CoffeeBeer >> Pint Pleasures >> Three Pubs in Los Angeles
Arts District Brewing Company, 828 Traction Avenue, Los Angeles, California
Eagle Rock Brewery Public House, 1627 Colorado Boulevard, Los Angeles, California
Verdugo Craft Beer & Spirits Bar, 3408 Verdugo Road, Los Angeles, California
During my Southern California visit in September my friend Mistah Rick drove down from Oakland to spend two days exploring pubs with me. Having spent the first day in Torrance we decided to spend our second day up around downtown Los Angeles. Our first stop was the Arts District. Located between the Los Angeles River and Alameda Street, this neighbourhood used to be a favourite place for me and my friends to hang out back in the 1980s when it was merely a light industrial area sparsely populated with cool punk hangouts, Japanese shops, and the old Temporary Contemporary art museum (now called the Geffen Contemporary). Now it has turned into an official arts neighbourhood loaded with cafes and galleries and marked with quirky buildings and block-long murals.
As we sat in a coffee house browsing T’Interweb and plotting our pub crawl, we were impressed by how many brewpubs there were close by. Once our count topped nine nearby possibilities I suggested that perhaps we should just go for the appropriately named Arts District Brewing Company.
The brewing company is located in a large cubic industrial building painted entirely with murals. Parked out front on this Saturday was a yellow GMC Apache pickup truck which we stopped to admire. Signs on the windscreen and the roof proclaimed “PIROSHKI”. As we were wondering about that, a man with an Eastern European accent stepped up and told us it was his truck and his piroshki business. Then he stepped into what appeared to be his kitchen, an Airstream trailer parked in a driveway next to the brewery.
(It was right at this point, two weeks into my often stressful family visit, that I realised I was finally feeling relaxed. What an exquisite feeling...) /p>
Inside we found a huge industrial space. There was an inviting garden out to the side surrounded by bougainvillaeas in more colours than I knew they came in. But as it was turning into a very hot day we decided it was much cooler inside, so we sat at the central bar with a close-up view of six giant brewing kettles.
We decided to go for a Beer Flight, which seems to be an American brewpub standard now. Beer flights usually consist of four to six sample glasses of beer served on a wooden, metal, or glass paddle. The beers are usually arranged from lightest to darkest, suggesting that this is the order in which they should be sampled. During our beer tour we found the flights we ordered came to about two pints, so it was a perfect tasting experience for two people.
Our four choices started with Bonzai Pale Ale (5.5% ABV), an easy drinking pale with a non-overpowering, spicy hop punch. Actually it’s more of a nudge than a punch. Next was Traction IPA (7.5% ABV), hopped with a Mosaic varietal and described as having tropical, fruit, citrus, and grass flavours. Tasting this prompted a definite Ooomph! from me. Sipping it was like lying in a hammock on the beach in brightly-coloured shorts – red, orange, and black, definitely -- under a palm tree, with a toucan perched upon one’s shoulder. Our third stop on our flight was Redbird Rye IPA (7.2% ABV), brewed with Mosaic and Simcoe hops. It imparted an interesting metallic plastic character which reminded me of those Mold-A-Rama injection-moulding machines from my childhood that would produce a medallion or a toy right in front of your eyes, and it always had that weird but irresistible smell. I honestly think that us kids would insist on using these machines to get more of these stinky plastic toys because we had to, as the smell was definitely addicting. Rick mentioned the hops top, commenting that the hops attacked the roof of his mouth. This is definitely a thoroughly interesting beer. Our final touchdown on this flight was Kablamo Rye IPA (6.7% ABV), described as having a citrus, pine, and spicy wood character. Brewed with 30% pale rye in the grist, this was very red and quite grapefruity in flavour. Yes, it was my kind of citrussy.
On the back wall of the pub is a row of Brewskee-ball machines. Apparently skee-ball is currently a very popular game around Los Angeles, so this is obviously the brewery version. There were also some people playing a beanbag toss game which I saw a few times on my SoCal visit. Apparently it’s called Cornhole, allegedly named after the act of throwing finished corn cobs into the bin. But to me it brings to mind a more suggestive image...
