CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Previous Beer Columns >> 6 Southern California Brewpubs

Previous Pint Pleasures - October 4, 1999

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The Bonaventure Brewing Company, Bonaventure Hotel, 404 South Figueroa Boulevard, Los Angeles

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Crown City Brewery, 300 South Raymond, Pasadena

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Barney's Beanery, 8447 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood

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Belmont Brewing Company, 25 39th Place, Long Beach

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The Yard House, 401 Shoreline Drive, Long Beach

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Coronado Brewing Company, 170 Orange Avenue, Coronado Island

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Danny's Palm Bar and Grill, 965 Orange Avenue, Coronado Island

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Redondo Beach Brewing Company, Terminal 6, Los Angeles International Airport, Inglewood

As you can see I haven't made it back to my reviews of Seattle brewpubs. I haven't had a chance to review Big Time Brewery, Rock Bottom Brewery, Redhook's Trolleyman, the West Seattle Brewery, Rock Pizza and Pasta Brewery, The Ridge, The Six Arms, Dad Watson's, and whatever other brewpubs have popped up since I've been gone. There is also a world of great microbrew-serving pubs in Seattle: the Hilltop Alehouse, the Virginia Inn, the Red Door Alehouse, the Triangle Tavern, the Comet Tavern, and on and on. On future visits to Seattle I'll fit in reviews of a few of those places.

But now the geographical emphasis of Pint Pleasures has changed due to the fact that I'm involved in travels around Europe for awhile. This includes England, Land Of Thousands Of Pubs And A Million Fine Pints (or LOTOPAAMFP, for those acronym-obsessed readers). As my beer education expands so does my palate, my unique pint experiences, and my hopped horizons. Hopefully I'll continue to educate, entertain, and entice my Pacific Coast friends and readers as well as those in the UK and Europe.

Before venturing into my sojourns through France, Belgium, and the Kingdom of Real Ale I spent a month in Southern California, so this column covers those experiences.

When I lived in Los Angeles I used to come downtown to the Bonaventure Hotel's twin towers to take the elevator up to the revolving rooftop bar for cocktails. This modern skyscraper seems an odd place for a brewpub; but there it is at the bottom -- the Bonaventure Brewing Company -- with brewing vats displayed in a little house in the garden. Surprisingly the best Southern California micro I tasted was at the Bonaventure.

One Friday I met my friend Mistah Rick (who'd flown down from Oakland) at the nearby Red Line Metro station. We slipped thirstily into the non-pub-looking pub and sat at the bar, chatting briefly with the bartender who mentioned the brewer would be happy to take any comments or criticisms. We ordered two pints of the Pale Ale. Mistah Rick thought it tasted like over-buttered toast; I thought there was something ovally (ovaline?) in the foretaste. And the midtaste? It's -- it's -- bitter! It tastes like a bitter! Too bad the Bonaventure doesn't offer a cask-conditioned version, because it would taste very much like your average ordinary English bitter.

The Bonaventure also brews a Blonde Ale, a Brown Ale, and a Stout. A 16-ounce pint is $3.50, a 10-ounce glass $2.25, a 23-ounce "tall" is $5.00, pitchers are $12.00, and they plan to sell growlers-to-go soon. Most of the beer recipes were created by Kevin Day, formerly master brewer of the Belmont Brewing Company in Long Beach who has since moved on to yet another brewery.

Our second brewpub stop of the day was Pasadena's Crown City Brewery, which reminds me of the Goose Island Brewing Company, Chicago's only brewpub back when I visited in 1995. The decor and mood are similar, and there were three TVs featuring Friday afternoon baseball, hockey, and more baseball. One nice feature of Crown City is that it has its own parking lot, a rarity among city pubs.

We sat down next to Steve 'n' Mel of AmTech (according to the embroidered nametags on their shirts). We first had a taste of Arroyo Amber, a smooth and fruity beer reminiscent of apples and peaches. In fact, a sip tasted like a mouthful of fruit cobbler. I opted for a pint of Parrot Pale Ale, attracted to the nice parrot graphic on the pump. It was another smooth beer but quite boring with a strangely nitro-like head. Mistah Rick's guest pint of Pyramid DPA also had a nitro-like head. Is it the nitrous atmosphere of Pasadena or what?

