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Night: Beer crawl sponsors’ goal is to boost recognition of all things sudsy

Los Angeles may be late to the artisanal or “craft” beer party already raging in brew-pub meccas such as Portland, Ore., and San Diego, but now that the tap is flowing, the appreciation of beer has moved beyond Dodger Stadium and college keggers to take a place alongside fine wines and vintage cocktails at L.A.'s top white-tablecloth restaurants and upscale bars.

Local brewers and bar owners have been rising to meet a public awakening to the differences between a hoppy IPA and a Belgian-style ale, and so was born the newest festival-cum-outreach effort, this weekend’s Los Angeles Craft Beer Crawl.

“The craft beer world has finally caught on in Los Angeles,” said Christina Perozzi, who with Hallie Beaune is a co-curator of the crawl. The increasingly prominent local duo, better known as the Beer Chicks, also authored the beer guidebook “The Naked Pint.”

The beer crawl flows through downtown L.A. from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. The inaugural event will offer more than 50 craft or microbrewed beers — independent, domestic offerings pouring in from Southland brewers such as Craftsman and the Bruery as well as national favorites such as New Belgium and Dogfish Head.

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Cedd Moses’ 213 Ventures has partnered with the Chicks for the event, which will take place in seven of his downtown bars: Seven Grand, Cana, Las Perlas, Golden Gopher, Casey’s Irish Pub, Broadway Bar and Cole’s. One ticket (available online at LACraftBeerCrawl.com) will get crawlers a 6 ounce tasting cup and full venue access, turning an ordinary session of historic downtown bar-hopping into an afternoon of taste-testing and discussion. The Beer Chicks and brewers from a number of the participating breweries will be on hand to advise attendees, and Beaune expects to field some tough questions.

“The more I talk to people about beer, they’re coming back with more knowledge,” she said. “In the past, they’d say, ‘I want a dark beer or a light beer.’ Or, ‘I want a lager,’ but they didn’t know what they were talking about. Now it’s people saying, ‘I like a Belgian-style that’s dry on the end.’ The education is getting out there.”

For beer novices and experts alike, the genre’s not short on study material. The world of craft brewing has what Perozzi called “a beer out there for everyone,” with flavors ranging “from citrus to spicy to chocolate-y, to fruity — there are so many.”

It’s a far cry from the familiar golden pilsner-style lagers whose advertisements rule the airwaves and whose products fill supermarket shelves. The beer industry’s distribution system has often made tracking down smaller brewers’ offerings difficult, but the movement is gaining ground: In the first half of 2010, domestic craft sales were up 9% by volume, according to trade group the Brewers Assn., while overall industry numbers dropped 2.7%. Part of that may be craft beer’s newfound recognition at the dinner table, where imbibers are finding its premium ingredients an able match for gourmet food.

“I was just involved with a craft beer five-course dinner. It’s not just a Sunday afternoon drink,” said Benjamin Weiss, sales and marketing manager at Orange County’s the Bruery, one of this weekend’s participating brewers. “Obviously, the big guys have the marketing money, and that’s what sells anything, but once you get past that, you realize there are better things out there.”

So, is beer the new wine? In some ways, perhaps, but there is one crucial difference: the price.

“You have people that were spending hundreds of dollars for a bottle of wine, but they can have one of the best bottles of beer for $12,” Beaune said. “You can have that wonderful experience without dropping a chunk of change.”

At $49 a ticket, this weekend’s Craft Beer Crawl is not too hard on the wallet, and Moses says sales are proceeding well for the inaugural event.

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“We’re already up towards 700 [tickets] right now, so it’s already successful for us,” he said earlier in the week, adding that he expects the crawl to become an annual occurrence.

Such big-tent beer festivals aren’t new to L.A. — the L.A. Beer Festival, for one, was held in April at Sony Studios in Culver City — but Moses thinks spreading people among bars rather than at industrial spaces or fairgrounds will help keep the focus on the drinks and the customers calm.

“When people are more contained in one area, people tend to get much more rowdy,” he said. “I think people also have a chance to walk between the bars and walk off their buzz a little bit.”

While the idea of a few hundred beer-hounds wandering around downtown might be cause for distress, several local business owners seemed unconcerned about the traffic.

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“Downtown has been fairly pedestrian-friendly, and even when there’s not a bar crawl, people are bar-hopping,” said Nipith Ongwiseth, an owner of the Blu LA Café, which is a neighbor to crawl locations Cole’s and Las Perlas. He added that he’s expecting more walk-ins to his restaurant.

Making time for a meal won’t just help take the edge off. On hand will be a selection of food trucks chosen by LA Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold, a critical element in helping to prove that craft beer, if not ready for the wine cellar, is overdue for its close-up.

“People who are only used to having wine with dinner or are into cocktails, we love that too, but we also would put craft beer up against anything,” Beaune said. “No matter what the restaurant, what the level of cuisine, we feel the quality is there.”

david.greenwald@latimes.com

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Los Angeles Craft Beer Crawl

Where: Starts at Casey’s Irish Pub, 613 S. Grand Ave., L.A.; continues at downtown bars Cole’s, Las Perlas, Seven Grand, Cana, Golden Gopher, Broadway Bar

When: 3-8 p.m. Saturday

Price: $49, VIP tickets $80

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Info: (213) 817-5321; https://www.lacraftbeercrawl.com


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