LA Cask Ales Not to Miss at Firkfest

Reposted from the LA Weekly…

At the sold-out Firkfest, on March 21 at Farmer’s Park in Anaheim, SoCal breweries will bring their cask-ale A game, with creative interpretations ranging from hop infusions to local fruit and herb additions. The fest and its lineup are well worth the drive across the Orange Curtain (as long as you already bought your tickets).

Traditionally, cask beer has undergone secondary fermentation in a cask vessel — for example, the 10-gallon firkin from which the festival takes its name. Any carbonation in the unpasteurized, unfiltered beer is a natural byproduct of the yeast and not added carbon dioxide. Compared with keg beer, it can have a more complex flavor and lighter carbonation, and is considered by some to be a finer specimen of draught.

Navigating the lineup of unusual ales might be a little daunting, so here are our recommendations for which L.A.-brewed beers are not to be missed. Taste in order of ascending alcohol content and move fast — last year casks kicked quickly.

Denver Jackhammer DIPA, 9.3% ABV; Beachwood BBQ & Brewing (Long Beach)
This West Coast–style double IPA infused with Chinook hop flowers from Beachwood takes the cake for biggest hop bomb of the fest. The dry-hop lineup will “bulldoze your olfactory senses with aromas of fresh resin, bright tangerines and herbal dankness,” according to the brewery. Consider yourself warned.

Hammerland DIPA, 8.6%; El Segundo Brewing (El Segundo)
Firkfest founder Greg Nagel calls Hammerland an “insta-whale” for its rarity and rising cult status. (“Whales” refer to beers that are sought after and hard to find.) This double IPA brewed with Simcoe and Mosaic hops recently won a coveted first place and best in show at the 15th annual Bistro Double IPA Festival in Hayward. Recently available in bottles, it’s our newest L.A. beer obsession.

Alpha Wolf IPA, 8% ABV; Golden Road Brewing (Los Angeles)
Golden Road takes its core beer, Wolf Among Weeds, and triple dry-hops it to make this palate-busting IPA. With a combination of Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe and Cascade hops, it’s a contender for the most aromatic selection at the fest. Also try Princesa Peach, a Berliner Weisse aged in tequila barrels with peaches.

PhoTonic IPA, 7.3% ABV; Smog City Brewing (Torrance)
Hoptonic IPA gets an exotic makeover with the addition of kaffir lime and Thai basil. Infusions and fruit additions are becoming a specialty hobby for this Torrance brewery, which often embarks on urban foraging adventures to procure citrus. No kumquat tree in the city is off-limits.

Selah Saison, 6.8% ABV; Monkish Brewing (Torrance)
There aren’t many saisons at Firkfest, so trying Monkish’s elegant farmhouse ale with brettanomyces should be a priority. The dry-hopped beer gets even more enticing with an infusion of chamomile and lavender. Shaolin Kick, a take off the brewery’s Shaolin Fist with Sichuan peppercorns, also will be making a reappearance.

Yankee Mick American Brown, 5.3% ABV; MacLeod Ale Company (Van Nuys)
Firkfest is MacLeod’s time to shine, as it’s the only local brewery that exclusively produces traditional British cask ales. Yankee Mick, dry-hopped with Cascade and Chinook hops, is a great beer to start the day and bridges the gap between American and British beer. MacLeod’s will pour six beers.

LA’s First Sour Beer-devoted Brewery Launches Tasting Room

Reposted from the LA Weekly…

Build a place where you want to hang out and fill it with beer you want to drink — even if that place is dark and creepy and the beer is laced with bacteria. That’s Phantom Carriage Brewery co-founder Martin Svab’s inspiration for a new sour-beer tasting room. The taproom and cafe has been serving since the end of 2014 but will host a grand opening this Saturday.

Phantom Carriage’s Carson digs have skylights that let in some natural light, but looming stacks of barrels and flickering candles set an ambience that’s more “Transylvanian cellar” than “industrial warehouse.” A skeleton greets you at the bar and an on-site movie theater projects horror and science fiction films onto a 130-inch screen. (Phantom Carriage gets its name from a Swedish silent horror film.)

Coming from a career in the film industry, Svab got involved in the L.A. beer scene in 2006 when Stone Brewing Co. hired him to help develop the L.A. market. He worked with Father’s Office and eventually Naja’s Place, where he spent almost four years managing their beer program. In 2013, Svab dedicated himself full time to getting Phantom Carriage off the ground, along with the help of co-founder Jackson Wignot and head of barrel operations Simon Ford.

The first beer Phantom Carriage produced (in collaboration with Monkish Brewing Company) was a Belgian-style wild blonde ale called Muis, in 2013. Some of the beers that have been available at the tasting room since the soft opening include Lugosi (12.8% ABV), a strong dark ale aged in Syrah barrels, and Bergman (8.4% ABV), a wild blonde ale aged in oak barrels.

Both of these contain brettanomyces, lactobacillus and pediococcus — strains of wild yeast and bacteria that make sour beer taste, well, sour. House beers are served in distinctive, long-stem tulip glasses perfect for the terrifying clutch of Nosferatu’s Count Orlok. Or, you know, for sipping.

The on-site kitchen offers a casual, seasonal menu inspired by European dishes. Smoked-meat sandwiches and charcuterie steady drinkers and complement the acidic, complex beer. Phantom Carriage also offers 100-plus guest bottles, wine and select cocktails.

Saturday’s grand opening will feature 10 Phantom Carriage beers on tap, including a new barrel-aged wild beer. Guest beer will include Smog City’s The Nothing, Artifex’s Rye-Diculous, Almanac’s Valley of the Heart’s Delight and Ballast Point’s Commodore Stout.

More sour programs have surfaced at existing L.A. breweries, including Craftsman, Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, Monkish and Smog City.

“It’s great to see [other breweries] raising the bar on sours and make some amazing stuff,“ says Svab. "We haven’t even hit our stride yet. I’m pretty convinced there are some amazing years ahead in the L.A. beer scene.”

Phantom Carriage Grand Opening Party, Saturday, March 7, 12-11 p.m.; 18525 S. Main St., Carson; (310) 538-5834

Hard Apple Cider Makes Moves in LA

Reposted from the LA Weekly…

Well-made cider has all kinds of benefits that make it perfect for Los Angeles drinkers. It’s chock full of nutrients, like what you would get from a juice bar, but with a host of natural probiotics (and a splendid buzz). Plus, it’s naturally gluten-free.

At a recent cider tasting Mark McTavish, president of Half Pint Cider purveyors and owner of Troy Cider, noted, “L.A. is a new audience of cider drinkers who mostly want sweet, clean, easy-drinking ciders” — which is why McTavish is looking to craft beer drinkers and artisanal food lovers as a target audience for some of his higher-end products.

“Cider is better for cheese than wine,“ McTavish said. "Contrary to popular opinion, when pairing with cheese it goes: cider, then beer, then wine.” In certain regions of Spain, the cider and cheese connection is so strong that it would be unthinkable to have one without the other.

