What to drink With This Food? The House Brew

TIMES WINE WRITER

When you see the three huge kettles in the brew house, you'll wonder why people are calling the Los Angeles Brewing Company a "microbrewery."

Micro it certainly isn't. Not when the plan is to brew some 12,000 barrels of beer a year. The usual definition of microbrewery is one that makes just enough beer to go with sausages and pizza sold in an adjoining pub.

But when the pizza is a work of Puck, interest in the L.A. Brewing Co. is expected to warrant production on the mini-brewery, if not maxi-brewery, scale. In fact, the scale of the production dictated the style of the product being made: lager instead of ale.

"The size of the market here is so large that we felt we had to go with a lager," said Jerry Goldstein, a partner in the project. "Most microbreweries go for top-fermented products--ales--because they have more flavor and they are loved by beer connoisseurs.

"But we have a potentially large consumer base and we wanted to make a more traditional lager. So it'll be more golden (in color). The taste will be Bavarian style, lighter and more delicate."

Mark Scott, the UC Davis-trained brew master, seems satisfied with this choice, but prod him just a bit and you see his eyes sparkle when you mention a richer-flavored beer or ale. It's clear he likes the challenge of something more intense.

Eureka is a top-quality lager, with a faintly roasted character and a creamy taste. It lacks the bitterness of ale, and if anything, Scott says he wanted to make the beer a little more bitter than it is. He feels the traditional bitterness helps lager go better with food. But he's content with his first efforts, calling it rich and complex (which it is), and an elegant initial offering.

Scott began making beer and wine early, soon after he left high school. He took a number of science courses in the various schools he attended before finally settling into the fermentation science program at UC Davis.

Meanwhile, unknown to him, an investor group was seeking to start a small brewery in Los Angeles, under the aegis of Andrew Hoffman. One fact intrigued the investors: California sells 21% of all the imported beer sold in the United States.

Hoffman reasoned a top-quality small brewery could produce a beer better than the commercial ones. Factor in the food of Wolfgang Puck and the formula is complete.

Starting a brewery, however, is no easy matter, and Goldstein finally discovered that the best way was not to buy kettles and spigots and hoses and stainless tubes. The best way was to go to Steinecker, a German company that sells ready-to-go breweries of any size from 25,000 barrels up. "You get everything," said Goldstein, "lock, stock and barrel."

One reason Goldstein wanted this system is the quality of the bottling equipment. As a former partner in Acacia Winery, Goldstein said he was aware that even the best product can be spoiled by poor handling at the filler. An imprecisely seated cap can ruin beer the way a bad cork can ruin wine.

"We wanted this equipment because it will protect the beer," he said. Instead of shelf-life, he spoke of "goodness-life," and though Eureka is committed to replacing any old retailers' stock of the beer, Goldstein said he expects the bottling equipment he acquired should extend the goodness-life of the beer until it is all consumed.

Scott's first batch of beer was made April 22. It is light golden in color with a fresh, yeasty, mildly roasted-hoppy aroma and a crisp yet creamy texture. It will be available at the restaurant on tap as well as in the bottle, and bottles will be made available to area retail stores.

Asked how many barrels he would make, Goldstein said, "We're aiming to make 1,000 a month, but I don't know how many we'll actually make. That depends on sales. I'll sell one case and then I'll sell another."

The beer Los Angeles Brewing Company will put out under the name Eureka is in the lager style. This means it is bottom-fermented--that is, fermented with yeasts that live at the bottom of the tank rather than on the surface of the liquid; and lagered--aged to eliminate sediment and give the brew character.

Mark Scott will take visitors on a tour of the multi-step process here. It starts with the barley malt sitting in a small silo outside. Grain is drawn into a small room where it is crushed in a mill, then transferred to a large vessel called the mash tun.

There the malt is mixed with water and heated to convert the starch to sugar. The amount of sugar extracted during this mashing process determines the amount of fermentable substances the resulting liquid--called wort--will have.

Then the mash is pumped into a second vessel, the lauter tun, in which the liquid settles away from the mash through a grate. The mash is removed and when dry may be used for production of animal feeds. LABC gives its dry mash to a company that produces pet food. (Eventually, if quantities are sufficiently large, the pet food company will pay for the mash.)

After the liquid--the wort--is drawn off, it is transferred to a wort kettle, where a variety of selected hops from Oregon, Washington and Idaho are added. The mixture is boiled for about 90 minutes to absorb flavor.

Hot wort is drawn off the hops and pumped to the rear of the facility into a fermenting tank. The liquid is cooled to about 40 degrees and yeast added to convert the sugars into alcohol, about 3 1/2% by volume.

During this process carbonation is slowly generated in the fermenting liquid as it turns from a sweet, cereal-like beverage into dry, bubbly beer. The primary fermentation takes more than a week.

Lagering requires that the beer sit in the tank for up to five weeks to gain richness and depth. The result is then filtered and chilled.

Unlike wine, beer is best consumed soon after it is made. One benefit of mini-breweries is that their beer may be consumed at its freshest.

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