Before my trip to Long Beach in September I checked online to see if there were any new breweries that had opened in my home town since my previous visit. And I was surprised to learn about quite a few, most of them highly rated by the Los Angeles microbrewery community. The majority are located up in the northwest part of the city, near the Long Beach Freeway and also around the Bixby Knolls area. I’m not really sure why this is, although perhaps there are more available spaces to rent around there for proper breweries. Or perhaps this is just a subtle scheme by the local residents to develop their own giant pub crawl.
On two separate afternoons Kim, who lives with and takes care of my elderly mother, was able to go sample a couple of these breweries with me. The first one is located in Signal Hill across the street from the Long Beach Municipal Cemetery, which was the setting of a midnight dancing session between me and a couple of Peruvian friends when I was young. As one does, of course.
As Signal Hill’s first brewery, Ten Mile Brewing was opened in 2012 by father and son partners Dan and Jesse when they decided to convert their nine-year-old garage home-brewing into a proper venture. The name comes from Kings Canyon National Park, located in the High Sierras. Dan and Jesse’s family owns a cabin there on Hume Lake to which Ten Mile Creek is a tributary. The large taproom’s long bar and hand-made tables were built with materials gathered from the Kings Canyon area.
After a taste of Hop Exposure Double IPA (8.3%), which was strong with bitter complex hops, I decided to go for a pint of Bitter Fingers West Coast IPA (6.5% ABV), which is just a really good hoppy pale. Kim commented that it tasted as if it were filtered through pine boughs. Kim went for a half pint of Hidden Hollow Kentucky Common (5.2%), which tasted like a traditional bitter brewed with possibly a whisky malt, which definitely made an ordinary bitter much less ordinary. We took our pints to one of the handmade tables near the bar and surveyed our surroundings. There were quite a few people in the place, along with a dog or two. In fact at one point a giant rescue dog entered the pub, not to save anybody but perhaps to make sure its thirsty owner didn't imbibe too much.
For our second round Kim had a pint of Dat Yacht Life Brut IPA (6.8%) after I’d explained to him that the “brut” refers to the champagne yeast used in the brewing process. The beer had a very nice and pleasant hoppiness enhanced by lovely little champagne bubbles, and Kim was very happy with it. I had a pint of Trail Marker IPA (6.75%). My pint came out a bit murky, but the two young barmaids attentively checked it and changed my pint, just like proper cask ale beer staff which impressed me. The Trail Marker was similar to Bitter Fingers but smoother.
The taproom is stocked with a selection of table games, and there is one large-screen TV used for the most popular sporting events. Fortunately it wasn’t on this afternoon, but I suppose it’s fair to say that if one is going to fill the pub needs of the local community one needs to consider the sports fans as well.
The next week, the day before my flight home, we got away again for a couple of hours to visit the Liberation Brewing Company. It was a bit difficult to spot at first, as the brewery is located in an old discount emporium on the front of a shopping centre off Atlantic Avenue, with a giant sign that straddles the pavement sideways announcing “Liberation Brewing Company”, and a mural on the side which is part of the city’s Pow Wow public art project. After leaving the car in the large car park we entered what was once a 99 Cent Store. The Liberation taproom is wonderfully quirky, with a mural by Dave Van Patten on the side wall featuring strange human creatures and one cat, all enjoying pints. For peckish customers the Liberty Brewing Company offers the typical crisps and jerky snacks, but it also encourages bringing your own outside food. (Apparently there is a very good Mexican place next door, which always sounds like a good idea to me.)
In honour of the three-flight trip I had taken from the UK to Long Beach, Kim and I decided to share a three-beer flight. Our first leg, corresponding to my initial long flight from Manchester to San Francisco (which happened to be on a plane named Daydream Believer), was the pale and hoppy Jackrabbit IPA (6.6%). Described on the beer menu as having flavours of pie, strawberry, and mild earth, it more accurately suggested one of the five cats who live with Kim and my mom. Named Jack, Kim calls him "Jackrabbit" because of his skinny bouncy Jack-the-Lad personality. Jack is my special boy among the five cats, all of whom I love, so I was happy to be sipping an easily drinkable and hopping-about brew named after him.
Our next flight leg, equivalent to my scenic flight from San Francisco to Salt Lake City, was Cyclone Racer Double IPA (8.0%). Described as having a complicated taste consisting of sticky pine sap, dried peaches, and candied pineapple, this beer was hoppy and bitter in abundance. Seeing how it was named after the famous roller coaster that graced Long Beach's Pike for decades, it, too, was named appropriately.
