CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Two Pubs in Long Beach
Ballast Point Brewing Company, 110 North Marina Drive, Long Beach, California
The Blind Donkey, 149 Linden Avenue, Long Beach, California
In September I visited my home town of Long Beach. A mere two months earlier, as I was researching new brewpubs and breweries in Los Angeles to explore during my visit, I was delighted to read that the San Diego-based Ballast Point, who brew one of my all-time favourite California beers, was opening a pub in Long Beach. So naturally I would have to visit it, at least once.
As it turned out, I had the opportunity to visit Ballast Point Brewing Company several different times with several different friends. My first visit was just a few days after I arrived when my Belgian friend Daisy dragged me out to Downtown Disney for the day. On the way back to Long Beach we took a drive by the beach in Seal Beach, and I managed to sneakily steer Daisy across the San Gabriel River to Alamitos Bay, where I announced, as innocently as I could, "Hey look, there's Ballast Point! That's a great brewery." It was hard to miss, as the giant BALLAST POINT sign is a bit of a beacon.
So we stopped in for a pint. As we walked inside we found ourselves in a large industrial space with full windows with views of the water along the back and wood-slat rafters overhead. The building has had a major transformation since its previous incarnations, Khoury's and the Windrose, the latter being a bar and restaurant I used to frequent when I was in my twenties and thirties. We were greeted in the entrace alcove by a young man who gave us menus and explained the three bars and the ordering system. We decided to stay in the Main Bar and took seats at the bar where I could chat with the barman about the beers.
As I'm already in love with the brewery's Sculpin' IPA, I decided to try a pint of Pineapple Sculpin' IPA (7.0% ABV). This is a definitely mmwhoo! brew loaded with hops. I tend to think of Sculpin' IPA as a California cousin of Sheffield's whoosh!-filled Abbeydale Deception, so in this pineapple version the whoosh! has been replaced by dry fruit, so it's more of a mmmwhoo!. I could happily sit and drink pint after pint of this, but I had other things to do like try something different. So our second pints were Grunion Pale (5.5% ABV), which won the GABF Gold Medal in 2014. This was definitely love at first taste. The barman, whose name was Hurly, pointed out that the brewer of this beer as sitting on the other side of the bar, and apparently it started as a home brew. It's an absolutely beautiful beer. What more can I say?
Hurly gave us a taste of the Brett Grunion Pale Ale (5.5% ABV), brewed with with brettanomyces yeast. I remember that taste from my Marin County brewery wandering with my friend Rick. The brett was very evergreen-leafy, reminiscent of cypress or juniper. As we sat and thoroughly enjoyed our pints we talked about Daisy's new art business she wants to start in Belgium. Before we left, I told Hurly that my friend Mistah Rick was coming down for a Los Angeles brewery crawl, and he gave me some tips on good breweries to visit in Torrance. Before we left we bought a couple of six-packs of Grunion IPA from the little shop by the entrance so we could continue our Ballast Point session at home on my mom's patio.
On my second visit, this time a week later on a Monday afternoon with my Altadena friends Mary and Toep, we sat outside on the upper patio. My first pint was Experimental Doble IPA (7.0% ABV). Described as "stone fruit and citrus", this delivers a powerful nnnyapph! hops bang-slap on the side of the head. I was a bit disappointed that it was served in an eight-ounce glass, so I realised I'd need another eight-ouncer to keep up with Toep's full pint of Black Marlin Porter (6.0% ABV). Described as "smooth, chocolate and caramel with a hoppy finish, the malt in this dark beer hits your nose before your first taste. It's very malty with a very hoppy top, so it's quite satisfying all around. For my second eight-ouncer I chose Dorado Double IPA (10.0% ABV) which was also very hoppy. Sadly the bar was packed with people and the bar staff were a bit stressed out; but we did enjoy the fresh air and the view of the bay below.
My third visit was with Mistah Rick, our final destination after we'd spent the day up in Torrance checking out some of the breweries Hurly had suggested. We got there early on Saturday night, and as opposed to my afternoon visits there was a massive crowd. We spent several minutes searching around the entire place for seating, and that's when we discovered just how huge the place is. We finally found a communal coffee table and sofa near the window, so we ordered our pints and meals from the Lower Patio Bar, thus completing my tour of all three bars.
