49. Beer and Musings in Los Angeles
Reflecting on beercations, beer trends, and beer scenes; plus tarot for expanding your mind and a milkshake IPA.
Here We Are Again…and Always
Another week where it’s hard to write about something like beer. But perhaps the most devastating part is that this is just…life in America. Racist, misogynist, homophobic greed goblins in the driver’s seat, most of us unwilling passengers who just want off this sickening ride, while we watch in horror as said greed goblins fight against things like reproductive rights and life-saving masks and vaccines, and for catastrophic life-ending things like guns. Guns you can get easier than you can get birth control. Guns that actually do murder children. And we’re expected to just keep living and working through it all. So even if we don’t agree with that, even if we’re screaming for a beat even just to process everything, life goes on.
I’ll leave it at this: fuck the thoughts and prayers, and fuck these useless bags of flesh in office pretending they can’t do anything and we have the power. We voted, and we’ve been writing and calling about these issues day in and day out for years. Making the actual change is your whole literal job; maybe try not to be a total waste of life for one day.
And, for what we all can indeed keep doing, Beer Is For Everyone has a helpful Instagram post. Donate to funds like The Community Foundation of Texas Hill Country and Victims First. If you’re in Texas, donate blood. And yes, it’s true, we’ve got to keep voting, of course, and keep shouting at the people we vote for to get the job done.
And now, under the delusion that anything matters, uh…here’s the newsletter I’d written for this week!
Beery Ponderings from Southern California
Hiii-eee, I’m back from vacation. And all I can do is stare at the title of the last newsletter issue, which I forgot to number. My uptight, type-A little brain is simply going to explode. But I will find a way to move on.
This trip was built up around its cause and its most important factor, which is that one of my dearest friends got hitched in Palm Springs. The wedding was gorgeous and they are gorgeous and Palm Springs itself was gorgeous even though it was 107 degrees! It’s a dry heat, ya know. I did manage to find a brewery to pop into, La Quinta Brewing Co., and they had crisp lagers and clear, bitter IPAs that did the damn thing on a hot-as-heck day.
I had missed LA, so we turned the wedding excursion into an extended trip there and squeezed in a couple days in San Diego. Now, I normally leave travel diaries to those who write them better and travel more frequently, like Chris O’Leary of Brew York. But I did kind of accomplish my goal of really being on vacation this trip, meaning I didn’t keep up with every little morsel of industry goings on, and I do have some #thoughtsandfeelings inspired by the journey.
First of all, I say to you who embark on beercations and hit, like, a whole handful of breweries per day: how? Maybe I’m just getting old—I mean, definitely I am—but on this trip it really crystallized that two breweries in a day is about all I want to and all I can do. I can trace this back to a big beercation last year in Asheville, when the urge to linger in a couple of breweries won out over the compulsion to experience as many of the city’s taprooms as I possibly could. But I think that approach really hit its stride for me in San Diego and LA.
Part of me wishes I had the will—and the energy, I guess—to get to a brewery, check it out, have a beer, and be on my way to the next. I would get to know so many more places that way. But just like we all approach craft beer in general in our own ways, and relate with it in our ways, and write about it in our own ways, so too do we explore new beer scenes in our own ways. I’m learning to enjoy my own way rather than trying to emulate someone else’s way.
While it seems obvious that getting to more breweries gives you a better overall impression of a town’s beer scene, I’m finding that I’m starting to learn different things zeroing in on, say, two breweries, lingering there, and exploring the surrounding area. What is the neighborhood like—and how does that maybe inform the vibe in the taproom, like is it families or beer geeks or office happy hour-ers or sports fans? Does the brewery seem to be the first spark of a real neighborhood in an area of warehouses? Is it surrounded by shops and restaurants also taking a hyper-local, craft approach to their products and services? Is it going beyond beer with community events? And, importantly to me, is there good ice cream within walking distance, and what’s the canine crowd like?
