A few months back, my friend Bennett sent an email to a number of friends, myself included, inviting us to come to Los Angeles to enjoy this year’s Los Angeles Beer Festival, which took place April 2.
Without checking the festival’s lineup, I bought a VIP ticket. I figured that even if the festival itself wasn’t that great, it would still be a win, because I’d get to hang with old friends I had not seen in a while. Still, when I checked the lineup, I started to get a little worried: I saw lots of names with which I was unfamiliar (not necessarily a bad thing) and a lot of non-independently-owned breweries. There seemed to be some distributor shenanigans at play here.
Despite my misgivings, I looked forward to some of the breweries I knew I would enjoy—and Sour Cellars from Rancho Cucamonga was at the top of that list. Sour Cellars is an authentic brewer of barrel-aged sour ales in the Belgian lambic style, and I haven’t had a bad drop of beer from them since I discovered Sour Cellars about three years ago. I also noted that St. Bernardus would be there. There are no bad beers in existence from them, so that would be a guaranteed booth to hit. The food trucks all sounded promising as well—and I was beginning to look forward to the festival itself.
I arrived at Bennett’s condo in Harbor City, where I met his lovely girlfriend, Autumn, and we decided to go to a nearby brewery (of which there are many in his area, including Monkish, Brouwerij West and Yorkshire Square Brewing). Burning Daylight Brewing was a mile away and has some tasty pub food, so we went there. I tried their pilsner and their IPA, and both hit the spot, as did the Cali burrito I ordered. James, another friend, met up with us there. It had been way too long since I’d seen the both of them, and the brewery was a nice place to catch up.
The next morning, we arrived at the festival a half-hour before the first session opened, and we made our way into the food-truck area. You need a good food base to work off of when attending any beer festival, and I chose birria. I will usually choose this option if it smells like it’s going to be legit—and the Birrieria El Patron truck had that smell. Soon after, the rest of our group met up with us at a table, and I got to know some of the people I didn’t previously know. (Interestingly, I went to high school with almost half of them, and because they were two years behind me, I didn’t truly meet any of them until years later.)
We finished eating just in time for the beer portion to open. I beelined toward the Sour Cellars stand and kicked off the day with Smilence, a barrel-aged sour blond with elderflower, honey and gin botanicals. Looking back, I may have started with my favorite beer of the entire day.
I noticed a nearby booth with the name of Dokkaebier. Then I noticed a beer on their list called Kimchi Sour. It’s a kettle sour ale with ginger and Korean gochugaru chili peppers. Apparently, the head brewer’s kimchi culture was used as well. It was a delicious combo of flavors, but it was only very slightly tart. Their pilsner brewed with bamboo tea also looked promising—and luckily, I found some cans of Dokkaebier offerings at our local Total Wine and More recently.
I then found the Trumer Pils booth, where, coincidentally, I met some friends from the desert. We chatted over a couple of incredibly fresh and flawlessly made pilsners—until I got a text from Bennett to meet everyone up at the VIP area. They had real 13-ounce glass goblets and a T-shirt waiting for me, along with free bites of food, seemingly dangerous cocktail booths, and random cans from various attending breweries being poured. The group chatted, took pictures, talked about our favorite beers so far, and made plans to hit the booths on the other side of the festival.
A few welcome surprises closed out the fest. The first was La Verne Brewing. I chose All Nighter, their dry Irish stout, and it was very well done. By the time I circled back to try their red ale, however, it was gone. Meanwhile, San Fernando Brewing had two fantastic hoppy beers—one an IPA, and the other an English pale ale. Hardly any brewers seem to touch English styles these days, let alone do them well, but San Fernando does both. (Their cans are also available at Total Wine.) Hermosa Brewing had a great IPA that tasted like it had a healthy dose of Nelson Sauvin hops. The final surprise was Temblor Brewing from Bakersfield. I’ve heard there was a good beer scene in and around Bakersfield, and if Temblor is representative, I need to check out more. Their IPA had a particularly good caramel-malt backbone.
With the festival ending, Bennett’s friend told us there was a 13th-floor apartment a mile away where we could continue our fun; we hiked over and enjoyed the beautiful weather with a great view of downtown. As fate had it, there was a small bottle shop next to the apartment building’s entrance.
An excellent day had been achieved.
It is with a heavy heart that I must pay tribute to my predecessor in these pages. Erin Valance (formerly Erin Peters)—known as The Beer Goddess—has passed away.
I met her some years back when Schmidy’s Tavern was still a thing, at a time when the craft-beer scene looked like it might be budding into something incredible. She was a lovely person and had a real knack for networking and drawing people together. It is her pen name that inspired mine via another late friend, Josh Kunkle: Caesar Cervisia is Latin for “The Beer Emperor.”
My deepest condolences to her family and friends. Let’s drink to not having to say goodbye to any other people who are dear to us anytime soon.