Escape from L.A.

by Andrew Stark

A Weekender's Guide: Every Brewery in Los Angeles County
This trip is going to cover 154.4 miles. It’s going to take about nine hours, include upwards of 8,000 calories, and it’s no doubt going to hurt. My girlfriend, Lilly, and I are taking a Saturday visiting every brewery in Los Angeles County, and I’ll be drinking a beer or two at each one. I imagine my liver’s already making prayer offerings, lighting incense, say, at the entrance of my spleen. But, however stupid, we’re on a mission, an allegorical quest, and it’s almost as if I can feel the reverberations of westward expansion underfoot, sense manifest destiny’s agrarian pull—America, after all, was built on this sort of thing.

So, in the spirit of frontiersmen and pioneers, the Land Runs of the 1800s, Lewis and Clark, we—Lilly and Stark—board our own keelboat (Lilly’s Hyundai Elantra) and embark, hurriedly. There are almost 30 breweries ahead of us, and there’s no time to waste.

Our first stop is Eagle Rock Brewery in northeast Los Angeles. We park and head inside, where we meet the Bakofsky brothers, Andrew and Lee, brewers and graphic designers at Eagle Rock. Andrew, bearded, seems easy-going; Lee, mustachioed, looks like a burlier Michael Shannon. They’re both drinking beer.

“First time [we brewed a sour] it was perfect,” Andrew tells me. “Second time it smelled like Cheetos.”

“Oh man,” Lee interjects. “We came in here and it smelled like socks.”

We’re standing in the brewing facility adjacent the taproom, which is filling up with patrons, all of whom rubberneck through the glass partition, having a look behind the wizard’s curtain.

I’m guzzling a pint of Imperialist IPA—citrusy, delicious, 10% ABV.

There’s a small barrel being filled with splashing clear liquid. Lee gestures at it. “More often than not, most contamination in breweries happens in the bleach, so when we’re not using it we’re running acid through it, and we’ll leave acid in it over the weekend.”

I step back.

“I mean, it’s not strong, like, melt-your-skin-off acid.” He reaches forth and wiggles his fingers in the acid. “I mean, you can touch it.”

“Well, not too much,” Andrew says.

I polish off the pint and Lilly and I bid our rapid-fire farewells. We still have a ways to go.

Beer has been around since about the 5th millennium BC, only a handful of years after dogs were initially being domesticated. The first Iranians drank it (in a country where it’s now illegal), there’s a 3,900-year-old Sumerian poem about it, the Mayflower allegedly landed at Plymouth Rock because the pilgrims were running low on it. Beer helps reduce the risk of heart disease and kidney stones; it boosts creativity and increases antioxidants that help battle cataracts, lowers blood pressure and strengthens bones—in moderation. Most importantly, though, beer makes people happy.

Jim Koch, Brewer and Founder of Samuel Adams, tells me that “Being a brewer is the best job in the world. Beer is a part of people enjoying themselves together, and if I can help to be a part of that, my job is done.” Koch, himself a sixth generation brewer, explains, “[Beer] is my passion. Thirty years ago, I brewed Samuel Adams Boston Lager for the first time in my kitchen, using my great-great grandfather’s recipe from the 1870s. I fell in love with the taste and knew that if I could taste Boston Lager every day for the rest of my life, I would be a happy man.”

I ask Koch about the future of beer.

“Right now is the best time to be a beer drinker in the U.S., and I only see the craft beer industry growing as drinkers continue to explore new styles and continue to demand quality full-flavored craft beers. The possibilities as a brewer and as a craft beer drinker are endless!”

There’s pizza beer (brewed with tomato, oregano, basil, and garlic); maple bacon porter (brewed with maple and bacon); chocolate, peanut butter, and banana ale (brewed with chocolate, peanut butter, and banana). Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout is brewed with bull testicles. Williams Brothers Brewing Company in Scotland makes something called Kelpie Seaweed Ale. The possibilities, for better or worse, are endless.

As per Andrew and Lee’s suggestion, Lilly and I swing by The Hermosillo on York. The newly opened Highland Park Brewery operates out of the back of this establishment, which used to be a Mexican escort bar. I slam an Enter the Future IPA (crisp, not bad, 7.2% ABV), we play half a game of shuffleboard and bolt.

Angel City Brewery sits across town, in an old warehouse in the Los Angeles Arts District. We’re greeted by Dieter Foerstner, the hirsute Head Brewer (facial hair seems to be a common trait among beer people—Rogue Ale’s master brewer, John Maier, grows yeast in his beard, which is used to brew their Beard Beer), who explains, right off the bat (and right after we get a couple pints of Angelino IPA—hoppy, refreshing, 6.1% ABV), that “ever since I was a baby, my parents would tell stories about how as soon as I was able to pull myself up to the coffee table, my little hand would be fishing around and I’d find my dad’s beer. I’d sip on it.”

Dieter takes us on a short tour, showing us every level of the brewing process—the oak barrels, kegging line, bottling line, some kind of Jurassic Parkian lab full of beakers and esoteric doodads (“The hemocytometer,” Dieter says, “is how we count yeast cells.”). On the roof, Downtown in the distance, Angel City grows their own fruit, vegetables, and hops. I eat a strawberry, and Lilly and I quickly part ways with Angel City, appropriately buzzed.

We speed over to Pacific Plate in Monrovia (their Horchata Stout (5.2% ABV) is amazing, their Cardomom Ginger Saison (6.0% ABV) tastes like window cleaner), Ohana in Alhambra (the beer is middle-of-the-road, the tasting room has the ambience of a doctor’s office waiting room), and Claremont Craft Ales (I remember nothing about this place). At Golden Road back in Los Angeles, I guzzle a Wolf Among Weeds IPA (8.0% ABV) and scarf a life-saving burger.

By the time we leave Absolution in Torrance (The Wicked Double IPA: dramatic, hoppy, 9.6% ABV), I’m starting to waver; after Alosta in Covina (beer has no character; there are kids everywhere, inexplicably eating McDonald’s takeout), I’m lolling like an infant. Walking into La Verne in La Verne (tucked into an unassuming suite in a Brutalist strip mall—in fact, most of the breweries outside city limits are tucked into unassuming suites in Brutalist strip malls), my left foot trips over my right and I go down.

This is as far as my memory goes. I had taken notes, but they’re basically illegible.

In the end, the experience was the thing, and as we headed home, the night swimming around us, my internal organs fermented and swollen, Lilly and I discussed (so I’m told) the craft in craft beer. These men and women are artists, answering the call from within themselves to create art for art’s sake, beer for beer’s sake, something simply born out of love. They’re lucky, these people, working with their hands and relying on their imaginations, putting in the hours and sacrificing their livers, to keep their craft evolving.

Cheers.