Much as we are Beer Church believers, our drive-by impression of Congregation Ale House's latest branch, across from Pasadena's Central Park, was hardly revelatory. The freestanding building is boxy and rather shiny, a little too carefully designed in that chain restaurant or mega-church sort of way. There's even a convenient dedicated parking lot out front. All signs, in our beer book, that there is a good chance you will find Heineken draft specials and all-you-can-eat wings inside. On this particular weekend, we were seeking a more local Bruery and burger pairing sermon, so we kept driving.
We were soon reminded of the mega-church and mini-chain restaurant draw: Convenient parking. When we finally did step inside Congregation Ale House, we found long wooden tables like you might find in a monastery's communal dining room and the bar's signature stained glass window with a beer mug at the "taps altar." By this point, we weren't expecting much more than campy charm in terms of the beer selection.
Instead, we were greeted by a thoughtful selection of craft beer on tap (and a great bottle list) even if those Original Sin Hard Apple Cider references wore thin after a few sips. But craft brewers started the whole Pigs' Ass Porter and Tactical Nuclear Penguin game, so a gastropub specializing in craft beer might as well get in on the nomenclature fun. Religious references aside, we were more than happy to find Lost Abbey's Devotion on tap purely for hops-related reasons.
Even better, the tap prices were beer crawl-worthy, with plenty of Epic Hopulent-type choices in the $5.50 range and The Bruery's Mischief for all of a dollar more -- during Happy Hour, dubbed "daily mass" here, all beers on tap are $1 off. Or perhaps they were simply standard Azusa and Long Beach prices, as Congregation Ale House already has outposts in both cities. A beer mega-church in the making.
Either way, the house burger with fries and rosemary-garlic mayo for dipping was a solid rendition (even better for all of $7), though next time we'd steer clear of the duck and bacon sausage on flatbread, as it sounded much better than the dry, over-smoked reincarnation here. Then again, maybe all that smoke is simply atonement for enjoying a little too much Original Sin on a Sunday.
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Congregation Ale House: 300 S Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 403-2337.
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