This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles for work. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in the state, and considering there are over 100 breweries and brewpubs in Southern California, I felt like my head would spin off when I tried to plan my adventures after work.
While I was working the first part of the week, I was staying in Laguna Woods, about an hour south of LA. On Tuesday I was able to steal away for a post-work jaunt down to Laguna Beach for dinner at the Ocean Avenue Brewery.
Laguna Beach is a quaint little beach town, and is the only place in Southern California where the mountains go all the way to the sea. The beaches and small cliffs provide a beautiful setting. I was able to watch the sun set over the Pacific for the first time in almost four years. Ah, it’s been too long…
After checking out some beach volleyball (players) and walking in the sand, I headed over to the brew pub. It was around 7 pm, but I was dog tired from the jet lag. It also threw me off that the Bulls-Pacers game was just finishing up. Stuff happens so early out there!
Ocean Avenue Brewery
The place was smaller than I thought it would be from the outside, with the bar on the left and a big projection TV on the right side. I got the feeling this place would be rocking during the peak of beach season, but tonight it was empty.
They had a good sized patio section along the sidewalk, but I decided to pull up a seat at the bar along with the other two patrons in the restaurant. As my father-in-law taught me, if you’re traveling by yourself, always sit at the bar. You’ll make some good connections that way.
I struck up a conversation with the bartender, Giovani, and ordered a sample flight of their four beers on tap. (They also had another four or five guest taps.) Of the brewery’s own beers, they had Watchtower Wheat, Red Sunshine, Ocean Pale and The Moors Scottish Ale.
Giovani told me a bit about each beer, in an awesome Italian accent, by the way. I started with the wheat, which would make a great beach beer. Light in body and flavorful, it came through with citrus and coriander.
The red was solid for a session beer. It had a nice malt flavor and dry finish. The pale ale was my least favorite, though it was decent. The Scottish was interesting. Smokey. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed an entire pint of it, as the smoke was too intense to make it a good session beer. However, the sample was tasty.
The food menu was creative and well thought-out. I ordered a pizza topped with fresh grape tomatoes, arugula, carmelized onions, garlic and shaved parmesan. It was delicious.
I wasn’t able to steal away to any more beer stops until I took my leave of Aliso Viejo and headed across town to visit for a couple days with my friends Jackie and Justin in Culver City, west of downtown LA. Justin is also a kindred craft beer spirit, and he proved to be a sage shirpa for my first foray into the SoCal beer scene.
Wally’s Wine and Spirits
I managed to leave the office early enough to avoid the worst of LA traffic, and I arrived at Jackie and Justin’s around 5 pm. Since Justin wasn’t getting home until around 7, Jackie took the opportunity to drive me over to Wally’s Wine and Spirits, a beer and wine shop a few minutes from their apartment. (They also had a separate small building dedicated to cheese. The world needs more buildings dedicated to cheese.)
Despite only having a few coolers for beer amid the wine and spirits, the selection was carefully chosen. No A-B here.
Somehow, I managed to restrain myself from buying the $100 bottle of Brewdog Tactical Nuclear Penguin, but I still came away with a good haul. Russian River Damnation and Supplication, Alesmith Old Numbskull and Odonata Saison. The 50 pound weight limit for checked baggage really puts a damper on a beer smuggler’s day.
Once Justin arrived home from his hard days’ work, they took me to Father’s Office. I could only wish this were my father’s office. Nothing against my dad. He is a hard-working American.
Like most places in LA, Father’s Office has an upscale vibe, but in a way that makes you feel cooler for being there. It’s open seating, so there’s a predatory element that takes the excitement to a whole new level.
The wall of taps was impressive, and I went right in for a Deschutes Hop Henge. It had been over three years since I last tasted a Deschutes, and I felt like I was reunited with an old flame that I once shared a tryst with in Bend those many years ago.
After finishing the Hop Henge, Justin was able to score some seats at one of the outside patio tables. I then had the opportunity to cross one off my beer bucket list: Russian River Pliney the Elder. Yes, I’ve never had Pliney of any age. I now understand.
The food menu at Father’s Office is also on par with the quality of the beer. When he opened the place, chef Sang Yoon decided he was going to create dishes his way, so there are no substitutions. By the look of the dishes, I wouldn’t want to question his judgment.
I went with the burger, which was cooked a perfect medium rare, topped with guere, caramelized onions and arugula on a crusty baguette. We also got a basket of sweet potato fries, which were just sick. Oh, and don’t order ketchup with the fries. Just trust me.
Friday was laid back. While my hosts were working, I went for a run in Culver City Park, which put any hills in Greenville to shame. My calves are still sore. After lunch with Jackie at Native Foods Café, which was nutritious and delicious, I took a drive down to the beach in Santa Monica.
