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Brewing Trends: Onward, Upward and Outward

By Bruce L. Brode

If you want to keep your finger on the pulse of brewing in Los Angeles, there is doubtless any better way to do that than to check out the annual Kick Off Festival for L.A. Beer Week, organized by the esteemed Los Angeles County Brewers Guild. This year's event (2017) happened on the afternoon of Saturday, June 17, during classic L.A. June weather: Warm, slightly humid, with a light breeze to keep things cooled down. Clearly, outstanding beer festival weather! The event was late-billed as featuring some 80 breweries and at least 230 beers. Yikes! How does one deal with that kind of abundance?


Well, as a veteran of many beer festivals, including this one, I can tell you how I approach it. I am most interested in the new breweries showing up to this event, whose products I have not yet encountered, and there are several more every year. I am interested in the beers that are probably “one-off” beers, i.e., brewed just for this festival or otherwise of extremely limited production, that I am not likely to encounter again. And I am interested in a wide range of beers, from lagers to sour ales, from stouts to barrel-aged monsters. A festival of this sort offers all those choices, and within the 3 or 4 hours available I do my best to encounter an extensive range of beers within those understandable constraints.


I have titled this article Brewing Trends, as several were apparent to me upon scrutinizing the published tap list (although several breweries did not reveal their offerings in advance). The first trend I noticed was fruit: several offerings incorporated fruit, from passion fruit, to citrus such as blood orange, to berries such as blackberry and raspberry, often in the presence of hops but also in the presence of sour ale. I also noticed a trend of breweries that typically produce ales to try their hand at lager beers. And certainly the trend toward barrel-aged beers of all kinds continues apace (wine barrels, bourbon barrels, whiskey barrels, etc.). And for hop fans, the continuing development of new hop varieties expressing all kinds of different flavors and aromas is a point of fascination.


In the space of about 4 hours, and allowing for some conversation time with old friends, new friends, and brewers and brewery reps alike, I managed to log notes on 30 beers, in my ongoing effort to document the beer revolution that surrounds us and continues apace here in Los Angeles (my, have times changed!). Here we go, in the order tasted:


Ladyface Ale Compagnie, Agoura Hills: Biére de Garde with Grenache must and Mourvedre oak dust. This outstanding French-themed brewery continues to give the lie to the idea that the French are so wine-obsessed that they don’t come to understand beer. Of course, here in California we do both, and so does this brewery at least in terms of experimenting with wine elements in an otherwise respectable French beer style. At 8% ABV we know that this is a serious beer, and it is served on cask. The complex aroma incorporates grapey fruit and malt, along with some acidity. There is a hazy orange color. The flavor is rich and balanced from a malt core, with complex edges of fruit, oak, and acid. A great way to start the festival experience!


Smog City Brewery, Torrance: “Brix Layer:” This brewery is helmed by Jonathan and Laurie Porter, who come from a homebrewing background, with Jon getting his own products under this label produced at Tustin Brewing Company (where he was brewmaster at the time) before he opened his own facility – talk about supportive ownership at the Tustin location!. This is described as a sour blonde ale that is barrel-aged and then refermented with fresh-pressed Riesling (I take it this means the grape skins). 8.8% ABV. There is a great aromatic mixture of malt and white wine, and a clear medium gold color. The crisp, tart palate flavor is refreshing and hides the alcohol level decently for such a pale and aromatically-driven beer.


Eagle Rock Brewery, Glassell Park: Don’t Maize Me Bro Rice Lager. Founders of the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild, and leaders in the local craft beer community in the Los Angeles area, the wife and husband team of Ting Su and Jeremy Raub long ago captured my respect for their dedication, persistence, and grounded nature in the pursuit of their enterprise and their work in garnering the cooperation of other craft breweries in the local area. Their business is growing steadily, which is great to hear and hopefully mirrors the experience of their peer breweries as the market expands and diversifies. Here we have a lager beer from a nominal ale brewery, with a crisp light grainy aroma complex. The appearance is a very clear light gold colored beer. The flavor presents as crisp, clean and refreshing, with a light finish, and would be outstanding as an accompaniment to the great Mexican cuisine that we enjoy here in L.A., or for that matter with Asian cuisine which we also enjoy in abundance in this crossroads of the world that we have here in Southern California.


