The Best California Craft Brews from the LA Beer Festival
It was a tough job, but we came prepared to sample approximately all the beers
Summers in Los Angeles can make you want to rage quit and burn it all down … until something magical happens. For me, that was last weekend’s end-of-the-summer LA Beer Festival. I reluctantly endeavored to drink my way through the festival’s most notable picks, with an eye toward discovering the best as-yet-off-the-radar local brews. You know: the stuff everybody will love and no one will be able to buy in three to six months.
This was, obviously, a mission I embarked upon with the utmost seriousness of duty. Below, you’ll find my six selects, from breweries you probably haven’t heard of yet.
My favorite beer of the entire festival. Dokkabier’s Kimchi Sour is an incredibly balanced spicy sour — a bit like a spicy ginger ale meets beer. This Bay Area brewery is relatively new — only a year or so old — and it offers several Asian-inspired brews, which are also worth your consideration. While there isn’t an official taproom to try this spicy sour beer on draft, you can get cans through their website. (Note that this is sold out, for the moment.)
Another five-star NorCal craft brewery was Full Circle Brewing, appearing at the festival with three punchy IPAs, including Illa Vanilla. The latter is a milkshake-style IPA that’s a delightfully refreshing taste of creamy goodness. Like other milkshake-style brews, it combines lactose with hops. If you’re a fan of vanilla flavoring, you’ll want to grab yourself a can. Full Circle Brewing has a dedicated taproom — those not local to Fresno but still in California can also get cans delivered to their home.
Walking up to the Julian Hard Cider booth, I was greeted by a sign that said “American to the Core.” In-the-know southern Californians will recognize the apple-centric reference: Julian, California is famous for its favorite local fruit, most enjoyably sampled in the piping hot pies the town is known for. What could be better than a town full of apple pie specialists and their new cider?
Spoiler: Julian Hard Cider’s Apple Pie Cider had me soaring; it’s a delectable taste of warm memories in a cool glass. The cider is just sweet enough without going over the top into treacle. If you’re looking to get yourself a taste, you can drive to their taproom in Julian or pick up a bottle at one of several craft sellers across California.
El Segundo’s Surfridge Brewing Co’s light white ale, affectionately called Mr. Pink, lifted my spirits like a cloud of butterflies — no surprise given that the brand takes its name from a one-time surf community that’s now a butterfly preserve.
Mr Pink is a light white ale with notes of peppercorn and grapefruit with enough bite with their notes to dance on the palate without an aggressive tart bite back. You can get a taste of Mr Pink and others in their curated catalogue at their taproom in El Segundo.
If summer romances could come in a glass, it would have been Libertine’s Sniffle Snaffle. The zesty lime mixed with mango wild ale made my palate crash. In a good way.
Libertine Brewing Company brought several wild ales for their wild ride down from their Central California brewery. Folks can make a drive on PCH and make a stop directly at one of their taprooms to try their various offerings, or they can order cans and bottles online.
Guava and I have a mixed relationship when it comes to beer. I tend to get excited every time I see the flavor pop up, but I’m also … fearful. Like grapefruit, it has to be just so, or it’ll dominate the entire brew.
Happily, Track 7 Brewing Company’s limited-release kettle sour Chasing Rainbows was a rainbow of synchronicity in a can. The kettle sour combines passion fruit, orange, and guava for a sweet taste of tropical flavor. Unfortunately, the cans are sold out online, but you can get other beers at one of their Sacramento taprooms.
Highwater Brewing came prepared for the goodbye to summer with two very different offerings: the Campfire Stout, their smokey and sweet flagship beer, and a crisp and light pilsner-adjacent Cucumber Kolsch. While I liked both of them, the kolsch was wonderfully refreshing.
Highwater does multiple dark brews as well as lighter styles all year around. Choose your allegiance (or go for both) by ordering some brew or food locally from their HQ in Lodi.
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