McTavish is in the process of opening his own cidery in Westlake Village, which uses fruit harvested from orchards located along Highway 101. The traditional cider-making process is simple: collect apples, press them for juice and ferment.

There are myriad types of hard cider with their own specifications. “Real cider” in the U.K. must be 90 percent fresh apple juice, “sidre” in Spain is poured escanciado — from a great height — and “perry” is similar to cider but made from pears.

However, most modern American ciders, the kind you readily find in supermarkets, are made from apple juice concentrate (with added sugar), fermented, then force-carbonated and sweetened again before bottling. They are highly filtered and resemble a soda spiked with booze.

For a cider that has been stripped of its nutritional benefits and replaced with anti-foaming agents and flavorings, look to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Johnny Appleseed, the company’s 2014 foray into the cider market. The cider is branded as “refreshingly sweet and intense” — and tastes like a Jolly Rancher.

And while the quality is much better than Johnny Appleseed, that bomber of Julian Hard Cider you thought came from the apple-growing town of Julian, Calif., is actually contract-brewed in Oregon with Oregon fruit. The company is in the midst of a nasty lawsuit about it. 

These cloyingly sweet ciders stand in stark contrast to the small-batch cider available in L.A. Artistically crafted ciders are often unfiltered and bottle-conditioned. They might be wild-fermented or contain champagne yeast. Some use additional fruit like quince or botanicals like hops; others spend time in bourbon barrels. Sweetness runs the gamut from dessert-like to bone dry.

Outside of the bar or bottle shop, a reliable place to buy cider is a cheese shop. Look to Milkfarm in Eagle Rock or Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica for the mind-blowing Sea Cider Prohibition (pair it with a zesty blue cheese) or Troy 2013 (with a smoked cheddar).

For a solid cider selection at a bar try Eagle Rock Public House, where they offer Troy along with a couple of Spanish ciders in bottles, or Surly Goat (and the rest of the Goat Group bars), where ciders are rotated on tap.

K&L Wine Merchants has a spectrum of domestic and international ciders. Many boutique wine shops carry cider too. Try Domaine LA for the best international selection, Silverlake Wine for its carefully selected cider offering (there’s only one), or Bar & Garden, where you can join a cider tasting on Tuesday, March 10, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Tickets on Sale for the Firestone Walker Invitational

Reposted from the LA Weekly…

Tickets go on sale Sunday, Feb. 8 2015, at 9:00 a.m. PST, for the fourth annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival (FWIBF). As they have in previous years, these will likely sell out within minutes, so grab your coffee early and get set before sales start.

The festival will take place from 12- 5 p.m., Saturday, May 30, 2015, in Paso Robles at the Pioneer Town Event Center and is one of the country’s most highly anticipated beer festivals. Firestone Walker Brewing Co. will bring together over 45 top breweries, some from California, but many from other states and countries that don’t distribute to the West Coast, for a festival that makes beer geeks around the world envious of its tap list.

Last year’s Garage Project from New Zealand was a crowd favorite, and we can expect to see a balanced bill of international breweries again this year. Although we cannot confirm brewmaster Matt Brynildson’s final lineup of breweries, a Firestone Walker representative tells us, “expect to see FWIBF favorites but also some intriguing newcomers.”

Besides unlimited tastings of hard-to-find and greatly coveted beer, what can you expect from the $85 ticket? A smattering of delicious food samples from over 25 of the Central Coast’s best restaurants, of course. American fare like chili and barbecue in addition to more delicate items such as the memorable craft beer gelato that was such a hit last year. Live music and a grassy knoll provide a great place to take a load off. If you’re looking to park it in the shade for a few minutes sit in on the hourly Behind the Beer Sessions, featuring interviews with some of the festival’s most interesting attendants.

Want to get into the festival an hour before that steaming crowd that’s been lined up since dawn? Buy an early admission ticket for $211. And before you balk at the up-sell price, all the proceeds from these more expensive tickets go to the Marine Corp Scholarship Foundation. (Also, there will be Dark Lord.) 

Hopefully we’ll see some local brewers on the list but the advantage of the FWIBF, what really sets it apart from the rest, is the opportunity to drink beers you’d otherwise have to board a plane to sample.

Beyond the beer, the FWIBF is about people and community. Not just the community you’ve established at home — only a select few of those breweries will be pouring. This festival is it about extending the reach of your relationships entirely. Introduce yourself to the brewmaster you’ve always wanted to meet, make new contacts with whom you can trade beer, and solidify existing friendships that will last for many years and many festivals to come.

To purchase tickets, visit. the FWIBF 2015 Eventbrite pageafter 9 a.m. on Sunday, February 8.

LA’s Best Happy Hour with Tacos

Reposeted from the LA Weekly…

Tacos are one of the most ubiquitous and beloved foods in Los Angeles. Everyone has an opinion on where the best ones can be found, based on varying degrees of freshness, authenticity or innovation. Most modest taquerias have no license to sell alcohol; if they do, the selection is limited to macro Mexican beers. Plenty of restaurants feature daily taco specials, including “Taco Tuesday.” But deals on this glorious, handheld street food extend beyond the one day of the week that allows for alliteration. A great taco happy hour must offer a variety of discounted tacos, but just as important as the comida is the cerveza and cocteles — we want ice-cold beer and strong margaritas. Other bonuses were required to make our cut: a pile of chips and salsa, handmade tortillas, sustainable ingredients or unbeatable ambiance.

This is not a definitive list of the best tacos in town. Best taco happy hour is meant to situate you with a taco in one hand and an adult beverage in the other, for less than $10 — una auténtica hora feliz.

Border Grill, Santa Monica

Established in Santa Monica in 1990, Border Grill was one of the early restaurants to orient Los Angeles toward the high-quality street food that now defines it. Border Grill’s founders, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, committed their menu to ethically sourced, seasonal cooking long before it was popular. To this day, the fare is fresh and flavorful. When you visit Santa Monica or the downtown location for happy hour in the afternoon or late night, try one of eight available tacos, all of which come on a handmade corn tortilla. For a taste of the classics, go with the grilled fish and taco Ensenada, both made with sustainable seafood. The al pastor taco with chicken, pork and grilled pineapple is also a great choice, each at $3.50. Try a Baja ceviche shot and wash it down with a margarita or beer for $5 during happy hour. The interior decor feels a little dated, but let it serve as a reminder that without the visions of restaurateurs like Feniger and Milliken, the most exotic dishes in L.A. would still be quiche Lorraine and Chinese chicken salad. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9-11 p.m.; Sun., all day. 1445 Fourth St., Santa Monica; (310) 451-1655, bordergrill.com.

