This past weekend, downtown L.A.'s usual cast of visitors and resident eccentrics was joined by throngs of craft beer lovers. The fourth annual L.A. Craft Beer Crawl hosted 40 breweries spanning seven bars.
New this year, the festival stretched over two days — an excellent move on the part of coordinators. Saturday's crowd was, as expected, packed and a heavier party atmosphere resulted. On Sunday, when the Crawl had to compete with other tempting local beer events (such as Blue Palm's fifth anniversary), fewer festivalgoers were in attendance, making the atmosphere more relaxed and the beer more accessible.
For those crawling for quality, the early admission was worth the elevated ticket price. Not only were you permitted entrance before the herds of buzz seekers but also you had more opportunity to discuss the beer with brewers and staff. The best access granted to early-admission ticket holders was to the Varnish — the speakeasy in the back of Cole's. Here, a rare beer was tapped every hour: Eagle Rock's Tart Noir on Saturday and the Bruery's Sour in the Rye With Kumquats on Sunday were exceptional selections. An intimate, dark room lit by oil-burning lamps was the perfect antithesis to overexposed, eccentric West Sixth Street.
Other stand-out beers at the Crawl included TAPS Schwarzbier pouring at Casey's (5.3% ABV Schwarzbier), a light-bodied, roasted malt German dark lager, a drinkable choice after countless Imperials. Noble Ale Works' Pistola at Las Perlas (4.5% herbal lager) incorporates Serrano chiles in the fermenting process of the brewery's Pistol Whip'D Czech-style Pilsner — it tasted green and gave the illusion of heat without being undrinkably spicy. Finally, we sampled the Bruery's Or Xata at Seven Grand (7% spiced blond ale), which had a pillowy mouth feel and level of spice that may be more holiday-appropriate than horchata-appropriate, but as it served as a nightcap for the day's events, we couldn't help going back for a second.
Wreck Check was a favorite novelty of the Crawl, on hand testing the sobriety of festivalgoers — a surprisingly fun and valuable service. Unless you've been pulled over for driving under the influence, you probably don't know where your alcohol levels register. Now we know exactly how many beer tastings is too many (and happily accepted a ride home).
Gone this year were the seminars and home brewers who crowded the tiny Varnish bar. In their place were the bitter, sour and barrel-aged selections for early-admission ticket holders. But don't expect that things will stay the same next year. While the festival is likely to take place over two days once again, its attending brewers, showcased beers and featured events are as quickly evolving as the L.A. beer scene itself.
Erika writes at erikabolden.com and @erikabolden. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.