Having never backpacked through Europe before, I decided to put my own spin on “backpacking” by embarking upon the ultimate LA road trip – a four day, three night, brewery extravaganza, hitting nine breweries in nine cities. Yippee!!!
Firestone Walker (Paso Robles): At the halfway point between Oakland and Los Angeles, we kicked things off at the Firestone Walker “compound” right off the 101. This place feels huge and corporate, but also tastefully done. We grabbed lunch and a flight in their taproom, which features a large square bar, main restaurant, and mini gift shop. To add to the cool industrial feel, there’s a bottling production replica machine overlooking the bar area. The taproom is stocked with many of Firestone’s signature beers (love me some Wookey Jack and Velvet Merlin), but if you’re looking for something a bit more rare, I’d head to the tasting room. There, in the middle of one of the three Firestone gift shops on the compound, we sampled the boozy Stickee Monkee (a 13.4% ABV Belgian quad) and the Velvet Mocha Merlin (a 5.5% ABV coffee oatmeal stout). I’d also recommend checking out their main store, which features a walk-in fridge of beers. Bring a jacket!
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company (Buellton): Next, we headed down the road a 100 miles to what the locals call “Fig Mountain,” or if you want to be a real insider, “FigMo.” With a handful of GABF award-winning beers, FigMo was definitely one of my favorite stops of the weekend. Laid back, unpretentious, and beer-focused, this place has some amazing brews such as the Davey’s Brown Ale, The Stagecoach Stout, and the Lizard’s Breath IIPA. According to one of the bartenders at Firestone, many of the Firestone brewers are now with FigMo. They bottle a lot of what they brew, so it’s a great place to pick up a flight or two, figure out what you like, and take some to go.
Beachwood Brewing BBQ (Long Beach): The next day we grabbed lunch at Beachwood BBQ in downtown Long Beach. I can see why GABF has named Beachwood the best “large” brewpub in the nation for the past two consecutive years. Amazing brews combined with artisan food makes this a great place for any meal. I loved the retro beach vibe it had going for it as well. The GABF award-winning Udder Love milk stout and the drizzled duck gravy Tater Tot Casserole are a must! In addition to all their brews, they feature about 10-15 guest tap handles. It’s a beer and food lover’s delight.
The Bruery (Placentia): From there, we headed 30-minutes east to The Bruery to check out some barrel-aged, sour, and Belgian brews. Considering my love for stouts and IPAs, I knew this place would be a bit outside my comfort zone. Sterile yet swanky, it felt more like a wine bar than a brewery. You pick up a pencil and select five beers from a list of 30 to build your flight. Most options are high ABV with a handful of 10%+ on the menu. I tried to expand my stouty, IPA palate, and left liking one of my five - the Courvateur, a chocolate dubbel. I know a lot of people are into sours and barrel-aged brews. If so, this is the place for you. If you’re more into the traditional styles like myself, you could probably skip this stop.
Noble Aleworks (Anaheim): After taking a quick nap (I needed one after a few sips of The Bruery’s bourbon barrel-aged blueberry stout), we headed to Anaheim to visit Noble Aleworks. This place is awesome! It’s in the middle of the industrial area, right by Angel Stadium/Toyota Center. The Ducks happened to be playing that night, and there seemed to be quite a few fans in this open warehouse space. The overall vibe was my kind of spot – people of all ages, a large projection screen for sports (LOVE it when breweries aren’t anti-TVs), and a variation of 90’s hip hop and The XX rotating in the background. Plus, they offer a couple of different IPAs and a variety of stouts. I left loving the Cinnamon Roast Crunch, a golden style stout with a cinnamon swirl. This is a play off their popular golden stout, Naughty Sauce. MmmMmm, good!
Bootlegger’s Brewery (Fullerton): After Noble, we headed a couple of exits off the freeway to Bootlegger’s for what felt like a college frat party (apparently, CSU Fullerton is down the street). At this point, we were tired and surrounded by a lot of drunk kids. I was there to sample the Chocolate Mint Porter, which lived up to my expectations. Featuring an awesome outdoor space of picnic tables, white lights, and cornhole, this place has a lot of potential. The inside tasting room (aka the garage), on the other hand, was filled with dated poinsettias, old arcade games, and beat-up outdoor chairs. I couldn’t tell if it had the charm of an Urban Outfitters decorated theme, or if it was more like somebody rolled up their garage from the 80’s and decided to open a brewery. Don’t get me wrong, the beer is solid (see earlier post on Bootlegger’s Black Phoenix), but the tasting room felt more like “let’s all get wasted!!!” rather than a place to sit and sample their GABF-winning Rocco Red. But, hey, maybe we were just there on the wrong night, and/or not their target age demographic.