Pink Taco, Century City

The best reason to dine at the Pink Taco in the Westfield Century City mall is happy hour. You would be wise to strategically time your shopping and movie watching so that you can take advantage of the daily, four-hour slot when margaritas and beer are completely reasonably priced at $5 and $3, respectively, and the complimentary chips and salsa just keep coming. You also can order sangria for $5, great for sipping outside in the summer. Pink tacos, the crassly named signature item, are available in pairs for $7.50, (it’s the pickled red onion that makes them pink), as are portobello mushroom tacos. For more substantial snacking, order the nachos without meat for $8 or guacamole for $7.50. The tricked-out neon Mexican skull art is a little visually exhausting by day, but it makes for a fun atmosphere by night. Check out the Sunset Strip location for late-night hours, and keep a lookout for new locations as the chain grows in L.A. Happy hour daily, 3-7 p.m., extended happy-hour menu 4 p.m.-close Tue. 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Century City, (310) 789-1000, pinktaco.com.

Mercado, Hollywood Hills

Modern Mexican is a perfect genre for Los Angeles dining. Combine upcycled fixtures that satisfy our attraction to pretty, shiny things with a bustling atmosphere that indulges our desire to see and be seen, and throw in updated traditional dishes that reflect the cultural makeup of the city. It’s everything we want. Jesse Gomez is nailing this combination with his Mercado restaurants, and he loves happy hour just as much as we do. The most recent outpost, with its dimensional Dia de los Muertos mural, in the Hollywood Hills across the 101 freeway from Universal Studios, brings much-needed upscale dining to the neighborhood. Visit during happy hour and order two tacos de carnitas with slow-cooked pork and guacamole for $6, or the unconventional tacos de papa with mashed potatoes, cabbage, queso frescoand crema fresca. Dos Gringas tacos with spit-roasted pastor on flour tortillas also are a hit. Margaritas are $6-$8 (try the hibiscus) and beer is $4. Although it’s not on the happy hour menu, it would be a mistake to walk out without trying the flan. To Senor Gomez and his Mercado restaurants, we can only say: Keep ‘em coming. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 5-7 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 4-6 p.m. 3413 Cahuenga Blvd. W., Hollywood Hills; (323) 512-2500, mercadorestaurant.com.

El Arco Iris, Highland Park

If you want old-school authenticity in a taco happy hour, go to El Arco Iris (“the rainbow” en español) on York Boulevard. This Highland Park restaurant has been in business since 1964, when it started offering traditional Mexican fare to locals who were hungry for a taste of home. Original owner Irene Montes passed on her love of hospitality and food to her grandson, rising L.A. restaurateur Jesse Gomez (owner of Yxta and Mercado). Many of the dishes at his upscale Mexican eateries have a foundation that originates at El Arco Iris. However, you will find El Arco Iris’ menu is a little less expensive and its atmosphere more relaxed. Tacos are offered in hard or soft shell and contents include classic ingredients such as barbacoa, chicken and carnitas. Order a pair of tacos for $4 and a round of $5 guacamole to go with. You’ll need something to wash it down, so reach for a house margarita for $4, or make it a pitcher for $13. Taco joints are legion in Highland Park, but for good drinks, good prices and that throwback restaurant vibe, follow el arco iris. Mon.-Fri., 3-6 p.m. 5684 York Blvd., Highland Park; (323) 254-3401, elarcoiris.net.

Cinco, Westchester

At last, something you’ve been dreaming of your whole L.A. life — $1 tacos and easy-drinking cocktails. On days that are inhospitably hot and glaringly bright (so … pretty much every day), the cool, dark ambiance of Cinco’s Oaxacan-themed restaurant is a relief. Inside, clean industrial meets traditional Mexican furnishings all wrapped up in a late-midcentury building. The drink list reflects a stronger south-of-the-border influence. If only Cormac McCarthy were available to guide us through the encyclopedic list of mezcals and tequilas. Dollar tacos are straightforward (al pastor, asada, pollo, carnitas, soya) and come with onion, cilantro and salsa on a double-layered, 3-inch corn tortilla. These are two- to three-bite affairs so order with abandon. Of the five cocktails you can order for $6, highlights are the Elderflower Spritz (sparkling wine, St. Germain, club soda, lemon) and the Army/Navy (gin, lemon, orgeat, Angostura bitters). Did we mention the beer? This is the best draft list in the greater LAX vicinity, and a few of them are featured during happy hour for $5. Salud. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 3-7 p.m. 7241 W. Manchester Ave., Westchester; (310) 910-0895, cincola.com.

Taco Surf, Long Beach

Sure, the place is a little kitschy and cluttered with commercial beer merchandise, but it has been around for about a million years (since 1988). After you’ve dropped a Benjamin at some of the spendier restaurants in the area, it’s nice to know you can stay grounded and still order draft beers for $2.50 and a smattering of tacos for $1.50 each (chicken, fish, pork, ground beef, shredded beef, al pastor). At $2.50, the shrimp, asada and fish of the day tacos are a bit better. There is no end to the chips and salsa, which effectively keep you thirsty and ordering more pints. What Taco Surf lacks in flavor and authenticity, it makes up for in beer — cheap, cold, plentiful beer. Really, this is the taco happy hour to take your former college roommate to — he won’t balk at prices and will enjoy walking around the Belmont Shore neighborhood. Taco Surf makes it feel as if the college parties never ended, except now you can hold your drink … or can you? Happy hour Mon.-Thu., 2-6 p.m.; Fri., 2-5 p.m. 5316½ E. Second St., Long Beach; (562) 434-8646, tacosurf.com.

6 Best High-End Happy Hours in LA

Reposted from the LA Weekly…

Los Angeles is a culinary wonderland. One of its greatest features is the full range of affordability. Now that you have mastered the taco-and-ramen end of the spectrum, it’s time to explore fine dining. Still waiting for your script to get picked up or for your startup to take off? We’ve got you covered.

Some of the toniest restaurants in town offer a happy hour, generally limited to the bar or lounge area, where you can order drinks and food for less than $10 (mostly).

This spin on happy hour is by no means the cheapest one. However, the precious minutes before prime-time dining begins allow you the opportunity to scope out the place and decide whether you want to invest a day’s wages (or more) in a meal. You get to be the judge of whether a restaurateur can shelve the white linen tablecloths and roll up his or her sleeves.

Just leave the flip flops and Dodgers merch at home — you can be poor without being gauche. Come out and schmooze with the elite L.A. foodie crowd. Or at least order cocktails alongside them.

Riviera Restaurant & Lounge, Calabasas

A short jaunt off the 101 in the west San Fernando Valley brings you as far as you need to go for a welcoming high-end happy hour. Riviera Restaurant & Lounge is a popular spot for an elegant night out in the Valley, but the bar offers a window of affordability into a fairly pricey menu. Imagine crossing over a magical threshold where the entire dining menu is available for 20 percent off. Certain nights have additional perks to draw you in: Taco Tuesdays offer $3 tacos (chicken, fish or steak), plus $7 Patron tequila shots with $3 Corona or Dos Equis to complete the boilermaker. On Wednesdays, all house wines are half off at $5, or you can make it a “Happy Meal” and get a pair of Kobe beef sliders, fries and draft beer or house wine for $12. Unlike the rest of the dining room, which features bright white accents, the bar area is warm and relaxed and usually has the game on. It turns out there’s a lot more to Calabasas than a certain tabloid-loving reality TV dynasty. Happy hour daily, 5 p.m. to close. 23683 Calabasas Road, Calabasas; (818) 224-2163, rivieracalabasas.com.

