Author: Malin Norman
Following on from the interview with the Brewers Association a few weeks ago, we will dig a bit deeper into the US craft beer scene with the help from a local beer expert.
Tomm Carroll is a beer writer, beer judge and instructor of craft beer classes at UCLA. He lives on the West Coast, which has some pioneers in craft beers such as Sierra Nevada, Anchor Brewing, Firestone Walker, and Stone Brewing.
What is the West Coast beer scene like?
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the craft beer market was booming with over 900 breweries in California and a high level of competition — from all across the US. Typical of this region is the high-hopped West Coast IPA, but lately, like the rest of the world, we have seen variations in IPA styles, particularly the New England-style, or Hazy IPAs. We have fans of both the WC and NE iterations, but most folks vastly prefer one over the other. We have also gone through the Session IPA and the short-lived Brut IPA versions. Hard seltzer is what has really taken off in the country, including California, as the younger alcohol-drinking generations consider it a healthy alternative to beer and wine.
What is happening over there at the moment?
The states in the US are like different countries, with varying alcohol laws and distribution laws. With the lockdown, breweries in California are allowed to continue brewing, and sell their wares for curbside pickup to take away, or in some cases home delivery. However, beer bars, taprooms and restaurants are closed for on-premises drinking and dining. Although some other states where the virus cases have not been as prevalent have recently begun limited opening of bars and eateries — so we’ll have to see how that plays out. Everything is in such a flux right now. Large craft breweries such as Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams are probably going to be fine, but some smaller breweries will struggle to survive, and, sadly, for certain we will lose a few of them when this all shakes out.
Some West Coast breweries worth checking out?
Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa in Northern California, because co-owner and brewmaster Vinnie Cilurzo not only created the Double and Triple IPA styles (Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, respectively), he excels at making some of the tastiest and well-balanced hoppy beers around, closely followed by RR’s stellar portfolio of barrel-aged sours. Unfortunately, for the moment, only California, Oregon, Colorado and the city of Philadelphia can get these wonderful beers.
Beachwood BBQ and Brewing in Long Beach, because they make some of the best hop-forward beers in the Southland, thanks to its hop-fiend of a brewmaster, co-owner Julian Shrago, who can brew just about any style and win an award for it. Visit when the brewpub can reopen as co-owner and chef Gabe Gordon’s food is as sensational as the beer. Around the block (so as not to contaminate the “clean” beers), Beachwood also has a Blendery, for all things spontaneously fermented.
Smog City Brewing in Torrance, because co-owner/brewmaster Jonathan Porter is as versatile a beermaker as you can find in the greater LA area — from the tropical hoppiness of Amarilla Gorilla IPA to the roasty caffeinated pick-me-up of GABF Gold-winning Coffee Porter to fine line of fruited sours. During the lockdown, Smog City hosts a weekly “happy hour” on Zoom at 6:00 pm California time, with special guests and virtual beer tastings. Visit www.smogcitybrewing.com for more info.
Yorkshire Square Brewery, also in Torrance, because it’s as close to Northern England as you will find in the Southland. Owner Gary Croft, who hails from Leeds in North Yorkshire, always bemoaned the fact that he could never get a proper pint of cask-conditioned ale in LA, so he opened a brewpub to provide just that. To really enjoy Real Ale, you need it properly pulled from a handpump and drink it at the bar — something we can’t do again until on-premises visits become a reality again.
Tomm has recently started a new column called “Domestic Drinking”, check it out here: www.beerpaperla.com/greetings-from-la-lockdown
Pictures: Malin Norman