"Give me a Blue Moon," he told the bartender, referring to the citrus-tinged wheat beer from the Coors Brewing Co.
When he was politely informed that the 3rd Stop didn't carry Blue Moon, he stared blankly at the 30 or so tap handles before him. Staring back was an assortment of beers that will likely never be advertised during an NFL game: Craftsman, Allagash, Green Flash, Pizza Port and Stone Brewing, among others.
The bartender suggested a Craftsman 1903, a beer that pours honey gold with a fluffy, inch-thick white head. A bit of corn, and maybe some nuttiness, comes through in the light, slightly creamy beer. The young man accepted the bartender's suggestion, and before he even set the glass down, he declared, "I'll take two more."
What this patron likely didn't realize is that Craftsman 1903 is brewed here in Los Angeles County -- its kegs often hand-delivered by the company's 46-year-old founder, Mark Jilg. Craftsman is at the forefront of a long-overdue microbrewing renaissance in Los Angeles, where beer appreciation has long played second-class citizen to the region's wine culture. More bars and restaurants than ever are forgoing industrialized suds in favor of artisanal -- read: richer, less fizzy -- beer.
Craftsman, a 13-year-old microbrewery situated in a business park in Pasadena, has doubled its output in the last year alone -- all from its nondescript headquarters in a mini-maze of one-story edifices. There, marked by a beer keg and a 1946 Studebaker truck, operates the three-employee company that hopes to capitalize on a newfound beer awareness in Los Angeles, a city long stereotyped as a beer wasteland overrun by the "big three" -- Anheuser-Busch, the Coors Brewing Co. and the Miller Brewing Co. Angelenos pride themselves on being ahead of the curve, yet the microbrew explosion of the last 15 to 20 years was a trend that seemingly passed by L.A.
"There was a big pop in the '80s with microbrewers," says Sang Yoon, who presides over Santa's Monica's Father's Office. "Then there was a lot of consolidation, and a lot of people failed, and there wasn't enough product in L.A. for people to build a business around. The trend came and left L.A. before it became a restaurant or bar trend here, even as places in the Pacific Northwest were doing fine. It didn't stick here."
As to why, no one has a definitive answer, but everyone has a theory.
"It just seems like L.A. is a big city full of longtime tourists," says Chris Patterson, who runs downtown's Spring Street Smoke House, a barbecue joint currently showcasing the work of Torrance-based Angel City Brewery. "Like any tourist, you stick with what you know."
Or perhaps this trend-obsessed city simply bought into Madison Avenue's image of beer. Better to stick with wine -- a beverage marketed for the discerning palate.
"Someone needs to do a sophisticated beer movie, like a 'Sideways' for beer," says Christian Frizzell, who co-owns downtown's Redwood Bar and Grill, which stocks Craftsman. "Then L.A. will get beer."
L.A. always had a sprinkling of designated beer emporiums, such as Father's Office or Pasadena's Lucky Baldwin's, but it's becoming increasingly common for bars and restaurants to embrace the work of Craftsman and other top California microbreweries. Newcomers such as the York in Highland Park or Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, as well as celebrated eateries like the Hungry Cat in Hollywood, trade as much in hipster cool as they do distinct flavors. But perhaps the surest sign that Craftsman has arrived -- and indeed, craft beer in L.A. -- is the fact that Jilg's beers are now on tap at SoCal offerings from the Hillstone Restaurant Group, including Houston's and Gulf Stream.
"Right now, in the L.A. scene, there are a bunch of places that are starting to address the whole spectrum of what beer is," Jilg says. "It really is the tipping point, where decision makers -- restaurant owners and bar managers -- are realizing that beer is more than the big three."
And craft beer is growing around the country. Denver-based nonprofit the Brewers Assn. reports that sales of craft beer were up 12% in 2006. The trade group has craft beer representing about a 3.5% share of the overall beer market, up from 3.2% at the end of 2006.
Those numbers jibe with trends the larger American brewers are seeing. Anheuser-Busch's vice president of import, craft and specialty beers Andy Goeler says craft beer might even have a slightly higher percentage of the overall U.S. beer market, putting the number above 4%. "We're starting to see the urban areas, and L.A. being one of the big ones, where the craft brands are really taking hold," Goeler says.
Most urban areas are already associated with a brewery. San Francisco is home to Anchor Steam, San Diego boasts the presence of Stone Brewing, Chicago is linked with Goose Island and New Yorkers raise a pint from Brooklyn Brewery.
"Los Angeles has the Father's Office," says Greg Koch, chief executive of Escondido-based Stone Brewing.