Three Weavers Brewing Company, Inglewood: Cambria’s Kolsch with grapefruit zest. This is my neighborhood brewery, as I live walking distance from them, and is owned by two women, Lynn Weaver and Alexandra Nowell. This variant of their regular Kolsch-style ale is served with a grapefruit slice, a nice touch. There is a grapefruity aroma (some of which is no doubt contributed by the actual grapefruit slice), with some ale character, and a clear, deep yellow color. The crisp, grainy and creamy flavor has a dry, slightly bitter finish. A complex but refreshing beer for a warm day like today.


Angel City Brewing Company, downtown Arts District, Los Angeles: Smash Bock. Originally founded in Torrance by Michael Bowe, this brewery is now under the management of a division of Boston Beer Company, who brought us the Sam Adams brand. I am always a fan of Bock beers and have some understanding of the challenges of brewing them. Here there is a rich, complex, sweet-toasty-caramel aroma of German-style malt, and a gorgeous shimmery copper color. The similarly rich malty flavor has some intruding bitterness on the palate.


Boomtown Brewery, downtown Arts District, Los Angeles: Mic Czech Pils. Another among the growing cluster of breweries in downtown L.A., this brewery has a large space for events. Here is their effort at the challenging yet rewarding Czech style of pilsner beer, the most influential beer style in history. There is a nice interplay of grainy malt and some spicy hops in the aroma, and a clear dark yellow color. The smooth flavor has a bit of palate bitterness, and is a good example of the style in a locally-brewed version.


Absolution Brewing Company, Torrance: English-Style Triple IPA. If there is a cluster of breweries in the greater L.A. Area that rivals downtown, it is undoubtedly in Torrance, where this brewery draws much of its inspirations from the great British brewing traditions. This brew appears to be a conceptual hybrid between the American big-gravity IPA style and the kinds of malt and hop and yeast flavors one gets in English beers. The aroma displays lots of malt, fruity esters, and some minty hops, to go with a hazy orange-amber color. The rich malty body and flavor manages the palate bitterness along with the alcohol level rather well.


Kinetic Brewing Company, Lancaster: Ice Bucket Blood Orange IPA. I had a good opportunity to chat with my friend Steve Kinsey, one of the owners of this high-desert brewery, about many aspects of brewing, notably new hop varieties which he admits is a focus of his and that hops tend to be featured in his beers. Nothing wrong with that! In this beer, the hop content is steered appropriately toward the citrus aspect which a number of the recent hop varieties can provide. There is a robust and fantastic citrus aromatic complex that is really alluring, with a hazy but complex red-orange color. The flavor is crisp, complex, and thoroughly refreshing in marrying ale, hops and oranges very adroitly, with a distinct and satisfying bitter-orange finish. One of my favorites at this fest, and I recommended it to several people later in the festival who inquired when they saw me taking notes.


I also tried Kinetic's Ignition Pale Ale, where hops lead in the aroma with classic piney and floral essences and maybe just a touch of asparagus (merely a note of complexity and not a flaw by any means). The smooth flavor displays a definite malt base as well as lots of hop punctuation, and the finish is light and clean with a lingering bitter-apricot finish. Steve is rightly proud of this classic beer.


Iron Triangle Brewing Company, downtown Arts District, Los Angeles: Battle of Puebla Chile Beer. Downtown L.A. strikes again with this brew from a brewery named for a trio of local leaders who were responsible for establishing the Los Angeles water supply from the Owens Valley by 1913. Made with jalapeño chiles, and named for the famous Mexican battle taking place on May 5, 1862 from which the Cinco de Mayo holiday is derived. There is a big chile aroma, including some fruity chile essences, clearly substituting for aromatic hops, and a hazy yellow color that is orange-inflected. There is a creamy palate flavor with fruity chile character appearing later, and a tiny touch of heat after that. A very well-managed brew displaying the best the chile has to offer in a beer context.


