Not all beer is created equal — at least not this far into the game. As Los Angeles approaches the five-year anniversary of having a craft beer scene to call its own, it’s time to reflect a little on the mind-boggling exponential growth in the number of breweries, brewpubs and beer-slinging establishments sprouting up in every pocket of the Southland.
By our count, 13 new breweries opened in L.A. County in 2014, including some brands (Chatsworth’s Hand-Brewed Beer, Santa Monica Brew Works) that don’t yet have tasting rooms and others (Phantom Carriage) that havehad product in the market for a while but finally got their own facility.
With so much new beer out there, it’s hard to sift through the muck and know what’s worth drinking. For us, we like breweries with balls — the ones that come out of the gate with uncommon styles done well, the ones that set up in dead zones of craft anything, the ones that take risks with their new beers but always come out with a drinkable product.
Classics like Eagle Rock Brewery, Ladyface Ale Companie and El Segundo Brewery will always have a special place in our beer-loving heart (and you should really go to Carson for Phantom Carriage’s expertly made sours), but here are three totally new, ballsy breweries (in their order of opening) that launched in 2014. Consider them added to our growing list of places making L.A. a better city for craft beer.
MacLeod Ale Brewing Company
Left behind in L.A.’s brewery boom of the last few years, the San Fernando Valley desperately needed a brewery and tasting room to call its own. Since June, MacLeod Ale in Van Nuys has become just the gathering place the Valley’s beer community craved. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the brewery is the first in Southern California to focus exclusively on cellar-temperature cask (or “real”) ales, or that the beers are expertly made by an Anglophile who moved here from the East Coast specifically for the opportunity to make his favorite kind of pond-hopping beers. Sure, without a CO2 tap system at the taproom, growler fills end up a little more flat than they do at other breweries, and only a few beer bars in L.A. even have the special hand-pulled serving system needed to traditionally pour MacLeod’s beers such as Little Spree (a Yorkshire pale ale akin to the rarely imported TIm Taylor’s Landlord) and the Session Gap (a light special bitter). But find a pint of any MacLeod beer (Glendale Tap usually serves one on its regular draft system) and you’ll be glad you ditched your pre-judgments about room-temperature brew. 14741 Calvert St., Van Nuys; macleodale.com.
Highland Park Brewery
The first time we visited Highland Park Brewery, inside the Hermosillo on York, brewmaster Bob Kunz and his friends were slicing up fresh peaches to put into a Berliner weisse that would be getting sweeter as it got more sour in a stainless steel barrel in the back of his former escort club turned brewpub. Perhaps an ambitious early experiment for a home brewer going public with his own recipes for the first time, but it was only a small sampling of the skills Kunz earned from his long history of working with old-school L.A. beer institutions such as Craftsman Brewing and Father’s Office. After six months of slinging signature bright and hoppy ready-to-drink options such as the citrusy Hello L.A. IPA and the lager-like Refresh house beer (by far, two of the best new L.A. beers of the year — we’d be drinking one of each now if we could), Highland Park Brewery released bottles of Lazy Susan, that peachy-nectarine sour we watched being made in those early days. With more bottles imminent, it’s been a whirlwind year for Highland Park Brewery, but the real winners in all this are the residents of Highland Park, whose local brewery is both a down-home high-dive and one of the city’s best. Did we mention its holiday beer was a ham porter, made by throwing an actual ham into the tank? Now that’s balls! 5125 York Blvd., Highland Park; (323) 739-6459; thehermosillo.com
Three Weavers Brewing Company
Within spitting distance of the iconic Randy’s Donuts near LAX, Three Weavers is not only making an unlikely beer destination out of the city of Inglewood but it’s also churning out some of the best L.A.-made beers we’ve ever tasted. The clean, crisp beers — from the flagship Deep Roots ESB to the recently brewed imperial red, Blood Junkie — are balanced enough to make Northern California jealous and bitter enough to give San Diego a run for its money. They're a testament to the solid brewing roots of brewmaster Alexandra Nowell, who cut her teeth at Sierra Nevada, Moylan’s and Drakes before moving to SoCal and winning two GAB medals her first year working at Kinetic in Lancaster. After a successful Kickstarter campaign that assisted with the tasting-room buildout, Three Weavers opened for pints and growler fills in October, and is currently on tap at beer bars and restaurants throughout L.A. A bottling line was installed this month, so expect to see more of Nowell’s specialty beers — such as the recent yuzu-infused IPA collaboration with Noble Aleworks in Anaheim — on shelves soon. 1031 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood; 310-400-5830; threeweavers.la