Saturday marked the third annual L.A. Beer Float Showdown. And unlike last year's showdown, which featured four local beer bars, this year's competition teamed five L.A. chefs (including three Top Chef alumni) with five L.A.-area breweries. Competition was fierce, and opinions were divided. But in the end, Andre Guerrero and Jan Purdy (The Oinkster, Maximiliano) and Jeremy Raub of Eagle Rock Brewery took home the grand prize thanks to a little help from Porky Pig and Jack Daniels.
The event began at 11:30 a.m. with an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink VIP session at Eagle Rock Brewery. Unfortunately, the food truck that was supposed to supply the all-you-can-eat food didn't show up, so VIP guests instead downed pints of Eagle Rock's Dark Mild, Witbier, and Extra Pale Ale, and watched the five teams prepare their floats.
At 1 p.m., the general admission crowds began to arrive, and the showdown commenced, with food arriving shortly thereafter. Each attendee received five 9 oz. beer floats -- one from each team -- and graded each according to taste, originality, and presentation. CJ Jacobson and Jace Milstead (Firestone Walker Brewing Company) presented the most thematically cohesive beer float, combining a Toasted Hop Caramel ice cream with Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale, a chocolate "blunt" frozen with liquid nitrogen, and a Munich malt caramel rim encrusted with salty potato chips (hops, in case you don't know, are cousins to cannabis).
Starry Kitchen and Ladyface Ale Companie's concoction was equally audacious, if less thematic. Nguyen and Thi Tran combined salted plum habanero ice cream and plum pop rocks with brewmaster Dave Griffiths' Weizenbock. Despite the shockingly disparate flavors, everything came together seamlessly, and to great effect.
For his part, chef Laurent Quenioux, a contestant in the ninth season of Bravo's Top Chef (set to air in November), took a more culinary tack, creating a sweet & savory sorbet with quince, rose water, tonka bean, cinnamon, and thyme, and pairing it with Beachwood BBQ & Brewing's El Verano Saison. Quenioux and brewmaster Julian Shrago's creation was a favorite among the food bloggers in attendance, and it was certainly among the most flavorful and complex. But in the end, the float's comparative lack of sweetness and creaminess may have cost it the popular vote.
Ilan Hall and partner Jonathan Porter (Tustin Brewing Company, Smog City Brewing Company) ran into similar problems with their roasted corn ice cream, crushed rosemary roasted almond, and Smog City Saison float. The Midwesterners loved it, but the majority may have expected something more from Hall and Porter.
So what was it that put Guerrero, Purdy, and Raub's chocolate "bourbon" ice cream, caramelized cocoa nib, and vanilla bean Eagle Rock Solidarity float over the top? The Jack Daniels-infused ice cream certainly helped. But the real kicker was the pig candy.
"We thought we could either have fun with it, or go for the win," Purdy said, explaining her team's approach to the competition.
"When we decided we were going for the win," Guerrero said, "we pulled out the bacon card."
"Not just bacon," Raub added. "Candied bacon."
When asked for a comment after the showdown, Ilan Hall had this to say: "Fuckin' bacon."