The last of the flight, in concert with my final nighttime flight from Salt Lake City to Long Beach, was Rachel Nelson/Amarillo PA, suggested as tasting like peach, white wine, honey, and graham cracker. Rachel was nice enough, but I think our taste buds were still hyperventilating a bit after having been bombarded by the thrill of the Cyclone Racer. After persisting with Rachel, she began to suggest smooth hops with a subconscious reminiscence of honey.
As these flights were quite small we decided to finish with a round of half pints. Kim went for Boosh and Skadoosh Belgian Saison (6.5% AV), whose name brought to mind one of my favourite quirkily surreal TV programs. The tasting notes suggested grass, floral, pearskin, gingerbread, clay, and mineral earth. I definitely detected the smell of gingerbread before I even sipped it, followed immediately by the explosion of a very earthy ripe pear. I’d compare this to a bit of romance in a glass, if one has ever experienced that. My half pint was Lucy, an Enigma/Nelson Pale Ale (4.7%). The notes suggested melon, lychee, black pepper, and baguette, which seemed a bit too long a description to me. I would describe it as being v I suppose that’s just as long...
The last beer made me wonder if each of Liberty’s brews is meant to simulate a fair ride. Which is not a bad idea at all...
- MASONS ARMS, SHEFFIELD:
This Crookes pub was closed for refurbishment for quite some time. Many didn’t think it would open again, and a lot of the daily Masons stalwarts had migrated to other pubs including my local. In late autumn of 2018 it finally re-opened. After we were getting good reports from friends who didn’t really drink cask ale but said the Masons still served it, we popped in one Sunday evening, the 11th of November as I recall, because it was both Rememembrance and Thank-God-Our-Memorial-Trees-Have-Been-Saved Day, featuring a ceremony and lantern procession down nearby Western Road. The new landlord of the Masons is Tony Brown, who has created a stage in the front room, with high tables and chairs and some comfy seating close to the state. Has had three cask ales on which on this day were Farmers Blonde (4.0% ABV, Bradfield Brewery, High Bradfield, South Yorkshire), Belgian Blue (4.9% ABV, Bradfield Brewery), and Boltmaker (4.0% ABV, Timothy Taylor, Keighley, West Yorkshire). Tony is well into live music and is having bands on weekends as well as jazz combos on Sunday afternoons.
Because of all the new paint and furniture this place smells great, looks nice, and is very promising. Tony lived in Vancouver, BC for awhile, and as a former Seattleite I instantly spotted one of his souvenirs in the corner: a totem pole. I haven’t seen one of those since I lived a short walk from Seattle Center where there was at least one. Our pints of Blonde were in decent form.
Sadly on two succeeding visits, when we came back for a jazz combo and then a rock band at night, the Farmers Blonde wasn’t on and we were forced to drink Belgian Blue, which is higher in ABV than we want to go. So hopefully this was just an unfortunate coincidence.
- WELLINGTON, SHEFFIELD:
On a rainy-sunny-rainy-sunny-rainy day a couple of months ago Mike, Andrew, and I attempted to visit the Ship Inn in Shalesmoor, but it was jammed three deep at the bar. So we headed across the way to the Wellie where Andrew and I had pints of Nelson’s Eye New Zealand Pale Ale (4.4% ABV, Heavy Industry Brewing, Henllan, Denbighshire, Wales). It was pretty obvious that it was a Welsh brew, as the pump clip said “Cwrew Craft Cymreig”. A CAMRA champion for North Wales in 2014, this is a really good beer, with a charcoal grey-level smooth fuzzy furry deep-hoppy vibration on the tongue, imparting a distinct What Is That? flavour. After I spilled part of our pints because my long thighs had an argument with the little table’s curved iron legs, I thoroughly enjoyed what was left of my pint, which fortunately was most of it. Mike had a pint of Zoo (5.5% ABV, Ashover Brewery, Ashover, Derbyshire) which is another lovely beer. Although strong it doesn’t produce that look-at-me-I’m-soooo-alcoholic punch in the mouth, which is a relief. But that also makes it a bit...dangerous. As we sipped our delicious beers we chatted about unions, politics, and the usual. Moving on to racist and homophobic co-workers I realised that even though the subjects were upsetting and angering, I was feeling strangely blissful because of the experiences in my mouth. Nelson’s Eye is a truly gorgeous beer, and in the midst of us trying to solve the problems of the world and society I felt it necessary to explain my dreamlike smile.
