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AUG/SEP 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

L.A. Update : On The Road Here And There
By Don Erickson

 


Black Sheep Bar & Grill
1117 Chorro St.
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
(805) 544-7433

Dale Bros. Brewery
1495 W. Ninth St.
Upland, CA 91786
(909) 579-0032

Old Baldy’s
271 N. Second Ave.
Upland, CA 91786
(909) 946-1750

BJ’s Restaurant
11520 Fourth St.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA
91730
(909) 581-6750

 

The theme of this issue is Beer and Travel. Naturally, when the Boss sent out his reminder, I was back East somewhere. More about that later. First, the local news: Up north, SLO Brewing in San Luis Obispo was bought by an Australian firm. The deal closes at the end of August, and no one seems to know what will happen thereafter. Given that the building is unreinforced masonry, be assured that there will be significant changes of one sort or another. But hopefully it will remain a brewpub.

Elsewhere in town, the successful resurrection of the legendary Spike’s has prompted other similar establishments to open. The newest is a place called the Black Sheep Bar & Grill. Located two blocks from SLO’s mission, Black Sheep could be called a California-style Irish pub. The fittings, especially the bar itself, are all heavy, dark wood, but the ambiance is bright and airy, thanks to plentiful skylights. The Guinness tastes right nice, but consider the house pale ale, brewed by local microbrewer Firestone Walker.

Down the 101 freeway in Ventura, Anacapa Brewing’s original brewer now toils for Rock Bottom in Arizona. His replacement seems to be stepping up to the challenge quite nicely. There’s a new menu to check out, too.

In nearby Oxnard, the bottling line at BJ’s has been “beaten into a state of cooperation” by the brew crew there. Bottling days aren’t as entertaining — or vocal — as they used to be. But, if you’re lucky, the lead brewer, a veteran of what was formerly Butterfield Brewing in Fresno, will be present. Or look for Michael Ferguson, formerly of Barley’s in Las Vegas. He’ll be the real big guy in the brewhouse.

Closer to L.A., Pasadena Brewing Company is no more. Now called the Union Cattle Company, the place was bought by the same people who took over the defunct Ein Stein’s brewpub in Hermosa Beach. As with that location, PBC’s brew vessels are still in place — with a newly installed mechanical bull nearby.

Down the street, Lucky Baldwin’s, arguably L.A.’s best alehouse, just finished its annual IPA Festival. As with the aftermath of Lucky Baldwin’s Belgian beer fests, expect random “leftover” kegs of IPA to be “discovered” for the next few months.

Otherwise, why not reacquaint yourself with the beers of Craftsman Brewing? Word is that Craftsman’s beer will soon make its long-anticipated bottled debut. It’s a safe bet that Lucky Baldwin’s will be one of the first to have them.

Oh, and Lucky Baldwin’s spin-off in Sierra Madre will open this summer … whenever the permits allow it, of course.

While in Pasadena (remembering this issue’s theme), be sure to stop and pay homage at Crown City. The new brewery is still “almost ready,” but all of the guest beers make for a fun-filled playground nonetheless. And the bartenders know their stuff. (Crown City’s spin-off in Arcadia, Matt Denny’s, ain’t too bad in that department either.)

Out east on the 10 freeway in Upland, I finally tracked down the owner/operator of Dale Bros. Brewery. Curtis Dale is a homebrewer gone pro who’s been quietly brewing small (4-barrel) batches of beer, primarily for the Claremont Colleges area. He makes lagers, the San Francisco style first made famous by the great Santa Cruz Brewing way back in “the earlies.” His mainstays are Pomona Queen, an amber, and California Dark, a dark lager. He also makes a summer beer, Pacific Daylight, and a winter specialty, Winter Haze.

Dale Bros. is a small production brewery tucked in the back of an industrial park. Instead of visiting the brewery, go to some of the local establishments that serve its brews: Pizza & Such in Claremont, Mount Baldy Lodge in Mount Baldy Village or The Press Restaurant in Claremont. Of course, if you want to order a keg or two, Curtis Dale will be happy to oblige.

Elsewhere in Upland, Old Baldy’s new brewery is finally up and running. By the time you read this, all of Old Baldy’s beers will be back to being made on-site. As you might imagine, the folks at Old Baldy are quite happy nowadays.