Tavern, Brentwood

Chef-restaurateur Suzanne Goin figures into everyone’s dream version of L.A. dining. On a fantasy budget, you would be intimately acquainted with the wine list at Goin’s A.O.C. Wine Bar & Restaurant and dine weekly at Lucques’ Sunday Supper. But until you graduate to the next tax bracket, try a more accessible approach to this iconic L.A. chef. The happy hour at Tavern in Brentwood is no cheap pub affair, but some classic items are much less expensive than usual. Three burgers are on the happy hour menu, with the beef, pork and turkey burger each coming with salad, fries or onion rings for $15, a few bucks less than during dining hours. The signature cocktails get the best markdown — Lucques Gimlet, Tavern on the Green and Thunderer are $10 ($4 less than dining hours), or you can get away with $4 draft beers, $6 glasses of wine and $8 well cocktails. Think of it as a glimpse into the future of your edible L.A. life. Happy hour daily, 3-7 p.m. 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; (310) 806-6464,tavernla.com.

Bar Bouchon, Beverly Hills

Our perspective of Beverly Hills best aligns with the working-class characters in Pretty Woman andBeverly Hills Cop, which is why the prospect of eating and drinking there makes us a little uncomfortable. Not to worry: Bar Bouchon, the casual extension of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro, offers a happy hour menu with bites and drinks for less than $9. The house-made potato chips and dip for $5.50 is second only to the $2 shucked oyster — the most popular item on deck. Wine is thematic, so why not have a house red or white for $5, or, if you’re eschewing tannins, look for a $4 beer or $7 well cocktail. The traditionally dressed bartenders, zinc bar and decorative floor tiles enrich this already elegant ambiance. Outdoor seating is available if you find yourself conspicuously whistling a certain Roy Orbison melody. We may not be trending toward Rodeo Drive anytime soon, but affordable sustenance never goes out of style. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 4-7 p.m. 235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 271-9910, thomaskeller.com/beverly-hills-california/bar-bouchon.

The Church Key, West Hollywood

Don’t let the upscale living-room feel of the Church Key in West Hollywood make you think it is as casual as your own abode. The effortless style of this dim sum lounge is disarming. It welcomes and envelopes you, then plies you with delicious, affordable libations. And just when you’ve made your way back out to the street, you place the two familiar-faced celebrities who were on the chaise next to yours. During happy hour, a generous and playful Tiki menu is available, featuring whimsical boozy Odder Pops. Move aside, Little Orphan Orange and Alexander the Grape, it’s time for Peruvian Lai (Pisco Porton, guava, lime) and Singapore Sling (gin, pineapple, lime and more) for $6. Tip: Order in larger quantities and they’re cheaper. You are right to order the sliders ($4-$7 each), but if you’re there to share, go with a Pu Pu Platter and a Tiki Punch Bowl. The high-end nature of this happy hour is cleverly disguised by a sexy, fun theme that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Happy hour Mon.-Fri., 5:30-7 p.m. 8730 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd.; (424) 249-3700, thechurchkeyla.com.

The Sky Room, Long Beach

Happy hour at the Sky Room in Long Beach is about much more than discounted food and drink. It’s the complete package: elegant service, white linen tablecloths, stunning views. The 1930s Art Deco styling is worth shining your shoes or breaking out the red lipstick. The happy hour menu groups food by price point, featuring items such as truffle fries for $6, braised bison short rib sliders for $9 or the “And the pickles” burger with house-ground filet mignon and Sriracha remoulade for $12. Have a glass of house-made wine or a craft spirit cocktail for $6, or a craft spirit martini or specialty cocktail for $8 (the hibiscus Champagne cocktail is very festive). There’s a reason so many wedding receptions happen here — the place just says “special occasion.” Go during happy hour and you can afford to make it a recurring occasion. Ascend to the Up Lounge cocktail bar Thursday through Saturday for an even better vantage of the sweeping panoramas that reach from Catalina Island across the South Bay. Happy hour at the bar only, Sun.-Fri., 5-7 p.m. 40 S. Locust Ave., Long Beach; (562) 983-2703, theskyroom.com.

Vertical Wine Bistro, Pasadena

The entrance to Vertical Wine Bistro is truly enchanting. Sandwiched between two buildings in Old Pasadena, a brick-walled passageway is lit by strings of exposed bulbs that take you up an ornate stairway to the wine bar. You can’t help but feel as if you’ve stumbled onto a chic, hidden gem. The sleek, modern bar is long and offers ample seating. Floor-to-ceiling wine storage underscores the establishment’s dedication to the grape. To go beyond wine, from opening until 7 p.m. and all day Sunday, you can order craft beer on tap for $5, or stay the course with house wines and sangria for $7. Classic cocktails provide a little something for everyone at $7, with Moscow mules, Manhattans and margaritas, but the Kir Vertical Champagne cocktail is the way to go if you’re feeling flirtatious. Tipple your way off the happy hour menu and you’ll be glad you stayed for chef Laurent Quenioux’s more elaborate dishes and outstanding cheese selection. Stay within the happy-hour window and you have the most romantic yet affordable date night along the Arroyo Seco and beyond. Happy hour Tue.-Sat., 4-7 p.m.; all day Sun. 70 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (626) 795-3999, verticalwinebistro.com.

8 Best Craft Beer Bottle Shops In LA

Reposted from the LA Weekly…

No one likes a skunky beer — an undesirable flaw that occurs quickly if a bottle is improperly stored. And there are plenty of other things that can go wrong once a case of bottles leaves the brewery, from degraded hop aromas (noticeably lessened four to six months after a beer is brewed) to staleness (that wet-cardboard, sherry taste). Which is why breweries and craft beer drinkers alike are particular about their bottle shops — the more discerning the retail environment, the better. 

Luckily, in L.A. we have craft beer bottle shops that know beer is best kept like wine, in the dark at cellar temperatures. In Southern California — where the Christmas Eve forecast is 72 and sunny — bottle storage can be precarious. The moment you walk into a retail store to buy beer, take a look around. Are there any beers directly exposed to light? Are hoppy selections on a warm shelf gathering dust or in a cooler? Is the staff knowledgable? Are the prices fair?

We snooped around and found the following top shops that not only stock the best beer selections in the area but take care of their inventory, too. For a last-minute holiday gift that will delight any beer lover (or, hell, for a good bottle any time of year), check out these L.A. County bottle shops, listed alphabetically. Because to us, beer is perfect — no wrapping required.

