In the Tap Lines for February 2023

Technically the shortest month of the year, unless you know me, then it is sooo long because I really do like my birthday month and I like to find a really cool beer to have for that special day. So there’s that and…

~ e-visits to (3) breweries from the Sacramento area in preparation for the California Craft Beer Summit in March.

~ special featured reviews of my birthday beer!

~Heads-Up on Los Angeles Beer Events

~ Three suggested beers to buy this month. One light, one medium and one dark

~ A Book & A Beer reads The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

~ A Podcast & A Beer listens to Let’s Make a Sci-Fi

~ Sports & A Beer returns for month two with All Star Games

~ New Beer Releases and Best Beers of the Month

~ I will tap the Firkin and give my no holds barred opinion on the craft beer world.

1st Visit – Alma’s Cider and Beer

Finally, I made my way to trendy Virgil Village to Alma’s Cider & Beer.

This is a proper dark bar. Takes time to adjust to the lack of light. Secondly, probably should be called Alma’s Cider and wine and two beers, Granted the two drafts were good (love to seea side pull) but the ciders were way more dramatic an interesting by far.

While waiting fir the mulled cider to warm up, I started with the Winter Mash from Balcom which promised Cranberry and spruce tips. The cranberry made it but the tree did not but it was a tasty and tart and vivid cider.

Beer buddy Rich wowed about the Paloma cider from Stem and also liked the funky Basque Sagardo too. I really like the atmosphere and my only complaint is that they are only open starting at 5pm. Would like to have an afternoon cider and explore the menu further.

1st Visit – Native Son DTLA

I made a pre-Christmas trip Downtown to see what was up with the beers and the former Dankness Dojo now Native Son.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the former Modern Times Dankness Dojo hasn’t been really changed / updated all that much. So it was weird to walk in and have it be not a new vibe.

That said, here for the beer and on that front all seems good to start. There were multiple collaboration beers on tap with the L.A. likes of Mumford, Three Weavers, Common Space and even a Pizza Port DIPA collaboration.

I sampled two straight up Native Son beers and was more taken with the the cleverly named Sta-Pils. It had quite a punchy herbal flavor to it. Could have been a touch crisper but thatvis a minor quibble. The Circle Boy IPA was fine. Typical early days of a brewery type. Hoppy but not bright enough for me.

The bartender was very helpful and attentive without being up in your grill and he seemed to be at the ready to explain the Native Son beers and to help you find the right beer for you.

Good to have brewing back in the space and I hope the brewing keeps growing.

Double 1st Visit – Bright Spark & Topa Topa HQ

The Thanksgiving break was the perfect time to make a drive up to Ventura to visit new Bright Spark Brewing and since I was there, the nearby Colt HQ of Topa Topa Brewing.

Bright Spark is the classic industrial park locale. They had (4) beers on tap from them and (3) guest taps as well. Pale, red, IPA and porter on the menu, all that is missing is an amber for truly old school vibes.

Twilight Porter was the beertenders fav and was mine as well with the pale coming in second from the taster tray with the IPA your typical new brewery hoppy beer.

Quite a big amount of seating but from barstools to larger tables, to couches the place is airy and warm with games on one side of the L shaped space. The furniture seemed a bit better than the usual as well.

They have pizza and small bites as well as some cool and unusual salads like the one that I had with golden coconut dressing and pomegranate.

Topa Topa HQ is a beautiful, bucolic garden spot for a beer that even has a little free library. Just needs hop or malt fields to complete the picture.

There are 13 beers on tap with 2 Single hop beers and a Patagonia test beer too. There is a built in crowler machine. Lots of video and non-video games in a blank-ish event space. They even TT soccer jerseys.

This Colt Street space is an oasis for beer, dogs, kids and nature. Just a wonderful location inside and out.

1st Visit – Beachwood Brewing in Bixby Knolls

The space formerly known as Liberation Brewing has been given a Beachwood make-over and will house, in the future, distilling operations.

