Over the weekend, the Port of Los Angeles played host to a beer festival that shifted the focus from local craft brewers and onto a bevy of international producers and American craft brewers seldom seen on the West Coast. The Festival, as it is called, offered a glimpse at the possible future of craft beer.
The Festival is an annual showcase of breweries by longtime beer importer the Shelton Brothers, and this year's event lived up to the expectations. During four four-hour sessions split over two days, thousands of beer connoisseurs turned out to sample vintage gueuzes from Belgium’s biggest names in lambic, pours of Japanese beers that ranged from by-the-book classic styles to wildly inventive umami-tinged beers, and a lengthy list of tart and funky wild ales from some of the U.S.’s most exciting craft operations.
We were surprised by the sheer size of the crowd, the diversity of the beers at the event and especially crowd's high level of beer knowledge. Breweries that we’d expect to be sleepers saw a steady stream of fans, and there were plenty of adventurous palates excited to try new things. It was one of the nerdiest beer festivals we’ve attended, and it was a great sign for the craft beer culture of Los Angeles.
Here are a couple of notable take-aways from the Festival:
“Craft” beer has gone worldwide
International breweries outnumbered American operations by about 2 to 1, many hailing from nations not known for their beer culture, such as Spain, Italy and Japan, where the craft beer movement has more recently caught hold. The European Low Countries were well represented and well regarded by the beer fans in attendance.
It was the U.K. contingent that was perhaps most surprising. Instead of bringing typically English-style brews, breweries like Buxton from the East Midlands and Moor Beer turned up with some eye-opening hybrid beers like a tart and intensely fruity Raspberry Rye Berliner Weisse from the former and an English bitter married to bright American hop flavors and a clean West Coast finish from the latter.
The spirit of innovation that launched the craft beer movement in America has spread to every corner of the globe, and the rest of the world is catching up to America’s creative breweries.
Sour beer was everywhere
The typical craft beer festival is often an all-you-can-palate buffet for hop heads, and there’s no doubt that hoppy brews dominate the American beer scene. But perhaps this is starting to change. In a reversal from the norm, you had to hunt down the few booths that were offering hoppy IPAs, while there were more sour beers, wild ales and lambics offered than we’d ever seen under one roof.
American producers like the veterans at Hill Farmstead (which, amazingly, never had a line at its booth), fan favorites Firestone Walker Barrelworks (which mistakenly tapped its olallieberry-infused SLOambic a week before its official debut, much to the delight of the crowd), and exciting newcomers like Arizona Wilderness and Tahoe Mountain vied for drink tickets alongside the Old World’s very best - Brasserie-Brouwerij Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen.
We weren’t the only ones wishing that the festival passed out Tums alongside the glassware and wristbands upon admission, but at least we earned the burn.