Craft breweries from across the country are now targeting the Southland with expanded distribution, and there is a flood of new-to-L.A. brews hitting taps and bottle shops before the summer beer-drinking season is in full swing.
Here’s a look at three regional breweries that have opened the Southern California market, and which of their offerings you should seek out.
21st Amendment Brewery — This Bay Area favorite has a selection of easy-drinking cans that are now easy to find in L.A., including cult-favorite summer seasonal Hell or High Watermelon. This American wheat beer sees a secondary fermentation with real watermelon, and the result is as polarizing as wheat beer gets. It is a brew that isn’t subtle about the melon flavor, and you either love the refreshing and oddly pithy flavor of the unique ale or you think it’s an abomination. There’s only one way to find out.
The brewery’s three year-round brews are Down to Earth, Live Free or Die and Back In Black — a session IPA, American IPA and black IPA, respectively. Back In Black is the most notable of the bunch; it balances a roasty and rich malt character with pine-and-citrus hop flavors without being heavy or overly bitter.
Stone Distribution is handling 21st Amendment’s brews in Los Angeles so they should be available any place with a decent craft selection.
Boulevard Brewing Co. — While a selection of this Kansas City brewery’s wares have been available in L.A. for a couple of years now, Boulevard is redoubling its distribution efforts into California with a new line of canned brews (and a bigger allocation of specialty releases).
Heavy Lifting IPA, Pop Up Session IPA, Unfiltered Wheat and Lemon Ginger Radler are getting the big push, and the latter brew is a summer seasonal that is particularly well-suited to the months ahead. Radlers often get a bad rap from beer purists, but it is hard to dispute the refreshing qualities of the mix of lager and lemonade. This Boulevard version uses the zing of ginger for an extra kick, and at just 4% alcohol, it’s ideal for a long summer’s afternoon.
In addition to the two canned IPA offerings (which are good if not particularly notable — especially in a market so saturated with hoppy brews), there’s a new double IPA in Boulevard's specialty “Smokestack” series. The Calling IPA is built around a melange of fashionable hops like Mosaic, Equinox and Galaxy that provides huge tropical fruit aromas and an unmistakable “dankness.” The big, bitter IPA is available in a four-pack of 12-ounce bottles, and on draft, and it’s among the best brews coming out of K.C. (along with Boulevard’s well-loved Tank 7 saison).
Left Hand Brewing Co. — Hailing from Longmont, Colo., this large regional brewery is finally coming to Southern California, and beer geeks are really excited about it. Left Hand is rolling out the whole lineup of its brews at events and tap-takeovers all week long, and the star of these shows is undoubtedly the brewery’s lauded Milk Stout.
The beer is a perennial medalist at the Great American Beer Festival and considered by many to be the apex of the sweet stout style. Available on draft and in bottles in both a regular carbonated version and the more popular Milk Stout Nitro version, which uses nitrogen gas to create a luscious and creamy texture and that eye-catching cascade of tiny bubbles that Guinness lovers prize. Left Hand is one of the only craft breweries to bottle nitrogenated beers, and these brews are best when poured vigorously into the glass (check out the instructional video for an enticing example).
Left Hand has a deep catalog of year-round and specialty releases, including a new Session IPA, other nitrogenated brews like an ESB and a crisp German-style pilsner. Polestar Pilsner is one of those rare brews that is approachable and unassuming enough for palates just transitioning to flavorful craft brews but with enough depth to satisfy more demanding beer lovers. The lager has a bready malt character with just enough bitterness and a delicate and zippy hop bite.