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Common Space Brewery, 3411 West El Segundo, Hawthorne, California

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State Brewing Company, 1237 West 134th Street, Gardena, California

In September my Bay Area friend Mistah Rick and I met once again in Southern California to sample some new breweries. This time he drove down from Oakland and I Metrorailed up from Long Beach to meet at the California Science Museum in Exposition Park near downtown Los Angeles. After sating our minds and imaginations with the amazing exhibit of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, we headed off to other parts of Los Angeles to attend to our tastebuds. By mid-afternoon we decided to venture out of central LA to the South Bay. Our first stop was in Hawthorne, where Rick and I met and became good friends several decades ago when we were scientific programmers developing a 3D CAD system for the Northrop Corporation, which was founded in the city in 1939.

Named after the author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who shared his birthday with the daughter of one of the developers, the city of Hawthorne was founded in 1905 and soon became what was known as a sundown town, where signs were posted everywhere warning African Americans to be out of town by sundown. Sadly enough, as I discovered when I recently read City of Quartz by LA historian Mike Davis, there were many communities like this in the early days of Los Angeles, including the very first place I lived as an infant before my family wisely moved to Long Beach. Fortunately time has moved on, people have become more aware, and communities have evolved quite a bit -- although this doesn’t really explain the current state of the White House. But don’t get me started…

As we pulled into the car park of the Common Space Brewery, the Pulp song “Common People” just happened to be playing on the car’s CD, so this seemed a good omen. The brewery, which had opened six months earlier, is basically a huge open barn consisting mostly of brewery, with a bar in front and 1000 square feet of seating, inspired by the beer gardens of Octoberfest, out in front. For some reason, perhaps because we weren’t feeling particularly Bavarian, we went inside and sat at the bar. We decided to go for a 4-beer flight of tasters, which made a lot of sense. (Flights usually consists of either three- or four-ounce glasses, so one can taste a lot more beers without the risk of suddenly finding oneself intoxicated.)

Our first taster was Jasmine Rice Saison (5.9% ABV), which was described on the menu as “Pepper Rice Cracker Orange”. This seemed a very neutral brew, a nice warm-weather quaff but not very Far Eastern in taste as was suggested. Next on our flight was Tart Saison (5.6%). It was described as "Passion Fruit Golden Pear Twang", and yes, that described it perfectly. Peary like a saison, it was lightly touched with sweetly exotic passion fruit, and finished with a wonderful sour TWANGggg!

The third leg of our flight was Double IPA (8.1%), described as "Tangelo Campari Sorbet". Rick described it as a bowl of tangelo Campari sorbet that the cat peed on -- which can be a good thing…" We both found it bit bitterly intense in a weird way. Our last leg was West Coast IPA (6.8%), described as “Assertive Pineapple Citrus". That was a bit more ambitious description than either of us could come up with, as the only tasting term that really came to either of us was a very simple “Yum!” We both really liked this beer. It was definitely the best of the four. But then I am partial to both pineapple and lime, especially in a gin and tonic.

Common Space features live music nights, comedy evenings, and televised sporting events. Although they don’t have a kitchen, they have food trucks showing up every day of the week, offering various things like tacos, pizzas, Caribbean food, and seafood. (What a fantastic idea, seafood street food. So why haven’t I seen any seafood food vans in Sheffield?)

As we sipped our pints we reminisced about our old Northrop days. And then we went to Google Maps to try to locate the old Tech Center where we worked, back in the prehistoric days before we could magically pull out a phone and access the Internet. This search was really stretching our memories, because we were both transferred at some point out to Pico Rivera. But we finally did manage to pinpoint the location and made a point of driving past it when we left Common Space. The buildings looked quite different to when we worked there, but apparently the site is still in use as an aircraft plant, where fuselage sections for Boeing 748s and 787s are produced.

Our next stop was a brewery in the city of Gardena, located southeast of Hawthorne. Once home to the Tongva people, Gardena was presumably named for being the only green spot between Los Angeles and the ocean during the dry season. More recently it boasted the highest percentage of Japanese American residents in the state. I always remember back last century when Gardena was the only place in California, besides reservations, where casinos were allowed.

Like Common Space, the State Brewing Company is located in an industrial park. And like in the Common Space we sat at the bar and again ordered a four-taster flight. But this was the State Brewing Company, so we were in fact to have a completely different experience. For instance, the pub was quite dark and sombre, and the sound system was playing mostly hard rock. There was one dog in the pub with its owner, although it seemed a bit unfriendly, and I did eventually notice that I was the only woman in the place.

But our flights were a bit more exciting. Our first taster was So Fresh So Clear (8.2%), described as a West Coast IPA, brewed with Mosaic and Idaho 7 hops. And it did indeed taste like a West Coast IPA, with a hint of skunkiness. It also had something, something that I couldn’t exactly define. Rick noticed that as well, but he also could define what it was. I thought perhaps it was a female cat that had just bathed herself. Our second taster was Liquid Lexus (7.4%), a Hazy IPA brewed with Mosaic and Ekuanot hops. It was nice; but we were a bit distracted by listening to an almost Jimi Hendrix version of “Pomp and Circumstance” by the German heavy metal band Accept.

