CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 3 Los Angeles/Long Beach Brewpubs
Westwood Brewing Company, 1097 Glendon, Westwood, California
Dockside Brewery and Restaurant, 6272 East Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, California
Rock Bottom Brewery, 1 Pine Avenue, Long Beach, California
I recently spent a week in Los Angeles and in my home town of Long Beach. It's been eight years since I lived in Southern California, and since then I've heard about quite a few brewpubs which have sprouted up and spread across the vast metropolis. So I was looking forward to checking out a few.
While up in LA with my friend Eileen I visited the Westwood Brewing Company. As we walked into the pub there was a long bar with TVs blasting to the left, more peaceful tables off to the right, and an outdoor patio in the back. We opted for a quiet table on the deserted patio. Our waitress, who was just about to go off her shift, was friendly enough although a bit ditzy. When I asked her if they were offering anything cask-conditioned, I got a very confused look and a "Huh? Whazzat?" from her. Apparently she had never heard of "cask-conditioned".
Westwood offers pints for $3.00, tasters for $1.00, and something called a "Brewtus" for $4.75. (Although my curiosity was killing me, I completely forgot to ask about this.) The current beer selections included Westwood Blonde, Hefeweizen, Honey Bear Porter, J.W. Pale Ale, and Smoked Scottish Ale. The Brewmaster's Specials this week were ESB and IPA; sadly they were out of the IPA. After Eileen and I had a taste of the Pale Ale and the Porter, I opted for a pint of ESB while Eileen chose the Smoked Scottish Ale.
The ESB seemed way too carbonated and tasted very much like the Scottish Ale and the Porter. Not one of these three beers had any roundness, character, or body. The aftertaste imparted by the ESB was wimpy and sour; it made me think of an old wrinkled lady in starchy clothes who might sit next to you on the bus. You think she may be interesting and you begin to wonder about her story; but then you see her bad teeth and smell her stinky garlic-vinegar breath, and you wish you'd never decided to take the bus that day. My friend Eileen, on tasting the same three beers, added that the first sip "is like a fresh clove of garlic, but then it turns into that garlicky taste left in your mouth an hour after you've eaten."
Although I personally didn't find the Pale Ale to be particularly bitter, Eileen claimed it was the most bitter beer she'd ever tasted. "I feel like I'm going to have bad breath for days," she said. "I have a sealed envelope of bitterness on the back of my tongue which I can't send away because the forwarding order has expired."
When I searched for the Westwood Brewing Company on the Internet I found nothing but rave reviews. So I'll allow as how they may have been having an extremely lousy brewing week. Still, I don't believe I'll go back unless I hear things have changed drastically.
It's been a year since I first visited Long Beach's Dockside, located at the northwest corner of Marina Pacifica; the pub had just opened its doors, and the brewery had been open only a couple of months. I remember trying a pint of their red ale, which was satisfying enough at the time. On this latest visit I would have tried a pint of Coral Reef Red, but they were out of it at the moment. The other options were Bayshore Brown, Wheat Wave Ale, and Pacific Pale Ale. Since I wasn't in the mood for a brown ale, a wheat ale, or a Southern California "pale ale" (that "blonde" image doesn't do much for me), I opted for a pint of Boddington's Pub Ale ($4.00 a pint), an English import whose taste brings to mind a stiff, conservative line of royalty watchers rather than any English pub I've ever been in, traditional or modern. The folks at Dockside also have no idea what "cask-conditioned" means; I got an extremely blank look from the waitress when I asked.
I suppose I should briefly explain what cask-conditioned, or "real ale", means. According to CAMRA -- the UK's Campaign for Real Ale -- real ale is defined as "draught (or bottled) beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide." In other words, it's an unfiltered beer, bright in color and free from haze, which has been aged and undergone natural conditioning in the cask. The beer must also be stored at the proper temperature (somewhere between 50-57 F) and dispensed by gravity, by using pressurized air to force the beer out, or by being pumped from the cask by a hand pump or "beer engine," the style of engine (swan neck or standard neck) directly related to the style of beer.
In other words, a pint of "cask-conditioned ale" or "real ale" is just like a good English pint. I'll never forget my very first pint of American cask-conditioned beer. I had it at Murphy's Pub in Wallingford, right here in Seattle, back in the early 1990s. I believe it was Hale's Special Bitter; and one sip of the delightful substance sent my senses sailing right back to England. It evoked an entire memory, one particular evening from several years earlier: there I was at the Queen's Arms near Regents Park in Camden with my friend Dave, sitting in a dark corner nursing that black eye and all those stitches in my head -- oops! Nope, I don't need to remember quite that much...
