Beer Garden, LA Style

by octopushat

CoLAboration, a brainchild of some of the luminaries of the Los Angeles craft beer scene, is a “pop-up beer garden” that aims to provide a space for Angelenos to gather and enjoy taps of some of the best beers available. After the WinterFest event was canceled due to the heavy winds back in December, the event was rescheduled at an indoor venue, downtown LA’s Belasco Theater, for this past weekend. Itching to get out of Hollywood to avoid the Oscar madness for the afternoon we hit the Metro station for the quick ride downtown and met up with Hamish (read his recap here) to sample some brews.

Photo by Julie Verive

We arrived about half-an-hour after doors had opened and only had to wait in the queue for a few minutes before receiving our taster glass and drink tickets. The facade and entrance of the Belasco is an impressive sight, but it is only a taste of the lavish stone-work and gilded details of the interior. Built in the Twenties and featuring multiple levels, corridors, and antechambers, the theater feels more like a palace than a performance venue. Thankfully the space swallowed up the significant crowd and provided ample opportunities to find a secluded seat or table, or to duck into a quieter nook to enjoy the beers that sometimes took a not inconsiderable amount of waiting in line for.

The beer service was provided at half-a-dozen tap stations; each pouring from around five kegs that rotated throughout the day. The organizers had promised that rare and impressive kegs would be tapped for the event, and I would say that at least half of what I saw on offer was totally new to me. Many of the major California brewers were well represented with Hanger 24, Ballast Point, Stone, Firestone-Walker, Russian River, and of course Golden Road all being served from multiple stations. While the selection of brews was impressive, the breadth of styles being poured left a little to be desired. As is the fad these days there were lots and lots of “imperial” beers being poured. From double IPAs to Russian Stouts, to barleywines and imperial reds, I don’t think that I saw 2 beers lower than 5% ABV. Big beers are great, but when you’ve got 5 or 10 taster tickets a few more session-able choices would have been nice.

The glut of heavy-hitting brews was compounded by the difficulty in finding food at the event. Thankfully, Jules and I had eaten an epic breakfast in anticipation of our liquid-lunch, but I know that Hamish was wishing that snacks had been more available by the end of the event. The food, provided by LA favorite beer bar Blue Palms Brewhouse, was only served at one bar off in an isolated room that was filled to capacity, and required a nearly hour-long queue to order and then another hour-long wait for the dishes to come out of the kitchen. I hope that future CoLAboration events can work-out a better system for food, or at least schedule some of LA’s famous foodtrucks to be present.

Photo by Julie Verive

I was very happy with our decision to purchase a taster glass instead of the 20oz full glass as we were able to sample 5-8 different 5oz pours and were still able to walk back to the train after the event. My favorites of the day was a style from local favorite Eagle Rock Brewery that I had not heard of before called “The Duece.” Billed as “Double Solidarity” (Solidarity is Eagle Rock’s much loved black mild) the English old ale was created for the brewery’s second anniversary. The dark stout was heavy and malty with a good grassy hop presence and enough lingering bitterness to keep me coming back for another sip. After missing the (randomly allotted) pourings of cult-favorite Pliny the Younger by just a few people I consoled myself with a glass of Russian River’s other Pliny (the Elder). The infamous double IPA is known as a hallmark of the style, and I think it is well deserved. Balance is the beer’s great strength, and I cannot think of another beer that packs such a nuanced hop-centric flavor profile while keeping the malts so prevalent in each sip. The other stand-out in my notes is the Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. Originally brewed in 1999 as kind of a novelty attempt at creating the worlds strongest beer the imperial stout clocks in at a head-leveling 18%ABV and Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione calls it “more like a port than… a beer.” I was shocked at how drinkable the brew was, and I will happily snatch up any bottles of this I come across in the future.

Photo by Julie Verive

The crowd remained big throughout the event, but even as the beer drinkers got into their 4th or 5th glass I didn’t witness any moments of tension or rudeness in the crowd. Everyone was very easy-going and happy to share a toast or opinions on their favorite brew of the day. I often saw the event organizers and big-wigs of the LA brewing scene enjoying a beer and mingling with the crowd. Next time I’ll actually have the nerve to talk to Tony or Meg from Golden Road and tell them what a great job they are doing and how great it is that they have taken the mantel of championing craft-beer in Los Angeles.

Overall the event was a lot of fun and I was impressed with the turn out and the level of enthusiasm that the crowd showed for the craft beer scene. Craft beer in Los Angeles is just starting to bubble-over in popularity and come out of the shadow of the more established scene in San Diego, and with ambitious minds like Tony Yannow working hard to share their love of quality beer with the city I know that the next few years are going to be big ones for beer in the city of angels.

(Here are a few more pictures from the event.)