The L.A. IPA Fest returns March 12 at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. Now in its third year, more than 60 brewed-in-California IPAs are expected to vie for top honors.
Organized by Tony Yanow, former owner of Golden Road Brewing and an IPA fanatic, L.A. IPA Fest has grown into a prestigious event that fills the Echo Park restaurant with brewers from across the Southland and scads of thirsty hop-heads.
First held in winter 2013, the event showcases both the spirit of collaboration among craft brewers and the intense competitive streak that many brewers harbor. The brewers — celebrities within the craft beer community — are the judges at the event, and the lineup is a who's-who of IPA brewers, including local stars such as Bob Kunz (Highland Park Brewery), Julian Shrago (Beachwood Brewing) and Alex Nowell (Three Weavers Brewing), alongside industry luminaries Matthew Brynildson (Firestone Walker), Rodger Davis (Faction Brewing) and Jeff Bagby (Bagby Brewing Co). Also returning to judge is the twice-crowned reigning champion of the competition: Evan Price (Noble Ale Works), who took top honors in 2013 with Tongue Tickles and repeated his win in 2014 with I Love It! IPA.
"I don't just invite any brewers to judge," said Yanow. "I invite the brewers who I think are the best IPA brewers available. These are the brewers that have proved that they can brew great IPAs and the brewers who have helped create a demand for [the IPA style]."
The technical — and sometimes contentious — judging occurs over several rounds and takes all day. The brewers mingle and talk shop in between judging rounds, making IPA Fest an excellent opportunity to meet and chat with the people behind your favorite brews.
Guests can order half-pints of any of the 60-plus brews in the competition, and Yanow suggests that intrepid tasters should order two glasses at a time: one beer that they know and one that they aren't as familiar with. Comparing the two beers and discussing the differences can be a great way to improve your palate, Yanow says.
"One of the fun things about craft beer is arguing about which IPA is better than the other. It's a conversation that happens at my bars every day that we're open, and IPA Fest is a chance for drinkers to settle these arguments on their own."
Mohawk Bend will open at 9:30 a.m. for IPA Fest. Guests can cast a vote for the People's Choice award, as well as sample flights of the contenders after the event on March 13.
Asked what beers he's most looking forward to, Yanow mentions the special IPA brewed by Monkish Brewing just for the competition; the top-secret entry from Noble Ale Works (who have won twice before); the rare Los Angeles appearance from San Diego's Automatic Brewing and founder Lee Chase (who is joining the panel of judges); and the entry from Devon Randall, head brewer at L.A.'s newest IPA powerhouse: Arts District Brewery. But his money is on Highland Park Brewing's Bob Kunz.
"I just have a feeling about this guy," he says. "He was in the top five last year, and I bet on the guys that have been there before and know what they're doing."
2141 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 483-2337, www.mohawk.la.