For four sessions stretched out over two days in a warehouse at Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles last weekend, Shelton Brothers — an East Coast alcohol-distribution company — hosted a beer festival so epic, it actually deserved its simple title: The Festival. Partly an excuse to showcase their extensive portfolio of national and international breweries, this weekend-long event also brought various highly coveted beers to Los Angeles for the first time and provided a tasting opportunity unlike any other.
Top-rated breweries like Arizona Wilderness, Belgium's Cantillon and England's Moor Beer (none of which have regular distribution in Southern California) poured samples at this unprecedented event, letting locals not only try some of these rarely seen beers, but also meet the brewers responsible for them.
More than providing an enviable assortment of beers in one place, The Festival left a lasting impact on Los Angeles' beer community, which has become increasingly local-centric in recent years. Here are the top five reasons why a gathering of the world's best breweries was the best thing that could have possibly happened for L.A. beer:
5. Rare Beers
Distribution laws for craft beer are strange. Each country and each state has its own set of rules, preventing a lot of beer from getting into the eager enthusiast’s hands. Couple that with the production limitations of many of the world's great small breweries and it's easy to never see a drop of the most hyped-up beers. The Festival broke through these issues, bringing a number of breweries and beers new to the L.A. audience. Breweries like Cantillon, Oersoep from The Netherlands and Hill Farmstead in Vermont can hardly get their beer west of the Mississippi, let alone L.A. Even beers from Faction Brewing in Northern California is difficult to get ahold of and they're only on the other side of the state. L.A. should be thankful to The Shelton Brothers for giving us a taste of what were missing.
4. Beyond IPAs
West Coast-style beers, like hoppy and citrus-heavy IPAs and pale ales, are always a good complement to beach breezes and sunny skies. However, it's easy to get hop-crazed with all those palate wreckers and The Festival — with its amalgam of internationally brewed beers — introduced a wealth of innovation beyond the local styles. Beers like the XX Bitter from Belgium's De Ranke (which gave off more herbal than citrus tones) and Sur Mosiac from Denmark's To Øl (a contradictory hoppy sour) presented different approaches to hop usage. Drinking other beers infused with sumac, molasses, lavender, as well as top-notch meads and ciders, gave the L.A. attendees a chance to step away from their bitter IPAs — even if it's just for a weekend.
3. Seeing How Europe Has Learned From Us
While we often see styles like English bitters or German pilsners in our taprooms and craft beer bars, it's less common to find beers from the small international breweries producing American-influenced beers. The Festival provided an introduction to these forward-thinking brewers, who presented their takes on favorite American brews. Spain's Ca L’Arenys/Guineu made an Amarillo-hopped IPA and Brasserie de Blaugies, a Belgian brewery specializing in saisons, brought their collaboration with Vermont's Hill Farmstead, La Vermontoise. Siren Craft Brew, a British brewery, even had their Lemon Cello IPA and a blended saison called Rachet, in accordance with the American meaning of the term. Don't think the brewers were left out from this great learning experience. With any free time brewers would beeline to those they admired and start tasting.
2. All of the Brewers Were There
Instead of merely sending bottles overseas and having volunteers pour on the festival floor, brewers from the nearly 70 breweries represented at the Shelton Brothers event had to travel great distances in order to showcase their beer in L.A. Brewers from The Netherlands, Japan, Quebec and Italy all flew to the West Coast specifically to attend, adding to the overall esteem of the fest and making hype for beer geeks who couldn't wait to not only try the beers but also meet their creators. If at any time a line for samples sat unmoving at The Festival, it was only because someone struck up a conversation with the brewer. Can you blame them?
1. Collaboration Beers
The Festival's influence on local beer goes well beyond the hours that brewers were pouring for eager attendees. Arriving on the West Coast earlier in the week, not only gave brewers from around the world a chance to meet the local guys, but it also gave them time to collaborate on new beers together. In the days before the event, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing collaborated with both Brouwerji De Molen from The Netherlands (on a smoked imperial stout) and Belgium's Brasserie de la Senne. Rooie Dop, also from The Netherlands, even went to Mexico and San Diego to brew collaboration beers. Brewing together emulates what this industry (and The Festival) stands for — collaborating on everything from ideas, to recipes, to beer names exemplifies the unity the craft industry garners. These collaborations increase the quantity of craft beer, yes, but it also makes the craft beer world that much smaller.