There are many ways in which the fourth annual Los Angeles Beer Week, which began last night, represents a major milestone in the city's craft beer scene.

In addition to the dizzying number of events this year (the official calendar lists at least 20 separate events happening each day through next Sunday) showing that a slew of new establishments and neighborhoods now have craft beer offerings, the lineup also indicates that L.A. is making strides on what many believe to be the most important driving force for growing beer communities — breweries.

When 2011's L.A. Beer Week brought together beer lovers last October, many of the new crop of hometown breweries was still starting out. El Segundo Brewing Company was only about five months in. Beachwood Brewing was only three. Monkish Brewing was still a pipe dream. And Golden Road Brewing was just opening its doors.

Since then, Monkish has started pouring some of the most imaginative Belgian styles in town, Golden Road's cans are commonplace in local liquor stores, both Strand Brewing Co. and El Segundo have opened tasting rooms and Beachwood Brewing won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup.

As the Virginia Slims marketing campaign used to tell us: “We've come a long way, baby.”

Credit: Couresy of L.A. Craft Beer Tours

Credit: Couresy of L.A. Craft Beer Tours

And sure there are tap takeovers and tasting events featuring many of these newish, stride-hitting local breweries this week, but perhaps the greatest indication of the growth in worthy production breweries at this year's LABW lies in the handful of brewery tours planned throughout the region.

L.A.'s car-clogged sprawl and sometimes-where-you-need-it public transit makes it hard for many brewery fans to get to where their favorite local beer is made. But hopping on a tour bus and having it take you to multiple locations in one day eliminates factors such as drunk driving and getting lost in industrial parks on the fringes of town. Just ask San Diego, a city whose beer culture would not be the same without the hoards of tour buses that bring thirsty faithfuls to its collection of north county craft breweries.

With two free tours through L.A. and Orange County organized by Dale and Pat of L.A. Craft Beer Tours — another venture that was in its infancy this time last year — and a third put together by the dudes at El Segundo Brewing, this LABW is a coming out party for local breweries. Drink accordingly.

Saturday, September 22

L.A. Brewery Tour

Tour #1: 11:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

Tour #2: 5:15 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Both of these tours start and return at Eagle Rock Brewery with stops at Strand, El Segundo and Golden Road. Tours are free, but space is limited. Email for reservation.

South Bay/Long Beach Brewery Shuttle Bus

From 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. a continuously looping shuttle bus will be running (with the help of LA Craft Beer Tours) between Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, Monkish Brewing, El Segundo Brewing and The Brewery at Abigaile. Busses will start at El Segundo and Beachwood at 1 p.m. sharp and will pick up and drop off at each location about every hour. Tickets are $15 for unlimited rides.

Sunday, September 23

L.A. to O.C. Brewery Tour

Departs Golden Road at 11 a.m. Returns approximately 6 p.m.

Stops at Noble Ale Works, Old Orange Brewery and The Bruery. Tours are free, but space is limited. Email for reservation.

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