L.A.'s Top 10 Beers of 2013
Federal Brewing in South El Monte opened in 2013.
As another year comes to a close, we can't help but gush about how thankful we are to be drinking and writing about craft beer in Los Angeles right now. It may have taken L.A. a little longer to start on this journey (sorry San Diego and NorCal), but now four years into actually having our own local suds scene, we're pretty damn proud of the accomplishments that have placed the region on the map as a beer force to be reckoned with.
Between the half-dozen new breweries that opened across the county this year and the unexpected sweeping wins by Kinetic and Beachwood at the Great American Beer Festival in October, there has been no shortage of mini milestones to fuel the momentum of our growing culture.
But it's the continual procession of world-class beers that keeps Angelenos excited about the potential of our local breweries. From summer sours and bourbon barrel-aged beers to more easy-going styles infused with experimental adjuncts like jasmine and coffee, L.A. breweries proved in 2013 that they can nail traditional beer styles, but would also rather push the craft forward, too.
Here are 10 beers from the last year of this mounting L.A. scene that we'd love to still be drinking right now.
Ladyface Ale Companie
10. La Grisette, Ladyface Ale Companie
This Belgian-style farmhouse wheat beer was a good drinking buddy throughout the summer months. La Grisette is fruity and grassy (5.8% ABV), but also dry and peppery with plenty of yeast like a good Belgian should have. There's enough hop bitterness to balance any cloying esters. It's a beer whose straw-yellow body and medium white head can best be described as cheery and charming. We hope the working-class French girls for whom the style was named were able to enjoy it as we did (though somehow it's doubtful.)
9. Unity w/ Honey, Eagle Rock Brewing
Every year Eagle Rock brews a beer in honor of L.A. Beer Week, its title and purpose a poetic reminder of the beer community that continues to grow around it. The 2013 edition of Unity, which changes annually, is a red mild (4% ABV) brewed with hibiscus and honey -- the chosen ingredient theme for 2013 L.A. Beer Week. Craig Wickham, who won Best of Show at the Maltose Falcons home brew competition, was chosen to collaborate with Eagle Rock to reproduce his recipe for the occasion. Our only complaint with this easy-drinking brew is its scarcity, as nary a bottle was found after the close of beer week festivities.
8. Karma Kolsch, LA AleWorks
Kolsch has gained stylistic popularity in recent years as an offbeat treat because it is an ale that is cold-conditioned after fermenting. This process reduces the creation of esters and clarifies the beer, bridging the gap between ale and lager. For L.A. AleWorks, the style is a great base to which they've added unexpected flavors. Here, they infuse the beer with Thai Spiced Tea resulting in a light-bodied, fruity Kolsch (4.75% ABV). Yeast flavors harmonize with the anise and cinnamon that characterize the tea profile. This isn't the only contender to come out of the brewery this year, but its fun and aromatic flavors make it the most memorable.
Golden Road Brewing
7. Heal the Bay IPA, Golden Road Brewing
Within a few months of taking over as brewmaster of L.A.'s biggest brewery, in January of this year, Bay Area brewing veteran Jesse Houck had already retooled the recipes of two of Golden Road's top-selling IPAs and released a third, the first that was entirely of his creation. Sure, Heal the Bay IPA had a benevolent cause -- a portion of sales were donated to the beer's namesake nonprofit -- but it was also an impressive 6.8% ABV summer IPA, one that set the tone for all the Houck beers that have come since. A mix of West Coast and New Zealand hops gives Heal the Bay IPA a distinctive citrus punch and cans of the stuff are almost required tag-alongs for beach trips and hot-weather hikes.
