Another year down, another dozen or so new breweries now operating in L.A. County, additions that bring the total number of local beer makers close to 60. (That’s up from only a couple seven years ago.)
A noticeable trend this year was the emergence of several great Belgian-focused facilities, each piling up oak barrels and infecting beers in an attempt to put a local spin on one of the world’s oldest and most complex brewing traditions. Still, L.A.’s beer scene remains as diverse as its restaurants, making it one of the most exciting places in the world to be a beer fan.
This means that drinking #LAbeer in 2016 can include activities as varied as grabbing some friends and doing a brewery crawl across the San Fernando Valley, waiting in line in a Torrance industrial park for two hours for a few 16-ounce cans of an elusive East Coast IPA, or walking into a coffee shop–looking storefront in downtown Pomona before a concert and discovering some of the funkiest sour beers around. It can even mean pounding a few pints of — gasp — cider.
Here are five places keeping things interesting that opened in the last 12 months:
Indie Brewing Company
In early 2013, when Connor Forbes and Kevin O’Malley wrote the first business plan for Indie Brewing Company, session beers were still a progressive dream. Brewers themselves may have been appreciating flavorful, low-alcohol brews as a way to consume more without getting too buzzed, but the public still wanted high-ABV palate wreckers. By the time Indie opened in an industrial patch of Boyle Heights between the L.A. River and the 5 freeway earlier this year, however, local drinkers had come around to the benefits of light beers in a car-sodden town. Indie’s bright and hoppy XPA, at only 4.8% ABV, is one of the best poundable beers in the city. A kolsch, a porter and a year-round saison also clock in under 5%, while a few newer IPAs and other seasonal beers are starting to stretch beyond that. In addition to accounts across downtown and the Eastside, you can drink straight at the source on Fridays and Saturdays, the only days (for now) that the tasting room is open to the public.
2301 E. Seventh St., #C100, Boyle Heights. (323) 354-4285, indiebrewco.com.
Honest Abe Cidery
As much as L.A. has proven to love craft beer, 2016 is undoubtedly the year that craft cider and mead made their way into the public consciousness. The county got not only its first pourhouse dedicated to showcasing all the creative spins on fermented apples and honey — Long Beach’s Great Society Cider & Mead — but also an experimental hometown cidery tasting room that’s central enough to start converting the masses. Carson’s Honest Abe, owned and operated by Spencer Chambers, who grew up making his own hooch in Kentucky, is Southern California’s first cidery and has been distributing a few core ciders since 2014. Yet it only opened its tasting room in March, a move that coincided with the mounting release of new products, from fruit meads to dry-hopped ciders to an oaky barrel-aged cider with a tart, dry finish. Sure, it’s not beer (it’s gluten-free!), but the growing craft cider and mead movement is a close friend of the industry, and Honest Abe’s innovation in fermented beverages makes it deserving of this list.
17800 S. Main St., #105, Gardena. (213) 534-8131, honestabecider.com.
Brouwerij West was L.A.’s local, Belgian-loving contract brewery that had bottles on shelves since before #LAbeer was even a thing, but 2016 is the year owner Brian Mercer finally got a 72-year-old decommissioned Port of Los Angeles warehouse to call home. In addition to having a breathtaking San Pedro space to park his brewery and tasting room (think: exposed wood beams in an airplane hangar), Mercer also makes some of the most exciting mixed-fermentation beers around. Brilliant but Lazy, Get Back and My First Rodeo are made by mixing multiple microorganisms — usually the ever-evolving house yeast and some tart-making bacteria — into an otherwise "clean" brew. The end results are sour, funky, fruity and highly nuanced creations, many of them made with specialty grains from small farms, that pair well with the three things Brouwerij West offers every weekend: food, punk shows and fresh ocean air. 110 E. 22nd St., Warehouse No. 9, San Pedro. (310) 833-9330, brouwerijwest.com.
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SHOW ME HOW
Between touring with his hardcore bands Silver Snakes, Bleeding Kansas and Horse the Band, guitarist and bassist Jeremiah Bignell would homebrew beer. Inspired by the complex lambics of Belgium, he started cultivating wild yeasts from bottles of his favorite beers and began barrel-aging funky weirdness in his spare time. A decade later and those gloriously infected homebrew barrels have created the distinguishing centerpiece for Homage Brewing, a storefront brewery he opened with fellow hardcore musician and homebrewer Matt Garcia in May. Nestled between the Glasshouse and the Fox Theatre in downtown Pomona, the minimalist space specializes in tart, funky and sour beers all named after the brewer’s favorite songs — Someone Great, Black Ales in the Sunset. Clean beers also come out of their small (technically nano) brewing system, including floral West Coast IPAs, juicy New England pale ales and dry stouts.
281 S. Thomas St., #101, Pomona. (626) 377-0930, homagebrewing.com.
To be fair, Cellador has released only a few beers at the time of this writing, but it's still among our favorite drinks of the year. After several years of prepping and experimenting, Kevin and Sara Osborne now are making sour-beer magic out of their North Hills warehouse, which, unlike most breweries you’ve probably seen, has no brewhouse and no stainless steel fermenters (it’s also within spitting distance of the Van Nuys Budweiser plant). Instead, the Osbornes operate more like a winery, making their base beers elsewhere, then transporting them to their home base to age — often with fruits and various hops — in new and used oak barrels, making it among the few 100 percent barrel-fermented craft breweries in the nation. The results are highly nuanced sour beers, such as the funky dry-hopped spelt saison ++Good and Caute, a table saison aged in red wine barrels, which are available in limited quantities at a few L.A. bottle shops and to members of their bottle club, the Syndicate.