Photos by Sarah Bennett
For anyone who hasn't yet traveled to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, let's be clear: it's pure beer-insanity.
While your average local beer festival might have 30 breweries, pouring two beers apiece, catering to a couple of thousand attendees, for the largest commercial craft beer competition in the world—which just completed its 33rd year—those figures now get multiplied more than 25 times. And it's still growing.
One look at the annual roundup of “festival facts” for 2014 is enough to give you a perspective on the dizzying amount of craft beer that was present at the Colorado Convention Center from October 2-4.
“In 2014, the GABF competition will include approximately 5,700 entries from over 1,300 breweries,” the GABF website says. “In the festival hall, more than 700 breweries will be sampling around 3,500 beers from all over the country.” Compare those numbers to GABF's 10th year where 150 breweries attended with 500 beers at the comparatively modest Denver Merchandise Mart.
Then actually imagine this year's festival floor: a room larger than the largest mall parking lot filled with an endless stream of tables, each manned by a different brewery, each pouring upwards of five beers apiece from pre-filled plastic pitchers. To each brewer, their beer is the best, the most important, the one you need to try first because it's totally going to medal this year.
There are more than 700 of these breweries and more than 3,500 of these beers, a 14 percent increase from last year. And that's not even counting the 500 breweries who entered beers but were not able to get a table and their 1200 competition-only beers not being poured on the floor.
Sure, this might all sound like everything a beer lover could ask for, but when it's there in front of you, I assure you it's horribly crippling.
On November 8th and 9th, in collaboration with the soon to be opened Brouwerij West in the Port of Los Angeles, The Shelton Brothers bring us The Festival, a beer fest with top breweries from all over the globe. With over 14 countries represented at The Festival, beer lovers will be able to drink around to world without the jet lag. Not only will the beers be there to sample, the brewers themselves will be at the fest pour their beers and to hang with all the good folks of Southern California, and San Pedro native and founder of Brouwerij West Brian Mercer can take a lot of credit for attracting the importers to SoCal.
The taste and smell of hops are so distinct it’s surprising that uses for the potent botanical besides brewing are not more common. But there is now a thriving culture of experimentation with hops that looks to utilize the plant in new ways. If you’re a devoted hop head, the future looks bright and you may be filling your house, your fridge, and even your lungs with hoppy goodness sometime soon.
LA Beer Week is running from Saturday, September 20 through Sunday, September 28. Here are some picks from our staff that we feel represent a broad swath of the events you'll find all over the county over the next 9 days. We'll be putting out more picks for you as the week goes on. #LABW6
The scenic grounds of Oak Canyon Park provide ample room for Orange County’s biggest yearly beer festival. The fifth execution of OC BrewHaHa was by far the most ambitious with almost 200 beers flowing all afternoon. Human Foosball, giant Jenga, Corn Hole and more entertained those who could bear the heat that seemed inescapable even with plenty of water, misters, and cold adult beverages.
After several days of rumors and speculation, Tony Yanow has announced in an open letter that TAPS Fish House and Brewery Brewmaster, Victor Novak, will be joining the Golden Road Brewing team beginning on September 2nd in a move that will no doubt create shockwaves in the Greater Los Angeles craft beer community.
Beer Camp Across America 2014 hosted by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is the ultimate party on wheels with the best drinkers in the industry. Aiming to travel to seven cities—beginning in Chico, CA and ending in Mills River, NC after creating 12 different beers with some of the best brewers in the industry, you would think they were celebrating something pretty big. Well, they are: craft beer.
We wanted to make this, not necessarily a Sierra Nevada thing, but we want to [celebrate] this big success of craft [beer],” says Brian Grossman, co-manager of the brewery’s Mills River location and son of Sierra Nevada owner Ken Grossman.
Brewers are curious people. They have to be monk-like in their dedication to time spent alone on their craft. They also have to be creative and willing to take risks as well. That duality is hard to find in a single person. Julian Shrago, Brewmaster and Co-Owner of Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, is the embodiment of this duality, part artist and part scientist, he brings both worlds together to create an array of world class beers. This duality is also on display in his personality as well, as he can drop a sarcastic joke on you then snap into business mode and deal with a staffing issue. Shrago is a passionate individual that has helped bring Beachwood Brewing into the national craft beer spotlight in just three short years.
Beer Paper LA’s Rob Wallace sat down with Shrago to discuss his beer royalty mentors, what it is like winning tons of awards, and those “oh shit” beers that change your life.
Between the Anheuser-Busch facility and long-closed Busch Gardens, there is no shortage of brewing history in Van Nuys. But for Jennifer and Alastair Boase—owners of newly opened MacLeod Ales—its still a community itching for something more homegrown, and perhaps a little more traditional.
MacLeod has little in common with its macro-brewed predecessors—it is Los Angeles’ first cask-only taproom, featuring six beer engines pouring traditional British-inspired ales.
Cask ale, also known as real ale, is beer that is naturally carbonated and served at cellar temperature directly from the vessel it was fermented in, without the help of extraneous CO2.
It seems appropriate that the idea for MacLeod Ales originated with Jennifer’s bagpipe band, the Pasadena Scots.
“It started as a joke! I was like, I know, I need a job, the band needs a sponsor, I’ll start a brewery and voila! A built-in sponsor,” she says.
Rather than laughing it off, however, the Boases dove in, and, under the tutelage of Tom Hennessey at Colorado Boy Brewing, began sourcing used equipment to build their brewhouse. It was also Hennessey who initially suggested a focus on cask-conditioned ale, which clicked with the owners’ affinity for the United Kingdom. Jennifer had spent seven years of her young life among the hop fields of East Kent and Alastair grew up as the son of a tavern owner in the northern highlands of Scotland.
It’s a fondness they share with their head brewer Andy Black, whose introduction to the Boases feels like kismet.
There is no one recipe for success in the craft beer industry, and every new beer brand has to forge a unique path or risk becoming lost in the growing crowd of brews vying for your beer money.
There’s one pathway that many hopeful brewing entrepreneurs take to get their brews to market—contract brewing. Sometimes called “tenant brewing” or “gypsy brewing,” a contract brewer is anyone who produces their beer out of another brewery’s facility. The term is often met with a turned up nose, and contract brewers are regularly considered second-class brewers by the industry that they strive to be accepted by.
The complexities of producing one’s brand out of another’s facility leads to many questions. Who’s beer is really being produced? Are contractors just in it for the money? Is the beer any good? Are they just taking tap handles and shelf space away from other established breweries? In another industry, the idea of avoiding investment in infrastructure through outsourcing to third parties would be par for the course, but in the craft beer industry the idea of making beer without control of a brick and mortar brewery is a more complicated topic.
From beer labels that package large quantities at macro production facilities, to those that bring forth custom recipes and on-site presence, to restaurants that order house-brand tap handles, contract brewers come in many flavors, and each new contract-operation is completely different than the last.
The business of contract brewing is complex and one of modern craft beer’s most controversial subjects. Market bias and prejudice may dictate the success of some craft brands, but in the end, it’s up to the consumer to decide if they like the story, beer and company enough to spend their hard-earned beer money on a bottle or pint.
Below are profiles on four LA-area beer brands attempting to enter the market through this oft-debated method: by letting others make their beer.
All stories from Beer Paper LA's print edition.