Coffee-Infused Rusted Gear pouring at GABF
6. Coffee-Infused Rusted Gear, Kinetic Brewing
We knew Alexandra Nowell was a badass brewer when she announced she would be landing at Lancaster's Kinetic Brewing earlier this year fresh off a gig at NorCal heavyweight Drake's. But it wasn't until a few weeks later, when the new head brewer showed up at the Los Angeles Vegan Beer Fest with a coffee-infused version of the brewpub's flagship roasty amber ale that her local legacy began. Experimental and ballsy but with the skills to make clean, to-style beers, Nowell won over not only area beer drinkers but also judges at the Great American Beer Festival, where she poured coffee-Infused Rusted Gear on the floor and won medals for her Kolsch and session IPA. Recently, she left Kinetic to work with still-in-progress 3 Weavers Brewing Company, which just signed a lease on a space in Inglewood.
5. Lumen, Monkish Brewing
For a brewery that exclusively makes Belgian-style beers, Torrance's Monkish sure goes to the polar extremes of its self-prescribed boundaries. On the one hand, there are saccharine, spiced Christmas beers like this season's 10.1% ABV Magnificat, and on the other, there's Lumen, a 7.2% ABV bright and drinkable hoppy Belgian pale ale perfect for fans of Duvel or Houblon Chouffe. Like all Monkish beers, however, Lumen comes with an herbal twist that sets it apart from any potential competition. Infused with jasmine flowers, the otherwise clean, lightly sweet Lumen takes on a tea-like quality that refreshes and soothes unlike any other local beer.
4. Barrel-Aged Full Malted Jacket, Beachwood Brewing
Beachwood Brewing may be better known locally for its wide assortment of West Coast-style pale ales and IPAs, but as proven by the across-the-board wins by the 2-year-old Long Beach brewpub at this year's GABF, brewmaster Julian Shrago is as versatile as he is talented. Though Beachwood changed perceptions by scoring medals for its stouts, cream ales and coffee beers this year, the one sleeper win of 2013 remains Bourbon Barrel-Aged Full Malted Jacket, a decadently drinkable 12% ABV Scotch-style wee heavy loaded with oak, vanilla and caramel notes. As Beachwood's first foray into barrel aging, only a few hundred bottles off the stuff were released alongside wax-dipped bombers of the original.
See also: Beer Cocktails: Our Favorite Booze Trend of 2013
3. Muis, Phantom Carriage/Monkish
Phantom Carriage's Muis, a Belgian-style wild blonde fermented with Brettanomyces (6.75% ABV), debuted at Naja's Place in June. So much buzz has generated for this small-batch beer endeavor that L.A. beer geeks were elated when they heard the brewery had finally found a home in Carson, near the Stub Hub Center. Muis is only slightly tart (often brews fermented with Brett are acidic) but has a decent bit of funk to it. We loved its approachable melon flavor and gorgeous golden hue. If Muis is any indicator of future Phantom Carriage beers, their kegs will be the most anticipated and fastest-selling for the year to come.
2. Ursa Minor, Craftsman
Drinking anything from Craftsman Brewing Co. is like torturing yourself over unrequited love. Everything it produces is delicate, complex and polished. As soon as you realize how much more of it you want to drink, it suddenly disappears. Ursa Minor, a Flanders red ale (6% ABV) that made a brief appearance between spring and fall, is no different. This is a more basic wild sour ale than we've seen come out of Mark Jilg's elusive brewery, but we enjoy its dark red fruits and herbaceous, dry finish. Sometimes simplicity is just as haunting as the most wigged-out booze bomb on the market.
1. Little Bo Pils, Smog City Brewing
Light lagers often are overlooked by craft beer drinkers because of the style's association with those damn-hated macro breweries. But just because a beer is light in color and alcohol content doesn't mean it has to lack in flavor, and Smog City Brewery's 4.4% ABV Little Bo Pils proves it. Since the first batch brewed at Smog City's new Torrance facility was released this summer, Little Bo Pils has quickly become one of the region's most-loved year-round session beers, its hop-forward bitterness and German-influenced biscuit character now even more widely available thanks to a recent deal with Stone Distribution. A great introduction beer that also makes local beer geeks swoon (a variety of single-hopped versions -- from Simcoe to Meridian to Amarillo -- are on random rotation at the tasting room), Bo Pils is brewmaster Jonathan Porter's take on easy-drinking "lawnmower" grog that goes beyond mere fuel for summer chores.
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