Santa Monica Brew Works, Santa Monica: XPA, double dry-hopped with Mosaic. Santa Monica is my hometown, and it's great to see that it has its own local brewery once again. The brewery specializes in what could be called seaside beers that are flavorful, quaffable, and not so high in alcohol, matching the beach climate well. The Extra Pale Ale style has been a bit neglected in recent years with the advent of the session IPA, but the two concepts are not too dissimilar, and Mosaic is a runaway favorite hop of many brewers and hop fans these days. Here there is an intense hoppy aroma with ale essences – apricot, earth, orange, spice. The haze to the light yellow color is to be expected in a dry-hopped beer of this sort. The smooth but crisp flavor has a pleasant drying fruity hop finish. A classic XPA!


Ohana Brewing Company, Alhambra: Oud Bruin. Founded in 2012 by owner Andrew Luthi, head brewer Eric McLaughlin now makes use of the 7-barrel brewhouse once owned by Craftsman Brewing Company in Pasadena. They make a wide variety of ales, including barrel-aged and Belgian-inspired brews. This one is obviously Belgian-inspired as a Flanders-style sour brown ale. The aroma is a really classic Flanders sour ale complex, with malt and fruity esters too. The hazy red-brown color also looks authentic. The tart, acidic flavor profile is certainly right in the ballpark for this style, but consideration could be given to just a bit more malt body for balance. Quite impressive nonetheless!


Sanctum Brewing Company, Pomona: Citra-sprinkled Cream Ale. Another 2012-initiated brewery, founded by homebrewers and Pomona locals Jason Stevens and Scott Lucas, they have as their motto “Bravery. Brilliance. Benevolence.” And their mission includes “giving generously to impact communities near and far!” Very admirable, but how is the beer? Here there is a nice creamy-hoppy aroma and an orange-yellow color. The smooth yet crisp flavor has nice citric notes and flavor complexity on the palate, with a balanced dry finish. Citra is one of the most popular recent hop introductions, and it is well-displayed here without disrupting what is a rather delicate beer style. I'd say the beer, at least this one, is quite good!


Rev. Nat's Hard Cider, Portland, Oregon: Viva La Pineapple Pineapple Cider, 6.0% ABV. Rev. Nat West started making cider in 2004, using fruit from a neighbor's tree and a juice press he cobbled together from materials he had available. He caught the cider-making bug bigtime and by 2013 had set up his operation in a warehouse in Northeast Portland. He is an admitted craft beer geek and sees his cidery in those kinds of aesthetic, experimental terms, with the motto “The apple's deepest purpose realized.” Geekdom, indeed. I first encountered their products a couple of years ago when they commenced distribution in Southern California, and I was happy to see them here at the Kickoff Festival, in the midst of an impressive phalanx of no less than four participating cideries! And yes, he is an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. This pineapple cider has a crisp apple aroma, with pineapple and spice elements sneaking in behind. There is a medium yellow color. The excellent flavor complex includes apple, pineapple, and apple-pie spices. Very nice!


The Breuery, Placentia: Goses Are Red, Gose brewed with salt, coriander, and grapes. One of the only breweries at this festival not serving draught, as they specialize in larger-format bottles in the Belgian tradition. Here there is a complex but fruity ale essence, with a bit of grapefruit. The rose color, while hazy, is intriguing and certainly fits the concept. The tart, fruity flavor is refreshing, with the tartness lasting well into the aftertaste. A pleasant innovation on this lower-gravity relative of Witbier.


Avery Brewing Company, Boulder, Colorado: Apricot Sour. Adam Avery's eponymous brewery dates from September 1993 and was co-founded by him and his father Larry. Through the years they have acquired a reputation for producing a wide variety of creative, quality ales with many awards to their credit, and it was great to see them at this festival. Apricot fruit slowly emerges in the aroma of this one, which displays a good light orange 'apricot' color as well although it is kinda hazy. The flavor is tangy-tart and that quality lasts nicely into the aftertaste, surrounded by fruit.


