Three of the best Los Angeles craft beers of 2014

Golden Road, Noble Ale and Monkish brewed three of the best beers of the year

These last 12 months may have been the best yet for craft beer in Los Angeles — 2014 was filled with some memorable events, a deluge of new bars and breweries, and a lot of great beer from the region's newest breweries and veteran producers alike. 

We told you about the stand-outs from the youngest breweries in town, now here are a few memorable and significant craft brews from the more established operations. 


For the Record

This story says Cole Hackbarth is head brewer at Golden Road Brewing. His title is production manager.


Batch 1000 — Golden Road Brewing

Golden Road Brewing continued to win over more fans during 2014, and the brewery began brewing their first lager: 329 Days of Sun. The seasonal Might As Well IPL (India pale lager) followed at the end of summer, and underscoring their commitment to lager beers, Golden Road also hired veteran Brewmaster Victor Novak away from the lauded Orange County brewpub TAPS Fish House. 

Novak has won sundry accolades for his refined and faithful reproductions of classic styles at TAPS, and he was a tremendous get for the growing Golden Road. While the details for how Novak will fit into the brewing team alongside Brewmaster Jesse Houck and Head Brewer Cole Hackbarth are still somewhat unclear, Novak has already had an impact.

Batch 1000 was one of the first brews that Novak worked on at Golden Road, and the traditional schwarzbier — a style of light yet flavorful black lager from Germany — was a revelation. The black lager that Novak developed at TAPS is a multi-medal winner, and Batch 1000 is similarly refined, but displays a little more hop character than is traditionally seen in a schwarzbier. There’s a hint of citrus rind in the lingering finish of the roasty lager, and this unexpected hop characteristic is beguiling. Like a twist of lemon in an espresso, the citrus and roasted flavors balance each other, impelling you to take another sip.

With Houck (known for his West Coast style hoppy brews) and Novak (a master or subtly and tradition) at the helm of L.A.’s biggest brewery, expect big developments in 2015.

The Showers Series — Noble Ale Works

Anaheim’s Noble Ale Works made waves in 2013 when they introduced their ultra-popular Naughty Sauce — a golden stout dosed with coffee that became a runaway hit, and in 2014 the brewery turned their drive to innovate back toward hoppy beers.

Brewmaster Evan Price and his team of young brewers developed the “Showers Series” of double IPAs, each a showcase for a different hop variety. The first entry into the ongoing line of hop-bombs used the popular Citra hop, and Citra Showers was soon followed by other hop varieties, both popular (Amarillo Showers, Nelson Showers) and more esoteric (like the Raku Showers and Waimea Showers, each featuring hops from New Zealand). 

While the beer’s recipes are largely the same, they illustrate just how much the flavors and aromas of different hops affect the final beers. El Dorado Showers was bright and bursting with lemony sparkle, while Simcoe Showers was earthy and dank, and Chinook Showers was like chewing on a pine bough (in a good way). Once again Noble had beer geeks buzzing about the new releases, and the Showers Series was one of the most talked about and asked for IPAs in 2014. 

But more than just fun variants on a theme, the Showers Series was about experimentation and about Noble’s brewers learning how to best exploit the unique characteristics of each hop variety.

At the recent Los Angeles IPA Festival, Price discussed how he learned that some hops responded to different infusion methods and contact times and that his team is now better at creating the specific flavor profiles that they envision. The proof in this case is in the pint, and Noble’s I Love It! IPA won top honors at the IPA Festival, thanks to Price’s commitment to experimentation. Mosaic Showers, the newest entry in the Showers Series, and is now available in bottles and on draught. 

Selah — Monkish Brewing Co.

One beer style that continues to gain popularity and cross-over into the mainstream of craft drinkers is the saison, or farmhouse ale. This loosely defined style originated along the border of France and Belgium, where it was historically brewed as a restorative for farmhands toiling in the fields.

Saisons are usually light in body and dry, with complex yeast-derived flavors, and they can be dry-hopped or feature rye, wheat or other non-barley grains. The best examples are drinkable and refreshing, and Belgian-styled Monkish Brewery in Torrance has produced a litany of unique saisons. The best of which was this year’s Selah.  

Owner and Brewmaster Henry Nguyen started with a simple saison recipe and amped up the flavor by judiciously dry-hopping Selah with the popular Mosaic hop variety. The American-grown variety has a mercurial profile that can lend tropical fruit, melon, and intense blueberry flavors to a brew, and Mosaic hops are the driving flavor in Beachwood Brewing’s Amalgamator, New Belgium's popular Winter seasonal Accumulation, and the home-run local IPA Mayberry from El Segundo Brewing Co.

The master stroke that really sets Selah apart is the refermentation in the bottle, with the wild yeast brettanomyces. Brett, as it's colloquially known, can consume sugars that typical brewer’s yeast won’t touch, further drying out a brew and lending it additional layers of earthy and fruity flavor. 

Brettanomyces is a notoriously difficult microorganism to work with, and its fickle nature can make the end results difficult to predict. With Selah, the brett inoculation results in a powerful pineapple aroma that melds into the tropical hoppiness provided by the Mosaic.

There’s also a bit of that underlying funk that brett is known for — a tinge of sweat or “horse blanket” (also meant in a good way) that deepens the flavor of the brew without ever being overwhelming or distracting. In Selah, all the elements merge into one of the most delightful, memorable, and delicious beers of the year. 

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