Thirsty? A local writer hops on a popular beer tour and gets the buzz on the South Bay’s burgeoning beer scene.
- CategoryEat & Drink
- Written byPeter Madden
When Dale Caughey and Pat Repola grew tired of the entertainment industry and launched LA Craft Beer Tours two years ago, the City of Angels had barely a brewery to boast of. San Diego was (and still is) “ground zero of the California-style IPAs”—clean, crisp and refreshing with a hint of fruit and a bitter, hoppy finish. So they started shuttling their initial customers down the coast to get their fix … and waited.
They knew it was only a matter of time before the so-called “Craft Beer Revolution” spawned startup breweries determined to deliver bold tastes and new flavors to quench the thirst of a fast-growing legion of local beer connoisseurs. With the passage of the Tasting Room Bill (AB 1014) in 2011, which granted breweries the same state health code exemptions already afforded to wineries, and the availability of inexpensive industrial space in the South Bay, suddenly the race was on.
“It took us a while to get started,” says Pat. “Wine tasting for beer? People didn’t get it. But we wanted to be the first, and now business is better than ever. We even have to turn some people away.”
Through both public and private tours, Dale and Pat are “spreading the word about craft beer” to the big-bland-brand-drinking public, especially in the South Bay, which according to lacraftbeertours.com plays host to more breweries than anywhere else in Los Angeles. They’ve also launched a free Southbay Shuttle, which runs along the beach from El Segundo to Redondo a few times per month and carries craft beer enthusiasts safely from one brewery to the next.
Just two rules: “Have fun,” says Pat, ”and no puking.”
So here’s the South Bay’s best breweries (in no particular order whatsoever), according to LA Craft Beer Tours. If you’re looking for a designated driver to help you enjoy them all, look no further!
Monkish Brewing Co.
Located in a nondescript industrial park and hidden from street view on Western Avenue in Torrance, Monkish might have been “the best kept beer secret of the South Bay” (Erika Bolden, LA Weekly), if only people could stop talking about their delicious Belgian-style ales. Co-founded by Adriana Nguyen and Henry Nguyen, whose PhD in theology inspired both the brewery’s name and its church-themed beer list (the Oblate is the premier creation, while the Magnificat is as powerful as it sounds at 10.1% ABV), Monkish might be more of a spiritual enterprise than you think.
There’s Henry’s monastic dedication (he claims to be no stranger to 100-hour weeks) and his sense of tradition. “Throughout beer history, monks have always been a big part of it,” he says. “We can trace the yeast we use back to the monastery.”
Strand Brewing Co.
If Henry Nguyen is the South Bay beer’s monk, then Rich Marcello is its missionary. With surfing buddy Joel Elliot, he founded Strand, “one of Southern California’s fastest-growing microbreweries,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Rich initially hoped to have Strand beer on tap everywhere the iconic bike path reached—from Naja’s Place to Simzy’s and beyond. Three years later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a craft beer-conscious bar or restaurant in Southern California that doesn’t carry Strand’s flagship 24th Street Pale Ale.
The brew is uniquely South Bay in flavor (“We had to make something that people could still taste after surfing,” says Rich) and philosophy.
Asked about the other breweries popping up around him in Torrance, Rich emphasizes camaraderie over competition. “I say, ‘Come on in. The water is warm.’ Even if I was working 24 hours a day, I would still try to help them out.”
El Segundo Brewing Co.
Thomas Kelley has been around craft beer for a long time. He managed the Library Ale House in Santa Monica, one of the early stalwarts of the local craft beer scene, before joining aerospace industry veteran-turned-homebrewer Rob Croxall at the nascent El Segundo Brewing Co.
Thomas has seen a lot of homebrewers fail to make the transition to full-scale production … but not Rob. The third-generation El Segundo resident delivered several excellent hop-forward beer recipes refined over a decade of homebrewing and a brewing short course at UC-Davis.
According to Thomas, “The LA scene is soaking up our beer like a sponge right now.” Constantly experimenting with new and different varieties of hops (which, much like the grapes used to make wine, taste different depending on the soil and climate in which they’re grown), El Segundo produces pale ales and IPAs that emphasize fruity flavors over the classic bitterness, with Citra Pale Ale (5.5% ABV) being the big seller.
Smog City Brewing Co.
Smog City might be new—it became the latest brewery to open a Torrance taproom (just around the corner from Monkish) in May—but Jonathan Porter is somewhat of a craft beer journeyman. From homebrewing to the American Brewers Guild to BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse to Tustin Brewery, where he first brewed and distributed under the Smog City label, Jonathan always had one goal in mind.
“The day I started at Tustin, I said, ‘Eventually, I’m going to start my own brewery.’ They weren’t too thrilled about that. I worked my way up from the bottom, and it took me seven years, but we hit the ground running because of that.”
Smog City’s flagship beer, the Groundwork Coffee Porter (locally roasted here in Los Angeles), won a gold medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, and they’ve since landed a distribution deal with Stone, one of Southern California’s most recognizable breweries. Jonathan sees only good things on the horizon, not only for Smog City but also for craft beer in Los Angeles.
“LA is a city of transplants, so having that hometown brewery and drinking only the stuff that’s made here wasn’t so important before,” he says, “but the slow food movement is helping. People are thinking a lot more about what they’re tasting, so people are getting better beer.”Last Call Also check out The Dude’s Brewing Co. while tasting in Torrance.