Beverage Warehouse
The Westside is a challenging place to find great beer. Outside of big chain companies, grocery stores and a few small boutiques (we love you, Andrew’s Cheese Shop!), there is only one substantial destination for beer. Beverage Warehouse is exactly what it sounds like — a beverage warehouse that provides everything from imports to local selections, with healthy rotations of seasonal beer, Oktoberfest and winter seasonals. 4935 McConnell Ave., Del Rey; 310-306-2822

Bill’s Liquor Store
From Glendale Boulevard, the exterior of Bill’s seems unassuming until you round the corner and see the mural that declares “largest beer selection in Atwater.” Bill’s boasts a nice selection of mix-and-match bottles in cold storage, so you can start small before committing to hopped-up six-packs. We were delighted to see a number of catalogued selections of California bombers from past years, carefully labeled next to their 2014 counterparts. 3150 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village; (323) 663-0684.

Craft Beer Kings/Plaza Market
If Craft Beer Kings isn’t your local bottle shop, keeping updated on when you should make the drive out to El Monte is easy. This bottle destination keeps its Instagram profile updated (@craftbeerkings), does a nice job on its website and offers a newsletter that touts its extensive selection of everyday and crazy specialty beers. Best part of making the trek — it has some of the most reasonable prices we’ve seen on rare and regular bottles. 2400 Peck Road, El Monte; (626) 444-4454

Ramirez Liquor
Family-owned and -run Ramirez Liquor is constantly upping its beer game. The original Boyle Heights shop still has a favorable selection (though you’d be remiss to walk out of here without a bottle of tequila as well). A second Ramirez location opened in Pico Rivera in 2013 and, in November, the Cellar Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Whittier opened with more than 20 beers on tap in addition to the bottles for purchase. 736 S. Soto St., Boyle Heights; 323-261-2915

Select Beer Store
Every visit to Select Beer Store will leave you lamenting the fact that you don’t live in Redondo Beach. The bottle shop and tasting room, with a dozen meticulously curated taps, is casual and unpretentious but treats its beer with the respect it deserves. Walls of coolers keep beers cool and fresh, and thoughtful descriptions help you navigate the dry-storage selection. This is the perfect place to be a regular. 1613 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Redondo Beach; (310) 540-1221

Stearns Liquor
At Stearns Liquor in Long Beach, you’ll find all of those fragrant, hoppy beers with their short shelf lives properly stored in coolers. Not only is a world-class selection of beer at your disposal and sensibly laid out but also the friendly staff is ready to talk you through suggestions and beer industry news. Need something a little stronger? Check out the reasonably priced bourbon. Stearns is the best place to go for all your barrel-to-bottle needs. 4360 E. Stearns St., Long Beach; 562-597-3984

Sunset Beer Co.
You wouldn’t know from the street that one of the greatest places to buy beer in Los Angeles is in the corner of a strip mall on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. When you first walk in to the appropriately dark space, you’ll see a long, well-lighted wall of coolers packed with local favorites and far-away specialty beers. For a $2 corkage fee (which is waived Monday through Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m.), you can drink a bottle on site in the adjacent lounge, or choose from one of the beers on tap. Try the bottled collaboration Sunset Beer Co. made with Monkish Brewing Co. in Torrance for a true taste of L.A. 1498 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park; (213) 481-2337

Valley Beverage (Sherman Oaks)
Closing out its 12 Days of Christmas beer release schedule, Valley Beverage has been selling some of the most sought-after bottles on the market this holiday season. Selections from Cantillon, Russian River, Mikkeller and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout series have been available at different times of day, announced on Instagram (@valleybev) the day before. With a well-stocked California beer selection, Valley Beverage’s friendly and knowledgeable staff is there to help you put the trophy beers aside and hunt out the right beer for you. 14901 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks; 818-981-1566

5 L.A.-made Winter Beers to Drink Now

Reposted from the LA Weekly…

No moment in L.A. feels more wintry than the flash flood warnings issued for a Pineapple Express weather system dumping much-needed precipitation on our parched metropolis. It’s a time to hunker down and hang with people you really like. Decorate the tree, spin the dreidel, or just sit back and enjoy the time off work with a pint in hand.

Considering your commute will be twice as long in the rain, why not throw on that obnoxious Christmas station and dream up what beer you’re going to down the moment you get home. In case you need a few ideas, browse our very own L.A. County winter seasonals list, from traditional to unusual, for ideas.

5. Vanilla Porter, Angel City Brewery (Downtown)
Ale brewed with vanilla beans; 6.5%
Not too spicy, not too smoky, this drinkable beer is a crowd-pleasing party six-pack suitable to guests with a wide array of palates. If you buy bottles for home consumption, we heartily recommend you pair the porter with a classic Christmas film like Die Hard or Gremlins. Though widely available in bottles, it’s at its best poured directly from the Arts District brewery.

4. Ham Porter, Highland Park Brewery (Highland Park)
Ale brewed with ham; 5.3%
It’s nice to see one of this year’s new breweries confident enough to showcase a seasonal beer. Then you discover their winter release, available on tap now at the York Boulevard brewery, was brewed with a whole ham. Shocking? Yes. Appalling? Kinda. Worth a try? Absolutely. The medium-bodied beer has a nice smoky aroma and a little underlying salt with every sip. If you’re going to risk opening a brewery in a city built on restrictive diets (this beer is not vegan), why not go whole hog?

3. Jubilee, Eagle Rock Brewery (Glassell Park)
Ale brewed with spices; 8.1%
This festive, bronze-hued beer boasts a traditional bill of spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, clove — but with a clever banana addition. Jubilee straddles a sophisticated line, balancing complexity with subtlety and well-hidden alcohol. Not easily achieved in a genre of beer that can be as overbearing and chintzy as a Michael’s craft store on holiday clearance. Sip this one in a tulip glass and find peace and clarity during the holiday season.

2. Back Home Gingerbread Stout, Golden Road Brewing Co. (Glendale)
Stout; 8.5%
Ginger dominates this smörgåsbord of spices, retaining some of the root’s signature heat. You’ll get molasses and brown sugar flavors, with noticeable toasted chocolate malt sweetness from the four-pack of 16 oz. cans. There are a lot of elements to love in this beer: the seasonable quantity of booze, the aftertaste which will leave you ready for mistletoe, but that ginger kick is what makes this beer the ultimate stomach-settling hair of the dog. If it didn’t get you pie-eyed all over again.

1. Magnificat, Monkish Brewing Co. (Torrance)
Belgian strong ale; 10.1%
This beautiful 750 mL bottle from the South Bay brewery gets our pick for best host gift this season. Not only does the large-format bottle and elegant label make an impact, but the mahogany ale inside will satisfy winter warmer cravings and enliven your spirit. For the true beer lover gift set, buy the 2014 and 2013 release (both available for purchase) and treat your host to a vertical tasting. Just make sure you haven’t left the party when it’s poured.

