Los Angeles is the second most populated city in the United States, located within the most populous county in the entire country. The city and the suburbs cover an expansive area that is home to several unique subcultures. Los Angeles locals know this, but for many tourists they only see the city as Hollywood. Almost everything that they do while visiting Los Angeles is focused on the film industry, whether it’s visiting Universal Studios, trying to see celebrities, or hiking to the Hollywood Sign. Angel City Brewery, a craft brewery in the downtown design district understands that fascination with glamor, but they also recognize the reality that is the less glamorous side of Los Angeles life. They call their hometown “a city known more for its glitz than its grit” and create beer that’s inspired by both. Founded in 1997, Angel City Brewery helped to pioneer the Los Angeles Craft beer scene, a movement now largely centered in a small downtown area where their brewery is located just a short walk away from other local beer companies like Mumford Brewing and Boomtown Brewery.
Just over one hundred years ago, the building that now houses Angel City Brewery was the west coast office and warehouse of the company responsible for manufacturing the cables used in many notable American bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as well as the Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro. Among the many historical fittings that exist in this building, two stand out because they span the height of the entire beer hall; One is a spiral staircase that uses a thick bridge cable as the hand railing, the other is a century old slide once used to transport spools of steel suspension cables. The second of these now serves as the focal point of the beer hall and bar area.
The rotating tap at Angel City Brewery features beer that pays tribute to some of the neighborhoods that surround the Art District. Rice in the mash-bill of an Ale that uses koji fermentation is a tribute to nearby Little Tokyo, while a series of Saisons brewed with Oolong tea and jasmine blossoms expertly channels the character of Chinatown. The taproom is also where they showcase some of their more interesting seasonal brews like a Kölsch that gets a creamy finish from California avocados, and even a winter beer inspired by speculoos cookies. A sampler flight offers a chance to experience some of their most interesting small batch beers.
Outside of the taproom, their year round beer styles are available in any season almost everywhere across the city. These are just as interesting and even a bit more approachable. Angel City Pilsner is their most easy-going beer. Typical of the style, it’s light and dry with a crisp finish courtesy a blend of Czech and German hops.
Angel City IPA is hop forward like many other India Pale Ales brewed in the West Coast tradition but thankfully, not hop dominated and the bitterness forms more of a backbone of a well-rounded beer. It’s suitable as a session IPA since the strong hop notes are present, but never dominant.
SaazBerry Ale is also remarkably well-balanced; a tart raspberry aroma, followed by a fragrant sweetness from elderberries and blueberries, and finally a sharp finish thanks to the Saaz hops.
SaazBerry Ale is also remarkably well-balanced; a tart raspberry aroma, followed by a fragrant sweetness from elderberries and blueberries, and finally a sharp finish thanks to the Saaz hops. This beer is completely unlike the fruited sour ales made by Coppertail Brewing in Florida, or the Belgian inspired beer from Dovetail Brewery in Chicago that is brewed with Michigan cherries. It is subtle and clean, with a floral dryness and a fresh berry aroma as opposed to a fruit forward taste.
Berry notes are much more dominant in the seasonally released Strawberry Gose, a sour beer that includes fresh fruit grown in Ventura County and a small dose of salt. The inspiration for this one comes from the spontaneously fermented beers of central Germany that are typically seasoned with Fleur de Sel. Energetically crisp with some naturally occurring electrolytes, this beer is the ideal refreshment after a hike through the Temescal Canyon Trail or the Santa Monica Mountains.
The saltiness is taken up a notch in Srirachelada, a spin on a Mexican “cerveza coctel traditionale” in which lime and tomato juice come together with pickled chillies and hot sauce in a beer designed to be served on ice in a salt rimmed glass. The name is a portmanteau of Sriracha, which is the type of Thai hot sauce used, and Michelada, the Mexican mixed beverage that this beer pays tribute to. It’s designed to be served as a breakfast beer to be enjoyed as breakfast or as a hangover cure.
Every can or bottle of Angel City Beer is emblazoned with three words that define the direction of the company; California, Culture, Craft. The culture comes through in the nods to local tradition and the craft is seen in their use of diverse local ingredients. Culture and craft are prominent in all of their products as they have a strong emphasis on highlighting elements that are local to Los Angeles. The essence of California however, is possibly best represented in their barrel-aged, limited batch expressions that come in wax sealed brown bottles.
Mattole River is a Belgian Tripel that’s infused with the must of hand-picked California grapes then allowed to mature for six months in casks that previously held California Chardonnay wines. This became a celebrated wine style after several highly acclaimed Burgundy white wines lost a blind taste test to some California Chardonnays in an event now known as The Judgement of Paris. In the time since then, California Chardonnays have become sought after, and the grapes and barrels add an element of North California culture to this strong golden ale. The oak doesn’t dominate the flavor profile but instead mellows all of the notes into a crescendo of caramelized tropical fruit. There are notes of passion fruit syrup, sapodilla, and golden raisins and a slight aroma of clove and varnished wood.
Dark Rye Lager is also barrel aged, but this time in barrels that were used to age brandy. It has been released as an annual limited vintage for over five years, and both connoisseurs and collectors consider it an investment worth holding on to and cellaring. Each vintage is different, but they all come across more as an Italian dry wine with dark nuances rather than as a simple lager.
Sampling different annual editions of a beer like this often reveals how time spent in the barrel can lead to subtle changes in different vintages. Against a mellow background of brandy, the oak sometimes comes across as smooth and smokey, or as barely burnt butterscotch. Subtle yet noticeable changes across vintages almost reflects Los Angeles; From Inglewood to Hollywood there’s a different take to the uniquely SoSal character.
Complementary Beer for this article was sponsored by Angel City Brewery a craft beer company that creates a wide range of beer that’s as diverse as the people and places of Los Angeles.