5 Things I Learned About Beer at the 3rd Annual L.A. Craft Beer Crawl
5. Wandering downtown L.A. streets in the midafternoon sun, giving off a hoppy scent, carrying a small pilsner glass still sudsy from the last visit, mildly lost, mildly dazed, is totally normal on the Saturday of L.A. Craft Beer Crawl. Never mind the stink-eye from the cops, never mind the regal bearing of Crawl sponsors Hallie Beaune and Christina Perozzi, the Beer Chicks, as they pass queenlike from one venue to the next, never mind the Broadway barkers' crestfallen faces as you walk by their quinceañera shops. It is as if, on this day, downtown L.A. is your very own beer garden -- OK, a huge and squalid beer garden, but all yours, for a day.
Brandon Buck The L.A. Craft Beer Crawl
4. Beer geeks are larger than wine geeks, in terms of height and especially girth. When they belly up to a bar, it might take several minutes to circumnavigate them. They are also louder, have more facial hair and have way more tattoos. And when it comes to the inevitable discussions of fermentation and yeast, they are just as boring as wine geeks.
3. Pace is important. With 90 beers to sample in seven locations drawn from Cedd Moses' 213 Empire, you'll need the fresh air and a stretch of your legs to pull it together for each successive venue. Don't be afraid to use a spit cup. The bartenders understand this, and many nod in subtle assent: If a man aspires to taste 90 different beers in an afternoon, he'd best not be swallowing every drop. I got funny looks for sipping and spitting, but I walked home -- I didn't have to crawl.
2. Beer is the Baskin Robbins of intoxicants. Much like vodka distillers, craft brewers throw a bewildering number of flavorings into their concoctions. Cherries, apricots, oranges, chipotle peppers, vanilla beans, lemon, coffee, honey, chamomile, sage, peanut butter, jelly, bacon -- these are just a few of the flavor enhancers identified in this year's beer selections. I didn't expect to like so many -- I am not a fan of flavored vodkas and assumed my bias would carry over - but seasonal beers so tied to the seasons can be awfully invigorating. The local citrus really popped in Hangar 24 Orange Wheat, and its Polycot Ale seemed infused with apricots picked warm off the tree and muddled into the mash. I cannot speak for Uncommon's Bacon Brown or Kinetic's Peanut Butter Jelly Time -- I wasn't exactly in the mood for lunch -- but the best of them have flavors that are wonderfully elusive, bound up in malt and acid and the hoppy head, sneakily wafting from the glass, casually lingering in the finish.
1. Some craft beers are desserty. Some craft beers are fruity. Some taste like a beverage you'd order iced at Starbucks. Some are sort of, well, beery, like a series of belches waiting to happen. Some are so dry you have to remind yourself they're wet. Others are so sour, or defiantly bitter, it's like they've been brewed to make children cry.
And then there are those that seem to hit a spot you didn't know existed: perfectly balanced, thirst-quenching down to your toes, with flavors at once challenging and satisfying. I'm looking at you, Smog City LA Saison, Ladyface IPA, Monkish Pour Toi, Hangar 24 Orange Wheat, Golden Road El Hefe and Eagle Rock Manifesto Wit -- all stunning concoctions brewed within 25 miles of downtown L.A. In fact, aside from the odd outlier from Portland, Chico, San Diego and San Francisco, this craft beer fest had a very SoCal feel, and served to remind that we live in one of the most exciting beer epicenters in the country.
For more coverage on the Craft Beer Crawl and a slideshow, check out Erika Bolden's recent piece.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Have a spirits question for a future column? Ask him. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.