Compared to Montreal and D.C., you’d expect Indianapolis’s beer scene to be rather mundane. It isn’t.

Farther east, Rancho Cucamonga gained its own BJ’s restaurant. It’s in a new building across from Ontario Mills and past Costco on Fourth Street, just west of the 15 freeway. For those race fans out there, note that this BJ’s is the closest good beer joint to the California Speedway.

In Southern California, it goes without saying that travel and beer go together. However, for those of you venturing farther afield…

While the Boss was reminding his staff to write about Beer and Travel, I was in Washington, D.C., discovering a really good beer nexus just up 7th Street from the Smithsonian museums and the National Art Gallery. Near the Gallery Place metro stop, you’ll find the District Chop House, part of the Rock Bottom chain.

Just up the street is DA’s RFD, a spin-off of the Brickskeller, D.C.’s great beer landmark. Unlike the Brickskeller, DA’s offers several draught beers as well as a full menu. Not surprisingly, the new place already rivals its parent as D.C.’s premier beer destination.

If that weren’t enough, just on the other side of the National Portrait Gallery museum are two more brewpubs, Gordon Biersch and Capital City. The latter is a local brewpub chain. This particular location was the very first Cap City brewpub. It no longer features a brewery, but its oval bar is still a great site for people watching.

One more D.C. note: When making the obligatory visit to the Brickskeller, consider dropping by the nearby Big Hunt. This bar seems to be forever remaking itself — I’m never quite sure what to expect when I venture inside. However, the beer offerings are always first-rate. That’s why I keep coming back.

Elsewhere in this issue, someone is no doubt describing Montreal’s big beer festival, the Mondial de la Bière. I reached Montreal just after all the festival-goers had left. Amazingly, there was still some beer left in town, although the Unibroue stocks were noticeably low.

Nevertheless, dinner at Fourquet Fourchette, Unibroue’s theme restaurant south of the Saint Lawrence River in Chambly, was still a highlight of my visit. Sitting on the patio, overlooking a lake and the nearby historic fort, made a great meal all the better.

Within Montreal itself, there are eight brewpubs. Most are near or on “the Main,” Rue St. Laurent, Montreal’s main street. Dieu du Ciel!, the northernmost brewpub, is probably the most American. Sergent Recruteur, just around the corner, is possibly the best hangout.

I found the newest brewpub, Reservoir, had improved greatly since my last visit a year ago. Meanwhile, Cheval Blanc can still be rightfully regarded as one of the best brewpubs in all of Canada.

L’Amère à Boire is Montreal’s most underrated brewpub. Unlike all the others, L’Amère brews lagers. Its pilsner, Cerna Hora, is simply outstanding. L’Amère also brews two different Baltic porters, Kozak and Odenese, which are each worth a visit themselves.

The Brutopia brewpub is across town in the heart of English-speaking Montreal. The place is comfortably British in theme. Hurley’s, the restaurant downstairs, is just as comfortably Irish. Just don’t order the nachos!

Compared to Montreal and Washington, D.C., you’d expect Indianapolis’s beer scene to be rather mundane. It isn’t.

The best brewpub in town, Broad Ripple, would be a prize just about anywhere. Set inside what was once a house in an older neighborhood on Indy’s north side, the place is worth searching for. The beers have a distinct British influence, while the tiny bar is big in its welcome.

South of Indy, Oaken Barrel is also worth a visit. It’s hard to miss; one wall of its complex has an airplane sticking out of it! Inside the brewpub, you’ll find a wide array of beers that can be very interesting, plus a very good menu.

Downtown, the chains rule. Hard Times Cafe pairs good beers with its chili, while Buffalo Wild Wings offers lots of draught beers with a particular emphasis on the locally made stuff. And at good prices too, especially in the afternoons!

However, Rock Bottom is the place to be. Offering free pool until 5:00 p.m., this is the place to go while waiting until it’s time to fly home. Just don’t forget to bring your Mug Club card.

One last note: Devotees and veterans of Spike’s, the venerable beer bar in San Luis Obispo, are already planning its 25th anniversary celebration next year. Spike’s alumni who want to be “found” should log on to groups.yahoo.com/group/spikes25.

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.

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