Looking Back, Looking Forward
by Don Erickson
Buster's, Angeles, Gorky's, City of Angels, Heritage, Fullerton Hofbrau, Eureka, Santa Clarita, Shields, Bootleggers, Dunbar, Olde Towne --
[an error occurred while processing this directive]Pardon me, it's anniversary time and I'm feeling nostalgic for Southland breweries gone but not forgotten. Buster's was L.A.'s first brewpub. City of Angels, located near what is now the Third Street Promenade, was ahead of its time. So was Santa Clarita Brewing.
Come to think of it, when Bret Nickels founded the California Celebrator, there really wasn't a SoCal brew scene yet. We had some great tap houses, however. Father's Office, Stuffed Sandwich, Spike's and Hollingshead's are still going strong. But there were very few brewpubs and microbreweries, and the few we had back then never seemed to last very long.
Obviously, things have changed a lot hereabouts. One person who was part of those changes is Peter Andriet, owner of the Huntington Beach Beer Company. His brewpub is Orange County's oldest, having just celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Originally, Peter hooked up with the owners of the Manhattan Beach Brewing Company to open a brewpub in Orange County. Huntington Beach wasn't their first choice, but they couldn't pass up the location they found there. After settling a legal dispute with another start-up eyeing the same spot (hence the HBBC's odd name), Peter and his partners opened their brewpub in late 1992.
That brewpub soon spawned others in Orange County: Laguna Beach, Newport Beach and Tustin, as well as an ill-fated venture up in Westwood. However, Peter eventually sold his shares in those other locations to focus his attention on the HBBC.
While always profitable, Peter's first brewpub had long been running on autopilot. Some TLC was needed, particularly in the brewhouse. So Peter hired Kris Martin, a brewing veteran with a knack for coaxing beer from elderly equipment. Kris repaired what was repairable and replaced what wasn't. Now he's reformulating the beers.
HB Blonde and Pier Pale Ale remain the undisputed best-sellers. But check out newcomers Golden Bear Brown Ale and Black Gold Porter. In the future, look for tasty things to come at both ends of the brewing spectrum.
Kris is also trying to improve the drinking experience at the HBBC. He started by launching monthly beer nights. His focus isn't on specific gravities, IBUs or other technical arcana. Instead, the intent is to introduce his customers to beers that they might not otherwise try due to lack of availability, cost or, yes, even exoticism. Past themes have included West Coast vs. East Coast; upcoming themes include Eastern European beers.
Not to be outdone, Peter started scheduling jazz musicians on Tuesdays and R&B/blues players on Saturdays. A DJ does the honors on Fridays, and there's a 100-inch screen for those must-see sports events.
Still, the best reason to linger at the HBBC is its location. The place overlooks the main street of a town known worldwide as Surf City. There's a reason why the patios are always full!
The HBBC is just one example of what is now a widespread and well-established local beer scene. Another good example is the Sheraton Four Points Hotel by LAX. The monthly beer nights there have long been de rigueur for serious beer fiends. Why? January's event debuted several beers new to L.A. February's event will feature beer author Stephen Beaumont presenting his favorite barley wines, while March will see Chef Carlos Solis build a beer dinner around the beers made by BJ's. Curiously, this will be the first dinner to feature these beers. The likes of BJ's Juniper Rye could make for some very interesting (and delicious) pairings.
Elsewhere, Riverside Brewing has new ownership, as does one-time brewpub Westwood Brewing. The latter's new owner promises to reinstall the brewery!
Less radical changes have happened at CC National, Old Baldy and Santa Barbara Brewing. All three brewpubs have new menus and, in Santa Barbara's case, a redone interior too.
On the other hand, Heroes, the great tap house in Fullerton, is no more, having been replaced by a generic sports bar. Fortunately, the superb English-style pub up the street, The Olde Ship, is still going strong.
Likewise, an afternoon at the Morro Bay Brewing Company is like hanging out in your best friend's rec room. Friday evenings at the Santa Maria Brewing Company are lotsa fun too. And an ordinary afternoon playing among the taps at Lucky Baldwin's is topped only by attending one of its annual beer festivals.
Yes, since the day the Celebrator started, the L.A. brew scene has grown into something very nice indeed.
Don Erickson is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and a longtime "grognard" covering the Southern California beer scene. He lives in Long Beach, Calif.
Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!
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