No, Italian craft beer is not a typo — or a punchline. As understandably and justifiably obsessed as we all are with the ongoing L.A. craft beer revolution, there are similar beer renaissances going on around the globe. And Italy, world-renowned for its wine, is one such place.
If you haven’t yet tasted these delicious brews, or even heard of them, join me and Beer Belly’s Jimmy Han this Sunday, July 28, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on the brand-new back patio of Beer Belly at 525 S. Western Ave. in L.A.’s Koreatown, for “Viva la Birra Italiana,” a crash course in Italian craft beer.
Enjoy flights of innovative beers from the country’s ever-growing birra artigianale scene, which grew out of Italy’s Slow Food movement. Featured will be both bottled and kegged brews from such birrificios as Amiata, Baladin, del Borgo, Brûton, Grado Plato, Italiano, Montegioco and Troll.
For more info, visit this link.
Orange County’s The Bruery celebrated a momentous occasion Monday, brewing its 1,000th batch of beer. As they’ve done with prior landmark releases, they hosted a homebrew competition to determine what the celebratory beer would be. The winner? “BRYEIAN.”
The pitch black, fiercely hoppy ale gets its moniker from (and is pronounced like) its eponymous creators’ names—Bryan and Brian—with an added nod to the flaked rye and malted rye that are included in the recipe.
“We had some really great beers advance to the best in show level at the competition, but we kept coming back to this one,” recalls Bruery CEO Patrick Rue. The Bruery, known largely for its Belgian-influenced beers, seems to almost pride themselves on the fact that they don’t have an IPA in their lineup, so the thought that they were going to brew a black IPA initially posed a challenge. “Stylistically, it wasn’t really a fit for us, but we couldn’t stop tasting it,” Rue continues. “It was the best beer there.”
That said, they’re careful not to call it a black IPA. Mentions of the phrase were quickly silenced and corrected to a less popular term for the style—Cascadian dark ale—so as to keep up appearances. (Matt Olesh, The Bruery’s Director of Retail Operations, brilliantly suggested “Placentian dark ale” as a play on their home town of Placentia, but it sadly got shut down because it sounds kind of disgusting.)
Bryan Keas, 38, and Brian Pramov, 31, are both involved with the Rock Hoppers Brew Club in Castle Rock, Colorado (just outside of Denver) and they were randomly paired together for a homebrew competition back in 2011. The resulting
black IPA Cascadian dark ale went on to win, and they enjoyed it so much, they decided to recreate it in 2012, this time bumping up the ABV a touch and adding rye to the malt bill.
Pramov saw The Bruery’s Batch 1000 competition listed on the American Homebrewers Association website and decided to enter the beer, originally called Night Ryder, on a whim. Not long after, he learned of their win in the same way the rest of us now get our breaking news: social media. “I was in Home Depot, getting equipment for a kegerator I was building, and for whatever reason, I checked Facebook, and there was the announcement from The Bruery. I think I scared a few people because I let out a little scream in the middle of the store. Then I called Bryan.”
Brian and Bryan got flown out to sunny SoCal to brew BRYEIAN on The Bruery’s system, making about 200 barrels’ worth, which will see distribution throughout California and Colorado exclusively come August 12. In addition to the aforementioned rye, the beer is accented by Midnight Wheat and Carafa II malts. “We wanted it to be as dark as possible, but we didn’t want to turn it into a hoppy stout,” Keas explains, “so we went with de-husked grains and added them late in the process to lend a little flavor, lots of color, but not much roastiness.”
And no blac… ahem, Cascadian dark ale would be complete without plenty of Humulus lupulus. “We’re both big hopheads, so there’s a boatload of hops in there,” boasts Keas. “We went with Simcoe and Northern Brewer for their spicy quality, which played well of the spiciness of the rye, and topped it off with Centennial and Cascade.”
To those dreaming of the opportunity to have their homebrew scaled up and made at The Bruery, it may be awhile yet. “Batch 2,000? Maybe in a year and a half or so?” guesses Rue. “I’m not sure when, but we will definitely have more [competitions] in the future. We’re all homebrewers here, and this helps us stay connected with the homebrewing community, which is very important to me.”