I stopped in for a beer at the Library Alehouse on Main Street. It was a neat little place and had 29 beers on tap. I chose the Firestone Velvet Merlin, a tasty oatmeal stout, roasty and chocolatey.
I stuck around long enough to watch the Broncos select Rahim Moore and Orlando Franklin back-to-back in the second round. I think Denver had a good draft, despite not taking a defensive tackle. If you want my full opinion on the draft, send me an email and I’d be happy to share.
Later Friday night, after sushi dinner, where I tried sashimi for the first time, we dropped Jackie off at LAX to catch a red eye to DC for a baptism. That is one dedicated godmother.
Justin and I then proceeded to the City Tavern back in Culver City. He’d never been there and wanted to check it out. It was packed when we arrived at 10 pm. There was patio seating, but was reserved for diners only before 11.
We went into the bar and ordered a couple beers. The atmosphere was lively. There was a bachelorette party and another group of guys that ordered a round of shots of brown liquor. It could have been one of those nights. The crowd seemed a little bit older, but as Justin put it, “People seem to grow up late in LA.”
The City Tavern is unique in that it is the only bar in California (or anywhere that I’m aware of) that has self-serve taps at three booths. I’m not exactly sure how it works, and I forgot to take a picture, but you have to reserve the booths and they offer three selections that aren’t available from the main bar. It’s a cool concept, though I’m not sure it would be good for my health.
Stone World Bistro and Garden
On Saturday Justin and I wanted to take a pilgrimage down to the Stone World Bistro and Garden in Escondido, about two hours south, just north of San Diego. When we first pulled up, there was a huge parking lot full of cars. I caught a glimpse of a sign that said “Trailhead,” so I figured that the brewery was next to a state park or something. Nope, that’s all for the brewery and garden.
Walking in, the place was teeming with people. It felt like bizzaro Disneyland for beer geeks. We were told it would be an hour and a half to be seated for lunch, so we took our chances with bar seating.
I began by ordering an El Camino (Un)Real Black Ale, a collaboration between Stone, Firestone Walker and 21st Amendment. It was fantastic. Rich chocolate malt with a terrific bitter finish. Justin got the Bashah, a collaboration between Stone and Brewdog.
We made our way up to the balcony area overlooking the huge patio area and garden. Unfortunately, the garden was being worked on, so we couldn’t go in.
I usually prefer places that are less populated and a little more rustic, but Stone created as close to a Garden of Beer Eden as I’ve seen. The garden is like an oasis among the desert of San Diego, and the restaurant is top-notch. Since we couldn’t order lunch entrees in the bar area, we did the next best thing, soft pretzels and sausages. Not a bad consolation prize!
The pretzels were soft, yet crispy and buttery on the outside. We were given four sausage links: smoked cheddar bratwurst, spicy Polish, chicken florentine and hot Italian with provolone, all served over braised cabbage. Paired with an Oaked Arrogant Bastard and a Cali-Belgique, it was a heavenly meal.
I can’t speak highly enough about the Stone beer garden. I’m still in awe. However, if you do go, be sure to make a reservation.
But wait, there’s more…
Unlike Stone, Lost Abbey is no frills. You walk into the brewery, and it’s a brewery. There’s a small bar off to the left where you can sit on kegs with bags of dextrose for cushions. Everywhere you go in the brewery, you’re surrounded by oak barrels and aging beer. It is, in a word, inspiration.
This was probably the most fun stop of the weekend. Combining the excitement of $1 four-ounce samples with other people who were equally excited about $1 samples, the atmosphere was festive.
I was wearing my Coast Brewing t-shirt and a guy from Mt. Pleasant who was also in California for a work trip came up and introduced himself. He and his other friend who lived in San Diego were also at Brewvival in February. Yes, it is a small world.
We also met a group of four girls who were chemists in graduate school. We compared tasting notes, and I learned that one of the girls, Jenny, was from Germany and had never eaten an avocado! Imagine!
At this point, Emma the Dog saved me. After trying several samples, including 10 Commandments, Avant Garde, and Carnevale, along with Port Brewing’s Old Viscocity, Mongo IPA and Santa’s Little Helper, I was in a good place.
I could have kept drinking samples like this was Brewgrass, but we had to leave to pick up Emma from doggy day care. I’d like to send Emma a personal thanks, as she prevented me from being hungover on an airplane for eight hours the next day.
The Lost Abbey beers were great, and I still have an unopened bottle of Red Poppy waiting for me in the fridge. I’m going to wait a few weeks to open it, after I’ve come down from my California high and need a little reminder of what the beer is like on the West Side.