Hidden in the midst of Los Angeles Beer Week was a very small but very special event. It featured two brewers (neither from Los Angeles), and highlighted a beer brewed not just outside of LA but outside of the continent. It took place at a newly opened bar I had not yet heard of, tucked into an open-air back room that, according to its owner, had not yet been fully completed. Few of my fellow beer-friends were present, yet in this foreign space with foreign people was something deliciously familiar.
On Saturday June 25th Long Beach was home to the grand finale of Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across America. In the shadow of the Queen Mary over 150 breweries came together to celebrate both the local and nation-wide craft beer community in the only way craft beer knows how; with a strong showing of flavorful and diverse brews. The second Beer Camp to materialize after a one-year hiatus, Beer Camp Across America again highlighted various regions throughout the country in both a the six-city festival tour with nearly 700 participating breweries, as well as a commemorative twelve-pack featuring six beers each brewed in a different region.
Los Angeles has played a particularly important role here, which underlines a respect for the city’s fast-growing beer culture as well as a reputation for quality. “We saw a lot was happening in Los Angeles,” says Sierra Nevada founder Ken Grossman on bringing the festival to LA County. “LA had been a bit of a beer-desert… and now it seems like there’s really a movement here with a lot of great brewers and a beer scene’s really starting to happen.”
On April 19th Lagunitas Brewing Co, the nation’s sixth largest craft brewing company, opened the doors of its new Azusa campus for the first time to neighbors, press, and industry members. Lagunitas welcomed its guests in true Lagunitas fashion, complete with live music, food trucks, and plenty of beer on tap. They even utilized one of their three massive (and empty) warehouses for both a party space and roller derby rink. The event was attended by Southern California beer nerds and local politicians alike, and was a fitting way to build ties to the San Gabriel Valley.
In a press preview prior to the festivities, Communications Director Karen Hamilton provided some details of the location, which I’m happy to share with you now. The gargantuan brewery campus spans three new warehouse structures, and is expected to put out around 1.8 million barrels of beer per year at full capacity. That’s a staggering amount of suds.
Building One will house shipping and receiving as well as cold storage and office space. Building Two will house a keg, bottling, and canning line (that’s right, Lagunitas CANS) and spit out bottles at a mind blowing 750-800 bottles per minute. Building Three is where most of us will be spending our time, as it will be home not only to the future taproom (located on the second floor to give a birds eye view of the facility), restaurant, gift shop, and rooftop beer bar, but also to the brewery’s three-250 barrel brew houses.
Current plans include 90 55-foot-tall fermenters, 12 bright tanks, and three centrifuges as well, making this truly a monster beer-making facility, bigger than Lagunitas’ campuses in either Petaluma or Chicago. And of course, there will be an amphitheater, because according to Hamilton, “where ever you find Lagunitas, you find music.” Just like the MillerCoors plant located within eye’s view, Lagunitas will utilize Azusa water as well as its citizens, creating 200 jobs through initial hires.
The buildings sit empty for now, but it shouldn’t be more than a year before we see an open taproom signaling signs of life, and signs of more beer to come. Here’s some more photos to keep us thirsty in the meantime.
We sped North up the 5 Freeway at an average speed of 85mph. Whooshing by Andersons Split Pea Soup, The Harris Ranch, and that god-awful cattle farm situated just close enough to the freeway for a good whiff (you know the one), the car’s engine purred and the trunk clinked with the LA Beer we’d been hauling. We jettisoned past the windmills on 580 and winked at cops as we passed. They understood. We had a goal to reach, you see. That goal was San Francisco Beer Week.
This year’s SFBW was massive, with over 700 events listed on the books. It’s impossible to get to everything, leaving many with a serious case of FOMO regardless of whatever amazing beer you happen to be sipping at the time. Arriving mid-week, Girls Who Like Beer (my business partner and travel companion for this trip) and I had already missed some of the big events, like the Opening Gala on Pier 35. Instead, we tried our best to be strategic with our two-day stint in the city. We focused on hitting smaller events and local breweries.
Arriving into the Bay Area, our first stop was at Faction Brewing in Alameda. I love visiting this brewery; both for the ambiance (it’s located in an old Marine helicopter hangar and the view of the city across the water can’t be beat) the people, and of course the beer. As head-beertender Corey Hennegan told us, “The thing I like about Faction is that it’s all about balance. There’s a lot of thought put into hop profiles and flavor profiles, we make big aggressive beers but a lot of times they don’t drink like it, they’re very smooth and balanced. Very approachable to people.”