Blender Bender

Reposted from Cheers! Magazine

From classic sour styles to barrel-aged beers to innovative beer-wine hybrids, blended beer takes America’s favorite adult beverage to a new level. Blending beer is a traditional technique in brewing with modern applications.

Combine two or more component beers to produce a different end result, and you’ve got blended beer. Every bartender knows you can fill a pint glass halfway with pale ale, top it gently with Guinness stout and create a black and tan—it’s blended beer straight from the tap.

But at the brewing level, the process is more complicated and risky. Add the wrong component and you could jeopardize the whole batch.

If you succeed, however, the beer you produce will be more complex and surprising than any single portion you have added, offering something new for sophisticated palates.

The term blended beer does not refer to any one style of beer specifically. It can apply to myriad kinds of beer but best describes barrel-aged brews, varieties of classic sour beer such as gueuze, and beers that are mixed with unfermented wine grapes into a beer-wine hybrid.

Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, CA, is known for its straightforward hoppy beers. But the company has recently segued into integrating beers. “We have really just gotten into beer blending, with our Mixtape series,” says Stone’s brewmaster Mitch Steele. Vol. 1 of the Mixtape series came out in April 2012.

“We evaluate fresh beers, barrel-aged beers, and archived and aged beers to create interesting and fun blends,” Steel says. Lukcy Basartd is a blend of Stone’s Arrogant Bastard Ale, Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale and dry-hopped Double Bastard Ale.

With collaborations like Woot Stout 2.0, released this past July, Stone bourbon barrel-aged a portion of the beer and then blended it back in. “This is a process that we do about four times each year, and we usually bring in people from a great account of ours to help with developing the blend,” he says.

What is the advantage of taking a risk on blending beer when a brewery is already well established and known for a different style? “I think it’s just a great way for people to try something new from a brewery—something that a lot of effort went into creating,” Steele says.

Blending also allows brewers to expand their boundaries, “With beers like the Mixtape series, it allows some creativity and the opportunity to come up with something completely different than the beers that go into the blend,” says Steele.

Barrel-aged beer blends

Beer that has been barrel-aged often requires blending. Goose Island in Chicago is one of the most successful breweries to delve into aging beer in bourbon barrels: Its Bourbon County Stout contributed to the rise in popularity of bourbon barrel-aged beer.

This stout is aged in bourbon barrels for months, then tested and blended to form a viscous, black beer. The brew smells of char and vanilla, tastes of caramel and tobacco, and weighs in at a whopping 14% to 15% ABV (depending on the year).

Equal in intensity but different in style is Firestone Walker Brewing Co.’s Anniversary blend series. If blending were an extreme sport, these guys would be your champions.

The Paso Robles, CA-based brewer’s annual release may be the ultimate blended beer: XVIII Anniversary (2014) incorporates seven unique component beers aged in bourbon, brandy and whiskey barrels.

The components and their blending percentage include Parabola (Russian Imperial Oatmeal Stout, 38%), Helldorado (Blonde Barleywine, 16%), Bravo (Imperial Brown Ale, 16%), Stickee Monkee (Central Coast Quad, 14%), Velvet Merkin (Oatmeal Stout, 5%), Hydra Cuvée (Hybrid Dark Ale, 4%), Wookey Jack (Black Rye IPA, 3%), Ol’ Leghorn (Blonde Barleywine, 2%), and Double Jack (Double IPA, 2%). The brewery brought 14 local winemakers in to assist in the blending process.

“I’m not aware of any other beer that is blended like this, from so many distinct components,” says Firestone Walker’s brewmaster Matt Brynildson. “That’s why we bring in the winemakers.”

The company’s 13% ABV Anniversary XVIII release is available now. The blended beer has a suggested retail price of $23.99 for a 22-oz. Bottle.

But are most customers prepared to drink beers of this strength and complexity?

“It’s not difficult selling a well-made type of barrel-aged beer,” says bartender Tom Cathcart, who has been serving craft beer at the casual-chic Chicago bar and restaurant Uncommon Ground for nearly 10 years. “Of course, I wouldn’t push it on the guy who wants a Schlitz, but most of my guests know the different styles these days.”

Customers also know the different prices of specialty beers, Cathcart adds. “Five years ago, a 10-oz. pour of a barrel-aged stout for $9 raised eyebrows. Recently, folks see that as a steal.”

Cathcart says that his guests enjoy New Holland Brewing Co.’s barrel-aged beers, such as its Dragon’s Milk stout. “Dragon’s Milk is on draft again, and we always have success with that. It’s familiar, and it’s a big beer.”

Sweet on sour beers

For a blended beer that’s lower in alcohol, brewers often make sour beer using blends of different component beers that have been exposed to wild yeast such as Brettanomyces and/or “bugs,” as bacteria like Lactobacillus and Pediococcus are called.

Gueuze, which is an old style of beer originating from the Senne river valley in Belgium, mixes young and old sour lambics to create complex but balanced flavors and aromas.

The benchmark example of this style comes from the Brasserie Cantillon in Brussels. Their traditional gueuze is extremely carbonated, with dynamic aromatics and intense puckering power. It is also rare, so any bar that offers this beer will sell it at a premium.

At The Hopleaf in Chicago, for instance, 375-ml. bottles of Cantillon Gueuze typically sell for $18 when available. Bottles come in 375-ml. and 750-ml. bottle formats.

For a more widely available but equally traditional imported gueuze lambic, try Lindeman’s Gueuze Cuvee Rene. The large-format bottle is a great choice for a special occasion—think a beer substitute for Champagne—dry and not offensively sour or funky.

At renown beer bar Church Key in Washington, D.C., a 12-oz. bottle of Cuvee Rene sells for $15 and is served in a tumbler. The Church Key sells another traditional Belgian gueuze, Hannsens Oud Gueuze, in a large-format 750-ml. bottle for $42.

Domestic examples of this style are hard to come by, however. If you find a bottle of Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gueuze or New Glarus R&D Gueuze, you have struck gold.

Visit the Avenue Pub in New Orleans for an amazing selection of sour and barrel-aged beers at reasonable prices. Look for The Bruery’s Rueuze, a blend of sour blondes aged in oak barrels; you can share a 24-oz. bottle for $30.

Wine and beer blends

If it’s innovation you’re looking for, one of the biggest trends in blended beer is in merging beer and wine together. Dogfish Head Brewing Co. of Milton, DE, produces Midas Touch year-round. The first in their Ancient Ales series, it combines honey, white muscat grapes and saffron to yield an evocative finish.

These boundary-pushing beers are also being made in collaboration. Alex Davis is a Certified Cicerone and the general manager of Library Ale House in Santa Monica. Davis carefully curates a beer menu that offers reduced Happy Hour prices in the afternoon, and a full lineup of Southern California brew.

“One of our local breweries, Smog City Brewing Co. (Torrance, CA), just teamed up for the second year with 21st Amendment Brewery (San Francisco, CA) to make California Love, an Imperial Red brewed with pinot noir grapes,” Davis says. “Smog City also makes a Grape Ape IPA with different grape varietals in every seasonal batch.”

