At this time last year on an unassuming Saturday 2,000 people gathered downtown for the L.A. Craft Beer Crawl to sample some of the finest beer in Southern California. The heat was intense, the crowd was packed, and the waitlist for spare tickets was long. This year, for the fourth annual Crawl, the event has expanded to span two days, with Saturday already sold out. With weekend passes available and discounted accommodations, the event is quickly becoming an ever-growing destination weekend for beer geeks.
The expansion of the festival is just one of many concurrent events happening in L.A. County this weekend, all marking the growing success of our local craft industry. Brew at the L.A. Zoo kicks off the celebrations on Fri. Aug. 9, followed by the Full Pint 6th Anniversary at 38 Degrees Ale House Sat. Aug. 10, and the Blue Palms 5th Anniversary on Sun. Aug. 11. This weekend is second only to L.A. Beer Week for total beer saturation.
We bent the ear of L.A. Craft Beer Crawl coordinator and Beer Chick Hallie Beaune to get her seasoned opinion on the continuing growth of craft beer in L.A. and nationwide, and her thoughts on local beer trends.
Last week the Brewers Association released national growth numbers for craft beer covering the first half of 2013. Up again, the craft beer market continues to grow in the double digits, 15% in sales and 13% by volume in the first half of 2013, while the overall beer market slumps. 446 new breweries opened between mid-year 2012 and June 2013 bringing the grand total of operating breweries to 2,538 — a historic high. With such enormous growth, some representatives of the industry wonder if breweries' numbers have reached their peak.
Squid Ink: Do you think there's any reason to believe the craft beer industry is a bubble on its way to bursting? Would national oversaturation apply to L.A.?
Hallie Beaune: I think the popularity of craft beer is definitely drawing people into the idea of opening a brewery, which is very challenging. So there will probably be a lot of people who want to do it for the novelty of it and will find that it takes a lot of dedication to make a brewery stand out and be successful. And at the end of the day the beer has to be good for the brewery to last, and the brewer needs to have experience and expertise. But I don't think there will be a bubble regarding the demand for craft beer, once people taste it and find the great variety of flavors in craft beer, they will only want more quality beer. You don't go back to the crappy stuff!
SI: In our own corner of the world, Los Angeles is notoriously behind other major metropolitan areas for quantity of breweries and beer bars per capita. What can you say about current local growth?
HB: There is so much opportunity for breweries, both local and from out of state. Most breweries that open surrounding L.A. find that, if their beer is good, they can't make enough for the demand — meaning the demand is immediately very high for their beer. This is unlike places like Portland, OR, that have a ton of breweries already. Craft beer is replacing mass-produced beer in restaurants and bars all over this enormous city, and I think that translates to huge growth for the craft beer industry in L.A.
SI: Is that why the L.A. Craft Beer Crawl has expanded from one day to two?
HB: We've been lucky enough to have a big crowd each year and sell out since year one. I think there was a need for a large craft beer event, especially in downtown with such great architecture and a renaissance happening there. Since we typically had a waitlist and the event was pretty packed, we decided to add a day to allow more people to come and to ease the crowds a bit. We also lowered the price this year to keep it accessible.
SI: Having been familiar with the L.A. beer scene for so long, are you privy to any traits that are making the city's beer or brewers distinctive?
BC: The distinction in L.A.'s scene, as with its food scene, seems to be the diversity of styles. We don't have a ton of just hop-forward IPA breweries, as are more common in San Diego. We have breweries making beers all over the map: sours, IPAs, Light lagers, Belgian-styles, etc. The beers tend to reflect what the brewers like to drink, which is different for every brewer.
SI: What do you think of Torrance becoming the epicenter of beer in L.A.? With Strand, Monkish, Smog City and now The Dudes,' it seems the most concentrated chunk of breweries is popping up there.
BC: It's great. It is often more realistic for breweries to find spaces outside of the more expensive and well-known parts of town. Craft breweries can really draw people into an area they may not be familiar with, in the same way that a craft-focused bar or restaurant can draw people into a new neighborhood. I think it's always great when a brewery brings that kind of new love for craft beer into a neighborhood outside of the more familiar parts of L.A. There are a lot of parts of L.A. I know because of visits to breweries.
We look forward to seeing local favorites Eagle Rock, El Segundo, Monkish, Smog City, Strand, Golden Road, and Ladyface at the Fourth Annual L.A. Craft Beer Crawl this weekend. So many new faces and returning brewers will make the weekend a (tipsy) success.
Erika writes at erikabolden.com and @erikabolden. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.