 beers from notable California breweries like The Bruery (Placentia), Stone (Escondido), Craftsman (Pasadena), Green Flash (Vista) and Telegraph (Santa Barbara). I ended up cashing in 10 of my 15 drink tickets. My favorites included Cuvee Jeune, a compelling sour beer from The Bruery, the sweet but potent Lagunitas Olde Gnarlywine barleywine and the full-bodied Craftsman Scotch Isle.
The festival offered some interesting eating options, including Burrito Project burritos and cheese courtesy of Hot Knives. Tai Kim of Scoops developed two beer-spiked flavors for the occasion, including Guinness chocolate and Ommegang pear. The latter was refreshing, as was the cucumber salad from The Golden State’s Jason Bernstein.
Organizers Ben Ling (Pure Luck), Alex Macy (BottleRock downtown), Bob Kunz (Father’s Office Los Angeles), Alex Brown & Evan George (Hot Knives) should be commended for generating so much charity, for mobilizing so many beer lovers and for cementing the fact that craft beer matters in Los Angeles.