Anyway, it doesn't look like you'll ever get cask-conditioned beer at the Dockside. They don't even sell half pints or schooners -- just your standard American 16-ounce pint of ice-cold highly-carbonated beer. The place does offer a nice view of the marina, though, and the food isn't bad; in fact, my mother says they make the best hamburger she's ever tasted. I had a vegieburger which was pretty typical. And the fries were good, but I felt a bit queasy later.
I had a slightly more satisfying visit to the Rock Bottom Brewery, located in a spacious setting at the foot of Pine Avenue in downtown Long Beach. Since there's also a Rock Bottom Brewery in Seattle I knew this would be a great place to take my mother for lunch. The Long Beach brewpub, which has been open since June of 1997, uses slightly different names for their brews than the Seattle brewpub. Instead of Raccoon Red Ale they have Pelican Red Ale. The Northwest's Brown Bear Brown Ale and Flying Salmon Stout have become Long Board Brown and Black Seal Stout here. Also on the menu are Signal Hill Gold and Great White Wheat. They were out of the cask-conditioned selection for the day, but they did offer a version of the Red Ale which had been soaked in whiskey barrels, the whiskey imparting both flavor and strength to the beer. Similar to barley wine in alcohol content (10%), this selection was sold by the half pint only.
I decided on a pint of the Pelican Red Ale. It seemed to be maltier and less hoppy than the Raccoon Red Ale I get at Seattle's Rock Bottom. But it was okay -- not great, mind you, but okay. In my humble opinion Rock Bottom's brews tend to be a bit heavy on the carbonation. But then I'm one of those pesky "real ale" fans.
In all due respect to Long Beach I have heard that the Belmont Brewing Company, at the base of the Belmont Shore pier (25 39th Place), has vastly improved in the past year or two. I used to always visit the Belmont, LA's second oldest brewpub, probably because there just wasn't anything else available. As I recall it was good, but then my taste in beer has become vastly refined since my last visit. Still, I'll make an effort to check it out the next time I'm in town.
While I was in Los Angeles I tried a couple other local beers. While having lunch at Markie D's on Santa Monica Boulevard I had a taste of Angel City Ale, which was better than the Westwood Brewery's selections. My friend Eileen liked it quite a bit but it wasn't hoppy enough for me, and my pint seemed overcarbonated. But I'll allow as how many delis and pizza parlors have this problem, possibly from not properly tapping their kegs. The Angel City Brewing Company, which opened in March of 1997, doesn't have a pub yet, but their beers are available around the Los Angeles area.
I also tried a bottle of Blind Pig English-style Ale, which was surprisingly satisfying -- probably the best beer I had on my trip. The Blind Pig Brewing Companyis in Temecula, located south of Orange County and Riverside. And that's all I know about it.
I do know a thing or two about Long Beach, though -- the one in California, that is. And now that I live in the Pacific Northwest I can safely say that the town of Long Beach, California bears absolutely no resemblance to the town of Long Beach, Washington, just in case you were wondering. Except that they both have long beaches, of course. And they both host sand castle-building contests every summer. And they both have a large population of gays and lesbians. Okay, so maybe Long Beach, Washington is exactly like Long Beach, California. Except it doesn't have any oil islands or Queen Marys or skyscrapers or Grand Prix races or Cambodian neighborhoods or old Spanish missions or freeways or smog or stressed-out, allergy-ridden anxietophobics dying to move out of Southern California. And it's home to about 458,000 less people than the Long Beach in California, too. And the Long Beach in Washington has no downtown or inner city or suburbia. But other than that, you can't tell the two places apart.
I can't speak for any of the other Long Beaches in the world, although I have been within ten miles of Long Beach, New York, and probably close to fifty miles from Long Beach, Mississippi, not to mention Long Beach, Indiana. And I suppose I've been within forty miles of Long Beach, Maryland. But I know I absolutely have never been in the vicinity of Longbeach, New Zealand -- as far as I know, that is.
Speaking of long things, a couple of years ago I saw a picture in the newspaper of an Englishman sporting a 63-inch-long mustache. He was an old man, obviously; he would have to be. But my question -- as a person who's never grown a mustache but who's lived with people who have -- is how the hell can a man grow his mustache that long? I mean, how is it biologically possible? Wouldn't it just stop growing at a certain point? Or will it keep growing longer if you train it up some sort of trellis like a vine, or if you brush it daily? And if you do succeed in growing it that long, why would you want it to be that long? I mean, can you imagine the pain when you're walking down the street and someone accidentally steps on your mustache?
Ah, well, all this thought about long things makes me yearn for a tall one...
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(Last updated 24th December 2002)