- CLOSED SHOP, SHEFFIELD:
A couple of months ago I met my friend Olly at Stand D3 at the Sheffield Interchange after work, and then we rode the 95 to Commonside to the Closed Shop, eventually being met by Carmel and then Paul. I had a taste of the Enchanté (4.0% ABV, Stancill Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) which was all right; but the Iceberg (4.1% ABV, Titanic Brewery, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire) seemed hoppier so I went for that. While the other three talked about Pokemon Go events I backed out of the conversation and felt myself getting distant, perhaps in a mountain retreat by the sea working on my novel between long treks along a non-Pokemon seashore. As a result I accidentally knocked over my second pint after only a couple of sips, emptying it completely onto the table. So I took that as my cue to bow out and go home.
The next night, which was a Friday, Andrew and I stopped in for a pint. Because my second pint had been curtailed the night before, we both went for pints of Iceberg. Because it was Happy Hour Friday all the Stancill pints were only £2.25, explaining why the place was jammed with students. Having ordered non-Stancill pints we missed out on that offer, but the Iceberg was well worth it.
Later on Mike, Andrew, and I stopped in here and Mike had a pint of Simcoe (4.2% ABV, Saltaire Brewery, Shipley, West Yorkshire), which seemed floral with a bit of spice. I had a pint of Ella (4.2% ABV, Stancill Brewing) which was lovely, with that slightly oomph! hops. When I checked online I learned that Ella Hops, grown in Australia, are related to Galaxy hops, so that explains that goodness. Andrew had a pint of Brewsmith Pale (4.2% ABV, Brewsmith Beer, Ramsbottom, Bury, Greater Manchester), which tasted very much of New Zealand hops. At first we guessed Nelson Sauvin, but it’s actually a brewed with a combination of Motuega, Simcoe, and Calypso hops, producing a pleasing indigo-black hops character. So between the three of us we had three good hoppy brews, all the same ABV. How did we manage to do that?
A few days later I stopped in by myself after work. It was a cold and wet December day, and the ridiculously crap local bus services had caused me stress all week as I’d had to wait forever in the miserable weather. On this evening at the pub they had several festive Stancill beers in honour of the upcoming holidays, with everything ranging from light to black and smooth to strong. I went for Lapland (4.0% ABV, Stancill Brewing) which is a lovely complex of hoppiness, just right for a disappointing day at work and a week of bus hell. And the fact that it was only £2.50, the normal Closed Shop price for a pint of Stancill, made it all the more pleasing.
I sat in the corner window next to a young couple who were playing Scrabble and eating chips that looked and smelled so good I figured I must have been hungry. I was reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by the brilliant novelist Michael Chabon while I sipped my lovely pint. The hops mixture seemed like a bouquet of hoppiness, sort of a bouquet garnis for the bitter and subtle-character tastebuds. This was truly the quiet after-work break I needed.
- SPRINGVALE, SHEFFIELD:
After a hiatus of not visiting this pub because there seemed to be no cask ales available other than Doom Bar, we decided to give it a try again. It was the Saturday night before Halloween, and the pub was getting ready for a Halloween Party. There were two Stancill offerings, Stainless and Enchanté We went for the Enchanté (4.0% ABV, Stancill Brewing Company, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) which was very light on the hoppiness but a slightly interesting flavour -- just not enough of it. For some reason it said “Nice to meet you” on the pump clip, which seems blandly nice. I’d call this a tame beer for gentle people -- which we are not.
During the holiday break we stopped in and had pints of Driving Home For Christmas (3.6% ABV, Stancill Brewery). This golden brew is very lightly hoppy but easy to drink, and most definitely not strong, making it a perfect pint for the driver.
- RUTLAND ARMS, SHEFFIELD:
After work, on the Friday before Mad Friday, I stopped in with my workmate John. The pub wasn’t as ridiculously crowded as it is on most post-work Fridays, and we felt quite lucky to find a tiny table in the middle of the floor that was free. As I was at the bar I suddenly recognised the woman sitting next to me as the same woman who had “found” my lost green iPhone earlier in the year. On that stressful evening I was frantically searching around the pub, asking the bar staff if anyone had turned it in, when this woman spotted it sticking out of my back pocket. (Yes, of course I was embarrassed...)
I opted for a pint of Suspended By Hops (4.0% ABV, Siren Craft Brewery, Finchhamstead, Berkshire), a hazy brew with Citra, Centennial, and German Mandarina hops. It was surprisingly good, with the wonderfully New World Centennial, the lemon of the Citra, and the lager touch with the Mandarina. John went for Hillfoot Best Bitter (4.0% ABV, Blue Bee Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), which I was surprised to discover was great. In fact I wish I’d had it, because it reminded me of the old Barnsley Bitter when Barnsley Brewery were making it. What a joy to have two really good pints here.