Last month I had an incredible opportunity, and I’m happy to finally be able to share my experiences with you now. All About Beer Magazine has published my piece on this year’s Hop Harvest, told through my travels in Oregon and Yakima County, Washington with the amazing Brewmasters Chuck Silva (Formally of Green Flash, now starting Silva Brewing) and Alpine Beer Co‘s Pat McIlhenney. Over 77% of American hops are grown in the Yakima Valley, and as an embedded journalist with Silva and McIlhenney I was able to understand where our hops come from; starting from the field all the way to the pint glass. I toured hop farms owned by family’s five generations old and got a rare look at the process of selecting hop varietals for Green Flash and Alpine. I invite you, through my words and images, to share in the experience with an incredible online piece put together by the team at All About Beer Magazine. Thanks to the editorial staff for working so hard on this project, and thanks to Chuck and Pat for a once in a lifetime experience. Cheers!
I’ve never interviewed home brewers before. And who could blame me? This blog is called California BrewMasters after all… which isn’t to disrespect the age old tradition of brewing in a private residence. Maybe I just hadn’t met the right home brewers yet? I personally do not home brew; reason being I find it much, MUCH easier to cozy up to a bar and sip on the labors of others than stumble through all that hard work myself. Take my $7 and hand me a pint, damn it. Call me lazy (I certainly do), but there’s just no way in hell I’m capable of a Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Stout or a Russian River Blind Pig IPA. I certainly can’t get the hop contracts.
Brian Holter, Kingsley Toby, and more recent team addition Kevin Segna are thankfully not at all like me, at least in that respect. Collectively, they make up Pipe Dream Brewery, and Brian and Kingsley have been brewing together for almost a decade. They’ve taken it to the next level with professional-quality beers and aspirations to get out of the garage (impressive in its own right) and into their own brewery. These guys are even on Untappd for Pete sake!
I first tried their beers in a hotel room late at night (the inspiration for too many blog posts these days) with Brian, Kingsley, and a bunch of beer bloggers. Mid-bottle share they whipped out some stunningly beautiful 350ml bottles and poured abso-friggen-lutely stunning fruit sours. My taste buds were wowed, and after careful inspection of the minimalist white label with a hardened smear of oil paint, the color signifying the variety (I believe I tried a deep red for raspberry and a purple boysenberry), I remarked, “Wow, you must really like these Pipe Dream guys.” Looking at each other, then back at me, they chuckled and revealed their true identities. I’m all the better for it.
Note: This article appears in the August issue of Beer Paper LA. Check out the print edition!
This city is, without question, in a period of immense change. Across the greater Los Angeles area, neighborhoods are being reshaped to meet the demands of a growing upper-middle class demographic. There is perhaps no better example of this swing than Downtown and the neighboring Arts District, which has seen a major surge in development over the past five to ten years. Most often defined by upscale coffee shops and fine dining establishments that dot these evolving neighborhoods, a new trend is emerging in the Arts District. Thanks to an interesting mash up of industrially zoned space mixed in tightly with residential, this graffiti-clad community has become a uniquely viable hot spot for Los Angeles breweries to set up shop.
The Arts District can boast at least four new breweries within its boundaries, which stretches between East of Little Tokyo and West of the LA River. This, of course, does not count longtime resident Angel City Brewing, which has operated in the area since late 2010. The Arts District will soon make for a perfect walking tour; every brewery is within a mile and a half of each other. The new four are either currently open or under construction with hopes of opening to the public before 2016. Each has been at least two and a half years in the making, promising that this fall and winter will be a period when fans can finally see the fruits of their collective labor come to light. In other words, the Arts District is about to blow up with beer.
I was, admittedly, a little buzzed. Sitting at the Adelaide Inn in Paso Robles post FWIBF, I dug out a dark brown bomber with a baby blue bottle cap from a watered down cooler. It was The Swirly; a coffee brown with cocao nibs, vanilla beans, and lactose. Among friends, I remarked that I kept hearing about these guys over King Harbor, but I had never tried them before. “What’s their deal?” I asked my fellow beer blogger friends, my leg slung over the arm of my chair, as it’s prone to do in such a state.
“Oh, they’re good,” said my friend, leaving it at that and popping off the blue cap. Pouring a beer of this nature (it has a friggin ice cream cone on the front), I was prepared for a sugar bomb… or at the least an intimidatingly harsh amount of vanilla. Pretending to be more analytical than my senses allowed, I took a sniff (as is customary) and breathed in a surprisingly nice aroma. Continuing with my ritual, the first sip hit my lips and I was introduced to a beer that was, oddly enough, as it should be. Not too sweet, hitting the right notes to capture a chocolate and vanilla soft serve ice cream, this beer was actually pretty damn good. I made a mental note to investigate further.
Fast forward to mid-June and I pull up to a parking lot off the freeway in Redondo Beach. “Things are a little crazy around here today,” says Will, one of the King Harbor owners, as a I approached the door. “We just got the go-ahead from the ABC for our new tasting room, literally an hour ago, so we’re rushing around to be open tomorrow!” While this was awesome news for them, I wondered, given the timing, if my brewer would show for this interview. “Don’t worry, Phil’s on his way,” said Will. And he was, the results of which make for this blog post.