Having only visited Claremont a couple times, I suddenly find myself wielding a token Pilsner glass, a map of the festival’s downtown area and a dozen tasting tickets. A bizarre feelings sets in quickly as I sip a locally brewed Oak Hills Brewing Conviction Pale Ale outside the local Coldwell Banker / foot massage parlor. There’s no gates. There’s no fences. The only thing corralling the surrounding herd of beer-sipping strangers is a piece of paper that reads ‘no beer past this sign’. Claremontonians follow this simple honor system as well, bouncing off the invisible force-field until their glass is deemed empty.
This is not your average beer festival. Laid out like a beer/food/blues scavenger hunt, most of Claremont’s charming college-town village participates in the annual Claremont Village Blues & Brews Craft Beer Walk in late June. Over thirty establishments open their doors for craft beer samples and bites from local eateries. Around every corner, live music fills the air and sets a relaxing tone. Just as the taste of one beer fades on the palate from one stop, blues cross-fades to the next. Each band and beer pulls us from stop to stop like a magnet.
Almost buying some vintage cowboy boots from Replay Village while sipping an Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s? Yep. Quaffing a Hangar 24 Belgian Summer Ale inside American Apparel? Check. Doing a flight of Pomona’s Sanctum Brewing’s four beers inside a great comic book store called ‘A Shop Called Quest’? Totally. (Best smelling shop ever by the way with huge notes of ink and pulp. It’s euphoric.) Simple food samples being served at most tasting spots are a delight. Bacon-wrapped dates at the Last Drop Cafe were great next to Craftsman Brewing Co.’s ruby-red Cabarnale.
At Maple Boutique, a store I wouldn’t be caught dead in if it weren’t for the beer, I pinch myself. A summery blonde, sporting a warm smile, hands me a beer of the same ilk from Oceanside Ale Works. A few feet away, a vintage 1981 Atari Centipedes cabinet calls my name. With one hand on the fire button and one hand clutching the seasonal beverage, I easily clear three levels without moving. Who knew this was such a great strategy? The eclectic shop is filled with vintage iPhone docks, artistically modified vintage plates (one with R2D2), and one of the biggest gold pimp cash registers this side of the Mississippi.
As we zig-zag through the village, each tasting area is unique, friendly, and not part of a huge chain. The small-town vibe is held up firmly by the Claremont colleges and keeps this area pristine and totally interesting.
Several sites offer non-alcoholic treats, making this one of the best festivals ever for designated drivers. If you simply wanted to enjoy good blues, the event is basically free.
The beauty of this festival is best summed up by my last stop at Aromatique Skin Care: One part Wiens Brewing Descend Black IPA, one part dimly-lit massage room, plus one part complimentary hand/foot massage. I nearly climaxed with pure joy! Seriously. A free massage at a beer fest. Who knew.
Gripe: No beer festival is perfect, however this one had some issues with beer service that can easily be corrected. Some of the stops had varying degrees of success drawing proper samples. Some tastes were over-carbed, some under, and one I had was completely flat. Adding standard jockey boxes at each location would easily fix this issue. I haven’t seen a hand-pump party tap since college…those belong nowhere near a beer festival.
Overall, Claremont Village is a perfect backdrop for a beer and blues festival. It’s refreshing to see a fest do something completely different. Trusting the sell-out crowd with beer and all-you-can-eat food samples is quite a task. I guess if you treat people like cattle at a beer fest, they’ll act like it. Everyone was mellow and enjoying the day.
If you can’t wait for the next fest, I highly suggest grabbing some friends and taking the train for a proper beer crawl through Claremont Village: Start off at The Back Abbey for some Belgian Beer goodness and crawl to A Shop Called Quest for some comic books, hit the Cheese Cave for a nibble, then visit Eureka! Burger for American craft beer. Shop at some unique shops inside the historic Packing House for some retro goodies and bottle shop. Also in the Packing House, the Beer Belly Deli has one of the cleanest turn of the century bars ever and is set to open soon. End your day with some spa action at Aromatique Skin Care for a relaxing massage and sleep the train ride home. Sounds relaxing, no?
