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The year in beer: A look back at the big craft-beer boom in L.A.

The year in beer: A look back at the big craft-beer boom in L.A.
One of the biggest stories of the year was AB InBev's acquistion of Golden Road Brewing. (Julie Verive / For The Times)

With a surge of new breweries and retailers opening, 2015 was a watershed year for craft beer in Los Angeles. There is more excitement and awareness of craft beer in the Southland than ever, and the next year should hold much more of the same. Here's a look back at the year in beer.

Openings 

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Nearly a dozen new breweries have launched across L.A. County. Local-focused neighborhood spots such as San Fernando Brewing Co. and Brewyard Beer opened in the San Fernando Valley. And the Downtown Arts District has continued to develop as one of L.A.'s brewing hubs with five new operations making a diverse range of styles: The airy, modern tasting room of Mumford Brewing opened in June; Boomtown is brewing beer that's available at local bars (the brewery is waiting on final governmental approvals for its tasting room); the ambitious brewpub Arts District Brewing soft-opened at the beginning of December; and just across the L.A. River, Indie Brewing Co. and Dry River Brewing have fired up their brewhouses.

The established L.A. brands have continued to grow and develop. Strand Brewing Co, one of the city's craft-beer-scene originals, moved to a new spacious facility and has plans to begin canning and widening its distribution. Renowned brewpub Beachwood Brewing's spinoff Blendery location (just around the corner from the Promenade restaurant and brewery) has started releasing a trickle of one-off bottled beers, and a new tasting room will soon open its doors for regular operating hours.

Beer-geek darling Smog City Brewing cemented itself as one of the most versatile craft breweries in town with a parade of special releases, including fan-favorite Cuttlebug, and collaborations with local nonprofits and Bay Area breweries (Kumquat Saison and the wine-grape-fueled California Love, respectively). It's embracing steady growth, has announced a new satellite tasting room in Long Beach (set to open in February) and is releasing bottles of its first barrel-aged sour beer this month.

Collaborations

Collaboration beers have always been an important part of craft beer culture, and L.A.'s breweries redoubled their collaborative efforts in 2015. Monkish Brewing in Torrance brewed with Michigan's sour beer pioneers Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales and local favorite Highland Park Brewing. El Segundo Brewing Co. created an unexpected blend with Oregon's Cascade Brewing and tapped former professional wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin for a new IPA that highlights the brewery's skill with hops and with branding. Inglewood's Three Weavers Brewing collaborated with Arts District Brewing (on a pair of rye-tinged IPAs, Return of Sassy and Even Sassier), Anaheim's Noble Ale Works (on the citrus-infused The Messenger IPA) and even local record label Prosthetic Records (on the imperial red ale Blood Junkie).

Big mergers

All this activity and growth in the L.A. did not go unnoticed by the beer industry at large. In June, craft beer giants Lagunitas announced plans to build a sprawling destination brewery in Azusa, complete with a tasting room and events space. A few weeks later, the brewery announced that it would sell half of the company to Heineken, and that was just the beginning of a series of mergers and acquisitions that shook the beer world.

Besides Lagunitas selling a stake and Miller buying San Diego’s Saint Archer Brewing, AB InBev bought L.A.’s largest craft brewery, Golden Road Brewery, in September. Then AB InBev announced a deal to merge with the second-largest beer company in the world, (SABMiller) to create a gigantic, baffling and complex corporate identity. Not to be undone, International beverage powerhouse Constellation Brands dropped over $1 billion to acquire San Diego’s large and respected Ballast Point Brewing Co.

What's next?

It's been a wild year, and the industry shows no sign of slowing in Los Angeles. Expect more new breweries to open in L.A. County in 2016, especially in the municipalities surrounding the city center. Expect more regional brands to target Los Angeles for expansion; after the Golden Road announcement, San Diego favorite Modern Times Brewing teased an L.A. tasting room, and Karl Strauss is reportedly opening a brewpub in the downtown Financial District.

All through the expansions, the new brewery openings, the buyouts and the sellouts, the beer in Los Angeles is getting better. The new guys are making solid classic styles and creative takes on the classics. Driven by new competition, the veteran brewers are fine-tuning their brews and pushing to make new fans. The year coming to a close was a coming of age for craft beer in Los Angeles. Sure, there were growing pains and stumbles, but the scene is thriving, and 2016 looks like the most promising year for craft beer fans in L.A. yet.

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