If momentum keeps at its current pace, 2016 could be the year that Los Angeles County becomes home to more than 50 craft breweries, up from a whopping eight (mostly old brewpubs) only six years ago.
But in such a young scene — where experimental business plans play out over time and many brewers are still finding their footing — the most exciting things aren’t always just about who's opening, but also who's growing and who's pushing boundaries in the process.
Before the holiday we told you about five new breweries that made 2015 one of the best yet to be drinking in L.A., and now we’re back with our top prospects for who you should keep an eye on in the coming 12 months.
Started by two chemists in the mostly-Latino industrial city of South El Monte in 2013, Progress Brewing is low-key changing how the rest of L.A. drinks local. With no distribution and a location isolated from the region’s craft-beer core, owners Kevin Ogilby and Diego Benitez have been hand selling their well-made, approachable styles exclusively from their tasting room, talking newcomers through the concept of cerveza artesanal (Benitez is fluent in Spanish) and weaning fresh palates away from fizzy yellow lagers. The next year will see Progress and its efforts to change their community’s drinking habits expand threefold; they’ve purchased and permitted an adjacent building, which will allow for a larger tasting room, more space for new custom-built (by local welders) fermenters and a massive barrel-aging project. Some early glimpses into Progress' future are already on tap, including a gose beer called Santa Muerte (which debuted at the 2015 L.A. Beer Week Kickoff Festival) and Xbalanqué, a complex grand cru aged in brandy barrels for nine months. 1822 Chico Ave., South El Monte; (626) 552-9603; progress-brewing.com
HopSaint Brewing Company
It’s only been in soft opening mode for a few weeks, but HopSaint in Torrance is already bringing something different to L.A.’s historically crowded craft beer ‘hood. A rare brewpub in a sea of Torrance’s half-dozen food-less, office-park tasting rooms, HopSaint is a serious farm-to-table restaurant and 10-barrel brewery installed inside a ‘50s-era building left vacant by the slow death of L.A.’s Jewish delis. Locals are no doubt stoked that they now have a place for bubbly flatbread pizzas, andouille-and-chicken gumbo and vegetables sourced from familiar farmers market names (dinner will soon expand to include smoked meats like pulled pork and short ribs), but the beer is what will be really worth the drive. So far, there are only three house-brewed beers on draft — all made by brewmaster Brian Brewer (yes, his real name!), whose range of expertly made beers could be found at Brewery at Abigaile until he left to launch HopSaint earlier this year. Thankfully, he brought with him a flagship, Cacophony IPA, his light-bodied, super aromatic West Coast IPA that goes down as easy as the HopSaint kitchen's killer grilled corn bread. 5160 W. 190th St., Torrance; (310) 214-4677; hopsaint.com
Innovation Brew Works
It’s been over a year since Cal Poly Pomona became the first university in the world to sell beer made by its students at an on-campus brewpub. And what started as just a few easy-drinkers to serve along with pizza and pub grub at Innovation Brew Works has since expanded into not only a significant experiment in grain-to-glass brewing but also a new (and profitable!) model for brewing-science education. As a reputable agriculture school on the fringes of one of America’s largest metropolitan areas, Cal Poly grows its own barley, which is used in all 10 house beers, imparting a biscuity local snap to stalwarts like ‘66 Blonde and Luther Holt IPA. Innovation also pulls its brewing team from students earning certificates through the Extended University’s brewing science program, and is aiming to move towards offering for-credit brewing classes through the Collins College of Hospitality Management. With 22-ounce bottles of popular year-round brews being released for the first time this month, the next year will be one in which Innovation Brew Works becomes a respected member of the L.A. brewing community, and its beers known for more than being the novelty result of a college’s hands-on brew lab. 3650 W. Temple Ave., Pomona; (909) 979-6197; ibrewworks.com
Iron Triangle Brewing
There are a lot of ambitious breweries in progress in L.A., but none might be as massive as Iron Triangle Brewing, which is slated to open any day now with quality beers and enough capacity to make it the largest independently owned brewery in the city (nevermind that it’s also in the Arts District, L.A.’s most exciting new beer destination). Owner Nathan Cole drew some confused looks earlier this year with a social media presence that showed his growing collection of stainless steel fermenting tanks without a mention of who would be making the beer that goes in them. But he assuaged fears over the last few months by announcing a few recent key hires, including brewmaster Darren Moser, the former brewmaster at Maui Brewing in Hawaii, and a cellarman who allegedly comes with a moonshining pedigree. Cole has said he plans on making lots of IPAs and sour beers in his 40,000 square-foot space, which will be opening in phases over the next few years. The first phase includes a gorgeous speakeasy-style wood bar and tasting room with future roll-outs bringing a restaurant, retail space and even more brewing capacity. 1581 Industrial St., Arts District; irontrianglebrewing.com
Transplants Brewing Company
Northern L.A. County is booming with new craft breweries; three have opened in the last two months alone. But none have quite the longtime homebrew pedigree — and so-bizarre-it-works brewing tastes — as the team behind Palmdale’s Transplants Brewing, which celebrates its grand opening Jan. 23. Husband and wife team of Sarah and Matthew Luker are the winners of multiple awards from local, regional and national homebrew competitions, for both their straight-forward West Coast IPAs and non-traditional beers like coffee chicory stouts and a black IPA made with spruce tips. These and other never-before-attempted beers — think: Peeps-infused porters, tart rhubarb ales, and a lemon saison with cracked peppercorns — are the norm for the Transplants team (which now also includes brewer Brian Youngblood). In 2016, Transplants will be a reminder of the creativity and talent still emerging from L.A.’s historic homebrew community. 40242 La Quinta Ln. Suite 101, Palmdale; transplantsbrewing.com