Ventura Coast Brewing Company, Ventura: Cinco de Quatro Mexican Amber Lager. Opening in October 2016, this is a fresh brewery appearing since last year's fest. The owner is Kyle Thille, head brewer Dan White is an alumnus of Smog City in Torrance, and all appearances are that they are making a wide range of both ales and lagers – ambitious and admirable. And it's no surprise that this amber lager was timed for its initial appearance on Cinco de Mayo. There is a nice toasty-malty aroma, with a touch of “lager fruitiness” that is a different quality than the fruity esters one encounters in many ales but is characteristic of many German amber lagers. There is a good reddish-amber color, quite appropriate. The well-balanced complex malty flavor marries sweet and dry elements with aplomb. Very well done!


Drakes' Brewing Company, San Leandro: Pryed Rye IPA. This East-bay brewery dates from 1989 when it was founded by Roger Lind, who came from a British ale approach. Through ownership changes and the ensuing years, the brewery has become known for West Coast style ales as well, and now produces an extensive line of IPAs. The aroma in this one has good fruity hops and a bit of the earthy, spicy rye character. Gazing at the hazy orange color leads me to a flavor that is fruity and also shows malt and hops with an IPA-level of bitterness. The rye is relatively restrained, but adds some background complexity.


Topa Topa Brewing Company, Ventura: Murrelet Belgian-Style Quad. I first encountered this brewery, opening in 2015, at last year's Kickoff Festival, and it's good to see them back. Looks like a nice brewery community is growing in Ventura. As expected, in this one there is a big malt aroma with plenty of fruity esters and a touch of spicy phenols. The red-amber color is attractive also. The flavor is substantially malty, with a very full body, and some fusels. Good effort at a really challenging style!


Chapman Crafted Beer, Orange: Apricocious IPA with apricots, 7.3% ABV. This brewery was founded by Wil Dee and Randy Nelson, two craft beer fans who both have backgrounds in real estate, hospitality and restaurant operations, and business development. They employ Brian Thorson as their head brewer, whose resume includes stints at Trumer, Drake's and Haven. Matthias Bellasalmo heads up sales and distribution, and Brian White handles social media and marketing as the brand ambassador. Their lineup of brews shows them to be primarily an ale house that is not afraid to produce a lager now and then. I'm a fan of apricots, a fruit which typically matures in June, and I noticed that it is becoming something of a fad fruit in the craft beer world. Here there are fruity hops and fruity apricot in the aroma in a pleasant mix. The hazy orange-yellow color fits also. There is a nicely balanced flavor that features fruit without neglecting hops. Well done!


Enegren Brewing Company, Moorpark: Valkyrie German Amber, 6.2% ABV. Six years on, this Ventura County brewery with roots in dormroom brewing at Loyola Marymount University has always had an affinity for German-style beers, as one of their first products was an Altbier. They now focus on lagers but continue to brew some ales as well. There is a pretty classic toasty-caramel malt aroma complex with a touch of malt fruitiness. The clear, rich red-amber color is inviting. The rich, smooth and well-balanced malt flavor is reminiscent of the best of the Marzen-Oktoberfest style, with a lingering malty aftertaste that is not cloying. Well done!


Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, Buellton: Paradise Pilsner. Founded in 2010, this brewery is an enterprise of the Dietenhofer family, including father Jim and son Jaime and their wives, and is named for a mountain visible from their home in Los Olivos. In addition to Buellton, they now maintain five other taprooms, so the enterprise is clearly growing, and they brew a considerable range of ales and lagers. Here there is a grainy, hoppy and sweet aroma complex, and a reddish-gold color. The crisp pilsner flavor profile balances malt-sweet and hop-bitter elements very well.


