It’s almost hard to grasp just how quickly the craft beer scene has grown in Los Angeles.
To think that at the close of 2009 there were only 2 breweries in the entirety of the South Bay region (the southwest corner of LA between Marina del Rey and Long Beach) is just astounding.
Nine years later, there are roughly twenty breweries operating within this culturally and economically diverse collection of suburban and beach communities.
So when I got the opportunity to come down and see it’s newest brewery enter the fold of what has become quite a collection of artisanal beer outposts, I couldn’t pass up the chance.
Here’s a rundown of the 7 breweries I managed to visit within 48 hours this past weekend.
Common Space Brewery
Common Space is that aforementioned new-born brewery – one that’s already drinking, looking and acting like they’ve been around the block more than a few times.
Running both a 30 bbl production system and a 4 bbl pilot system, each of head brewer Kushal Hall’s 11 beers on draft were pretty dialed in. If you get the chance to tour their enormous facility, which includes 7,000 square feet of event space, don’t miss the opportunity. Our tour with Kushal was one of the most informative brewery tours I’ve ever taken.
While I most enjoyed their Pilsner, Easy IPA, Double Red and Nitro Black Coffee Stout (in collaboration with 2nd Craft Cold Brew), everything available was right to style and crushable. They plan to have at least one new beer on tap each week and a regular rotation of food trucks on site as well.
As only the second craft brewery in Hawthorne, they’re already off to a killer start and are a must visit destination in the South Bay.
Smog City Brewing
As one of the most stalwart brewers in the region, Smog City Brewing has been cranking out amazing IPAs, delicious porters, and superb barrel aged offerings since 2011. Operating out of their own Torrance taproom since 2013, they’ve now established themselves as one of the best breweries in Los Angeles.
Their taproom has that quaint, small brewery vibe: stools around barrel tables, active barrels stacked in one corner, the smell of freshly fermenting suds. The taplist, featuring the most diverse collection of top-notch beers I had all weekend, made it really tough to leave.
I tried my best to get as broad a range of styles for my sample flight, yet I still didn’t try their renown Coffee Porter, The Nothing – a Double Chocolate Imperial Stout, and at least 4 or 5 sours beers that also called my name. The Tropical Farmhouse with Guava and Passionfruit was certainly a favorite, as was Spittin’ & Cussin’ – a wonderful Oud Bruin style sour brown with cherries.
While the Triple IPA, BBA Imperial Stout, and Pilsner with fresh lime were phenomenal too, the English-style dark mild served on Nitro was the perfect way to finish my visit. I also tried sips of my friend’s IPAs, which were also excellent.
In the end, I couldn’t imagine how anyone would pass up visiting Smog City if they’re seeking out the best LA has to offer.
Until I visited their taproom, the only beer I’d had from Monkish Brewing were either from traded cans or growler fills, both of which can only be purchased at their small taproom. They are the definition of scarce and it almost feels like they prefer it that way.
Effectively one large block away from Smog City, our visit on an early Friday afternoon found us with only a few folks ahead of us in line – a welcome sight considering what their release days look like.
We were lucky to catch their collaboration with Cycle Brewing out of St. Petersburg, FL – a Triple Dry-Hopped Hazy DIPA with Citra, Mosaic, and Nelson called Financial Irresponsibility. It was certainly delicious, though at $8.00 an 8oz pour, it lived up to it’s name and was technically more expensive than that $10 pint of Trumer Pils I bought at SFO.
The only other beer we tried on site was the Black Currant Vortex – a tart, 6.9% barrel-aged wild ale with Black Currants. While quite good, the acidity was overwhelming until warming. For a late lunch, Felice Catering’s wood-fired pizzas were available that day and so stellar (gluten-free & vegan options were also available).
Sure, I get why this place is Mecca for some folks and I really love their hazy cans, yet the taproom itself, with only 8 pricey offerings on tap, was a disappointing first experience.
The Dudes’ Brewing (Torrance)
Only a block away from the Monkish taproom is probably it’s polar opposite, The Dude’s Brewing Company. This, their original location, opened in 2013 and has now spawned 4 additional locations throughout LA and Orange County. They also distribute to 9 states, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
This location features 24 different offerings on tap, plus 16oz cans, growlers and crowlers to-go. The fact that everything on tap is being generated by their on-site 3.5 bbl pilot system is impressive, yet the beers themselves are pretty standard.
2/3 of the building is occupied by their production and pilot system, tanks, and canning equipment. The taproom itself is relatively sparse, with the expected benches, though the taps are all listed on a digital board, plus sports were playing on TVs overhead – the only brewery I visited all weekend to have them.
