No one likes a skunky beer — an undesirable flaw that occurs quickly if a bottle is improperly stored. And there are plenty of other things that can go wrong once a case of bottles leaves the brewery, from degraded hop aromas (noticeably lessened four to six months after a beer is brewed) to staleness (that wet-cardboard, sherry taste). Which is why breweries and craft beer drinkers alike are particular about their bottle shops — the more discerning the retail environment, the better.
Luckily, in L.A. we have craft beer bottle shops that know beer is best kept like wine, in the dark at cellar temperatures. In Southern California — where the Christmas Eve forecast is 72 and sunny — bottle storage can be precarious. The moment you walk into a retail store to buy beer, take a look around. Are there any beers directly exposed to light? Are hoppy selections on a warm shelf gathering dust or in a cooler? Is the staff knowledgable? Are the prices fair?
We snooped around and found the following top shops that not only stock the best beer selections in the area but take care of their inventory, too. For a last-minute holiday gift that will delight any beer lover (or, hell, for a good bottle any time of year), check out these L.A. County bottle shops, listed alphabetically. Because to us, beer is perfect — no wrapping required.
The Westside is a challenging place to find great beer. Outside of big chain companies, grocery stores and a few small boutiques (we love you, Andrew’s Cheese Shop!), there is only one substantial destination for beer. Beverage Warehouse is exactly what it sounds like — a beverage warehouse that provides everything from imports to local selections, with healthy rotations of seasonal beer, Oktoberfest and winter seasonals. 4935 McConnell Ave., Del Rey; 310-306-2822
Bill’s Liquor Store
From Glendale Boulevard, the exterior of Bill’s seems unassuming until you round the corner and see the mural that declares “largest beer selection in Atwater.” Bill’s boasts a nice selection of mix-and-match bottles in cold storage, so you can start small before committing to hopped-up six-packs. We were delighted to see a number of catalogued selections of California bombers from past years, carefully labeled next to their 2014 counterparts. 3150 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village; (323) 663-0684.
Craft Beer Kings/Plaza Market
If Craft Beer Kings isn’t your local bottle shop, keeping updated on when you should make the drive out to El Monte is easy. This bottle destination keeps its Instagram profile updated (@craftbeerkings), does a nice job on its website and offers a newsletter that touts its extensive selection of everyday and crazy specialty beers. Best part of making the trek — it has some of the most reasonable prices we’ve seen on rare and regular bottles. 2400 Peck Road, El Monte; (626) 444-4454
Family-owned and -run Ramirez Liquor is constantly upping its beer game. The original Boyle Heights shop still has a favorable selection (though you’d be remiss to walk out of here without a bottle of tequila as well). A second Ramirez location opened in Pico Rivera in 2013 and, in November, the Cellar Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Whittier opened with more than 20 beers on tap in addition to the bottles for purchase. 736 S. Soto St., Boyle Heights; 323-261-2915
Select Beer Store
Every visit to Select Beer Store will leave you lamenting the fact that you don’t live in Redondo Beach. The bottle shop and tasting room, with a dozen meticulously curated taps, is casual and unpretentious but treats its beer with the respect it deserves. Walls of coolers keep beers cool and fresh, and thoughtful descriptions help you navigate the dry-storage selection. This is the perfect place to be a regular. 1613 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach; (310) 540-1221
At Stearns Liquor in Long Beach, you’ll find all of those fragrant, hoppy beers with their short shelf lives properly stored in coolers. Not only is a world-class selection of beer at your disposal and sensibly laid out but also the friendly staff is ready to talk you through suggestions and beer industry news. Need something a little stronger? Check out the reasonably priced bourbon. Stearns is the best place to go for all your barrel-to-bottle needs. 4360 E. Stearns St., Long Beach; 562-597-3984
Sunset Beer Co.
You wouldn’t know from the street that one of the greatest places to buy beer in Los Angeles is in the corner of a strip mall on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. When you first walk in to the appropriately dark space, you’ll see a long, well-lighted wall of coolers packed with local favorites and far-away specialty beers. For a $2 corkage fee (which is waived Monday through Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m.), you can drink a bottle on site in the adjacent lounge, or choose from one of the beers on tap. Try the bottled collaboration Sunset Beer Co. made with Monkish Brewing Co. in Torrance for a true taste of L.A. 1498 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 481-2337
Valley Beverage (Sherman Oaks)
Closing out its 12 Days of Christmas beer release schedule, Valley Beverage has been selling some of the most sought-after bottles on the market this holiday season. Selections from Cantillon, Russian River, Mikkeller and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout series have been available at different times of day, announced on Instagram (@valleybev) the day before. With a well-stocked California beer selection, Valley Beverage’s friendly and knowledgeable staff is there to help you put the trophy beers aside and hunt out the right beer for you. 14901 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks; 818-981-1566