It’s been said that good things come in small packages. What’s said much less often is that good things come from the small back room right behind the bar. For one that’s not a very catchy saying, and it’s rarely true. It can actually be quite scary back there. Lucky for us, such is the case with Highland Park Brewery, which occupies a grand total of 480 square feet of space in a little room behind a terrific beer bar called The Hermosillo. The two are distinctly separate businesses, yet the symbiosis is unavoidable. The Herm acts as Highland Park’s tasting room, offering fresh IPAs and new saison experiments. In return, the bar is often packed with beer fans and neighborhood locals alike, thanks in part to the shock waves put off by this mighty mouse of a brewery.
Specializing in mixed fermented beers, Highland Park Brewery is without question putting out some of the most inventive beers in Los Angeles, size be damned. Established in 2014, HPB will put out around 700 barrels of beer this year, which makes it both a treat and a rarity to snag sought after bottles like Raised Eyebrows (a mixed fermented sour aged with guava and passion fruit from the parking lot) or Cart Fetish (a sour collaboration with Monkish Brewing). Both are well worth the search. What’s even more of a treat is to enjoy the full spectrum of their beers, (from Noble hop driven IPAs to rich dark beers like their imperial stout with coffee), fresh from the taps of the Hermosillo, while conversing with the man responsible for these yeast and bacteria driven brews, Bob Kunz. A wacky guy with a lot of heart and a lot of beard, Kunz has accomplished some incredible things with the system he’s been given. He brews these beers in the freakin’ parking lot for god’s sake. Bottles are conditioned 33 to a milk carton stacked in the hallway. But as you’ll read, the pursuit of innovation and quality is always in the forefront of Kunz’s mind, and evident in the beer he produces. This interview is a long one but a good one – so before we begin I want to make an emphatic suggestion to my fellow beer fans out there – go visit the Hermosillo and try these beers. Visit now, and visit often. I just might see you there.
On a rainy evening in early January the highly anticipated Iron Triangle Brewing in the Arts District opened its doors (and its taps) to friends, community members, and beer media for the first time. Like many others, I had been patiently waiting for this opening for some time; both to try brewer Darren Moser’s beer and to see if the buildup that owner Nathan Cole had been asserting was all that it had promised to be. I think it’s fair to say that Cole has been a polarizing figure in the Los Angeles craft beer scene, something he’ll readily admit. An unknown in beer until now, Cole came out swinging by setting his sights high with a business model built on high levels of production and distribution throughout Los Angeles. Iron Triangle is positioning itself to make quite a bit of beer out of the 10,000 square foot facility they occupy, and there are already rumors of future expansions. The four-vessel brewhouse is equipped to handle multiple brews per day, giving the indication that the goal is to hit the ground running, and run fast at that. If things go well for this startup brewery, Los Angeles could be seeing the birth of a Golden Road sized player quite quickly. And that’s worth the intrigue itself. With these thoughts in my head, I entered the results of Cole and Moser’s best efforts to see for myself.
It’s the holidays, and Arts District Brewing in (you guessed it) the Los Angeles Arts District has finally opened its doors bearing gifts for us all. With former Pizza Port brewer Devon Randall taking charge, LA adds yet another well respected brewer to its roster. Randall is just the second female head brewer to grace the LA beer stage (Alex Nowell of Three Weavers being the first) but as is the case with beer, who we are takes a distant back seat to what’s in the glass. In the case of Randall, the quality of the brewer as well as the beer she’s producing is already top-notch.
2015 has been a great year for the advancement of beer in Los Angeles, with plenty of new breweries opening their doors for us to explore. The Arts District is putting itself on the map in many ways, but for me its transformation into a community of beer purveyors and roaming beer fans is definitely what has caught my eye (for a wider picture of the Arts District, check out my previous writings on it).
Arts District Brewing is the latest installment from the 213 Nightlife Group (responsible for such great LA bars as Seven Grand, Las Perlas, Casey’s Irish Pub, and plenty others) and Blue Palms Brewhouse owner Brian Lenzo. They’ve created a well-designed multi-use space packed with offerings for beer nerds and tag-along friends of beer nerds, too. The beers themselves are clean and inviting; best enjoyed among the backdrop of this large brewpub space that provides a little something for everyone. I picture my future spent playing free skeeball with a Traction IPA in one hand and rotisserie chicken gracing my table; compliments of chef Neal Fraser from Red Bird. Did I mention there’s a full bar as well?
I had the opportunity to speak with Randall, the results of which lie ahead. Enjoy and happy holidays! There’s plenty more to explore in 2016.
I’ve gotten a couple suggestions to turn my last story, In Search of America’s Best Hops, into book form. I’ve used online publisher Blurb to do just that… so now you can order a beautiful 7×7 hardcover book featuring the whole story and photographs. It looks great online of course, but there’s something special about holding something tangible in your hands. Thanks to everyone for the support! Cheers.
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.