The third leg of our flight across State Brewing was Office Party Hazy Pale (5.8%), brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops. Yum! What a party this brew is: I was so happy I’d been invited. It hit my nose before my lips got anywhere close to it, imparting a hint of ozone. Yes, this was thoroughly enjoyable, with no embarrassing dad dances or inappropriate boss-PA innuendos. It was all circle dancing and laughing. Our last sample was Hollywood Stuntin' (7.4%), described as a hazy IPA with blueberry and brewed with Lemon Zest, Mosaic and Eukanot hops. This instantly brought back a childhood olfactory memory: some household floor wax product with a hint of injection moulding plastic. Again like the wet cat from above, this was not unpleasant at all.

Founded by Matt Pfeiffer and Blake Shapiro, the State Brewing Company started operations in 2015, making it practically an old man of South Bay breweries. As one might expect, they feature regular vinyl nights. And I have to admit they produce some really interesting brews. I'm assuming that female beer lovers do actually visit the pub, and perhaps we'd just hit an especially testosterone-charged afternoon.

PUB UPDATES:

  • WELLINGTON, SHEFFIELD: Back last summer we paid a visit to this pub with a couple of friends. It was a cloudy and rainy-ish but very balmy day, so we decided to sit in the beer garden, especially as the pub itself was surprisingly crowded for 5:00 in the afternoon. As there wasn’t anything with a reasonably low ABV that particularly appealed to us, Andrew and I went for half pints of Appaloosa (6.0% ABV, Neepsend Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire), while our fearless friend Mike oped for a whole pint. I could instantly detect a really nice hops in there,probably one of my favourite hops. But I could really taste the alcohol, so the half was a wise decision.

    Surprisingly there were nine other people in the garden braving the slightly soggy environment, most of them sitting under the shelter. As it wasn’t raining at the moment we sat at an exposed table after wiping the seats dry enough with a bar towel. I was facing out toward Henry Street, admiring a fourth floor balcony on the building opposite that overlooked the beer garden. I would love to be sitting up there at the little French cafe table with a pint from this fine pub. I hope whoever lives there appreciates the view.

  • BALLAST POINT BREWING COMPANY, LONG BEACH: While I was in California in September I once again met a couple of fellow former band members at this Long Beach pub. This time I went for Aloha Sculpin IPA (6.7% ABV, Ballast Point), which is hazy and brewed with Brux Trois yeast. It definitely suggests a cornicopia of tropical fruit with that typical wonderful Sculpin IPA character. I had a pleasant time with lead singer Lisa and bassist Jamie. Sadly the guitarist Gary had to cancel at the last minute because of "car issues", so hopefully I’ll see him next time.

  • COBDEN VIEW, SHEFFIELD: As Halloween neared and the shops filled with pumpkin/ghost/skeleton tat, a seasonal brew appeared for a short time. Jack O'Lantern (4.5% ABV, Bradfield Brewery, High Bradfield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire) is a pale amber beer with a dry aftertaste. It’s not bad at all, but it really wasn’t our style, so I decided to stick with the Farmers Blonde. Sadly Bradfield Brewery don’t brew any hopmonsters -- yet.

  • CLOSED SHOP, SHEFFIELD: One day after work I met Andrew at this local pub. I started with a taste of Dry Bones Golden Ale (4.0% ABV, Wigan Brewhouse, Wigan, Greater Manchester). This was pleasant enough, but as it was a bit of a weakling in flavour it tasted more like a pale 3.5-percenter. I also had a taste -- driven strictly by curiosity -- of Point Blank Dark American Ale (4.6% ABV, Stancill Brewery, Sheffield, South Yorkshire). This was all right as well, not too malty or sweet but not really dry like a porter which I was hoping. For some reason it reminded me of the ol' Terminator Stout from McMenamin's in Seattle that I remember. I ended up going for a pint of Cascade Pale Ale (4.8% ABV, Saltaire Brewery, Shipley, West Yorkshire). Now, this is a very nice brew. It was definitely a difficult decision, but as it had been a ridiculously busy day at work I went for this. Andrew, the driver, decided to go for the Dry Bones and really enjoyed it.

BOTTLED/CANNED BEER UPDATE:

  • Scorpion Bowl IPA (7.5% ABV, Stone Brewing Company, Escondido, California): While I was in California for two and a half weeks I enjoyed quite a few cans of microbrews out on my mom’s patio. I was so busy with old friends that I didn’t get around to making many tasting notes, but I did jot down my impression of this particular one. It most distinctly struck me as a skirmish of hops with a set of demands written on scorpion tails.