Explore the Los Angeles Craft Beer Scene
From beer bars and gastropubs to brewpubs and tasting rooms, find out where to get your craft beer fix in Los Angeles.
Adapted from The Art of the Craft by Joshua Laurie; in the November 2015 issue of Where Los Angeles magazine.
Rise a glass to L.A.’s burgeoning craft-beer scene. When institutions like Craftsman Brewing, the Daily Pint, Library Alehouse and Lucky Baldwin’s first launched, the term “craft beer” hadn’t yet come to prominence. Now a community of beer bars, breweries, gastropubs and tasting rooms has risen, leaving few corners of L.A. County without this magical, life-giving liquid. Join us on an up-to-date tour of the most relevant beer destinations.
Beer Bars and Gastropubs
San Gabriel was ground zero for L.A.’s craft-beer movement. The Stuffed Sandwich launched in 1976, and since Sam Samaniego’s passing in 2014, wife Marlene has carried on his legacy by showcasing different breweries and beer styles on tap while selling over 700 bottles. Down the street at Alhambra’s 38 Degrees, Clay Harding oversees 38 taps (naturally). The spot also hosts events with mainly California brewers and delivers ultimate flights, allowing people to sample pours of multiple beers, which are grouped by theme. 38 Degrees is rolling out a Monrovia spinoff that maintains a similar commitment to excellence.
The adjacent San Fernando Valley has been making strides in the beer and food worlds. Tony Yanow, who co-founded Golden Road Brewing, transformed Tony’s Darts Away from a neighborhood hangout into a destination in 2009. Yes, it has darts, along with a pleasant patio and 38 taps of California craft. Yanow also runs Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, which replaced the long-dormant Ramona Theater and fills 72 taps. Both venues host their share of brewer events.
Boneyard Bistro is a craft-beer power in Sherman Oaks. Bar manager Rory Snipes makes sure 42 taps rotate fresh craft beer. Bourbon also gets a lot of love, and chef-owner Aaron Robins contributes over-the-top bar bites like double-hickory-smoked-bacon sticks and Kobe beef chili-cheese doughnuts.
West of the 405, Sweeney’s Alehouse is the latest craft-beer destination from Ryan Sweeney and Brandon Bradford, who helped reignite L.A.’s craft-beer craze in 2008 with Verdugo Bar and have since teamed with Alen Aivazian on bars like the Surly Goat. Sweeney co-owns bars that specialize in Belgian-style beers (DTLA’s Little Bear) and German-style beers (Pasadena’s Der Wolfskopf). He is known for driving the extra mile to retrieve rare kegs and now has the purchasing power to score the most in-demand beers for the dozens of taps he curates.
In Koreatown, a neighborhood where drinkers demand shots, soju and beer by the yard, Jimmy Han and wife Yume have turned Beer Belly into a stylish craft-beer and comfort-food destination. The bar hosts a popular “One Night Stand” series, featuring a different guest brewery each month.
Hollywood is a hotbed for bros and tourists, but Brian Lenzo has carved out a craft niche at Blue Palms Brewhouse in the Fonda Theatre building. It’s no accident the last four digits of BPB’s phone number spell BEER on your keypad. This gastropub with Ohio State and Pittsburgh Steeler biases hosts some of L.A.’s top tap takeovers and offers $4 pours on Tuesdays. Next, Lenzo is teaming with 213 Nightlife and former Pizza Port Solana Beach brewer Devon Randall on Arts District Brewing in the old Crazy Gideon’s space, with food from Neal Fraser. Consider the beer-pairing possibilities!
Brewpubs differ from gastropubs in that they brew beer in-house. The boom extends to Agoura Hills, where you’ll find Ladyface Ale Companie, an eclectic Belgian-inspired destination from Cyrena Nouzille and brewmaster Dave Griffiths in the shadow of Ladyface Mountain. Since SoCal staunchly supports hops, Ladyface also brews standout IPAs, including Chesebro, named for a nearby trail.
On the Eastside, Highland Park Brewery founder Bob Kunz is able to create beautiful ales, including the occasional sour, behind sister establishment the Hermosillo. This symbiotic relationship allows the bar to pour HPB beers in a relaxed setting.
Brouwerij West, which has never had a tasting room, is going big as part of Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles. Brian Mercer is taking over a 26,000-square-foot waterfront facility in Warehouse 9 that will be 100 percent solar-powered while producing Belgian-style beers in bottles and kegs.
The most ambitious brewpub is Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, which Gabe Gordon, Lena Perelman and partner-brewmaster Julian Shrago launched in Long Beach in 2011. They set the standard for quality control, with a custom “flux capacitor” that adjusts each tap’s carbonation or nitrogen levels, temperature and pressure. The 2014 Great American Beer Festival winners for Large Brewpub and Large Brewer of the Year have been banking oak barrels to open Beachwood Blendery down the block. Helmed by head brewer-blender Ryan Fields, that space includes a temperature-controlled barrel-aging room and a tasting room touting reclaimed wood that will eventually pour 10 American wild ales inspired by Belgian Lambic and Gueuze. The eventual goal is to use a stainless-steel coolship for open-air, spontaneous fermentation, as in Belgium.
Los Angeles also has a wealth of small brewery tasting rooms that don’t serve food (except for the occasional food-truck assist) and focus squarely on beer. In 2009, brewmaster Jeremy Raub, father Steve and wife Ting Su debuted Eagle Rock Brewery in a Glassell Park industrial park. They’ve built a trusted brand and added Eagle Rock Brewery Public House in Eagle Rock, where Ting’s brother Jerry Su is the chef and where designers-brewers Lee and Andrew Bakofsky will soon steer a small brewhouse in back.
On a Van Nuys side street, MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. prides itself on brewing naturally conditioned English-style ales and serving said ales on cask. It houses six cask engines and two standard taps.
Farther south, you’ll find Three Weavers in the back of an Inglewood industrial park, right near iconic Randy’s Donuts. Lynne Weaver is the owner, and brewer Alexandra Nowell is turning out nuanced American ales.
El Segundo Brewing Co. runs a cubbyhole tasting room right on Main Street in El Segundo. Aerospace-industry alum Rob Croxall leads brewing efforts, and longtime hospitality pro Thomas Kelley spearheads sales.
Torrance has become a true craft-brewing hub. The corridor includes Monkish Brewing, where theologian Henry Nguyen and wife Adriana turn out floral Belgian-inspired ales made with elderflowers, chamomile and rose hips. Smog City Brewing, a family-run effort from brewer Jonathan Porter and wife Laurie, provides hop-forward beers with balanced pop. Their Kumquat Saison just earned a GABF silver medal. Strand Brewing Co., a session beerhouse from brewmaster Joel Elliott and partner Rich Marcello, recently expanded to a 36,000-square-foot facility with communal seating, a food-truck dock and a fresh bottling line.
Angeleno interest in craft beer has expanded exponentially in the past six years, but robust industries in cities like Portland, Oregon, and San Diego have proven that more is possible. The market is not even close to saturated, which should be heartening to beer lovers everywhere.