I made a weekend visit to get a Beachwood beer fix and here are my thoughts…

Obviously the beer is great, a dry hopped Knucklehead Red was hoppy with a great spice malt background. Two barrel-aged tasters were cool to compare as well so this visit was more an interior decoration review.

The trophy tap handles are great, the space can be loud but there is outdoor seating out back and enough space to have a quiet conversation or a party as needed. The bar stools are comfortable despite no back to them and the artwork on the wall was bright and colorful and unique.

Other than that though, the space is not super different from the previous brewery. Maybe that will change when distilling fires up operations but as of now, it looks Beachwood for sure and is as of now, I nice counterpoint to Ambitious Ales up the street.

1st Visit – Brews Brothers / Burbank

What once was the Burbank Simmzy’s is now the Burbank brewpub for Brews Brothers.

I have visited the original Brews Brothers and liked the space and the beer selection but now they have their own beer. The space is still the same. A bit clunky and cramped and dark with a sound system that sounds better outside than in. The brewing system is shoehorned in with not great access for when the staff had an empty keg that they had to hoist over a little wall.

I went Belgian with my choices a blonde that came in at a whopping 8.5% which seems more a Tripel to me as well as a Belgian IPA, another biggie at 8.25%.

Both were good, not great. The blonde fared better than the IPA which was quite a muddy color in the glass and not exhibiting much of a hop presence. I avoided the beer named Butt Chin since I believe that you should not name a beer with the word butt.

Prices are a bit high. Maybe there is a Burbank surcharge in there. But the place was hopping (pun intended) for a Wednesday. I think I prefer the NoHo branch a bit better.

1st Visit – Walt’s Bar

Walt’s Bar has been on my to visit list for awhile now and despite it being literally one neighborhood over, I had not stepped inside until this year.  Maybe because I am more of a sit down with a beer kinda guy and not a play pinball and drink guy.

For those of you who, like me, haven’t visited, and are curious about it, here are my impressions…

There are 10 pinball machines lined up against one wall and that is probably the best decoration outside the very 50’s diner green bar stools and red bar counter.  The interior is quirky to say the least with formerly live stuffed animals, rotating hot dogs and with a big neon chicken on the wall. And it gets loud quickly if more than three machines are played.

But there is loads of outside seating to enjoy beers with friends.  Speaking of, on my visit there were two Radiant beers, an IPA from There Does Not Exist, 

Craftsman, Beachwood, Common Space and Highland Park as well as canned Hamms.  Oddly, there were no beer names on the menu. Just brown ale, IPA or hoppy lager.

The vibe is a little hipster and the beer choices pale compared to nearby Talon or the Glendale Tap but I can totally see how people would enjoy it. Probably won’t order a hot dog though.

1st Visit – Broken Barrel Whiskey Co.

I returned from Kentucky with an increased knowledge and excitement about bourbon. While on the trip, I nailed down a visit to Broken Barrel Whiskey Company right here in Los Angeles.

Here are highlights from my interview with Benhaim….

It is not often that you get offered the chance to take an ax to a bourbon barrel but Broken Barrel Whiskey Co. is shaking the spirit game up, in more ways than one.

You have to start with the barrel staves.  It is the logical next step from Benhaim’s first spirit venture, Infused Vodkas just taken to the next, grander level.  Swapping fruit and vodka for wood and whiskey.  The staves are not limited to former Bourbon barrels but include rum, mezcal, sherry, Armagnac and even Amburana just to name a few.  And it is not chips or chunks, it is the whole stave.

It is so integral to the product that when Benhaim first coined the name Oak Bill, his teams first response was, trademark that.  Which he did.  The Oak Bill is now as prominent on the labels as the malt bill and Benhaim envisions the term being used far into whiskeys future.