Bottle Logic Brewing, Anaheim: (714) Blonde. This multiple award-winning brewery at the Great American Beer Festival was founded in 2013 by Wes Parker, Steve Napolitano, and Brandon Buckner. The lead brewer is Dylan Mobley, who oversees the brewing of a pretty wide range of both classic and experimental ales. The reference in the name of this one is to the local telephone area code, a concept increasingly of importance only to telephone companies in the age of the mobile phone. There is a nice estery-grainy blonde ale nose, with a fairly dark gold color. The crisp but malty flavor is clean and refreshing, with a grainy edge. A classic American-style blonde ale, for sure.


Almanac Beer Company, San Francisco: Nectarine Cobbler, sour blonde ale aged in oak barrels with nectarines, vanilla, maple and spices, 6.5% ABV. Founded in 2010 by homebrewers Jesse Friedman and Damian Fagan, this brewery makes extensive use of fruit in their beers and partners with a different farm each year in sourcing their fruit. Here the aroma is led by fruit, vanilla, spices, and a touch of maple. There is a hazy orange color. The crisply acidic flavor is buffered and balanced by malt, maple, and wood contributions. Very interesting combination of flavors and aromas here.


Fort Point Beer Company, San Francisco: KSA (Kolsch-Style Ale). Founded in 2014 by brothers Tyler and Justin Catalana, the brewery is housed in a building in the old repurposed Presidio formerly used as an army motor pool, in a version of swords into plowshares. Head brewer Mike Schnebeck, formerly of Mill Valley Beerworks, leads the production of a wide range of ales, many done in collaboration with other breweries. Here we have a good clean and grainy aroma with some ale character, and an accompanying clear reddish-yellow color. The flavor is similarly clean, crisp and well-balanced. Very nicely done.


I also tried the Fort Point Park, hoppy wheat beer. There is a plethora of hops in the aroma and in the fruity-crisp flavor that is clean and balanced, which seems to be something of a house character for them in producing very drinkable beers. Good to see the support at this festival from the San Francisco folks!


Gunwhale Ales, Costa Mesa: Bait Ball IPA. Founded in January 2014 by Justin Miller (with a cooking background, heads up Operations), JT Wallace (specializing in engineering, manufacturing, and construction, in charge of Production and Quality Control), and Bobby Fitzgerald (a certified Cicerone, handles Sales and Branding), the head brewer Derek Testerman (formerly of the eastern brewpub Iron Hill) leads the brewery's specialization in both West Coast ales and farmhouse ales, an interesting duality. As a coastal brewery, there is a style emphasis on the nautical, as in the name which references the top edge of a boat's hull. Bait Ball itself is a reference to schooling baitfish. The complex hop aroma is piney, fruity, and floral in a classic American IPA presentation atop a hazy deep yellow color. The crisp flavor features a well-managed hop bitterness, again in a classic IPA rendition.


Institution Ale Company, Camarillo: Sanity Coffee Imperial Stout. Founded in 2013 by Roger Smith and his sons Ryan and Shaun, this Ventura county brewery specializes in American-style ales. At this point in the festival, an infusion of some coffee appealed to me. Here we have a very attractive coffee aroma with burnt malt behind, and a reliably brown-into-black color. The smooth and rich flavor features these same elements quite well. Nicely done!


Yorkshire Square Brewery, Torrance: Castle Dangerous Export Stout. This brewery was founded by Yorkshire immigrant Gary Croft, his wife and two sons (Sam is an assistant brewmaster), and is dedicated to the production of real ales served on cask. I had a nice chat with Andy Black, the head brewer who has brewed in England as well as at MacLeod's Ales in Van Nuys and who really has a passion for the real ale styles. The aroma of this one displays nice fruity esters and complex malt tones, with a good brown to black color helping to seal the deal. The smooth, complex flavor has some sweet malt and a distinct charcoal edge.


I also tried Yorkshire's Early Doors Pub Bitter. There is a nice classic ester and malt profile in the nose, with elements of grain, caramel and vanilla, and a rich honey-amber color. The smooth, well-balanced flavor is a fine demonstration of the virtues of the rich flavors and textures one encounters in a well-made low-alcohol real ale. Outstanding!