The Pyramid DPA tasted like cream-coloured flannel pajamas with the feet in -- and with the added benefit of a fuzzy striped tail. Perhaps this would be a good beer to curl up with on a frosty night while your parents read you bedtime stories. Oh yes, and then the Parrot Pale Ale . . . hmm, I keep forgetting. What was I going to say about it? My short term memory has gone, not to mention my long term memory, my computer memory -- it all goes, fades, with this beer because it's simply not memorable. In fact, I couldn't remember drinking it even while I was drinking it. Perhaps they should rename it Alzheimer's Ale.

Crown City's own brews include Mt. Wilson Wheat, Brush Back Stout, and English Bill's Half and Half Ale. Along with the TV screens the decor features hundreds and hundreds of different bottles of beer lined up along the walls. According to our calculations we estimate there are around 999 bottles of beer on the wall. Yes, that's 999 bottles of beer. Shall we take one down and pass it around?

We moved on to the Westwood Brewing Company in Westwood (previously reviewed) where we had two pints of their still boring Pale Ale and chatted outside on the deck with some UCLA grad students who, even with their approaching ph.D.s, still hadn't learned how to use verbs. (They were, like, "this is how they, like, you know.")

And finally it was time for a quick dinner, so we headed to Barney's Beanery. This world-famous West Hollywood watering hole isn't a brewery but it does have a vast beer list, along with a large and varied menu. Our pints of Young's English style Strong Ale tasted too sweet and rather blah. My quesadilla was enjoyable, though.

I also spent several days in Long Beach. As I recall, Long Beach's Belmont Brewing Company located at the foot of the Belmont Pier was the first brewpub in the Los Angeles/Orange County area. Naturally, since I lived in Long Beach in the 1980s I felt quite lucky because of this. Back then, before my beer tastes became refined and knowledgeable, I used to enjoy their Top Sail Amber Ale as well as the occasional pint of Long Beach Crude (6.5% ABV). But the Belmont Brewing Company has changed hands several times since. The pint of Top Sail Amber (5.5% ABV) I had one recent afternoon with my mother was disappointing. Although it won first place at the 1998 California State Fair, it had a thickish body of the straight-up-and-down sort -- i.e. no curves, no peaks, no valleys. It suggested a barrel-shaped person with no discernible waist -- just a series of cylindrical ripples of fat resting atop each other. In other words, this beer would look lousy in a bikini.

To the Belmont Brewing Company's credit, however, I must say the beachside deck is a pleasant place to sit and watch the ocean, and some of their dishes are reportedly quite good.

Other beers available are Marathon Light (4.5% ABV) and Strawberry Blonde (4.5%). Pints are $3.50, glasses $2.75, pitchers $12.00, 22-ounce bottles to go $4.00, and 66-ounce growlers are $24.00.

Although the Yard House in Long Beach isn't a brewpub it's of interest because it boasts the largest selection of draft micros and imports in the world. 250 different beers are arranged in a vast line of taps which circles completely around the bar -- and since the selections don't appear to be in alphabetic, geographic, or style order, I'm mystified as to how the bartenders find what they're looking for. The Yard House's keg room holds over 600 kegs of beer, and their promotional material claims that it would take a 200-pound man over 65 years to drink all that beer. Hmm, is that at a constant rate? Or would that allow for 8-hour sleeping breaks each day? And what happens if the man's liver gives out along the way?

Regardless of one man's drinking problem, the Yard House is an interesting place to visit. Located in Shoreline Village near the Queen Mary, the style is that of a Southern California beach pub: big and sparsely furnished with lots of polished light-coloured wood. Food is served and there's a patio for smokers and sun worshippers. When my friend Barb and I had a pint on the patio we sat near two chocolate-sundae-eating Japanese tourists who were avidly shooting photos of the "macho dudes" next to them who were drinking their lager from yards.

My first choice was a pint of Belk's Bitter from Anderson Valley Brewing. Surprisingly enough this was just as bitter as I needed -- not overly, powerfully bitter like a satisfying IPA but bitter nevertheless: the amount of bitter I needed to cheer me up at that particular moment in my life. Next up was Rogue Red Ale, always a favourite of mine. I love that deep, big fuzzy feel of all Rogue Ales; it's a mainstream fuzziness, like that of a woolly cat or perhaps a Malamute or maybe an ermine or a mink. That's it exactly -- it's like drinking mink in the Southern California sun.