Our pints of Pineapple Sculpin IPA (7.0% ABV) and Grapefruit Sculpin IPA (7.0% ABV) were served so cold we couldn't really detect that Sculpin character. For dinner we shared a Seared Albacore Torta with fries and house salad, which were both quite tasty. And our pints improved after the chill had eased off a bit in the humid room.
My fourth and final visit of the trip was with my ex-bandmate Lisa. We hadn't seen each other since she was the singer and I was the keyboard player in the Long Beach band Young Moderns back in the early 1980s, so it was a real catch-up session. I had a pint of regular Sculpin' IPA (7.0% ABV) which was just as satisfying as it has ever been. I also tasted Lisa's Red-Eared Slider (3.8% ABV). Described as a "Berliner-weisse with Meyer lemon tartness", this light amber brew is surprisingly yummy, sort of like a lemon sour beer, and it didn't really bring to mind the red-eared terrapin it's named after. (To be fair, the Grunion IPA doesn't taste anything like fish, which is probably a good thing.) We spent a couple of rounds catching up on the old band, the changes in Long Beach since we both lived here, the surrealism of getting older, etc, and we nibbled on tortilla chips and beetroot hummus. As we nibbled and sipped we kept discovering too many remarkable coincidences between us, so I suggested we get DNA tests to see if we're related, or possibly even the same person.
When we were leaving one of the young staff members offered to take a photo of us. When we told her we used to be in a band in the 1980s she seemed impressed, naturally. Hey, why not capitalise on former glory?
I was so happy to learn that Long Beach now has a really good brewpub, but I didn't realise the news would just get better. On the day Mistah Rick and I were exploring breweries up in Los Angeles, we made a point of stopping into the Verdugo Bar in Eagle Rock because it's run by the same people who run the Surly Goat in Hollywood and the Little Bear in the Arts District. When we chatted with the barmaid just before we left she listed the Goat Group pubs, ending with one in Long Beach. "Long Beach?" I exclaimed. "You're kidding! Where?"
So like cool TV detectives we jumped into the car and raced (well, not really) back down the freeway to my home town in search of the Blind Donkey. Located on Linden Avenue between Broadway and First Street, this hidden gem is located in the new Creative Quarter district of downtown, also called the East Village Arts District. This district is what me and my friends envisioned and desired back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the artists among us were moving into lofts in the area. It's heartening to know this has finally happened, but I feel sad that it took this many years.
The Blind Donkey is tucked away underground, but fortunately it wasn't difficult to find the stairs which lead down under the Broadlind Hotel. We descended down underneath the pavement into a dark bar populated with hipsters, craft beer and whiskey aficionados, and youthful Saturday revelers. The bar snakes out into the centre of the large room, and along the sides the luxurious and roomy booths are lit by the round glass pavement tiles directly above which reminded me of some of the underground grottos of Pioneer Square in Seattle. Away from the boots are lots of long tables, and there is a pool table, a dartboard, and various game machines as well.
There were 11 taps available on this particular visit. We had a taste of Oatsmobile (4.3% ABV, Bells Brewing, Comstock, MI), which is a pale ale with oats, but we weren't really impressed. Perhaps the use of oats is more suitable to stouts. So both of us went for pints of Hopzeit (7.0% ABV, Deschutes Brewing Company, Bend, Oregon), an Autumn IPA which seemed like the best choice on the menu and was quite enjoyable. As we sipped our pints we browsed the vast menu of whiskeys and whiskys. I use both spellings because the choices ranged from American bourbon and rye whiskeys to Scottish single malts, Irish whiskies, and Japanese single malts. They also have various wines and cocktails. If we didn't have a car with us we could have done some real damage here.
I'm so proud of my home town now. Not only does it have some excellent coffee roasters and great neighbourhoods, but it has two pubs that are well worth visiting. I'd like to come back soon. (And of course there's all the Mexican food which I constantly crave...)
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(Last updated 25 November 2018)