Over the past few years, sales of mass-produced beer (Bud, Miller, Coors and the like) are down along with housing, investments and other barometers of economic growth. Guess what is not down? Craft breweries. Craft beer bars. Craft beer sales.
According to the Brewers Association, which represents the artists who brew innovative and exceptionally drinkable beer, craft beer sales went up 11 percent in 2010 and were up 14 percent in the first six months of 2011. Conversely, mass brewers are losing sales (silent applause OK here). Droves of (good) beer fans are supporting new beer bars in numbers that have bar owners expanding into second and even third locations within years of opening the first. Plus, seemingly every new restaurant that opens must offer 24 or more tap handles of craft beer.
"It's an artistic movement," says Tony Yanow, who this summer opened Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. Yes, great craft brewers are a form of art. Here are the top five new beer bars of 2011, in alphabetical order.
5. Steingarten L.A., West Los Angeles:
David Watrous, aka the Gueuze Hound and a self-described "beer evangelist," has created 20 taps of rotating excellence and a bottle list that is even better. Watrous has forgotten more about sours, lambics and gueuzes than we know. Hence, if your beer preferences lean in that direction, Steingarten should be your new home away from home. If they lean more toward California craft, he has you covered there as well. Steingarten has frequent beer event nights with brewers. We especially recommend the happy hour, 4-7 p.m. weeknights. The food, which focuses on sausages and burgers, is excellent. The interior bar and restaurant are warm and welcoming. And the outdoor patio in the back is an escape from the hustle and bustle (read: traffic) of the Pico corridor. 10543 W. Pico Blvd., W.L.A.
4. Mohawk Bend, Echo Park:
Mohawk Bend is the latest project of Yanow, who also has the beer bar Tony's Darts Away, in Burbank, and the brewing company Golden Road Brewing. Mohawk Bend is a beer wonderland that features a whopping 72 tap handles with four nitro lines and two Firkin pump handles. Formerly a vaudeville theater, Mohawk has a relatively dark front room with high ceilings and, to the right, a long, cool bar with a wall of chrome tap handles, which seems to stretch on forever. The entire left side is an open kitchen. But your eyes are drawn to the skylight-lit backroom, with its original brick wall that is more than 100 years old. It is a beautiful space in which to drink beautiful beer. Half of the 72 tap handles will rotate with each blown keg, so customers can always expect something new and different. While the selection is overwhelmingly California-centric, five handles will be dedicated to an out-of-state brewer each month -- yes, they brew great beer in other states, too. 2141 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park.
3. City Tavern, Culver City:
City Tavern is a sibling of Rush Street, which is several blocks west of it in downtown Culver City. City offers 22 rotating taps of craft beer, plus an additional nine taps split among three party-size booths where you can pour your own beer at the table. It has a big, inviting dining room and bar, along with a small but lovely outdoor patio.
Matt Meiers, the bar manager, keeps the California craft beers in a near-perfect rotation of styles and featured breweries. City Tavern also puts on beer-pairing dinners, with the brewers present for meet-and-greets that are extremely popular with beer geeks. Jessica Christensen's North Carolina-influenced menu pairs nicely with the brews. Simply put, one of our favorite places to hang. 9739 Culver Blvd., Culver City.
2. Beer Belly, Koreatown:
Jimmy and Yume Han opened Beer Belly in the heart of Koreatown in May. It's a cool spot set in the back of a parking lot off Western, a couple of blocks north of the Wiltern. So if you go for a concert, Beer Belly is the best preshow and post-show spot to get your craft beer fix on. The only problem you may face is that once you find it, you won't want to leave. With 12 rotating taps that constantly feature the very best in superlocal, superfresh craft beer and frequent brewer event nights, Beer Belly is as comfortable as your new best friend's living room. It's happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. every day (closed Tuesdays). 532 S. Western Ave., Koreatown.
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1. Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, Long Beach:
The new downtown Long Beach location is three times the size of its predecessor, in Seal Beach. Twenty-four guest beers rotate. Julian Shrago brews 12 excellent in-house beers and charges less for them than for others, because there's no shipping. Owner-chef Gabe Gordon puts on beer-pairing dinners with brewers. From managers and bartenders to servers, Beachwood staff know its beer. But there is no "We're smarter than you" snobbishness like we find at places that don't serve ketchup. Gordon also designed the "flux capacitator" line system so that each beer is served at its optimal temperature, and his lines are always clean so the beer is fresh. A "hopcam" tells you online or via phone app what beers are available. And you won't find a joint with more knowledgeable beer fans lined up at the bar next to you, so the bar conversations alone give it the edge in ambience over any competitor. Beachwood sets the benchmark against which all other beer bars in L.A. measure themselves. 210 E. Third St., Long Beach.