Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably notice something is brewing in LA County's South Bay. In the past few years, Torrance, and the South Bay beach cities have experienced a craft beer renaissance. With stalwarts Red Car Brewery, El Segundo Brewing, Brouwerij West, and the Strand Brewing Co., the recent additions of Monkish, Smog City and The Dudes has the region pumping out some very good and interesting beers.
Over the Memorial Day weekend, I made my first pilgrimage to this new Mecca of brewing.
The day started at Smog City, whose beer was one of my favorites at last summer's Orange County Brew Ha Ha and who have garnered quite a bit of attention in local beer circles. Owned by John and Laurie Porter, who were behind the counter and talking with guests when I visited, Smog City is an extension of a project that started during down time at Tustin Brewing. This unique sharing arrangement allowed Porter to bring his own beer to market and demand quickly outpaced production. This past year the Porters' moved into their 5,000 sq. ft. Torrance location (1901 Del Amo Blvd., Unit B) where they've been officially open for the past two weeks. Brewing now on a much larger system and having recently signed a distribution deal with Stone in San Diego, Smog City now has the capacity to meet the growing demand for their product, and demand there is. On Sunday afternoon the tasting room was crowded with people singing the praises of Smog City's wares. Here's what I tasted; remember taste is subjective and I tend to enjoy well-balanced beers:
"XPA" (full pint). Light, low alcohol 4.6%, pale ale with a good malt mouth feel and plenty of hop bitterness on the finish. A nice summer beer.
"Penumbra Stout" (tasted from a shared 4 oz. sample). Dry Irish stout, dark, rich, medium-bodied stout with roasted and chocolaty sharpness and light hop bitterness. Good.
"Sabre Toothed Squirrel" (tasted from a shared 4 oz. sample). One of my favorite beers of the day. A malty amber ale with medium to full body and a hop profile closer to a pale ale. I'd put this in the ESB range, but whatever one calls it, it was delicious.
"Bourbon Red" (tasted from a shared 4 oz sample). Not my kind of beer. I'm not a huge fan of bourbon-aged beers, and this one doesn't hold back. Bourbon is the dominate flavor and destroys what would have been a nice red ale. Here I wish the brewer would have shot for more balance. However, others at my table really enjoyed this beer. One calling it his favorite of the day.
"Amarilla Gorilla" IPA (full pint). An interesting experiment in a single hop beer. Traditional IPA malt profile with lots of floral and grapefruit/citrus from the Amarillo hops. A very good IPA.
"The Nothing" Imperial Stout (tasted from a shared 4 oz sample). This is a very good, very well-balanced big stout. Not as big as some imperials, topping out at 9.6% and making it quite drinkable and quite delicious.
From Smog City we ventured a few blocks to Monkish Brewing, for what was my second visit. Like Smog City, Monkish owners Henry and Adriana Nguyen make themselves available to guests, explaining their beers and watching with pride as visitors enjoy their beer. This is perhaps the most unpretentious, but fantastically creative breweries in California. Unlike Patrick Rue at the Bruery, Monkish beers are creative and interesting without being over the top. Nguyen lets his beers speak for themselves, and they don't disappoint.
Rosa's Hips: A really nice Belgian brown, with all of its complexity flavored with rose hips that adds a bit of extra tang. I have a lot of favorite beers but this one is on top of my list.
Shaolin Fist: This is a solid, well-made dubbel that rivals some of the true Belgians, but with a kick of sichuan pepper that adds extra spiciness to the finish that I quite like. A very good, very interesting beer.
Oblate: This is Monkish Brewing's beginner beer. A light, smooth golden ale with chamomile and just enough Belgian funk to keep things interesting. If you're trying to introduce your friend to the world of Belgian yeasts, start here. A delicious, summer sipper.
Anomoly: I'd call this a straight up delicious American version of a Belgian strong ale. Delicious, caramel/burnt sugar flavors, followed by light hoppiness and Belgian yeast. If I have any complaint about this beer is that I want it to have more of that Belgian funk.
We finished the day at the Strand Brewing Co., but got there just before they were closing up shop. Didn't have a lot of time to talk to the guys pouring or really relax and enjoy our beer. Definitely need to visit again.
24th Street Pale: Really solid, easily approachable pale ale. Nice body, good malt profile and well-balanced hops.
Beach House Amber. Unassuming, almost boring amber. Solid, but nothing special. But that's a backhanded compliment in a way. It's difficult to make a solid to style beer, and many craft beer drinkers have become jaded forgetting that fact. If I hadn't spent the day drinking much more interesting beer, this probably would have ranked much higher. I'll have to revisit.
Musashi Black IPA: To be fair I only had a couple of sips of this beer and I can't offer more than, it was a decent black IPA.
Now it's off to Paso Robles and the Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Fest. More on that later.