Blending beer with spirits is also on the rise, as more operators and guests warm to the idea of beer cocktails. Uncommon Ground mixes a blended beer into a seasonal favorite cocktail, Cathcart says. “We serve a Dragons Milk Manhattan all winter long,” which is a mixture of vanilla-infused Four Roses, sweet vermouth and house-made cherry-vanilla bitters, shaken and strained with a Dragons Milk float.”

Tips for marketing blends

Because of the time and care involved in blending, pricing these rare beers can be a challenge. “If something is good but expensive, I can always reduce the pour size to get down to a price that I feel comfortable charging,” says Davis at Library Alehouse. “I hate going over $9, as it seems like an un-beery thing to do.”

Davis says he generally uses a 12-oz. snifter, which allows for a 10-oz. pour with head, for strong barrel-aged beers and sour beers. With sour beers, he notes, bars and restaurants often want “to get more servings out of a particularly desirable keg so more guests can enjoy it.”

Anything from Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA, for example, tends to be popular, Davis says. The brewer makes a Blonde Ale aged in used chardonnay barrels from local Sonoma County wineries.

But it’s not just cost and quantity that influence pour size. “For high ABV beers, limiting serving size has as much to do with responsibility as it does with price. I do everything I can to avoid over-serving,” Davis says, noting that some of blended beers are as strong as wine.

At Uncommon Ground, flights allow consumers to comfortably experiment: “The appeal to the consumer is a change, I think. Get away from hops. Get away from your standard pilsner. And trying something unique,” says Cathcart.

“Sour beers and barrel-aged beers always show up in flight orders, since it’s a good way to branch out with one 4-oz. taster instead of committing to the full pour,” he adds.

Erika Bolden is a freelance writer and Certified Beer Server. She is a frequent contributor to L.A. Weekly, West Coaster SoCal and All About Beer magazine.

It’s All in The Barrel

Using oak barrels to age beer, whether they are fresh from the cooper or previously host to wine or spirits, produces flavor complexity and depth. Every barrel is different and the barrel-aging process will impart slightly different results from one vessel to the next. In order to compensate for these disparities the blender/brewer will combine contents from many barrels until the desired result is reached.

Wood is porous, allowing small amounts of oxygen to permeate its walls. This “breathing,” along with intricate texture, is an ideal habitat for the bacteria and wild yeast that make sour beer sour.

The oxidation creates sherry and port-like flavors in barrel-aged beer. Actual chemicals in the wood dissolve into the barrel’s contents, imparting oaky flavors into the brew.—EB

Beachwood's New Sour Beer Facility Is the Geekiest Barrel-Aging Project Ever

Reposted from LA Weekly…

Craft beer fans, pucker up, because the award-winning Beachwood BBQ and Brewing has released details about its highly anticipated new facility and sour beer venture, Beachwood Blendery.

In a 4,500-square-foot space adjacent to its downtown Long Beach brewpub, Beachwood Blendery will house a sour beer barrel room, a blendery, a lab and, eventually, a tasting room, where you can sip all the tasty results of this experiment in old-world tradition.

In an admittedly geeky undertaking, owner Gabe Gordon and his team (including brewmaster Julian Shrago and barrelmaster Ryan Fields, the latter formerly of Lost Abbey and Pizza Port San Clemente) will, through a series of guesses and checks, attempt to re-create authentic Belgian lambic and gueuze beers.

As barrel-aged, spontaneously fermented golden ales, lambics and gueuzes are some of the most highly acclaimed and fervently sought-after beers in the world. However, the styles are technically a protected cultural product and are currently only made, aged and blended in the Zenne River Valley outside of Brussels.  

Just last month, Beachwood BBQ and Brewing hosted a handful of these inspirational beers and brewers — Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen among others — the day before the Shelton Bros. Festival. Just a few minutes after opening, the wait for a table was well over two hours. Those in line were steadfast and resolute because the available beers are virtually impossible to track down in this country. Beachwood Blendery will tap into this captive and eager audience who crave the tart complexity of these traditionally produced beers.

So what motivates an established brewery to attempt such an monumental project?

“At its core, this is a search to figure out what factually differentiates a Belgian lambic from what we do here in the United States,“ Gordon says. "The truth is that lambics are different from [sours made in the U.S.]. Is it something in the air? In the equipment? In the wort profile? Is there a weird brewing method? I don’t know, but I want to start ticking off boxes of what it isn’t.” Beachwood Blendery, in defining what makes a traditional Belgian sour beer, will also redefine what makes a modern American sour beer.

Sour beer is not a new undertaking for American breweries. Many barrel programs incorporate strains of wild yeast and bacteria — the “bugs” that give sour beer its signature pucker. Beachwood Blendery will be different (and internationally significant) because it will meticulously re-create the conditions that produce traditional Belgian sours.

“My theory is that it’s a function of temperature and humidity [that] makes the lambics from Belgium so good,” Gordon says. “I will design an environment to mimic a barrel room in Belgium and its daily fluctuations.” Careful climate control will foster an environment in Long Beach that is as close to the Zenne River Valley as possible.

Traditional ingredients such as unmalted wheat and aged hops will provide a foundation to nourish the wild yeast and bacteria. Beachwood Blendery also will mimic the method and aging process of these Belgian beers, using a copper koelschip (a big, flat, open-air fermenting container) to spontaneously ferment the beer before tucking it away in French oak barrels.

The result of these first batches will be akin to the lambics produced in Belgium. Gueuze, however, is a style of beer that defies our impulse for instant gratification. The typical beer lifespan, for any given IPA, for instance, is measured in months — from brew kettle to pint glass. Gueuze, on the other hand, is a blend of lambic beers that have been aged for one, two and three years. Its untamed flavors and complex aromas can be haunting and refreshing, and always make an impression. But this lengthy aging process means we won’t see Beachwood Blendery’s pièce de résistance until at least 2017.

In the meantime, Gordon and Fields will not be standing idly by. They will use the coming months and years to explore each element of Belgian sour beer while also using contemporary American brewing methods to modernize the style. The Propogation series will feature single strains of wild yeast and bacteria to isolate the flavors that each produce. They will also make young, fruited sours, sweetened by nontraditional choices such as passion fruit, orange and guava (POG, inspired by Gordon’s surfing trips) and other tropical delights.

Beachwood Blendery is a beer geek dream, realized. An all-American gueuze would be the ultimate refreshment for sour beer drinkers. But it isn’t just we consumers who will benefit from Beachwood Blendery’s tart ambitions.

“For the Blendery team, this is as much an experimental platform for sours as it is a beer business,” Gordon says.

You brew it for the science, Gabe — we’ll drink it for the glory.

Beachwood Blendery is located at Long Beach Boulevard and Third Street, Long Beach. Follow the project on Instagram at @The_Blendery.