Another shake to the status quo is that the finishing is done here in Los Angeles and not in Kentucky (Owensboro to be specific).  My big question was, why not a location in Kentucky, or a distillery here.  Bring the “juice” closer, as it were.  The answer was a bit of a wistful, maybe in the future.  The business is in that small “for now” phase where everyone pitches in on bottling day.  

I should pause here to talk about the whiskey that I tasted in Benhaim’s office which is stacked floor to ceiling with bourbons, gins, rums and vodkas.  So many that a computerized inventory is needed lest you forget a bottle in the back of a shelf.

I started light then moved up to cask strength before sampling two other smaller batch offerings.  California Oak has an Oak Bill of 80% Cabernet cask and 20% French Oak. It is 88 Proof and super easy to drink and a great vehicle to show off the wood notes.  Next was the Small Batch which used 40% Ex Bourbon, 40% New French Oak and 20% Sherry cask.  I tend to gravitate to whiskey that doesn’t Kentucky Hug you real hard so the slight wine note from the sherry helped cut the increased proof.

Next was the rye, which is another pull for me.  I find the spice a big plus in creating a balanced drink.  Broken Barrel’s Heresy Rye was my favorite of the tasting with another super small batch rye that was entered into competition, code name Magic Rye.

Both the Rye and the cask strength have the same Oak Bill as the Small Batch.  But I found the Cask Strength to be a bit too burly at 115 Proof. By that point in the tasting my mind starting wandering to what beer barrels would be great to splinter and add.  Perhaps a Pastry Stout or a Baltic Porter.  Or go big and age a Triple IPA in wood and then see if the hops pulled into the whiskey.

Purists may scoff but I see a blank canvas where creativity can flourish.  There will be some weird or wrong tastes along the way, Benhaim pointed out that Scotch staves do not work at all, but when a combination clicks.  It could be magic just with a few swings of an ax.

1st Visit – Wild Parrot Brewing

Out to East Pasadena to visit Wild Parrot Brewing Company which shares a space with Rosebud Coffee.

photo Richard Rosen

The space is adorned with parrots making it a flying twin to Green Cheek Brewing. The brewery just recently opened and has six beers on too plus a SoCal ubiquitous Michelada.

All the beers were solid. No, WTF moments here. Usually new breweries and IPAs don’t mix well but their Pandemonium West Coast IPA was good.

On the other side of the ledger was the Porch Chill Amber which did not build on the momentum from the first two lagers. Was kinda flat and uninteresting to me.

The sour could have been more tart but had a nice lime flavor. The Coffee Stout was more a Coffee Porter but had a good coffee note to it.

The best in show was the Doug Heavy. Light enough for hot weather but Big enough for cloudy skies too.

1st Visit – Malibu Brewing Company

The Hopped beer website has been pumping the gas on this new brewery for months now.  None of their canned line has made it over to the Valley so, the first weekend they were open for guests, I headed there with fellow beer fan Richard to scope out the beachy taproom of Malibu Brewing Company.

Here is the 1st Visit report….

Upscale barn meets PCH version of a strip mall. The restaurant and taproom (brewing operations are in Westlake Village) is in a development leaning heavily into the distressed wood look. There is a small bar area and a medium amount of seating inside and out.

There is a two side list of beers which is a quantity not normally seen in a just opened tap list. Granted they have been packaging their core beers for a few months but impressive even if discounting the Zima, sorry, Zuma hard seltzer.

I had a custom flight of a Schwarzbier, plum Porter, IPA and a Hoppy Rice Lager + their hazy DIPA. Pours are not badly priced considering it is near the beach. Look at the ounces key though. All slimmed down. You cannot order a pint!

That said, the quality of my five beers and the consensus of the table was that everything was solid. A new brewery almost always has a clunker or two or a bent to doing one style better than others. This menu had a hatch chile beer and a Rose lager in addition to others and all were good.

Sitting outside was great for people watching and nice after some roasty temperatures. The food was good as well.

If you need an escape from L.A. proper then you will find a lot to like here.