My last pint of the afternoon was Fuller's ESB. This, of course, is an English import as opposed to a microbrew. But is it a good English beer in perspective, in comparison to all the English beers I've had in England? Perhaps not as good as the real thing; but suddenly the wonderful subtlety of English beer excellence hit home all at once. How sad, though; my tastes have become so refined I could detect the chemicals in the beer, those additives necessary for import into the U.S. An old liquor store owner once told me it was formaldehyde, but he could very well be wrong. But still it subtly suggests the taste of dead bodies in my beer. Why, simply because I'm in America, must I drink dead English beer? Why?

On a short excursion to San Diego with my mother, we were taken for dinner by a family friend to the Coronado Brewing Company, a modern brewpub partly owned by our friend's son-in-law. The food was quite nice (my artichoke calzone was delicious) and the atmosphere was definitely SoCal Beach. But my pint of Pale Ale was as unmemorable as an ordinary loaf of soft white bread: no character, no personality, no statement at all. Nothingness. There I was, being, and drinking nothingness. This is so sad, Southern California! You've got so much personality; is it all only skin deep?

While on Coronado Island my mother and I stopped for lunch at Danny's Palm Bar & Grill, where I had a pint of Hang Ten Brewing Company's Pintail Pale Ale. It wasn't bad, really, and surprisingly hoppy for a SoCal microbrew with a surfing image. Mind you, I don't mean really hoppy or very hoppy, or even hoppy enough; but more hoppy than anything I had in Los Angeles besides Bonaventure's Pale Ale. This Pintail Pale Ale is what I'd call an "okay" beer. The hoppiness saves the otherwise lack of flavour, like a surfer waiting gainlessly on her board in a quiet bay hoping a good wave might come along. Impatient, she stands up on her board and hops up and down, first on one foot, then the other...

My final morning in Southern California was spent at Los Angeles International Airport waiting for my flight to London. My Continental flight left from Gate 60 in Terminal 6. When I spotted the LAX outlet of the Redondo Beach Brewing Company directly next to my gate, well, how could I possibly resist a final West Coast microbrew before departing for the Land of Real Ale? My 14-ounce minipint of Pier Pale Ale cost a whopping $5.50 -- but this is the airport, after all, with its inflated prices. The bartender was very warm and friendly but my ale was served ice cold and over-carbonated, which is to be expected in Southern California. But a good hoppiness somehow broke through the otherwise weak body.

But Pier Pale Ale is definitely an appropriate beer for 10:30 in the morning, clutched by hands shaking from having just hauled my two heavy bags to the check-in counter. (I sincerely hoped, as I hauled the 14-ounce glass from the bar to my mouth, that my quivering hands and the early hour didn't suggest I was an alky frantically getting her mid-morning fix.)

Speaking of morning, the taste of Pier Pale Ale is like the mildly frothy ice cold surf of an autumn morning. Or is it like a mildly frothy, colder-than-hell personal home page on an evening's Internet surf? Perhaps it suggests a fishing pier: the cold, salty spray, vague fishy smell laced with greasy French fries against a pitch black sky? Or perhaps it's an airport runway in December, heat and exhaust from diesel fumes flavouring the iciness. Whatever.

But back to the Redondo Beach Brewing Company at the airport: Jody Maroni's Sausage Kingdom is on one side and on the other is a Starbucks, perhaps Gate 60's own personal Starbucks. (How many Starbucks are in Terminal 6, anyway? 10? 25? 250?) On this particular morning a TV in the corner of the pub was airing some stupid talk show. Today's theme was "I Want To Expose My Ex": fortunately the audio was turned off. It's to be expected at an airport bar, I suppose.

I haven't been to the original Redondo Beach Brewing Company, obviously in Redondo Beach. Is it located on or near the Redondo Beach Pier? That brings back memories of a huge storm in the 1980s that nearly washed away the pier. I remember seeing a group of people standing on some rocks as a giant wave crashed over them; and when the wave ebbed, two of the people were gone. Ah yes, the storms of Southern California beaches, the ones that would wash away the middle of the Seal Beach Pier, the one that liquefied restaurants on the Santa Barbara and Santa Monica piers...

So many SoCal memories, so many Seattle memories, and so many Pacific Coast pints. And now it's on to a new world of pints. Stay tuned...

Bonaventure Updates
(Last updated 20th November 2002)
Belmont Brewing Company Updates
(Last updated 17 September 2010)