The Beer Industry's Toughest Test, the Master Cicerone, Came to L.A. Last Week

Reposted from the LA Weekly…

Ever seen the movie Somm? In the film, four wine professionals put it all on the line to pass a crazy difficult exam in order to receive the title of Master Sommelier. Well, the beer industry has an equivalent. It’s called the Master Cicerone.

Last week eleven people congregated in Los Angeles to take the rigorous, two-day test. The stakes are as high as the fail rate; in seven sittings, only seven people total have managed to pass. Candidates often take the exam more than once. More than twice. Registration for the only 2015 exam, to be held in Chicago where the Cicerone Certification Program is based, closed in four minutes, with the 24 spots filled almost immediately. Tough luck to the other 46 people who tried to sign up.

In its own words, “the Cicerone Certification Program certifies and educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers.” Launched by well-known beer aficionado Ray Daniels in 2008, the program offers two lower levels of beer certification, Certified Beer Server and Certified Cicerone, and then the highest honor, Master Cicerone. Daniels’ experience authoring four books, founding beer festivals and teaching in the industry earned him the credibility to create and execute the program.

The Master Exam takes place over two days and includes written essay questions and oral demonstrations of knowledge with some of the most established (and intimidating) beer industry experts. There are also tasting panels where participants isolate off-flavors and assess beer styles.

Of course you need to know about different beer styles and their histories, but you also need to have an in-depth understanding of service and distribution and draft systems, and you are required to design a food and beer pairing menu. For more details consult the 23-page whopper of a syllabus.

A grade of 85 percent or higher is needed to pass the exam.

The seven people who have passed the exam and earned the biggest bragging rights in beer are Mirella Amato (Canada), Nicole Erny  and Rich Higgins of California, Pat Fahey and David Kahle of Illinois, Andrew Van Til of Michigan and Neil Witte of Missouri.

Pat Fahey, the last person to earn the title, in 2013, recounts his preparation for the exam. “In prepping for the tasting portion I spent six months up to the test rotating between two or three bars a week where I knew the bartenders. I’d have them pour me five blind tastings and then I would write up style descriptions and profiles and discuss them.“

Hands-on experience is vital. "I read several textbooks,” Fahey continues, “and then brewed at several commercial breweries to lock in my studies.” Fahey took flash cards to another level: “I made a beer molecule of the week Twitter feature where I would draw and explain chemical structures of various models. I wanted to be as prepared as possible.”

For professionals in the industry, the certification can enhance credibility and increase opportunities. Consulting for bars, restaurants and events is a competitive and high-earning position. Not only does a Master Cicerone certification look good to prospective clients, the exam demonstrates that you are an expert in troubleshooting and providing solutions where an operation may need advice — from equipment systems to quality control.

To other participants who are already established, having a Master Cicerone title is a measure of pride and professionalism. It’s another way of earning clout and venerability. Think: bragging rights.

There is a logistical angle to the Master exam being held in Los Angeles. Part of the test involves demonstrating knowledge on a draft system and the Cicerone Certification Program uses a facility called Micro Matic that has limited locations.

Hosting the exam in Los Angeles means the participants — the test takers, the examiners and the exam’s administrators — are exposed to our beer community. Well-recognized leaders in the industry are shipped in to evaluate exams and get a taste of what L.A. beer has to offer. Golden Road Brewing Co., Ladyface Ale Companie, and Mohawk Bend were all on the docket for this group.

Will L.A. be the next city where a Master Cicerone has earned their title? Results are available after Thanksgiving. Have a beer while you wait — we won’t test you on it.

L.A. Breweries Are In It to Win It at the Great American Beer Festival

Reposted from the LA Weekly… 

DENVER — Walk around the floor of the 33rd annual Great American Beer Festival and every L.A. County resident is bleary-eyed but blissful. The fest, which hosts just under 50,000 beer enthusiasts and over 700 breweries, was moved up by a week this year, landing it immediately after L.A. Beer Week.

Stakes are high for the GABF competition this year, especially for defending champions Beachwood BBQ and Brewing who won five medals in 2013 in addition to the title Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year, and two medals in 2012. Kinetic Brewing scored two medals in 2013. Now former Kinetic head brewer Alexandra Nowell has moved on to Brewmaster at Three Weavers Brewing Co.

Running from Oct. 2-4, the gathering of industry members and brewery fans at the Colorado Convention Center will have access to the largest collection of American brewers in the world. More breweries than ever are pouring at the festival this year, a grand total of 3,500 beers — up 14% from 2013. More beers were entered for judging, made possible by limiting the number of entries a brewery can submit for competition to five. This maximum is meant to diversify the winners and increase participation for the 90 style categories of beer. In June, 2014 the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group that organizes GABF, announced that the number of breweries operating in the U.S. had surpassed 3,000, with 1,929 breweries in the planning stages.

Check out the nine breweries from L.A. now in Denver are escaping the heat. The winners will be announced Saturday, Oct. 4.

Making the return trip to represent L.A. County with the following beers are (in alphabetical order):

Beachwood BBQ and Brewing (Long Beach)
- Foam Top
- Amalgamator
- Kilgore Stout
- Udder Love
- Mocha Machine

El Segundo Brewing Co. (El Segundo)
- Blue House Citra Pale
- Sleek Zeke
- Schot in Het Donker
- Station No. 1
- Blue House IPA

Golden Road Brewing (Los Angeles)
- Wolf Among Weeds
- Get Up Offa That Brown
- Point the Way IPA
- 329 Lager
- Berliner Weisse

Kinetic Brewing Co. (Lancaster)
- Potential Blonde
- Ignition
- Afterburner
- Torque
- Rusted Gear

The LAB Brewing Co. (Agoura Hills)
- After Midnight Moo
- Take Her Home Tripel

Ladyface Ale Companie (Agoura Hills)
- Guillotine
- Derailleur
- Blue-Belly Barleywine
- Ingenuity Series, Stack VI
- Hop Project

Smog City Brewing Co. (Torrance)
- Little Bo Pils
- Chip Shot Coffee Porter
- Sabre-Toothed Squirrel
- Coffee Porter
- Goldie

Proudly pouring for the first time are:

Alosta Brewing Co. (Covina)
- Sally
- Alosta ESB
- Spadra IPA
- Mrs. Adams Oatmeal Stout
- Saison Bleu

King Harbor Brewing Co.
(Redondo Beach)
- California Saison
- The Quest - Mosaic
- The Quest - El Dorado
- Storm’s a Brewin’
- The Swirly

Three Weavers Brewing Co. (Inglewood)
- Stateside
- Deep Roots
- Expatriate IPA
- Traveler Kolsch
- Midnight Flight

L.A. County breweries who entered beer for judging but were not present on the floor this year: Brewery at Abigaile, Highland Park Brewery, Los Angeles Ale Works, MacLeod Ale Brewing Co., Monkish Brewing Co., Ohana Brewing Co., Strand Brewing Co., Timeless Pints Brewing Co. and Wolf Creek Brewing Co.