Claremont also hosts a wine version of this fest in September and sells out ever year. Visit claremontwinewalk.com for more info.
View the Facebook photo album here.
Greg Nagel has been a beer fan for over twenty years and recently attended Sierra Nevada Beer Camp (#94 – Sleight of Hand). Follow him on his gonzo beer trail at OCBeerBlog.com and on twitter at @OCBeerBlog
WC: What’s your role with Los Angeles Beer Week (LABW)?
Griffith: The title that makes sense to me would be “Idea Machine / Taker Carer of Ways to Make LABW Even More Awesome and Known About”. At this point, if I had to cram what I do into a “real” title that makes sense, I guess it would be Director of Marketing. I got involved in LABW three years ago originally just to cover what was happening on my blog (which is sadly now defunct, thanks to a bummer of a story). They didn’t have social media established, so I got that going and offered help wherever I could. The committee was so grateful, they welcomed me back the following year. I was more than happy to join them, and I’ve stayed involved through all the madness and super late nights, because L.A. beer and the people involved in it are hugely important to me. We’re at an amazing bridge right now where beer drinkers are coming to us to get involved, instead of us hunting down help and explaining to everyone what this craft beer stuff is all about.
Last year I helped develop a lot of small promotions to get people hyped about attending more events during the 14 days of fabulousness. This year my focus is revamping the website. It’s already changed up with a splash page while web designers Binary M and I bust out the new one, which is super simple and clean, with a calendar that hopefully makes a lot more sense for everyone. It will be a huge relief to see some of the major changes we’ve all wanted finally happen.
What can we expect from LABW this year?
This is the year when LABW grows up. The masses tend to forget that LABW is a week of events, and not just one beer festival of bros at Union Station. This year we are seriously scaling back the size of that festival and upping the educational enrichment factor. My ultimate beer wet dream is to see LABW go white-tablecloth and kick off with a high-end fest similar to food and wine events, or San Diego Beer Week’s awesome closing gala. This is something I was emphatic about last year, and the tribal council is ready for this vision to come to fruition.
It takes time to get these changes going though, especially since we are all volunteers putting this together. Not only that, we all work full-time jobs in the industry, and many of us are in drastically different, much more demanding positions than three years ago.
Overall, we’re refining LABW, while keeping the edge that it’s always had with educational events brought to you by our beer godfathers. And while we want to keep things classy and help everyone learn as much as possible, we still count on this all being way too much fun. There will be a lot of Angelenos calling in “sick” to work between September 19 and September 29.
We hear you’re organizing some of the events?
I am! My first event is new this year, but it’s something I think we’ve all practiced in the beer industry. It’s called Brewers’ Karaoke, and it’s happening at The Melody in Chinatown on Friday, September 20. I’ve always been deathly afraid of karaoke, but after a couple beers at Can Diego – an event I helped put together for the Craft Brewers Conference while I was working at Golden Road in 2012 – I didn’t seem to have a problem getting down, and neither did all the beer peeps who were there that night. Thanks to a couple more real late nights, I’ve had a chance to catch more industry regulars do their thing. So, the idea was born and my friend Teddy happened to be working on turning around a karaoke bar into a craft beer-only spot. Start practicing your song of choice, industry folks!
Next up is the Musical Beer Crawl, back for year three on September 24. It was originally inspired by Origami Vinyl’s Record Club at El Prado on Tuesday nights. I used to go with my brother and his friends and it was just this perfect blend of all the things I loved under one little roof. Once I got to know the neighborhood better and became more involved in beer, I started this choose-your-own-adventure kind of block party involving all the rad spots that have live music and craft beer in Echo Park along W. Sunset Blvd. It’s an incredible neighborhood that I’ve spent way too many late nights exploring, whether it’s for a Restavrant show at The Outpost, Deer Tick at The Echoplex, or just enjoying the company of the boys at Sunset Beer Co. The craft beer culture and support in that area has really kicked into high gear over the past year, so I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings. Last year I had about 18 places and companies involved, so it was a lot to juggle, especially when one place surprise-bailed on me an hour before the event! Other than that, all the places I’ve worked with have been very supportive of helping craft beer grow, but this year I’m refocusing my efforts to around five locations. I can tell you that we’ll finish at The Short Stop again, because ending the night by dancing to soul music is mandatory.
