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AUG/SEP 2006 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

L.A. Update : Yes, There's Beer In LA
By Don Erickson

 


Jergensen Brewing Co.
11641-A Rancho Rd.
Adelanto, CA 92301
760-246-4843

McG’s Irish Pub & Grill
21352 Devonshire St.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
818-734-7056

 

Last issue, your august Celebrator writers listed the best cities for beer in the U.S. Los Angeles didn’t make that list. In fact, in that same issue, a letter writer went so far as to say, “There is no L.A. brewing scene. It still sucks.” That’s kind of harsh.

Funny thing is, there’s a lot of beer sold here. One brewery rep tells me that he sells more beer in L.A. than in five or six adjoining states! Another tells me that his L.A. beer sales are twice those of Northern California. Obviously, there are a lot of good-beer fans here. So why isn’t L.A. a good-beer city?

I argue that the sheer size of this place is a big part of it. The Los Angeles metropolitan area spans four counties and includes four of the 10 largest cities in California. By comparison, all of the cities on our list of best beer destinations are more compact and have good mass-transit systems, too. In L.A., you really, really need a car.

To put it another way, this is the time of year when people tell me they are coming to L.A. and want to know where to go for a great pint. My answer always depends on where in L.A. they’re actually going to be. I mean, if you’re going to Disneyland, I’m not going to send you across town to Naja’s Place in Redondo Beach. Naja’s is a great place to grab a brew, but I doubt most tourists would think it worth the hour’s (or more) drive to get there from Anaheim.

Instead, if you’re visiting Magic Mountain, the nearest brewpub is Wolf Creek. Located on the other side of the freeway from the amusement park, Wolf Creek has a first-rate menu. The owners learned their trade at The Cheesecake Factory, and it shows.

Also nearby are a BJ’s brewhouse and an Oggi’s outpost. Neither place hosts its own brewery — both chains use centrally located breweries to make their beers — but both places have kid-friendly pizza as well as some of the best beer L.A. has to offer.

Wherever you are in L.A., I do recommend three “field trips.”

Going to a game at Dodger Stadium or Staples Center? The most convenient brewpub is probably Bonaventure Brewing, located in the Bonaventure Hotel downtown. Also close by is the venerable Red Lion in L.A.’s Silver Lake district.

Taking a cruise or going to Catalina Island? Head to San Pedro Brewing, conveniently located only a few blocks from the cruise ship terminal. Or go across the harbor to downtown Long Beach. There you’ll find the local edition of the national Rock Bottom brewpub chain and the original Yard House, a multi-tap heaven. In between is the Auld Dubliner, a competent Irish pub. And a mile away is another brewpub, Belmont Brewing, which happens to be one of L.A.’s oldest.

Going to a race at California Speedway? The Omaha Jack’s brewpub is just on the other side of the 15 freeway. A BJ’s brewhouse and a Yard House are near the track too. A few exits west on the 10 freeway is the Old Baldy brewpub in Upland. Meanwhile, going south on the 15 will bring you quickly to Corona. There, just off the 91 freeway, you’ll find Main Street Brewing, one of L.A.’s best but least-known brewpubs.

As for people visiting Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland, or just catching an Angels game, you’ll find yourselves smack in the middle of Orange County’s beer scene. J.T. Schmid’s and Alcatraz are the nearest brewpubs. However, just up the 57 freeway at the Imperial Highway exit are two of O.C.’s best. One is the very first BJ’s brewpub, one of four extra-large ones that make beer for all of the BJ’s locations hereabouts. The other is Taps, an upscale dinner house with a brewery that regularly makes both ales and lagers. That’s a rarity anywhere.

Two nearby tap houses are worth checking out too. In downtown Fullerton, there is the Olde Ship, a very good example of a British-style pub. (Ed. note: The Olde Ship’s owner recently died of brain cancer. Stop in and have a pint in his memory.) In Orange, tucked behind a hamburger stand in a strip mall, you’ll find Hollingshead’s, a family-run deli with great sandwiches and an equally good beer selection, both on tap and in the bottle. It is also the longtime ground zero for local beer fiends. Someone there will be able to point you to all the other beery pleasures of Orange County.

Wherever you are in L.A., I do recommend three “field trips.” Father’s Office in Santa Monica and Stuffed Sandwich in San Gabriel are two of the places where microbrew appreciation was born. Neither place boasts a brewery; they were just enthusiastic supporters from Day One. Go, have a beer, and say thanks.

The other recommended field trip is to downtown Pasadena. Within a few blocks of each other, you’ll find Crown City, L.A.’s oldest brewpub; Lucky Baldwin’s, L.A.’s best beer bar; one of the first Gordon Biersch brewpubs; and yet another Yard House. And be sure to look for Craftsman tap handles. Craftsman, Pasadena’s lone production microbrewery, makes some of L.A.’s most interesting and imaginative beers.

And, for that last night in L.A., consider staying at the Four Points hotel by LAX. The bar offers good beer, great food and excellent conversation. Speaking as someone who spends way too much time at LAX, I know that the Four Points is one of the better ways in and out of that airport.

Now for the latest area brewing news. The newest brewery in town is Jergensen Brewing. It’s located in the High Desert town of Adelanto, and the brewer is a New Belgium alumnus. Initially, they’re making only three beers. Two are lagers, one with rye malt and the other with wheat. However, it’s the third offering that’s the attention-getter.

That brew is something called sahti, a Finnish concoction of wheat and rye malts mixed with juniper berries. The stuff is made in small quantities, is available only on Fridays and Saturdays at the brewery and sells out fast.

The other beers are available both at area liquor stores and at the brewery. Jergensen Brewing is located right off U.S. 395 across from the baseball stadium. Note that this is a production brewery, not a brewpub, so call ahead before driving out to visit.

Across the Southland, at least three brewpubs are fermenting: one near Oxnard, one in downtown L.A. and another out in the Inland Empire. In the meantime, check out McG’s Irish Pub & Grill in Chatsworth. Newly open, the place features some 60-odd taps but remains very much a work in progress; the initial beer roster was focused almost entirely on imported beer.

Lastly, the Old Baldy brewpub in Upland has gone schizo. By that, I mean the restaurant and brewery are now separate entities with separate owners. The restaurant’s new owner has already revamped the interior and is planning to rework the menu next. Nightly entertainment is also expanding: live music, DJs, karaoke and comedy shows are all in the new mix.

At the moment, the brewery is selling all of its production to the now-separate restaurant. However, recipes are being tweaked, and bottling is under way. The plan is to distribute Old Baldy beers locally and maybe do some contract brewing or even some distilling. For now, try the new unfiltered IPA.

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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