Angel City Brewing's head brewer, Dieter Foerstner, doesn't need a history lesson on the once-great legacy of beer-making in Los Angeles. During World War I, his great-grandfather brewed for the Los Angeles Brewing Co., which was formed in 1897 and was once the nation's fifth-largest producer.
"I was looking for my pop's old recipes, but my great uncle said they never wrote them down," Foerstner said.
No matter, as Angel City Brewing under Foerstner is itself undergoing a fresh start. Founded about 15 years ago by Michael Bowe in Culver City, Angel City was acquired earlier this year by Alchemy & Science. If that name isn't instantly familiar, Alchemy & Science's parent company, Boston Beer Co., and its Sam Adams are some of the industry's household names. After lying low the first half of 2012, Angel City is ready to reintroduce itself to Los Angeles.
Angel City's timing finally seems right. Breweries and beer bars have infiltrated all reaches of Los Angeles in the past two years, with Eagle Rock Brewing and Golden Road Brewing fueling a rebirth that now stretches from downtown to Strand Brewing in Torrance and beyond.
Others have noticed and are making incursions into L.A. Beside the proprietors of Sam Adams, San Diego County's Stone Brewing is expanding into the area as well, with plans to open a Pasadena tasting room in the coming weeks.
"Beer used to be huge in L.A.," said Alan Newman, one of the principals in Alchemy & Science and the founder of Magic Hat Brewing in Vermont. "This city had great breweries back in the early 1900s, but over the years the regionals bought out the breweries with character and then the national breweries consolidated those. Then there was nothing here. But it's here now, and it's spreading."
Newman and Foerstner will attempt to realize Bowe's original vision of having a craft brewery in downtown L.A. Bowe moved Angel City to its current home, the three-story 1913 John A. Roeblings building on the corner of Alameda Street and Traction Avenue, last year, but Bowe struggled to establish Angel City as L.A.'s go-to craft beer.
Post-sale, terms of which were not disclosed, Bowe said he bought a 42-foot sailboat and plans to spend much of 2012 at sea. There are currently no plans to resurrect any of Bowe's beers, as Angel City is testing a wheat beer, two IPAs and a German-styled Altbier in the market. The hope is to have a downtown tasting room open this fall, provided there are no major holdups in permitting or construction.
"We were created with one objective," said Newman. "How can we do things that Sam Adams can't do that can help grow the craft beer category? Sam Adams is this large, well-functioning, well-run company. They need to stay focused on their business. Yet there are opportunities outside of the Sam Adams world."
Angel City beer has cropped up at numerous downtown locations, including Public School 612 and Xlixe, and has also been spotted at Franklin and Co. in Hollywood. Additionally, Angel City for the past month has been hosting tasting nights at numerous beer-focused establishments, with an emphasis on downtown locales.
Beers are still a work-in-progress in the early going, and Foerstner, who was previously the head brewer at Gordon Biersch's Tempe, Ariz., outpost, is eager to experiment. One concoction he's been working on is a beer brewed with avocados, although Newman, while encouraging the brew, is skeptical it will be drinkable.
"This is a business and not a hobby," Newman said. "What separates a business from a hobby is that you have customers, and to have customers you make what the customers want.
"At Magic Hat, our most popular beer was No. 9. I can say this with total certainty: There is not a person who worked at the brewery who would have chosen No. 9 as their favorite beer. I can go a step further: Eighty percent of the people wouldn't even drink it, and they could have it for free. Yet customers loved it and it eventually became our flagship," he explained.
The lesson isn't to avoid experimentation, but to pick your battles. "That beer," said Newman, "gave us the ability to do everything we want to do."