My third event, on September 26, is much more mellow. It’s called Blending at The Tap, at hands down one of my favorite bars in L.A., The Glendale Tap. This event is a showcase of the secret beer blends that brewers themselves are fans of knocking back. I’ve learned that a number of craft beer drinkers, myself included, don’t really know much about blending. While it’s not uncommon for a brewmaster to blend different batches, barrels, or beers together to get their desired finished product, it’s sometimes a nightmare for beer purists to find out that brewers actually love blending their own finished beers straight off the taps. When I was working at Golden Road, our former Brewmaster Jon Carpenter would sometimes mix beers together, to the dismay of others. The Burning Bush Smoked IPA and a Get Up Offa That Brown mixed together was our former Lead Maintenance Tech Jason Raimondi’s favorite blend (there’s a photo somewhere of us pounding one on a particularly tough day). As a longtime fan of Eagle Rock Brewery, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a Stimularity: Stimulis, their Belgian-style amber ale brewed with Intelligentsia coffee poured with Solidarity, their Black Mild. I think it’s about time the public gets in on some of these fantastic blends that have only been known by word-of-mouth, kinda like In-N-Out’s secret menu. Thankfully, Steve at The Glendale Tap shares my enthusiasm for getting weird with things, like when I demanded Miller High Life on nitro, so I can’t wait to chill at this event as my LABW starts to come to a close.
What are your favorite L.A. breweries?
This is an impossible question. Eagle Rock Brewery will always be a place I can call home, especially if I keep breakdancing in their parking lot. Smog City, El Segundo, Monkish, Kinetic, Craftsman, Strand, Beachwood, Ladyface, Hangar 24 all have beers I dig and people I love.
Southern California breweries?
This is even more impossible than the above. I guess I should be glad you’re not asking about all of California! I can’t pick a favorite child but The Bruery really is one of my all-time favorites, as is The Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, all the Pizza Port brewpubs, Ballast Point, Societe… I know I’m forgetting some and I will be so ashamed!
How about breweries from anywhere that are up-and-coming?
Rhinegeist. Bryant Goulding, who I first met at a Dionicess dinner with Dogfish Head, up and left to open his own place in the historic Over the Rhine district in Cincinnati, Ohio. We’ve kept in touch, and just yesterday on one of our phone calls where we scream and laugh, he told me they’re having their big opening June 29! I wish I could be more like him in many ways, because he is a remarkable example of following your heart, no matter what it takes. The work he’s put into this dream blows my mind — everything from their location to branding to the beer itself is top notch. I can’t wait to get out to his place to drink his IPA in their ridiculously beautiful building while we laugh about life in bow ties.
Maui Brewing Co. is another one of my longtime favorite breweries for lots of reasons, including their environmentally-friendly practices. I finally had the chance to visit in December, and Garrett Marrero showed us around and shared with us what’s coming up for them in terms of expansion. I’ll definitely be going back next year.
Closer to home, I couldn’t be more excited for Grantland coming up in Vista. I love the heck out of Grant Tondro, and thanks to my BFF Randy Clemens who made me eat until I hated myself at Urge a couple years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Grant, who was literally squatting at our table. Urge is a magical place, while their sister spot Brothers Provisions makes me angry since it’s so far away! Grant is building beer culture the right way, and I look forward to his bowling alley/beer “fantastyland,” especially with people like Mike Rodriguez and Jeff Bagby guiding his team.
Though it’s not up-and-coming by any means, I also have to say that I am delighted to see Mark Jilg of Craftsman embracing this beer wave as of late. I had the pleasure of having a conversation with him during a 2011 LABW meeting about his concerns with the industry, and it’s great to see the man talk more openly now, since he’d previously more or less held his silence and kept his brewing the priority over PR and image.
What is your role at The Bruery?
According to my fancy new business card I’m the Social Media and Marketing Manager. That means I keep up on every single thing happening in our brewery, whether it’s the brewing schedule, distribution, beer releases for our societies, weird barrels showing up, what Patrick’s thinking about, events, pilot batches, tasting room casks, new merchandise, what color shorts Ben is wearing… you name it. The Bruery has so much cool stuff going on and it’s my job to stay on top of it daily and tell those stories online. I dream up and post all our social media updates and blog posts, plus take the fancy photos and come up with occasional graphics. I also work on marketing efforts offline, like event planning, coming up with promotional ideas and marketing materials, and keeping in touch with bloggers and press whenever possible. I’m definitely still getting up to speed, since we have tons of moving parts and I started mid-April. Luckily, Patrick’s built a very talented team that’s super smart, organized, and receptive to my needs. But above all that we are also very good-looking.
What’s new with The Bruery?
Besides everything? I’m really excited about the Reserve Society beers we have up for sale right now. Mash & Grind and Mash is a duo of barley wines: one with coffee added, one without. The intention is for the customer to blend these beers to achieve the level of coffee they like. I’m into this beer because A) It’s a coffee beer, and I love coffee. B) It’s awesome to blend beer. C) We worked with Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee Labs, another friend I made while working on Dionicess. And D) I suggested the name and they picked it! I wrote about the process of blending the coffee on ye olde Bruery Blog for those who are curious. We also have two ridiculously good sours out for RS members, which I can’t stay away from. Beauregarde is our blueberry sour (if you liked Sans Pagaie, you’ll love this) and our latest version of Sour in the Rye has kumquats added and it’s a citrus sour bomb. The fact that we even have an online store where you can order beer and have it arrive at your door if you live in CA is pretty much the coolest. I haven’t seen other breweries doing that yet!
Patrick also has an adorable pilot system where the team comes up with all kinds of kooky stuff like horchata beer! Last month, Grant Tondro came by to brew Urge’s 3rd anniversary ale with Patrick on this system, so it was nice to watch them look like brothers all day while they brewed.
Where else have you worked?
I worked with the owners of Golden Road Brewing, Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away to create and run a social media plan, and I also helped with their seasonal projects like ColLAboration and Vegan Beer Fest. I did a lot beyond social media and blogging, like putting together the B3 Fundraiser bike ride and coming up with events like the homebrew competition and blogger nights. Watching Golden Road in the formative stages was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’m honored to have met and worked with some of the best and brightest in the industry. I loved getting to know everybody and I made some of my best friends in the process. It was tougher than I thought it would be to leave that part of L.A., but I’m counting on making more good stuff happen moving forward.
What was your take on the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest?
I have been to plenty of beer events, and this is one of the best out there. I’ve worked the fest both years, and I can say they take really good care of breweries. Jamie and his team do an unreal job getting that whole thing together. It’s a treat to see breweries that almost never come to California all in one place, pouring their most coveted brews with some of their most “famous” staff on hand. This was my first event as a representative of The Bruery, and since we make all kinds of unusual beers – like our Vitis series that incorporates wine ingredients – Tyler stopped at several vineyards on the way in and out of Paso for touring and tasting. We got to do some fun stuff, like ride ATVs with dogs and drink white wine from a concrete fermentor. It was good to see that we have friends in places outside of beer, so we can keep pushing the brewing boundaries and call on them for support or collaboration. All in all, the best part of a fest like this one is seeing old pals and making news ones. Clay from Sun King handed me some of their new beers just before I saw one of my most favorite musicians, The White Buffalo, alongside buds from Pizza Port, Port and The Lost Abbey. I’m fairly certain there’s not another industry out there that could recreate this kind of camaraderie and fun on such a regular basis. I’m pretty lucky, but I know I’ve earned it.