Our next stop of the day was a brewery that’s been around since 2009. We followed the instructions of Glenda, Rick’s SatNav, to Roswell Street just off North San Fernando Road where we found a large locked building labelled EAGLE ROCK BREWERY. There appeared to be no obvious public taproom, so we parked and checked online again. We did find the Eagle Rock Brewery Public House, located over four miles away in downtown Eagle Rock, so we headed over there. The pub features brick back and side walls with windows all over the front wall, imparting a light airiness to the small room. We sat at the bar and started with a taste of the appealingly punctuated Ümläüt (4.8% ABV). It was definitely pilsneresque, but it didn’t deliver the Czech hops kick I was hoping for. So we went for two pints to share. The first was Populist IPA (7.0% ABV), an easy drinking beer with a populist sort of tingly hops. The second was Revolution (5.2% ABV), a dry-hopped pale which was very similar to the Populist. Neither beers were particularly challenging or violent, so both could easily have been called populist beers. As we were ready for lunch we perused the menu which featured some unusual options including a tempting French Toast Sandwich with fried egg and cheese. We ended up ordering the Smoked Fish dip with pickled red onion and Ritz crackers, along with house chips made with Kennebec potatoes and served with malt vinegar aioli. We were surprised and disappointed when we received a bowl of potato crisps, as we were both expecting chips. The mistake was natural for long-term Brit resident me, but how did California Rick miss this? I suppose he was so influenced by my visit that he was thinking in British...
Surprisingly our junk-food-style snacks made our populist beers come alive, nearly fomenting a taste revolution. This brought to mind the possibilities of a website that pairs beers with junk food. So if Ritz crackers bring pale ales alive, would Scampi Fries go good with rye ales? What about Big Macs or Maltesers? Perhaps a beer flight featuring beers paired with nachos, Cheese Moments, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and M&Ms?
As we sipped and nibbled, old ska tunes were playing in the background, including one of my late friend Trevor’s favourites, “Liquidator” by the Harry J Allstars. The pub features a Tweener Hour on weekdays between 4:00 and 6:00pm, with $2.00 oysters and $4.00 pints. Hmm, oysters and Ritz crackers? Anything’s possible...
Our third Los Angeles pub of the day was only three miles away, back near the Eagle Rock brewery. We were curious about the Verdugo Bar because it’s a sister pub of the Surly Goat in Hollywood. It’s even more difficult to locate the bar, though. All the Surly Goat has to indicate its existence is a picture of a surly goat, whereas the Verdugo Bar is marked solely by an old COCKTAILS sign overhanging the door. So we were going on the street address and number alone. As we entered the door it was very dark inside, just like I recall the Goat was. And like the Goat we emerged from the darkness into the slightly more lit bar which features 22 taps and a large list of cocktails. After our eyes adjusted we browsed through the beer menu and tried a couple of tasters first. The first was the appealingly named Charlie Hustle (6.8% ABV, Mason Ale Works, Oceanside, California), which is a red IPA. The second taste was Kabrevsky (6.5% ABV, Oskar Blues Brewing, Lyons, Colorado), which was an okay IPA but it just wasn’t very interesting. Rick went for a pint of the Charlie while I opted for a pint of Tricerahops (8.0% ABV, Ninkasi Brewing Company, Eugene, Oregon). Served in a stemmed glass it was a bit sweet, but that was probably due to the high alcohol content. As the name implies, it painted a dominant picture of hops marching across the landscape.
Outside the dark bar we found a pleasant garden where we sat at a table in the shade as respite from the heat. We were the only customers there, surrounded on four sides by an impressive display of beer signs from all over the world. We chatted with the DJ who was busy setting up his equipment and doing a sound check for an evening session. Around 4:00 we were finally joined by other drinkers, including a large group who sat at the table next to us. One of them was drinking one of the advertised fancy cocktails while another was consuming a pint of ice water. That person was presumably the designated driver, at least for the cocktail drinker.
It was here we discovered the Verdugo and the Surly Goat are part of the Goat Group, whose logo was engraved on my beer glass. There are currently five Goat Group pubs in total, including the Little Bear in downtown Los Angeles, the Blind Donkey in Long Beach, and Sweeney’s Ale House in Encino. Having cracked only three of these, there’s another good reason for me to come back to Los Angeles for another beer visit.
BOTTLED BEER UPDATE: