Five questions for Tony Yanow, Los Angeles IPA Festival organizer

Five questions for Tony Yanow, Los Angeles IPA Festival organizer
Tony Yanow, with beer (Jen Serena (Serena Creative Inc.))

Tony Yanow might be the biggest IPA fan in Los Angeles. His love for the hoppy ales is so extreme he nearly turned a local Burbank dive bar into an all-IPA-all-the-time destination, to say nothing of the hop-focused brewery he opened and a second craft beer-centric restaurant with a lengthy list of India Pale Ales anchoring the taps.

But Tony’s Darts Away, Golden Road Brewing and Mohawk Bend still couldn’t slake Yanow’s thirst for beer’s pungent flavoring, and last year he launched the Los Angeles IPA Festival to showcase the best IPAs being brewed in the state -- and to crown a best-in-show as judged by the very brewers behind the festival’s deep lineup of IPAs. 
Back for the second year on Dec. 6-7, the Los Angeles IPA Festival will gather over 20 beer-celeb judges to evaluate 60 hoppy brews, and L.A.’s hop-loving beer fans can post up at Mohawk Bend to work their way through the lineup.


Nov. 20, 11:01 a.m.: An earlier version of this post listed the festival dates as Dec. 6-7. The official event takes place on Dec. 6, but most of the IPAs will still be available, and voting for the people's choice award will remain open, through Dec. 7.

We sat down with Yanow to ask him a few questions about why there's such a hubbub about IPAs.


You clearly love hops and love IPAs. What's so special about that style of beer?  

It's not just me, right? Everyone is going crazy for them. I feel like it's kind of like spicy food where you have that moment in your life -- I remember the day that I had spicy food and I liked it. I remember where I was. I remember what I was eating, and it was like a thing in my mind [changed]. Then you kind of crave it. You eat food and it's not spicy enough, and you want more. I feel like hops have had the effect on me. I just want more and more. I crave hops.

When I started Dart's Away -- and this was four or five years ago -- we were just going to have IPAs and that was it. It was just going to be an IPA bar. Everyone said I was crazy and that not everybody likes IPAs, and I was like, "So what. Enough people do." Paige [Reilly, a longtime employee of Yanow's] talked me off the ledge and said, "Why don't we do half IPAs, and half everything else?" So that's what we've done. We've got 38 taps, and about 16 are always dedicated to IPAs.

Why is the West Coast brewing scene so synonymous with hoppy beers?

It's not just West Coast, it's all over the country. But the West Coast is where it started and you can thank Ken Grossman [founder of Sierra Nevada Brewery] for that. And I do. You want to know why everyone loves hops here? Because Ken Grossman put hops in a beer that everyone fell in love with. I remember drinking pale ale for the first time and thinking, "Wow, this is a mouthful of beer." Now I drink it, and it's still great, but compared to everything that is out there now it is tame. But it is the foundation for all of this.

I credit the really experimental brewers who were not experimenting with crazy ingredients or additives; they were finding ways to showcase the hops that the American hop farmers were growing. Now, you go up to Yakima [in the region in Washington state where the majority of hops are grown] for hop harvest and it’s like Wonderland. Try to imagine what the world would have done with a hop like Mosaic [a new American cultivar prized for its intense fruitiness and tropical aromas] 10 years ago. “What’s this? It tastes like blueberries, that’s not what we want!” Now, hoppy means a different thing [not just bitter]. It’s really a misnomer to call everything that’s hoppy [in flavor] an IPA, but that’s what’s happening. 
Can you describe the IPA of your dreams — the perfect Tony Yanow IPA?

It's very situational .... It's a lot of tropical fruit, very juicy. It has a huge American hop nose that has almost a "dank" or resinous effect on my palate before it even touches my tongue. Then, I want something that's going to be medium-bodied -- but on the lighter side of the medium range. I want it to have a really bright effervescence, but I don't want it to be so effervescent that it burns my tongue. I want a nice lingering bitterness, but I don't want a bitterness that lingers too long. I don't want something that's like a crushed-up aspirin in the back of my throat. I like a really simple malt bill in IPAs. Above all that I want something that's interesting enough that I can sit back and savor and enjoy it, but not so interesting that I can't just drink it and enjoy it without it being distracting.

Beer is so much about balance, but not just sweet versus bitter. It's also mouth feel, carbonation, [alcohol] heat. It's everything.

How should a festival-goer choose what to order from the list of 60 different IPAs?  

Personally, what I want to do is A-B test things. It's amazing how much perception of what you're drinking affects the flavor, the actual experience of drinking it. I think the best way to do it is to ask your buddy to go pick two beers for you, and then just drink them and enjoy them and then find out what they were .... Don't just go to [a beer] that you know or that has a huge reputation. If you just do that you're cheating yourself of the experience. I think one of the coolest thing about this festival is being able to compare your all-time favorites head to head.

Why call the event the Los Angeles IPA Festival and not the Mohawk Bend IPA Festival?

I feel like this has the ability to be much bigger than Mohawk Bend. I would like to explore the possibility of making it more than 60 beers. Right now we only do California beers, but I would like to open up to other states, other places. I think that in 2015 — depending on how this goes this year — we'll consider moving the venue to somewhere we can have a much bigger event.

I know the demand for IPAs is out there, and I feel like since this is small — in a restaurant — there’s only so much you can do with it.