Craft beer continued to inundate the Southland in 2014, with two dozen new breweries opening throughout Riverside, Los Angeles and Orange counties. It is getting increasingly tough to keep up with all the openings and all the new brews.
The scene’s established breweries made some amazing special-release beers (Selah, a sublime dry-hopped farmhouse ale from Monkish Brewing in Torrance comes to mind), began bottling and distributing fan favorites (such as Smog City Brewery’s Coffee Porter) and launched new flagship brands (Golden Road’s 329 Days of Sun Lager), but it’s the standout beers from the region’s newest operations that portend the continued elevation of craft beer in Los Angeles.
Here are three year-round releases that anchor the core lineups of some of the most promising new breweries to open in 2014. These beers will satisfy persnickety beer-nerds and the craft-curious alike with their balance, drinkability and compelling flavor.
Deep Roots ESB — Three Weavers Brewery, Inglewood
Just a couple of months old, Three Weavers is already making waves with its core five-beer lineup that includes the buzzed-about Expatriate IPA and the light-yet-flavorful Stateside pale ale. It's rare to see a brewery launch with such a solid group of brews, and the Deep Roots ESB is perhaps the most restrained and refined of the bunch.
ESB means “extra special bitter” and it might be that the “b-word” in the name scares people off. The reality is that this classic British style is a wonderful gateway to the world of flavorful brews -- and it isn’t even all that bitter. It is delicately balanced between flavorful English malts that provide a rich, nutty base and English hops that feature earthy and woody flavors (unlike the more common pine-and-citrus notes of American hop varieties). Deep Roots is complex and layered with flavors, and the dry finish accentuates the balanced bitterness just enough to compel another sip (or another pint). Even the hop-averse can enjoy this modern take on a brilliant classic.
Deep Roots is available on drought around Los Angeles, and the brewery plans to bottle six-packs early next year. 1031 West Manchester Boulevard, Inglewood.
The Little Spree — MacLeod’s Ale Brewing Co., Van Nuys
One exciting trend in L.A.’s craft beer scene in 2014 was the small breweries that opened up to fill a specific niche. When MacLeod’s opened in Van Nuys, it was one of the first production breweries to tackle the San Fernando Valley. However, more exciting is the brewery’s focus on cask-conditioned British-style “real ales.” Not the stereotypical “warm and flat” beers that are the butt of so many jokes, at their best cask-conditioned beers are delicate, luxurious and uniquely flavorful due to the extended period of maturation that occurs inside the same vessel the beer is served from (the cask, or firkin). It’s also much less carbonated and served at the balmy “cellar temperature” of about 54 degrees.
No mere gimmick, the lineup of real ales made at MacLeods are delightfully quaffable (and all served in an honest 20-ounce imperial pint at the brewery's tasting room). Jackie Tar is a roasty brown stout, and The Kings Taxes is sweet and a touch smoky; both are brews that challenge the misconception that dark beers have to be “heavy” and strong. The Little Spree is brewmaster Andy Black’s take on a Yorkshire pale ale, and the beer will transport you directly to Leeds. With an aroma of biscuits (the English kind) and flowers, the golden body showcases the delicate English malts, and the clean and crisp finish lets the hops sparkle on the palate.
Though some MacLeod’s beers make it into better beer bars around L.A., your best bet for a pint is at the Van Nuys tasting room attached to the brewery. 14741 Calvert Street, Van Nuys.
She Shot First — Bottle Logic Brewing, Anaheim
Brewery openings in Orange County have kept pace with Los Angeles, and in addition to the brand-new Barley Forge Brewery in Costa Mesa and Beach City Brewery in Huntington Beach, the center of O.C.’s craft culture in Anaheim also welcomed Bottle Logic Brewing’s impressive brewery and tasting room. With a focus on innovation and a sharp eye for details, Bottle Logic has earned a reputation among the beer-geek set as one of the most exciting new breweries in the Southland. The brewery has an ambitious lineup: From its core Cold Classics series to the experimental Induction Series, it's got about all the flavor bases covered.
Though much of the buzz around the brewery is for its more-daring brews or hop-fueled IPAs, it’s She Shot First, a pale wheat ale, that stands out as one of its most refined. The hazy, frothy brew is bursting with citrus aromas and flavors from a bouquet of Pacific Northwest hops, and the light body gets a tinge of tartness from a generous scoop of wheat malts. She Shot First isn’t complex, it isn’t flashy, but it is far more flavorful than it’s sub-5% alcohol content would imply. It’s tough to get excited about a simple wheat beer, but She Shot First is a pinnacle of the hop-forward West Coast interpretation of these refreshing, drinkable brews.
Look for 22-ounce bottles around town (though not nearly enough make it up to Los Angeles), or visit the precious tasting room in Anaheim (and fill up a couple of the brewery’s clever plastic growlers -- She Shot First tends to disappear quicker than expected). 1072 N. Armando St., Anaheim.