It’s a funny thing to know the highlight of your LA Beer Week when the week’s not quite over, but as I look back on Tuesday night’s Battle of the Bands at the Echoplex I realize that I simply haven’t had that much fun at a beer event in quite a while. If you weren’t able to make it, this should be an absolute priority for next year’s LA Beer Week. If you were lucky enough to watch these brewers sing (and dance) their asses off, then these photos might be entertaining (or painful reminders) of what transpired. I was really impressed at the level of legitimate musical talent that each band brought to the table, whether it be Noble’s gangster rap set or Monkish’s mosh pit inspiring punk rock. Ultimately, hosting brewery Eagle Rock took the win, with father-son team Steven and Jeremy Raub at the lead. Now sit back and enjoy some damn photos – we’ll see you there next year.
It’s that magical time of year beer lovers, LA Beer Week is finally upon us! The LA beer scene has made some incredible progress this year, several outstanding breweries have opened up solidifying Los Angeles as a beer-destination to be reckoned with, and the growth of not just the industry but the fan base is something well worth celebrating.
In many ways I look at #LABW7 as a watershed year, at least for me personally. Looking at what LA Beer has become, it seems as if we’re a little more confident, and we carry a little more pride (and swagger, of course) in our step. San Diego and San Fransisco once glossed over Los Angeles as a black hole of good beer, a “cocktail town” was what I heard uttered a lot. And as the seventh largest economy in the world, there’s no doubting that we have plenty more growing to do. But as it stands today, I can look at the beer Los Angeles is making today and say without a doubt that it is world-class. We owe our success to one thing and one thing only – quality beer. Without the painstaking efforts of the brewers that I report on, the growth of our corner of the industry would fall flat on it’s face. We now give SD and SF a run for their money (the proof will easily be seen at the Meeting of the Guilds at Naja’s on Wed). This week, we come together to celebrate our progress, sample the fruits of our labors, and drink fine beer with fine friends.
So, as an obviously proud Los Angeles beer blogger I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this incredibly kick-ass calendar for the week. While I thought I’d share my top picks, don’t discount your local area. A full event calendar can be found on the LA Beer Week website, and I encourage everyone to support their local bars and breweries. But if you gotta know the best of the best – stick with me.
If you were lucky enough to attend this year’s Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, by now the hangover must be cured, making today the perfect day to recap my favorite beer event of the year. This year was extra special because I was one of the official Firestone photographers documenting the controlled chaos and happenings within “Beer Mecca.” This year was pretty ideal – the weather, crowd, and beer selection were all nothing short of amazing. I saw old friends and made a few new ones. And, per the job description, I took photos. Lots and lots of photos. After letting them marinate for a while I’ve brought you my top 25 (and a few extras) to recount this beautiful day in beer-paradise.
If you were lucky enough to snag a ticket to this weekend’s Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest, you’re in for a treat. This will be my fourth year (out of four) and it’s an event I always look forward to. With brewers ready to shake your hand and talk your ear off about the beers they love to brew, this event for me has it all; thanks to the accessibility of the brewers and the consistent outstanding quality of the beers being poured. You’ll have beers you’ve never tried (and might never try again), make friends you never knew, and with any luck at all bask in the experience of a beautiful day in Paso Robles.
The FWIBF carries a particular weight for me, which is a big reason for my attachment to it. My book, California BrewMasters, debuted for the very first time, to anyone at all, at this festival just a year ago (it will also be available to purchase at the merch stand this year!). It was because of this festival that the idea for the book was executed at all – it was four year’s ago that I approached a number of brewers in attendance with my one-minute elevator pitch, asking to visit their breweries to interview and photograph them. Not a single brewer I approached turned me down, despite me having zero ties to the beer industry. Directly because of this festival I’ve made friends and connections that are priceless.
*A version of this article will appear in the June issue of Beer Paper LA.
I first met the gentlemen of Sanctum Brewing, Jason Stevens and Scott Lucas, at the Great American Beer Festival this last year. We played shuffleboard together at a bar around midnight. Earlier that day I had photographed some competitive beer judging, where old men huddled around tables used their collective senses to sniff out hundreds of Belgian Tripels. They made sure, first and foremost, that each beer had the taste, smell, and appearance of exactly the style it claimed to be. Without passing this initial test, a beer is hardly given a second glance. While rigidity is a necessary evil for competitive fairness, the experience made me realize the important role that innovation has at the table as well.
This brings us back to Jason and Scott, two self described “regular dudes” that couldn’t care less about the rigidity of beer styles. And thank God for that. Sanctum Brewing, nestled in the corner space of the Pomona Packing Plant (about 6 miles east of Cal Poly Pomona), is rooted in inventiveness. But Sanctum’s envelope pushing, through the use of creative ingredients, doesn’t seem to come from an aggressive place; they aren’t testing boundaries for the sake of it. Instead, when you talk to these jovial, laid back guys, you get the feeling that they’re almost unaware of the role they’ve cast themselves as. They’re brewing what they want, and that’s pretty much the long and short of it.