A guide to the growing Los Angeles microbrewery scene.
- Written byBonnie Graves
In an America traditionally dominated by massive breweries and brands, a sudsy revolution has been fermenting for a few decades now. Generic-tasting beers like Budweiser, Miller and Coors have steadily lost market traction to a new generation of products and enthusiasts rooted in a European, home-brewing mentality.
It wasn’t until the mid-‘80s that the first so-called “microbreweries” came on the scene. These smaller-production craft breweries are defined by the American Brewers’ Association as “small, independent and traditional” and are limited to an annual production of less than six million barrels. Craft breweries must also limit ownership to no more than 24% by a larger beer corporation, no small thing in a world of consolidation. Goliaths like Anheuser-Busch, in a “can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” strategy, have raised eyebrows and hackles alike with acquisitions like Chicago’s beloved Goose Island Beer Company.
Here in Los Angeles, we’ve always lagged behind both our northern and southern California neighbors. Many consider the righteous beers of San Diego pioneer Tomme Arthur of Pizza Port and Port Brewing Company to have jump-started the entire craze for craft, and San Diego County still boasts the largest number of craft breweries in the country. Up in Sonoma, husband-and-wife team Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo run the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa and make beers with names like Little White Lie, a citrusy, unfiltered wheat beer, and Supplication, a sour cherry-infused brown ale aged in pinot noir barrels.
Tasting beers like these have inspired home brewers here in the City of Angels to amp up their game, and many have now opened their own microbreweries and brewpubs within our county limits.
Eagle Rock Brewery’s founder, Jeremy Raub, opened his doors on Roswell Street in 2009, and his populist mantra “beer for the people” has included mentoring a crop of new brewers. With Food Truck Night, Trivia Night and the popular Women’s Beer Forum, Eagle Rock Brewery has become an epicenter for beer enthusiasts of all stripes and, incredibly, was one of the first breweries to open in LA in more than 60 years. Current beer selections include Solidarity, a dark, low-alcohol, English-style malt, Libertine, an amber wheat, and Manifesto, a white Belgian ale in the spirit of Hoegaarden.
In the past three years, Eagle Rock has been joined by a new wave of sudsy outposts. Valley residents and LA Zoo supporters alike have reason to cheer: Opened last year, Golden Road Brewing and Pub is tucked just behind the zoo at the intersection of the 5 and the 134 on San Fernando Road. Founders Tony Yanow and Meg Gill set out to answer the simple question, “How can we give a city as energetic and vibrant as LA a craft brewing tradition to match its personality?”
These youthful brewers are committed to creating a local, sustainable business—a key decision is selling their brews in 16-ounce cans rather than in glass bottles. Better for the environment, canned beer nevertheless suffers the same malignment as screw-top wines. It takes time and consumer education before alternative packaging no longer implies cheap. Check out the tasty food at the Golden Road Pub while sampling a pint of the appropriately named Either Side of the Hill, an IPA-meets-barley-based beer.
Downtown denizens also have a haven in Bonaventure Brewing Company, whose groundbreaking beers are available in a unique restaurant setting on the fourth floor of the historic Westin Bonaventure Hotel, near the pool. Head brewer David Blackwell specializes in ales and declares, “Hops are my friends.” Make an appointment with Dave to watch him work his magic in the brewery, or make a date with friends to sip some Bonaventure Blonde Ale while surrounded by LA’s skyline. Food is served until midnight.
Down in the South Bay, you’ll find another passionate hops man, former aerospace executive Rob Croxall, whose El Segundo Brewing Company is the ultimate hobby-turned-business. A skilled weekend home-brewer, Rob decided to take the plunge and follow his bliss. Assisted by Thomas Kelley, formerly of the Library Ale House in Santa Monica, Croxall’s complex, aromatic ales are turning up all over Los Angeles and have developed a full-on cult following in a very short period of time. Check out their website for a list of local establishments where you can try favorites like Blue House or White Dog ales.
In addition to career-changers like Croxall, we find career-makers like Andrew Luthi and Chip Baker of Ohana Brewing Company. Both just 24 years old, this duo is the generation-next of craft brewers in Los Angeles. “Ohana” is the Hawaiian word for “family,” and for Luthi, this is integral to his vision of beer: a family of like-minded brewers working together to improve the caliber of LA’s suds. Located south of the 10 in Vernon, Ohana Brewing Company is still a work in progress but is indicative of the citywide passion for better beer that is engulfing Los Angeles.
Like many consumer decisions, drinking locally means spending your hard-earned dollars at independently owned restaurants and pubs in your neighborhood. Nowadays, that locality also extends to drinking delicious craft beers freshly brewed right around the corner from you in all parts of our great city. Cheers!
At Verdugo West Brewing in Burbank, Chipper Pastron, co-founder Sal Casola, Jr. and head brewer Chris Walowski have exceeded expectations after one year of business.