Review – L.A. Beer Week 2014

LABW6 hashtag

Another L.A. Beer Week is in the history books. This is my sixth year experiencing it and writing about it on this blog. So, I have enough stored memory to write critically about how L.A. celebrates beer.

2014 though saw new leadership take over in the form of the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild. That means viewing the week through the lens of new management without comparing it too much to the past. The hand-off obviously affected the timing so that too has to be taken into account. So, I will review it like a sportswriter does a football or basketball team. Instead of talking points and grades on offense, defense and coaching however, I will substitute the items that I believe make a beer week successful.

First up, is how Beer Week was presented before Beer Week started (the coaching, in my tortured analogy). The results are mixed in this regard. The website looked good but the functionality was a bit off. The export calendar function worked but most of the information was buried and on some devices, getting past the first event page was a chore. Other people I spoke too did not have that problem.

Those technical issues aside, I would like to see a more easy to use calendar. Something that showed you events by area of L.A. or by day. That functionality was there in 2013 but was lost this year. Or at least, I couldn’t get it to work. (It was added in later which helped)

On the plus side, there was a good amount of information from the social media side and the logos and branding were really nice. The artwork was really striking. And I really liked the Beer Paper LA guide. That was a great and handy item to reference. I would also like to see a create your own L.A. Beer Week schedule where you add events and when finished you can print out a personalized calendar. Selfish reasons, really. I have to make my own each year and I would like to make my job easier.

In the football analogy, the main festival is the quarterback-the offense. And the kick-off festival for L.A. Beer Week performed like Peyton Manning. My main worry was that the alleyways and limited space given to the event in Chinatown might create a jostled and packed crowd. That did not come to pass. There were a couple of instances of lines but they moved quickly and even the late insertion of paper tickets wasn’t a hassle and was actually made into a plus by having brewers pass out extra tickets and asking beer related questions. It probably also staved off some people from getting too many beers too quickly.

With the weather cooperating, this made for a very pleasant drinking environment. The quality of the beer was high and the amount of choices was large. There was no way I was going to taste all the beers that I wanted to. Some might find that discouraging but I find it freeing. The pressure to make safe choices is removed because you getting one “wrong” doesn’t materially impact how many you miss. And the best fact was that instead of driving all around LA to try the new breweries, they were all in one spot.

The “guest taps” were also well chosen. Some festival regulars but also a few not normally seen like Reverend Nat’s cider. I didn’t patrol the two alleys of guests as much but they were quite busy most of the time. That will happen when you have sought after beers like Duet from Alpine and Galaxy Showers from Noble Ale Works. I would like to see some foreign beers represented as well but maybe that could be a separate event during LABW. And I love that coffee and sodas are available. Hopped coffee was an inspired idea.

So I was mostly happy. Two items will need to be addressed though. Bathrooms. There are never enough. But the amount allocated was way too low. The placement was good. Away from the fest and not visible from the beer booths. The lines just kept growing and impacting the nearby food trucks to the point where some folks were being led to alternate bathrooms. And the panels of speakers may have been good but even mic’d up they were practically unhearable from even a short distance. I think that those educational panels are best held indoors. Have the music outside and just post a schedule of who will be speaking and the topic with an arrow pointing where it is and maybe have announcements from the stage about what is coming up next. Maybe the space did not have anywhere to accommodate the talks but if you give people a quiet place to sit and listen, they will. When people were on stage this year, even I was tuning them out to speak to others.

But overall this festival gets an A- for showcasing LA beer and for creating a fun atmosphere for beer drinking.

When it comes to other events, there was a plethora of choices. This is the bench play to continue the analogy. Beer Cocktails and Beer ice cream were available as were many, many events but the best of the week for me was the Meeting of the Guilds at Mohawk Bend. Beers from SF and SD in LA. Again too many tap choices, but new ones that you don’t normally see from producers like Cellarmaker, Societe, Headlands, Bartlett Hall to name a few.  Best Guild was won by us.  Maybe due to home field advantage.  The next bout takes place at SD Beer Week!

Other events that merit honorable mentions are the Cask Night at MacLeod’s that drew big crowds, the aforementioned beer cocktails whipped up by Brady Weise at Plan Check and my local Glendale Tap hosting a Block Party of Monkish and Smog City to draw beer week to a close.  What I missed were beer pairing dinners.  It seems like the price point for those events is too much for people so it would be nice to see slimmed down or specific versions.  There were beer and cupcakes at Kinetic and a beer and chocolate event which is good but maybe a 3-course meal with beer would work better.

This post is longer than my usual blurby self because L.A. Beer Week is really important as a signpost to the culture of craft beer in the City of Angels and thus demands more attention.  The fact that I wrote as much as I did should drive that point home.  There is a lot going on in craft beer in L.A. and the momentum is growing.