I was very lucky to get San Diego recs from none other than San Diego-based beer writer, judge, expert, etc. Beth Demmon, which felt very much like when Anthony Bourdain would visit a city and get shown around by its resident legend (this comparison works for Beth to the legend, but not for me to Bourdain, of course, as he was not an uncool lil nobody—oh and famously did not like craft beer!). I absolutely loved North Park Beer Co. and Pure Project. I resisted the siren call of what felt like so many other breweries just on the walk between them. But I did drink a lemon meringue cold brew at another one of Beth’s picks, Holsem Coffee. I bought too many books at Verbatim Books, and also too much vintage in general (Southern California seems to have so much more good ‘70s vintage in larger sizes than New York does; this is curious, discuss.). I ate the best tacos from a little walk-up/drive-up joint, and finished the night at yet another Beth rec, Live Wire, a rock-y, divey-type bar I wish was my own local, and which had so much Russian River on tap.
The two breweries, North Park and Pure Project, feel like highlights in the context of this great neighborhood and a great day exploring it. For that reason, and that I like flights at new-to-me breweries and it takes me an egregious amount of time to drink them, and that I’m old and get hangovers way too easily, this might just be how I beercation forever. But I want to know, how do you beercation? Are you going hard, trying to experience as many places as possible? Or hitting fewer, and instead turning the experience at each one into a longer affair?
On Local Beer Trends:
Where are our Cold IPAs, Northeast? Yeah, sure, we have a few. But it almost seems like they’ve already petered out, as if breweries were wary of a brut IPA thing happening again and just deciding not to risk it. Here in my Brooklyn bubble, I felt like Cold IPAs came and went and that aside from a few I tried I’d essentially missed it.
Elsewhere, it seems, the Cold IPA is alive and kickin.’ Now I’m wondering if it’s a California thing, a West Coast thing…or an everywhere-but-here thing. Sipping Cold IPAs from All Seasons Brewing in LA to North Park in San Diego and Stone Brewing in between (oh, yeah, I went there—it was fine), it was like discovering West Coast IPAs all those years ago. In a world gone hazy, these pristinely clean and clear little bitter bombs felt like a revelation, each a crisp exploration of its hop flavor and aroma with no outside noise. They’re not IBU-War-era bitter, they’re not session-light—but they’re certainly more refreshing and easy-drinking than NEIPAs, and more bright, bitter hop expressions at that. I want more—Northeast or at least New York brewers, what’s the latest? Please tell me we’re not already done with this trend here.
As far as other beers, it felt like hazies are definitely still living their best life in SoCal—every tap list that featured a Cold IPA also had several hazies. Belgian styles don’t seem to have sparked there like I found them to have in Vegas, nor English styles the way they have here in New York. The one constant there seemed to be were dark lagers, lucky for me. In a warmer climate, it felt a little surprising that some classic refreshers like saisons don’t seem to be a far-and-wide thing, while big stouts are. But on the flipside, every brewery I visited definitely knew how to do a lager well, and of course, that Cold IPA.
On Beer Scenes & Communities:
I don’t know why it hit so hard on this trip after so many visits there, but the sheer spread of LA got to me this time. Every time I’d look at the place I wanted to get to next, it was another 40-minute drive. I was dying to walk somewhere, anywhere. Or at least hop on a quick train ride or even just have the car ride be a more approachable 15 minutes or something. I’d saved a whole bunch of breweries I’d wanted to try to get to on a Google map, and looking at those little blue pins, they were all flung so far apart from each other. I started thinking about the people I know in LA, and how they talk about their social lives becoming much more home-based out there, or that they become bigger homebodies in general, that they don’t leave their neighborhoods much and so on. It made me wonder if it’s harder to feel like your local beer scene is really connected if geographically you’re so spread out.
I’ve groaned plenty of times schlepping from, say, here in Park Slope to Long Island City to get to a brewery. But the truth is, compared to lots of other places, it’s pretty great that I can jump on a…you know, semi-reliable train and traverse the boroughs often in under an hour. I can walk to six breweries from my apartment, and lots more beer bars and bottle shops. And I’ve found that you never know who you might run into. It’s a lovely thing how often you might just bump into other NYC beer folks. Beyond organized events and meetings and such, it feels like this really nice strengthening bond in the community that we’re all bopping around these shared places, catching up with different faces at different places.
Does that happen as easily in places like LA? And, does it matter? Is a beer scene like NYC’s bolstered by its physical closeness or is that just a perk—would we find ourselves just as happily linked if we had to travel further to find each other, and if it did in fact take intentionally planned gatherings to do so? I don’t really know what LA’s beer scene is like, but thinking about it this way makes me appreciate LA for making a community work even being so spread out, and appreciate NYC for being such an effortlessly tight-knit scene, that manages to make one of the world’s biggest cities feel like a cozy lil’ town.
