Hop lovers from across Los Angeles descended on Echo Park's Mohawk Bend over the weekend to taste bitter brews from dozens of California breweries during the first L.A. IPA Festival, and the brewing prowess on display over the two days was unprecedented for a city that was, fairly recently even, a craft beer desert.
India pale ales are undoubtedly the most popular style of craft beer, and while their assertive bitterness is what many people think of when they hear "IPA," it's the huge range of flavors that modern craft brewers are coaxing out of the hop flower that draw craft beer connoisseurs to the style. And there was an IPA for every palate on the list of 60-plus brews from across California.
The field was judged by a panel of brewers that read like a who's who of California craft beer. On hand were veteran brewers like Stone Brewing's Mitch Steele and North Coast's Dennis Keller and local luminaries like Eagle Rock Brewing's Jeremy Raub and Noble Ale Works' Evan Price (who took the grand prize with the new potent Tongue Tickled IPA). The organizers even managed to attract the attention of some rarely seen in Los Angeles cult-favorite San Diego breweries, such as Automatic Brewing and Societe (which won the People's Choice award with its light, pungent the Pupil). The Tustin Brewing Co. Old Town IPA and Just Outstanding IPA from Kern River Brewing were awarded second and third place, respectively.
Judging concluded on Saturday afternoon, and the brewers descended from the upstairs VIP area to circulate with the crowd of craft fans. The density of world-class brewing talent in that room was difficult to fully grasp. Everywhere you turned in the increasingly cramped bar area you saw another of California's best brewers.
"This is the greatest collection of brewers under one roof in the history of mankind," proclaimed one of the beer media folks in attendance, with only a hint of hyperbole. It was the kind of event that is usually held in San Diego or Denver or Portland -- the capitals of the craft beer movement. If there was any doubt about Los Angeles' rising stature in the beer world, the L.A. IPA fest dispelled it.
The beer list was overwhelming, the support from the industry was outstanding and -- most important -- the crowd was excited, educated and very thirsty. Few events have been as indicative of L.A's development as a craft beer town as the first L.A. IPA Festival, and it's clear that the popularity of IPA is not just a fad.