Golden Road (Glendale): The next day we hit up Golden Road to experience a “big” brewery scene in LA. Right by the Glendale train tracks adjacent to the dump, this place appeals to the masses. Indoor and outdoor bar with pub food floating around, this place attracts families, beer lovers, and average Joes looking to enjoy a typically sunny SoCal day. I was particularly fond of the indoor/outdoor space – a covered fake grass area that felt like you were on the inside of a large shed with a 100 other people. From the outdoor bar, you could overlook the lawnball area as well as the kiddie area filled with cornhole, beer bellied dads, and playing blocks. If you are into IPAs, this is a great stop. The Wolf Pup IPA, a session variation of Golden Road’s popular Wolf Among Weeds double IPA, was my fave.
Eagle Rock Brewery (Los Angeles): After a full day at Golden Road, we headed to Eagle Rock Brewery to taste some, as they call it, “beer for the people.” Just a couple of miles away, the place was a completely different scene. Small and a bit dark, it felt like a brewery version of a speakeasy. Aside from their branded mini-semi truck sitting in the driveway, there was very little signage. Not the kind of space you’d want to spend a whole day hanging out, Eagle Rock is a fun place to start the night or meet up with an old friend. For a brewery, it felt kind of cozy – I’d chalk it up to the organgeish lighting and the handful of beers on tap. The Stimulus, a Belgian amber brewed with Intelligius coffee, is by far my favorite of theirs. This is an incredibly unique beer and makes the stop worthwhile.
Tap-It (San Luis Obispo): On our way back to the Bay the next day, we stopped at Tap-It for a sando and a beer. About three miles off the 101, this brewery is tucked away in an industrial office area. Tastefully done, Tap-It feels a bit like a biker bar (perhaps the Harley Davidson-branded colors), but also has a fabulous indoor/outdoor space. While sitting at the indoor bar, we were hit with 70 degrees of sunshine from the open roll-up door. We had a great view of the outdoor space, which was decorated with fire pits, lounge areas, and cornhole – a cool place to hang out day or night. I sampled their IPA, amber, and stout. Nothing left me super excited, but all and all, it was a great pit stop headed home.
Our “backpacking” adventure was a blast. All nine breweries brought something unique, but I’d have to say my favorite stops were Firestone Walker, FigMo, Beachwood, and Noble Aleworks. I love tasting beer, but tasting beer where it’s made, soaking up the brewery’s story, is so much better!!!
As a long-time Warriors fan and an honoree season ticket holder, one would think that it would be easy to find good beer at a Warriors game. Not so much. For years, I’d opt for a pint of Leffe and a slice of cheese pizza before every game because 1) I’m extremely superstitious, and 2) I had to visit Tina, the most-friendly bartender in the stadium. This was a great idea until I could no longer take one more sip of a Leffe, and the Dubs replaced pizza with a frozen yogurt bar. I swear, only in the Bay Area (sigh). Sure, I could probably score some quality beer in one of the courtside club areas, but until I win the lotto, I’m left to fend for my picky palate on my own. But, after watching a recent episode of Warriors Central, I thought my luck may have changed after learning about the new “craft beer bar” in the arena. Yippee!!!
A friend and I arrived at the game early in search of this “craft beer bar.” We asked three different ushers where it was located and no joke, got the same three responses: “CRAP beer bar?” followed by a look of utter confusion. After establishing that we were looking for CRAFT beer not crap beer, we were pointed to the Budweiser bar and also asked if we were in need of a pitcher of beer. This got me thinking that I either need to start annunciating better (are we still talking about CRAP beer?), or there are a ton of people who have never heard of craft beer.* I tried explaining it as local, small breweries, which didn’t really seem to help. And my friend chimed in and said "you know, like Lagunitas?” Eventually we made our way to the “craft beer bar,” and found a pizza place with Firestone Walker’s Pivo and Union Jack, along with Budweiser (or some other big name beer) on tap. The ushers were spot on – we were looking for the “crap beer bar.” But, at least I got a Union Jack to go with my slice of cheese pizza.
At 7.5% ABV, Firestone Walker’s Union Jack is a solid, west coast-style IPA, and probably your best (if not only) IPA option at Oracle Arena unless you're sitting somewhere fancy. This beer is quite tangy, full of pine and citrus hops. You can find it at Slices and Suds at Oracle Arena, or your local grocery store.