I’m leaning toward physical proximity simply being a happy accident for a beer community, based on the fact that I’ve enjoyed the benefits of there being a beer community on a national, even international scale. That I’ve been able to grab beers with folks I admire—and had never before met irl but had interacted with through working in beer or beer social media—in places from London to Richmond, VA to LA? That may prove that location has little indeed to do with our common bonds and will to seek each other out and share our interests. So, local beer scenes may vary in vibe, but I’m starting to think they all exist on that principle. But tell me, because now I’m curious. Where are you and what’s your local scene like?
This week, I pulled the Ace of Swords.
Swords is the suit of intellect and decisions, and the Ace of Swords deals with new ideas, epiphanies, and success. This card comes up to tell you that you have had or are about to have some kind of breakthrough. That means finally seeing a solution to a problem you hadn’t seen before, coming up with an idea for a project you were stuck on, learning something that changes the way you view the world or a specific issue, understanding something you hadn’t before, etc. Maybe that’s through meditation, maybe that’s through studying, maybe that’s through, idk, good old fashioned hot goss. But it’s a good thing. It leads to your knowledge and ways of thinking growing and expanding, and in some way, it sets you up for success—better communication, better creativity, better empathy.
Some concrete takeaways here are: Be open to learning new things, whether that’s through conversations or taking classes or reading up on issues you haven’t really before. Start new projects if you’ve been putting them off—this is a good time, and your mind is open and ready for them. If something doesn’t feel totally right, you probably don’t have all the information, so do yourself a favor and seek out more so you can get the whole picture. Basically, pursue new knowledge and ideas and then put them to work for you.
Barrier’s Kickin’ Knowledge, a milkshake IPA, immediately sprang to mind with this card. I could be and probably am totally misconstruing the intended meaning of the name but it feels like you’re kickin’ knowledge up and around, growing your own mind and sharing the wealth. And Barrier continued to update this beer with different ingredients and spins, which is what the Ace of Swords encourages us to do—keep learning, reinventing, and expanding.
This Week’s Boozy Media Rec
I believe Dave Infante has said something to the effect of this before for his newsletter Fingers, but if I keep covering every move BrewDog makes, this will become a BrewDog newsletter and that makes me want to throw my laptop off the tallest building I can find. But we do of course have to keep talking about this fucking plague of a brewery, or to direct anger more precisely where it belongs, this fucking plague of a human being that is James Watt. The diabolical plot never stops thickening, and if you haven’t yet, you must read Kate Bernot’s latest for Good Beer Hunting, Into the Breach — Supposed Anonymous Workplace Culture Review Provided Information to BrewDog. Because of course the third-party consulting firm BrewDog hired in 2021 to conduct anonymous interviews in an investigation into BrewDog’s culture turned around and gave that feedback with names to BrewDog—still unclear if that was an order from the brewery or a voluntary measure from the consultancy. JFC.
Also! Not “boozy media,” per se, but go subscribe to my dear friend’s freshly launched newsletter—I promise you’ll love getting her refreshing honesty and relatable takes in your inbox. Jen is a London-based travel writer and editor who also writes about love, dating, relationships, and the like—expect to find all that and more in Love Letters by Jen Kaarlo.
Ex-BEER-ience of the Week
It’s hard to pick an “ex-beer-ience” of the week when your previous week was spent visiting great breweries, drinking great beer, and catching up with great humans. But if I’m forced to choose (by no one other than myself, lolz) and to go with something a bit different, let’s go with the Super Fun! Hazy Hop! IPA from Paperback Brewing Company, enjoyed while watching the live show “Bad Drag Race” at Dynasty Typewriter. The venue itself was on my comedy-geek bucket list, but the show…oh, the show. I laughed, I cried—truly, I did! It was somehow one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen but still also managed to feature some absolutely genius drag. If you’re in the LA area or might find yourself there soon, do check to see if there’s fortuitously a performance of “Bad Drag Race” you can catch.
Until next week, here is Darby at a farm, because we are running out of Darby-and-beer photos, and because of that dumb little face.