Los Angeles had beer. I drank it. - Brain Sparging on Brewing


Sour beer, saisons, farmhouse beer, homebrewing, ramblings

April 3, 2015

Los Angeles had beer. I drank it.

I feel like the general opinion about Los Angeles and craft beer is that it is at worst a dead space or at best a small second fiddle to San Diego. Of course Orange County's The Bruery could be regarded as a life raft for the greater Los Angeles area. This impression of Los Angeles is wrong. LA might be less developed than its companions in San Diego and San Francisco but there is an exploding number of breweries opening all over the greater LA area. It will only be a matter of time before southern California is a single thicket of craft breweries running from the Mexican border at San Diego and coursing up the major freeways into Los Angeles where the growth seeps out into the inland areas around Riverside and more distant communities in Antelope Valley as it begins its inevitable flow into the San Francisco area. There are already pockets of brewery concentration in some parts of the LA metro area and the spread across the rest of the region seems inevitable.

I found myself in LA this time tagging along on my wife's business trip to visit friends we made on our trip last May to The Bruery anniversary party. We were lured in with the promise of gaining access to his cellar. I also wanted to check out some more breweries in the area and we had some other plans that ultimately fell through. The feller of the couple we met last year is opening a brewery in Palmdale, north of Los Angeles (Transplant Brewing Co.) so I was interested to see his space and talk a little about the brewery plans. It looks like it will be a very nice space with a roomy taproom.

We were definitely treated to wondrous access to his beer cellar. I do not get into the whole beer trading scene so it was nice to gain access to many beers that are not readily available in Texas and generally are tough to come by without delving into the world of beer trading. Between a couple bar visits and his personal cellar I was able to enjoy my first Fifty Fifty Eclipse (green wax) and Dark Lord (2011). That Dark Lord is intensely sweet. We also sampled Winefication 2 and Melange 10 from The Bruery which were both excellent. Cascade Raspberry and Rare Barrel Forces Unseen were two sour beers that helped cut some of that sweetness. I finally pulled in a taste of a Cantillon beer (Rose de Gambrinus) which isn't the most exotic Cantillon offering but clearly demonstrated the quality of what I have been missing. I also had my first taste of a Hill Farmstead beer (Excursions One) which I thought easily lived up to the hype associated with their beers. He also shared with us bourbon barrel and brandy barrel variants of Bravery Brewing The Shroud (imperial stout) which he had a hand in producing. Not a bad group of beers at all.

We did find room for a few breweries so let's move along to talking about those experiences.

Hangar 24 Brewing

Hangar 24 is situated in Redlands in the inland empire. The Redlands has a long history of association with citrus fruit so it is no surprise that Hangar 24 opted to include oranges in its flagship beer, Orange Wheat (which is quite good). Hangar 24 is located across the street from the municipal airport presumably in an old hangar. Our cellar-bearing amigo is a member of Hangar 24's membership society and enticed us to come out Saturday morning to the release of their imperial stout Hammerhead barrel aged and then treated to a variety of additions. I had never been to one of these releases before because most breweries in Texas are not licensed for direct sales to consumers and those that are do not drop these releases anywhere close to where I live. It was an interesting experience and people were quite sharing with their beer.

Hammerhead is a solid bourbon and rye barrel-aged imperial stout and we were treated to several variants including chai tea, mocha and coffee. The coffee beans came from a local roaster who had barrel aged the green coffee beans in Hangar 24's used barrels before roasting. The roaster also brought out cold brewed coffee from the beans which had a very woody character that was too lumbery in my opinion. Unfortunately the variants we liked best were only available by allocation to the members so we only brought home a bottle of the normal version.

We also tried the double IPA which was nice but my favorite beer was a seasonal release called Vinaceous, an old ale with red wine grapes. It was all the maltiness of a barleywine (or old ale, whatever) with the fresh berry flavor of the wine grapes. A fantastic beer sold at a very reasonable price at the brewery. It is a great beer on its own but I would be interested to see this beer aged in barrels, possibly red wine, rye whiskey, or new oak barrels. If logistics had played in my favor I would have brought home some bottles to age and see how the flavors develop.

Monkish Brewing Co.

On Sunday we ventured to Torrence, which is an industrial and business park filled city which has become a hub for breweries. There are a number of breweries in Torrence within a very short drive which is nice for Los Angeles traffic. Rotating through the breweries seems common for the area as we saw several of the same people at each brewery.

