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Previous Pint Pleasures - December 22, 2013

guinness eileen

Altadena Ale and Wine House, 2329 North Fair Oaks Avenue, Altadena, California

guinness eileen

The Abbey, 306 Main Street, Seal Beach, California

Last spring when I was in Southern California I spent a night with my friends Mary and Toep who live in Altadena. Located a few miles from downtown Los Angeles in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains just north of Pasadena, Altadena is famous for the Mount Lowe Railway, a scenic railway that once transported passengers up to the mountains. It is also famous for Christmas Tree Lane, a 1.1 km stretch of road that has been a yuletide attraction since 1920 and is currently the oldest large-scale outdoor Christmas lighting venue in the world, with thousands of lights decorating the 110 giant deodar cedars. So how fitting is it to write about the Altadena Ale House so close to Christmas?

The ale house opened in 2010 after renovation, previously having been a real dive, according to Mary and Toep. Good things do rise from the ashes. The owner is Yorkshire native Judah Casburn, who was the original owner of Lucky Baldwin's in Pasadena. When we visited on an early Monday evening it was very quiet in the pub. We noticed a distinctly British theme to the place, but the closest to a British person there at that moment was myself. We sat in the room decorated with Tetley's signs, a Newcastle Brown Ale neon sign, and a large harp, with a dartboard mounted on a wall dangerously close to a cosy little table nestled into the corner: a perfect setting for love-smitten daredevils.

The bar offers some of the typical British exports to America: Boddington's, Fuller's London Pride, Stella Artois, and Strongbow, along with a wide variety of wines. I tasted a pint of Hoppy Poppy (6.5% ABV, Figueroa Mountain Brewery, Buellton, California) which seemed a bit light on the hops for my taste. So I went for a pint of Double Trouble IPA (8.5% ABV, Lost Coast Brewery, Eureka, California). This had a good hops burst. It's a surprisingly amber but hoppy beer, proving hoppy beers don't necessarily have to be pale or black.

Like many real British pubs the Altadena has an outdoor smoking patio, and World Cup matches have been shown on TV. I imagine when Judah is there the British feeling is raised a bit. Americans do tend to love their British styles and experiences. What would the equivalent word for Americana be?Britishiana?

South of Los Angeles and closer to my hometown of Long Beach is Seal Beach, located just southeast down the coast and across the Orange County border. Incorporated in 1915, the city started life as Anaheim Landing and was later called Bay City. Besides its pier and beach popular with fishing fans and surfers, Seal Beach is home to the US Naval Weapons Station and the retirement community of Leisure World.

One afternoon my Belgian friend Daisy and I found ourselves strolling down Seal Beach's Main Street in search of lunch and a pint, so we decided to try the Abbey.

The pub is quite small, with tables along one wall. The staff and decor seemed very Californian, so there was nothing particularly abbey-ish about the place. We sat at the bar and perused the beer menu. One of the barmaids was a hops lover and the other one hated hoppy beers, so I immediately knew who best to advise me on the brews. Daisy decided to have a pint of Palm (5.8% ABV, Brouwerij Palm, Steenhuffel, Belgium), a typical smooth Belgian brew with that unique Belgian glacé on the tongue. I went for a pint of Imperial Red Rye IPA (8.5% ABV, Green Flash Brewery, San Diego, California), which was very hoppy with an intensely gold bitter roundness, if bitter can be round. Daisy thought it tasted like chestnut or eucalyptus. She could even taste the koalas. I could simply taste rolling hoops of hops.

A man from a local brewery was sitting next to us chatting about beers. Our lunch was okay, although our dishes were missing some ingredients promised on the menu. To top off the experience, the hops- and rye-hating barmaid shortchanged Daisy by a dollar.

Perhaps on my next visits to Seal Beach I'll stick with the friendlier Beachwood Barbecue down the street...