Where do I begin to recap this whirlwind weekend that is The Beer Bloggers Conference? Do I start at our visit to Golden Road Brewing Company? Perhaps arriving at LAX airport? I believe this story needs to start from the very beginning: 3AM on Thursday morning.
I jumped into my car to drive to Concord Trailways bus station in Portland, Maine. I began to think back to last year’s conference pre-excursion in the city where “Yes, life’s good here.” Last year some attendees of the conference visited Allagash Brewing Company and Rising Tide Brewery as a bonus before traveling to Cabot Cheese for a Geary’s Brewing Company beer and cheese tasting followed by a beer dinner hosted by Sebago Brewing Company. This year conference-goers attending #BBC14 will visit the breweries of Los Angeles before heading to the main event in San Diego.
Conference attendees arrived at LAX and immediately someone opened a beer in the baggage claim area while waiting for the bus to pick us up – this being the typical BBC custom attendees taking opportunities to drink whenever possible. . We headed straight for Golden Road Brewing Company first. Golden Road’s co-founder Meg Gill gave a motivational introduction speech and left soon after she finished speaking. I was disappointed that I couldn’t geek out with her about distance running after I discovered from our tour guide that she often competes in triathlons.
Golden Road Brewing Company had a wonderfully inviting space when you walk in. The brewery is vast and looks like a big warehouse that has been converted to a restaurant and brewery. They brew 30,000 barrels of beer per year and are only on their 3rd year of production. There are a few tables when you walk up – in an area that looked like it used to be a loading dock. After heading through the front door there are even more tables across the floor that meet at the ‘L’ shaped bar. There was a well organized merchandise section to the right side of the room that sold everything from hats to little baby onesies. The entire space seemed as if it was half indoors and half outdoors. There was an abundance of natural light shining through the ceiling and windows, which makes sense since LA is always sunny.
After generally ordering a citrus blend (wheat pale ale) at the bar we headed down some stairs to an outside area off to the left of the main space where food awaited us. The outdoor space had astroturf and was split. A third of the outside area was a netted off batting range. Two-thirds of the rest of the space had long tables and a bar. The bar had less than six taps, compared to more than ten inside.
The group of conference-goers was then split into two. One group stayed in the astroturf area and had a walk-through and tasting of six primary beers Golden Road had to offer. The Hefeweizen really stood out to me with its bright flavor and crispness. The other group was guided through the entire brewery. Golden Road has a huge malting area for their grain. When you walk into that part of the brewery it’s about three stories tall and has giant beige malting machines. We started the tour by enjoying a 16 oz. Carry On Citrus Ale. The tour guide gave the citrus ale to us when we talked past the cooler storing beer waiting to be delivered to the thirsty people of Los Angeles and beyond.
Two brewers joined the tour for five minutes to see what the commotion was all about. We all laughed at their pink shoelaces that were on their big rubber industrial boots. Our group then headed into the vast canning line. I immediately noticed that Golden Road uses Braukon fermenter tanks and other equipment just like Allagash’s newest additions. Our tour guide pulled some fresh Might As Well IPL off the line and we all finished the tour with that in hand. We finished our samples with food and headed on the bus to our next destination Angel City Brewing.
A brief flight with Angel City Brewing
Angel City Brewing was a much different place than Golden Road. When arriving we drove past a farmers market and art walk two blocks away. The brewery itself was located in a urban neighborhood. Unlike Golden Road Brewing, Angel City seems to be more of a venue for eating and hosting events than a brewery. I felt a warm atmosphere to Angel City and it’s connection to the neighborhood around it. They seemed similar to Rising Tide Brewing Company in Portland with their roots deep into the local community.
We were led through the brewery quickly and sent upstairs to an isolated event area. The brewery looked like it used to be a warehouse in the middle of a neighborhood. The upstairs had an open area looking overlooking the entire facility. There was an entire bar when you walked into the brewery. Two food trucks hung out the outside of the brewery. One served hamburgers and the other dumplings and noodles. They were cranking out food quite quickly when we arrived.
The visit to Angel City was a short one. We sampled a few of their beers as we saw fit in an open bar in the area upstairs. I happily enjoyed a sample of their Vanilla Porter. We left Angel City and went for a long ride to The Bruery.
Moving on to The Bruery
Ben from The Bruery greeted us at the door with Cambria waiting inside. This facility isn’t their main brewery but a warehouse that houses a plethora of barrels. When entering there was two tables waiting for us: The table with beer and the table with sour beer. We then learned that The Bruery plans to soon start a separate program for their sour beers called Bruery Terreux.
The barrel room was vast and multi-dimensional. There seemed to be hundreds of barrels surrounding us that touched the high ceilings and were layer upon layers deep. There were bottles and growlers on each table of all different sizes and flavors. Ben said he wanted this to be a bottle share, “except that they were bringing all the bottles.”
The Bruery opened up a barrel of something sour and we were allowed to take a full sample of it. It seemed like a mad rush of people elbowing for their turn to have the sour beer straight from a barrel, it’s certainly a rare experience.
We then were herded to the bus so we could travel to our next destination. The plan wasfor a pub-crawl starting from Smog City Brewing Company and ending at Monkish Brewing Company, a few blocks apart.. Visiting both reminded me of visiting the “Yeast Bayside” neighborhood in Portland which got its name by having multiple breweries within walking distance of each other.
Enjoying the Smog City
Smog City was a brewery that seemed just like Rising Tide Brewing Company in size. Everything seemed crammed into a small warehouse space. White wine barrels, tanks, bar space, and kegs seemed to be everywhere. We were told of a sour blonde ale and sour brown ale that are currently being aged in the white wine barrels. Smog City only bottles in 16.9 oz. bottles and just started to barrel age a few of their beers. Brewer Chris Walowski was banging away at a piece of equipment when we arrived.
We enjoyed the LA Saison, The Groundwork Coffee Porter, and The Sabre Toothed Squirrel (amber ale) while being told of the tale of Smog City. They started to brew beer out of a brewpub called Tustin Brewing Co. in 2011 until they outgrew their modest size in 2013. Now, Smog City has their own tasting room, brewing equipment and their own brewery.
Monkish beers in Los Angeles
After a riveting time at Smog City we walked over to Monkish Brewing Co. where they were serving my favorite beer style: saisons.Mix the essences of Oxbow Brewing Company and Allagash Brewing Company and you have Monkish in Los Angeles. They had the same giant barrels as Allagash has and brew saison-style beers in them. Their decorum and atmosphere in the brewery was that of a monastery. There was a church pew and wood decorating anything that it could. I tried the Arrivant and loved it so much I brought it home.
There was a wood fire food truck around back of Monkish that was cooking up very unique pizzas. There were many ‘chefs choice’ orders and he created some awesome edible treats.
Overall I was blown away by how different the Los Angeles beer scene was to Maine’s. The first thing you notice is the weather and how it affects the year-round beers and the establishments in general. I was seeing more lighter craft beers out west like lagers, pilsners, and IPLs (Imperial Pale Lagers). Maine does not seem to produce as much pilsners and lagers I believe due to the constant change in weather and how it’s hot for a few months out of the year. Monkish Was a farmhouse/belgian style brewery that produces lots of lighter beers that are perfect for warmer weather. Smog City Brewing Company had a pale ale, pilsner and a saison as part of their regular bere lineup. Most of the breweries we visited seemed to have lots of outdoor space to enjoy the weather. I also learned that the IPAs weren’t absolutely everywhere in LA. The west coast is known for their hop centric beers but Los Angeles seemed to be more moderate about it than I expected.
Now after 1,400+ words of my Los Angeles pre-excursion get ready for some down to get down to business in BBC14 Recap Part 2: Sunny San Diego.