Monkish first came onto our radar at the last Bruery anniversary party where we enjoyed Seme Della Vita, a tripel with pistachios and vanilla. Monkish is all Belgian, all the time. There is even a sign in the tasting room that says NO IPA although they do a series of Belgian pale ales single hopped with a rotating cast of the hops you are most likely to find in an IPA these days. Monkish does some solid brewing that ranges from abbey styles to saison to renditions of those Belgian beers that do not tightly fit any particular style. Monkish likes to play with flowers a lot in their beers with hibiscus and rose hips regularly added. I trust that their floral beers are as balanced as the other beers although we did not try them out.

My favorites were the saisons and Seme Della Vita. The saisons are well balanced between yeast character, hops and other additions. The basic saison Demure is a nice saison while the flavor gets turned up with brett additions in Hem & Haw and Funky Habit, both saisons of a darker persuasion with Orval-like brett presence. Monkish's saisons are good examples of beers that are complex without having to punch you in the face with the flavors. I enjoy that.

The other beers we tried and liked were Select Monk 3, Anomaly, Shaolin Fist, Koine and St. Citra pale ale. I would happily drink anything coming off their taps.

Absolution Brewing Co.

Absolution was my first foray into Torrence on my last trip and I was pleasantly surprised by the beers they were producing. Their beers are mostly a combination of hoppy beers brewed in an English meets west coast fusion that pairs west coast hopping with English malts. I'm not sure how well received that is on the west coast but I'd imagine they would fly very well on the east coast. I imagine people either love or hate them depending upon how dry their prefer their IPAs. From my limited experience Torrence appears to be a cloister of breweries less interested in pounding out one formulaic IPA after another and more interested in doing something different so maybe they have a less polarized reputation. The taproom had a decent amount of people so it can't be turning too many people away.

Last trip I savored their white wine barrel-aged saison and dubbel on cask so this trip I turned to the hoppier options. I had Angel's Demise IPA on cask with citra and warrior hops in the cask, Crimson Angel red ale on cask, Possessed Joe coffee porter, Revelation Rye IPA and a California common that may not have had a specific name. The coffee porter was excellent and the other beers had a really nice balance of hop expression and maltiness that clearly is not west coast style but also clearly not English either. These beers are a nice set of IPAs particularly for people like myself who enjoy the taste of hops without the heavy-handed bitterness of IPAs. They aren't quite pale ale malty but almost that malty. Good stuff.

Smog City Brewing Co.

Smog City is another Torrence brewery. Their range of beers have no specific theme but run the gamut of light to dark and malty to hoppy. The taproom provides the standard beers along with seasonals and experimental beers. We were running out of time when we got to Smog City so we didn't try too many of the beers but they seem like they have a good range of beers that I wish I had better explored. The taproom has a weird set up that seems to give up a lot of opportunities for seating and feels somewhat unwelcoming but you'll get over it with some beer.

We only had time to sample the award winning coffee porter (and award winning for good reason), the coffee porter with additions of orange cinnamon and vanilla that was interesting but not a beer I would want in large quantities. I'm not big on cinnamon so that's really my preferences and not a fault of the brewers. I also gave the zwickel rendition of the Little Bo Pils which is a nice Czech pilsner but with the rough-around-the-edges character of a zwickelbier or kellerbier.

Phantom Carriage

I saved the most amusing for the end. This Torrence brewery has been open for just months and has a horror movie theme. It is dark and given a spooky atmosphere with a dim taproom surrounded by barrels. The dour environment makes people talk in hushed tones as though they are scared to disturb the horror. There is a theater room showing old horror movies and a barrel room that is extremely dark. It's damn funny. I told you they are doing it differently in Torrence.

Here's the best part about Phantom Carriage. It's all sour ale and saisons. They brew sour beer in house with a range of guest taps and a reasonable bottle list of sours and saisons.

I apologize for the shoddy photography but I think it's readable. These are their beers. It's an ambitious lineup for a brewery with a soft opening just four months ago. I will say that the house beers did not overwhelm me. The latter two on the list were good beers but the biggest issue with the whole range was that they just lacked the complexity that those styles are begging for. I suspect these beers are all just too young to have developed complexity and Phantom Carriage needed to start putting beer on tap. I really hope they are able to raise the bar on those beers because I would love to make this a regular stop and help drive traffic to them.

Overall a great trip and I am looking forward to seeing Phantom Carriage develop and my friends at Transplant Brewing build into their space and get some beer on tap.

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