Every Thursday night, I distribute the L.A. Beer Blast, a newsletter that lets Food GPS readers know what’s new and exciting at select L.A. bars and restaurants. In assembling the Blast, a central message has become increasingly clear; there’s never been a better time to be a beer lover in Los Angeles.
The backbone of a city’s beer scene is undoubtedly the people behind it. L.A. has a coterie of passionate bar owners, home brewers (and finally) professional brewers who have mobilized consumers (and me) to want to learn more about what’s in each glass and who brewed it.
The number of great L.A. beer bars can no longer be counted on two hands. At this stage, Angelenos should be familiar with noteworthy stalwarts like The Stuffed Sandwich in San Gabriel, Library Alehouse and The Daily Pint in Santa Monica, Naja’s Place in Redondo Beach and Lucky Baldwin’s in Pasadena (and Sierra Madre). However, a new crop is championing craft beer’s cause.
Gabe Gordon opened Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach in 2007. Since then, Ryan Sweeney, Kyle Bilowitz, Brandon Bradford and Cherith Spicer debuted Verdugo Bar on a formerly anonymous stretch of Glassell Park, and Brian Lenzo opened Blue Palms Brewhouse in Hollywood. Those are probably the Big Three from the new crop, but a number of other viable bars have entered the malty fray.
Last summer, Clay Harding spearheaded his partnership’s beer efforts at 38 Degrees in Alhambra. Jason Bernstein and James Starr run The Golden State on Fairfax. Sweeney and Bradford have gone on to co-found The Surly Goat in West Hollywood. Simmzy’s in Manhattan Beach, Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank and Boneyard Bistro version 2.0 in Sherman Oaks have also made notable contributions. Even liquor stores like Vendome Toluca Lake are getting into the act, offering themed tastings every Saturday afternoon.
It’s no longer good enough for a bar just to offer rotating taps that dispense stylistically balanced, seasonally influenced beers. To stand out, bars and restaurants now feature beer-pairing dinners, tout beer education, and host special brewery nights where brewmasters bring rare kegs and bottles.
When it comes to local craft breweries, Craftsman set the bar when Mark Jilg debuted in Pasadena in 1996. Last fall, Jeremy Raub and father Steve broke the beer barrier when they opened the first brewery in the City of Los Angeles in 60 years. Now Nibble Bit Tabby Brewery and Ohana Brewing Company are next in line downtown. Strand is rocking a hoppier-than-thou pale ale in Torrance, and is already planning expansion. The Bruery and Bootlegger’s Brewery are going strong in Orange County. Ladyface Alehouse anchors the western fringe in Agoura Hills and Hangar 24 holds down the eastern border, in Redlands.
It’s not just that residents of Los Angeles and satellite counties are able to enjoy more breweries, it’s the way that the expansion is taking place that’s encouraging. For example, when Nibble Bit Tabby recently debuted, Jeremy Raub featured their Irish red ale on draught in the Eagle Rock Brewery taproom. So much for cutthroat.
Los Angeles also has its very own Beer Week. Last year, an alliance of bar owners, breweries and distributors banded together to fill a calendar for 11 days. This year’s LA Beer Week begins on October 7 and features dozens of awesome beer-focused events, culminating with an October 17 blowout tasting event at Union Station. For L.A. beer lovers, life is certainly sweet, sour, bitter, malty and more.