My hands down favorite at The Dude’s was their Sour Patch Series: Passion of the Fruit – a delicious 5% Berliner Weisse with, you guessed it, passionfruit. We also really enjoyed their JuiceBox Series: Peach, and the JuiceBox Series: Coconut Porter on Nitro. I’m not quite sure what qualifies a beer to be part of the JuiceBox series, but they were all pretty solid.
If you’re looking to impress a out-of-town beer nerd, this probably isn’t the place to take them, but I found their beers better than anticipated. They also offer a diverse enough variety and drink-ability that stopping in here was a welcome relief after visiting Monkish.
Phantom Carriage Brewery and Blendery
The only brewery on this list that I’d visited before and already had a crush on was Phantom Carriage in Carson. Named after the 1921 silent French horror film, their dark, cave-like taproom has one of the coolest motifs of any I’ve been to.
Lit primarily by flickering electric candles, white string lights, and recessed lamps, the vibe is definitely macabre. Oh… and the endlessly running horror films in their Phantom Theatre help add a bit of creepy kitsch as well.
Only open since 2014, I was lucky enough to meet Co-Founder Martin Svab and try their earliest offerings at CBC in 2015. They’ve since stuck with their ethos as LA’s first sour focused brewery, offering some of the best barrel-aged sours in town. Though more recently they’ve, tossed their hat into the hazy 16oz can game, with reasonable results.
Their Double Berry Broadacres Berliner Weisse was consistent with what I’d tried previously, while The Devil to Pay Hazy IPA is one of the first versions of the style they’ve released and it was quite good.
Having already come this far and with one more stop to go Friday night, I didn’t delve into their guest tap list which offered 6 beers from Gardena’s recently opened State Brewing.
What I love about Phantom Carriage (beyond their delicious liquids) is the escapism of entering this dark, cool world and while going back outside to reality can be a bright and warm one, it’s so worth it.
I know… the Beachwood Blendery is in Long Beach, so isn’t technically part of the South Bay, but when one friend who works there invites you to stop by and another lives nearby, it’s hard to say no.
Not to mention that the Blendery’s recent barrel-aged releases have been quite impressive in their own right. We tried five of their Belgian-style sours on tap, each with a slightly different spin – one with peach, one dry hopped, another a straight golden sour, one with plums and sea salt, plus another with black limes. Each was wonderful in it’s own unique way.
The space itself is much like their Beachwood BBQ location around the corner – urban chic, exposed brick, re-purposed windows for the taplist, etc. The lighting provides a warm, inviting quality and the staff is knowledgeable, friendly and super helpful in navigating what appear to be quite similar options on tap.
I was also lucky enough to sample some other delights shared by my friend Conor, including from cans he designed for Moksa Brewing, another recently opened brewery already making waves in NorCal.
While there were a number of other breweries I wanted to hit last Friday including Brouwerij West, Los Angeles Ale Works, El Segundo Brewing, and State Brewing, I was happy to have covered as much ground as I did, and thank Andy, Nick, Julien, and Conor for joining me at various points on the voyage.
But I had one more stop before leaving town on Saturday…
Three Weavers Brewing
A short hop from LAX, you have no reason NOT to stop in to check out Three Weavers on the western edge of Inglewood.
Much like Smog City and Monkish, Three Weavers brew system takes up a bulk of the space on-site, with wooden benches and a more industrial vibe permeating the taproom.
Featuring their 5 core beers, plus 12 additional seasonal and collaboration beers, I was impressed by the variety on hand.
Probably the most notable thing that set this location apart from the other breweries I visited, is that it’s the only one who doesn’t offer a sour of any kind. Their taplist is very IPA and sessionably focused.
With the sun out for the first time all weekend, I snagged a spot on the patio to enjoy my flight (before my flight) and absorb some rays before returning to gray Portland.
My favorite of the flight was likely the grapefruit zest Cambria Kolsch, yet I also quite enjoyed their dank Knotty DIPA and their citrusy IPA collab with Noble Ale Works, The Messenger.
Looking back on the entire trip, it was cool to see how quite of few of these breweries are similar in how they operate, what spaces they occupy (often industrial parks) what they choose to brew, and yet how others are taking completely opposite approaches, and both are successfully accommodating different clienteles. If that’s indeed the case, it debunks the notion of a craft beer bubble (i.e. total number of breweries, not shelf space).
The South Bay feels like a microcosm of what the craft beer industry is growing into today – neighborhood taproom focused, small batch brewing, a wide variety of styles suiting every palate. Gimmicks and hot trends will draw crowds, but making consistently good beer in a space that’s inviting to the masses as a whole, that’s what the South Bay is thriving on today and I was grateful to experience it first hand.
Check more photos from my trip on the facebook page for Craft Beer Scribe.