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The three most important Southern California craft beers of 2013

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2013 was the best year for craft beer that Los Angeles has yet seen, and there were more brewery openings, more new beers, and more excitement among beer drinkers than ever before. Everyone has their favorite new brewed-in-L.A. beer, but these are three of the most important beers to be released in Los Angeles in 2013. Groundbreaking, hype-making, and prescient, you’re going to be hearing a lot more about these brews, and the people behind them, in 2014.

Golden Road Brewing's Heal the Bay IPA

After the original brewmaster parted ways with the Atwater Village brewery, Golden Road brought on Jesse Houck from Drakes Brewing to take charge of the brewhouse. Houck retooled the brewery’s flagship beers before creating his first new IPA in late spring. Heal the Bay IPA was a collaboration with the eponymous nonprofit to which money was donated for each four-pack sold. It’s a nice story, and great PR for the brewery, but it’s what was in the can that made the beer important. 

Heal the Bay made waves because it was a light and drinkable IPA loaded with fruity, tropical hop flavors, and the brew helped win Golden Road many new fans (and win back fans lost during the brewery’s choppy first year). The rare beer that can appeal equally to beer geeks and causal craft fans, Heal the Bay IPA demonstrated that Golden Road was committed to making beer that L.A.’s craft fans want to drink while also making beer that will convert countless beer drinkers into craft beer lovers.

Heal the Bay will make its return this spring/summer.

Noble Ale Works' Naughty Sauce

Another brewery that had a rocky start but found its stride after bringing on a new brewmaster, Noble Ale Works created what was the most talked-about beer of 2013 -- Naughty Sauce. Driven by word-of-mouth and social media, Naughty Sauce became a beer that could bring beer fans into bars just for a glass of the style-defying brew.

A “golden milk stout with coffee,” the Sauce is more than just a novelty. Light in color, sweet-and-roasty, and with a creamy mouthfeel from the nitrogen tap, it’s worthy of the hype. The brewery has increased production of the brew, but it is still a happening that packs beer fans into bars when kegs get tapped.

Naughty Sauce put the Anaheim brewery on many people's radar, but it was just the start for Noble Ale Works in 2013. The brewers also turned out a handful of new IPAs that garnered awards and hype of their own, and brewmaster Evan Price shows no signs of slowing down -- his newest double IPA, Citra Showers, is hitting shelves this month.

Smog City Brewing's GrapeApe IPA

Perhaps the most heralded L.A. brewery opening in 2013, Smog City is doing everything right at their new production facility and taproom in Torrance. From their lineup of superlative production beers like Groundwork Coffee Porter and Amarilla Gorilla to an ambitious experimental and specialty beer program, Smog City keeps crafting new recipes, perfecting old ones, and devising creative experiments. One experimental brew that encapsulates what the brewery is about is GrapeApe IPA.

Actually a series of experimental beers, GrapeApe is a wine-beer hybrid that aims to blend the pungent, fruity flavors of hops with wine grapes that add even more fruitiness. The brewery has made a few different versions of the beer with different grape varietals added at different times during the brewing process, and they’re documenting the process on their website. You can try each successive version of GrapeApe at the brewery’s tap room, where the brewers are always within earshot to listen to what you think of their creation.

Smog City Brewing’s GrapeApe is a groundbreaking crossover brew that can appeal to both L.A.’s hopheads and wine-loving craft-curious drinkers, and it showcases the brewers’ creativity and dedication to creating one of L.A.’s marquee craft brands on their own terms. The brand should see bottled releases in 2014.

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