*BTW, if you’re interested in how the Brewers Association defines “craft beer,” check out this link: http://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/craft-brewer-defined/.
Stone beer is everywhere, literally. Based out of the San Diego area, Stone has completely blown up over the last couple of years. They are in the midst of building two new breweries, one in Virginia and the other in Berlin. The Berlin location would be the first U.S. owned and operated craft brewery in Europe. Pretty darn cool if you ask me. I’m not really a “Stonehead” (is that a thing?!) per se, but I do appreciate their beer and admire their marketing strategy. A gargoyle as a mascot is not only rebellious and manly but also memorable. They have this amazing aura of being sort of badass, even though they are rather corporate. Take their San Diego - Liberty Station brewery for example. Liberty Station is just a stone’s throw away from the SD airport. Originally opening in 1996 in San Marcos, Stone relocated to neighboring Escondido in 2006 to expand. Since SD is one of the largest beer meccas in the world, I assume that Stone opened a second location at Liberty Station to accommodate the craft beer tourists that come through the city. The Escondido headquarters is a little out of the way at about a 45-minute drive from the SD airport.
I visited the Liberty Station brewery in the summer and was slightly underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the place is gorgeous and brand spanking new, but it feels a little chichi for a badass brewery. You walk into the entrance to be greeted by a large gargoyle hovering over the hostess desk. Beyond that is a huge bar, restaurant, and bocce court with the medieval vibe Stone projects. But, and I can’t quite put my finger on it, it just felt a little too swanky. We sat outside in the gardens and had lunch and tasters right next to the babbling koi pond. (Maybe it was the pond that felt too swanky?) The food and beer were good, but I so wanted to leave saying: OMG…I absolutely love <<insert Stone beer here>>. But, unfortunately, that didn’t happen that day.
Apparently when we visited the brewery in June, Stone’s Coffee Milk Stout was not in season. In my experience, milk stouts in general are not easy to come by. My first milk stout was actually by The Duck-Rabbit, a brewery out of North Carolina that coins itself as "the dark beer specialist." This beer completely opened my eyes to a different kind of stout, sweet and full but still somehow light. I tried the Stone’s Coffee Milk Stout for the first time at Rogue (of all places) in SF. They had some guest handles on tap and this happened to be one of them. It was absolutely delicious. And since then, I’ve actually tried some other really great Stone beers such as their 18th Anniversary IPA and their Xocoveza Mocha Stout, which deserves a post all on its own.
At 4.2% ABV, Stone’s Coffee Milk Stout is a full-bodied brew without being heavy on the booze. You can really smell and taste the cream and coffee. I may need to have it with pancakes next time.
In my world, Green Flash and Pickle are one in the same. My dear friend Pickle (aka Picky) and I go way back to 1999 when we met at Sonoma State. She is one of my best buds and favorite brew drinking buddies. Over the past few years, Picky has become a huge Green Flash fan. No matter what’s on tap, she ALWAYS goes with Green Flash.
Earlier this summer, Picky and I ventured down to San Diego with my sister (Fats) and her boyfriend (Norty). The four of us called the trip "Brews, Bikes, and Beaches" as one would expect any trip to SD (or San Deaaaago as we refer to it) would entail. If you haven’t been to SD lately, holy mother of God – it’s a craft brew fan’s delight! Not only do they have some of the “big names” like Stone and Ballast Point, they also have some little guys like Modern Times and Coronado. No matter where you go, good beer is EVERYWHERE!
Visiting Green Flash was high on our priority list. To paint a picture, we took a $60 Uber ride from our vacation spot on the bay just to get there. And once we got there, we knew our 60 bones was well invested. Modern and industrial with tons of strong beers on tap and a British-themed food truck, we were in heaven. We must have tried 15 different beers that day with very little dumping of the tasters. See, at Green Flash, most pours are served in a $1 taster for 2 oz of beer (at least the ones with less than 10% alcohol cause let’s not get cray). This is amazing for two reasons: 1) you get to try a shit ton of beer, and 2) you leave feeling like a total baller after spending $20 on rounds and rounds of drinks. How often do you get to that?!
One of the few beers we did not try was Green Flash’s Green Bullet, a triple IPA with dry-hops from New Zealand. It’s a seasonal beer that's only available October – December. It’s been on my radar ever since the trip, and today was the day I spotted THE Green Bullet in SF at The Village Market.
Refreshingly strong but scarily smooth at a hefty 10.1%, Green Bullet was worth the wait.