Wolf Creek Brewery, Valencia and Santa Clarita: Triple aged in Chardonnay barrels with peaches and passionfruit. This 20-year-old brewing company seems to have kept a rather low profile for having been around that long. It was founded by Rob and Laina McFerren as a brewery and restaurant, and is best known for its Hefeweizen, although several other ale styles are brewed. Based on this beer's description, they are clearly working with aging brews in barrels. A distinct white wine nose dominates the aroma. There is a hazy orange color. The malty-crisp flavor features Chardonnay character and is nicely balanced, albeit in the Chardonnay direction. Interesting idea that largely works!


Strand Brewing Company, Torrance: White Sand Double IPA brewed with Summit, Casade, and Amarillo hops, 8.5% ABV. Yet another Torrance brewery, this is actually one of the early ones dating to 2009. They feature West Coast ales, and you could practically call them an “IPA House.” So it wasn't a surprise to encounter a Double IPA here, which shows an aroma bursting with fruity hops and esters. There is a dark honey-amber color. The palate flavor of malt and hops is nicely managed, with a very slight bit of hot alcohol. Better than most DIPAs I have had!


State Brewing Company, Gardena: Project Vanilla, Raspberry Truffle Edition, 9.5% ABV. I guess at this point I was interested in dessert! And this three-year old brewery provided the answer. There is a great chocolate-raspberry aroma, and a black color. The rich flavor shows this as a beautiful chocolate beer with nice contributing elements. Rich and impressive!


Track Seven Brewing Company, Sacramento: California Kids Double Milkshake IPA. Opened at the end of 2011 as a project of the Graham (Ryan and Jeanna) and Scott (Geoff and Becca) families, Track Seven's name references nearby tracks of the old Western Pacific railroad, and takes as its brewing approach the “firmly hopped West coast tradition,” regardless of style. Their current lineup of brews suggests that they are gradually branching out to some Belgian and lager-influenced styles, but in particular, IPA seems to be a specialty. They have two brewing and taproom locations, Curtis Park (head brewer Dan Rafferty, assisted by David Mick) and Natomas (head brewer Jared Long, assisted by Brad Johnson). In this particular brew, oranges, vanilla, and orange blossom honey are incorporated in an effort to “take you back to the days of ice cream trucks and orange vanilla creamsicles.” I find an excellent fruity-melon aroma, with touches of citrus and creaminess. The hazy light orange color adds to the concept. A nicely balanced flavor (lactose is also included) has creaminess and a good clean hop definition. Great concept, very well executed!


Twisted Oak Tavern and Brewery (aka The Lab Brewery), Agoura Hills: Take Her Home Triple. Roger Bott, an alumnus of the biotech giant Amgen Corporation in Thousand Oaks whose nickname is Dr. Hops, got his brewery going in November 2011 and the restaurant paired with it was rebranded as Twisted Oak Tavern in January 2015, however the brewery retains The Lab as its name. He produces a line of West Coast-inspired ales and obviously does some Belgian-style work as well, evidenced by this brew. Aromatically, there is a big spicy phenol note, with lots of maltiness. The deep gold color is admirable. The flavor is resolutely malty, with a pronounced spicy edge. A classic rendition of this great abbey style!


Lucky Luke Brewing Company, Palmdale: Incumbent Pale Ale “Saison” with lemon peel and lemongrass, 4.2% ABV. Opening in November 2015, this is the project of homebrewer Brian Schmitz and his wife Samantha, and is named for Brian's great-grandfather Luke Hammons. Head brewer Brace Helton produces a line of ales, including a couple of Belgian-style offerings, and it's clear that a cluster of breweries is also developing in the Palmdale and Lancaster communities (including Transplants, Kinetic, and Bravery). At this point it was late in the festival, and I was looking for a palate refresher, which I found. Here we have a malt-dominated aroma with a lemony edge, a slightly hazy light yellow color, and a crisp flavor that relies on lemon for a portion of of the crisp character. A clean beer with a clean finish!


Thanks again to the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild, all the participating breweries, and all the supportive fans who all made this such an enjoyable 9th LA Beer Week festival.

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