Germany. England. Los Angeles. I’ve been to just one of these places recently—but thanks to beer, I sort of visited all three.
I have a history with L.A. It chewed me up and spat me out in the 2000s when I went there to follow my dreams of being a rock star. I tend to speak poorly about the experience, but the truth is that I loved my time at the Musicians Institute, and I met a lot of great people with whom I still keep in contact today. Being a beer-lover at that time, however, was a disappointing experience. While L.A. took its sweet time to get into the craft beer game, it eventually made up for it.
On my recent Los Angeles trip, I chose to visit three breweries that are committed to Old World beer styles. I did so not to be a contrarian or a hipster, but because these are styles that helped nurture my love of beer, and I still deeply love them when I come across breweries that do them well.
My oft-mentioned time in Bavaria more than 20 years ago sealed the deal for me with German lagers and hefeweizens. A good version of one of those transports me back to a more innocent time in my life. That, and more, is why my first stop was Enegren Brewing Company in Moorpark.
While not technically in L.A., Enegren Brewing Company is just outside of its reach, and that, for me, is a bonus. I pulled into an industrial area and found my way to the taproom, where I found lots of outdoor and indoor seating, and a truly heartwarming sight to behold: lagers galore on tap. It’s no secret that I’m actively rooting for the next trend in craft beer to be clean, crisp, subtle, delicious lagers. If that day comes, Enegren will be among the breweries leading the charge.
I decided a flight would be the best way to try everything I hadn’t yet tried—from a wheat lager they call Rasenmäher Bier (translating to “lawnmower beer”) to a series of pilsners that were dry-hopped differently (variously citrusy, dank and tropical in flavors) to a couple of their more malty offerings, Valkyrie and Nighthawk. Valkyrie is an altbier, toasty with a hint of chocolate. Nighthawk is a schwarzbier in a dark-lager style that’s light-bodied, but has some coffee, dark fruit and licorice flavors. Every beer mentioned but the Valkyrie was at 5 percent alcohol by volume or less. All had plenty of flavor.
I finished with a glass of their hefeweizen, Schöner Tag, and it is simply the most genuine American example of a Bavarian hefe I’ve had the pleasure to experience. Marie, the bar manager, was knowledgeable and great to talk to—as she served the whole taproom. My only regret is hearing that they needed to hire help behind the bar and not living close enough to offer myself!
Later in the week, I wended my way south to Torrance, and Yorkshire Square Brewery. If the phrase “Yorkshire squares” sounds familiar, it might be because every Samuel Smith India Ale bottle mentions the great stone squares in which their beer has been fermented. I’d heard of this brewery and the prospect of legitimate cask ale. I suspect that if most uninitiated American beer-lovers think of cask ale, they think of room-temperature, flat beer. The truth is the cellar temperature is around 52-55 degrees Fahrenheit, which is quite cool (especially for a desert rat). The result of natural carbonation from the cask and cool beer is a delicious, smooth beer experience—and that is exactly what I had when I ordered their At Last the 1948 Mild, a 3.6 percent ABV brew that was malty, slightly fruity and nutty. It was a creamy beer that was extremely easy to drink in the 80-degree weather out on the patio. Following it up with the Early Doors “pub bitter,” at the same ABV, gave me a similar mouthfeel, but with a little more grassy, floral hop balance. Sealing the deal flavor-wise was their Proper Chips—large wedges of fries, which I had with their curry sauce. With restraint, I took home crowlers of just the Ingenuity pale ale and the Tweedy English IPA. The latter offered a great balance of newer hop varieties with a biscuity malt backbone. A bottle of their How Heavy This Mash, an English barleywine, also awaits me in my fridge.
After a recommendation by the bartenders at Yorkshire Square, I made my way to another brewery devoted to British ales: MacLeod Ale Brewing Co., in Van Nuys. I was able to get in touch via email with founder Jennifer Febre Boase and head brewer Stephen Reeves. When I asked what the inspiration for the brewery was, Boase replied: “Alastair (husband and co-founder) is from Scotland, and I grew up in England. When we mentored with Tom Hennessy of Colorado Boy, he highly encouraged us to do cask ale for several reasons: No one else was doing it; we were well suited because of our backgrounds in the U.K.; and, most importantly, we could save money on equipment, because we could go directly from the fermenter to firkins. No filtration, no carbonation tanks.”
Reeves’ path to the brewery was a little less obvious: “I moved out to L.A. from the East Coast in 2014 to pursue a career in the film industry. After … working freelance, I wanted work that was more consistent and stable. I specifically was looking for a bartending job at a brewery. At that time, there were only a handful of breweries with tasting rooms in L.A. After sending out some applications, MacLeod got back to me with a potential job in the tasting room.” That led him to managing the taproom, getting into the production side, brewing and then being head brewer. Perhaps because Reeves has a homebrewing background, you’d never know he hasn’t been brewing for decades when tasting the beers.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the brewery is its location. “We are nestled in between auto-body shops and tow yards in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, so it does seem a bit odd to open a British cask ale brewery in our location,” Boase said. “At first, we were supported mainly by beer enthusiasts and British ex-pats or Americans who had traveled or even attended college in Britain. However, we have been fully embraced by the neighborhood and are proud of our customer base, which is extremely eclectic.”
I can confirm the parking lot-turned-patio area was full of families and friends chatting over pints and appetizing pizzas.
“We really try to offer a wide variety of products for people to enjoy here, while maintaining the drinkability of traditional classic styles, even when we created the sub-brand, Van Nuys Beer Co., to focus on current new-wave styles such as hazy IPAs,” Reeves said. “We ultimately try to produce a very drinkable pint, one in which people can have multiple of. Currently, we are in the process of a large brewhouse expansion and adding a tasting room/restaurant to be located in Highland Park.”
I am so happy these three breweries exist at a time when craft beer seems to be dominated by murky, same-y IPAs, and viscous, super-sweet pastry stouts. Take heart: You can find full-flavored, quaffable beers motivated by styles from around the world—just a couple of hours away.