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A Review of LA Beer Week 2015

LABW7 schedule

Unity release at Smog City Brewing

It has been a week or so now since LA Beer Week 2015 (LABW7) and I think I am ready to give a review of the “week-long” event. I say “week-long” because LABW7 officially ran from June 20-28 but some venues started celebrating early and others ended on the 27th. Heck, Smog City Brewing held their Unity (the official beer of LA Beer Week) bottle release on the Wednesday before, and Absolution Brewing released their LA Beer Week brew, AD/JD on Thursday. No matter when you started, it was a very long week with some very good beers to be found. There are a few events I attended but did not write about; if you want to see those photos please visit my Facebook page.

The LA Beer Week Kickoff Party was held Saturday, June 20 at Exposition Park. I have to be honest, even though I have been documenting LA Beer Week since LABW4 in 2012 I have never attended any of their kickoff events. This was due primarily to preconceived misconceptions of what a madhouse it would be; plus I really do not like driving to DTLA. On the Wednesday before the kickoff party I happened to notice an email that came in from Absolution Brewing to members of their Mug Club in which they were offering VIP tickets to the first five “Muggers” that asked for them. I asked Tanya if she wanted to go and she responded immediately with, “No!.” This was because I had been saying we were not going for the past week, so I think she was just making sure I knew she was okay with it.

As I was going to the Torrance City Hall that night anyway for a Planning Commission hearing and Absolution was basically on the way home, it was decided that we would stop by after the Planning Commission hearing and see if any passes were still available. In other words, I was going to let others have an opportunity to score the passes before me. We showed up to Absolution shortly before they closed and no one had claimed any of the passes, so we decided to attend the kickoff.

Absolution Brewing staff

Thank you to Absolution Brewing for the VIP passes

Since I was going to take advantage of the VIP tickets to document the event, I got to Exposition Park a little early. Traffic there was not bad and there was plenty of parking available; I happened to pull up to the parking lot just in time to get a free parking pass from Phantom Carriage, so that was a nice score and the day was off to a nice start.

VIP attendees got in an hour early for an additional $20 and they only sold about 500 of those passes. I have attended so many beer festivals that the VIP cost was significantly higher than General Admission and tickets were so oversold that there is little benefit to paying the extra money for an additional hour. I mean, how many beers can one really drink in an hour?

The event was basically set up in a circle, with the VIP area being in the center and surrounded by the breweries that belong to the LA Brewers Guild. Outside of that ring was the General Admission area which was bordered by the other breweries in attendance and the food trucks. VIPs could get beers from either side of the LA breweries and there were some brews that were available only to those with VIP passes. I would have to say that all things considered, the VIP pass was a very good deal. The General Admission pass was also a very nice deal with about 75 breweries, 8 food trucks and 4 bands providing live entertainment.

LA Brewers growlers

LA Brewers Guild members

One of my concerns about events like this is the overselling of tickets, which happens far too often. It was obvious to me that the LA Brewers Guild had made sure they did not want to do the same. There were about 3,000 total tickets sold for an area that probably could have held at least another 1,000 but as far as I am concerned they had sold the perfect number. There were enough people to make it a good time, but not so many that there were lines. The longest line I saw that day was for a vendor that was selling branded tote bags; since they were branding the bags onsite, there was a slight delay in getting your merchandise. With more than 200 beers it was an exercise in futility to try and sample everything I wanted to try. As I looked at various friends’ check-ins to Untappd I found myself thinking, “Dang, I really wanted to try that.”

Since I was asked to give an honest review of the event I made a point of asking others, some that had attended before and some first timers, what their thoughts were. A common observation made by others was water stations and how difficult they were to find. I know that I saw water stations when I wasn’t looking for them, but whenever anyone mentioned the water situation I would attempt to direct them to the last place I saw water, but never could. I spoke to a couple brewery reps that told me they brought water as requested, but with the heat they kept moving the water to help keep it cooler. As I thought back to the event, I don’t think I had more than one cup of water because I just did not see it when I wanted it. Tanya ended up getting dehydrated as a result of the same thing.

The weather was sunny and hot! I know that the Brewers Guild probably had little control over the weather but if they have any connections, 75 degrees and slightly overcast would be nice for next year’s event. On a serious note, I never heard any announcements for the educational panels that were held. I really would have liked to have heard more but I always seemed to accidentally stumble by towards the end of the panel. If announcements were made, I never heard them. I would like to see that improved, and the water stations made more visible. I actually had one person say they liked the venue better last year, but most thought Exposition Park was a lot nicer since it was not nearly as crowded. We had a great time and thanks again to Absolution Brewing for the passes and to Phantom Carriage for the parking pass.

Sunday was Father’s Day and I wanted to take my dad out for brunch and my daughter wanted to take me out so we met up at Phantom Carriage for their Father’s Day Brunch and Vinyl Sunday. My dad had never tried a sour or wild ale so it was fun introducing him to something new. He wasn’t into it at first but after warming him up with an IPA from Alpine he started enjoying these brews that were previously foreign to him.

While most people presume that LA Beer Week is all about the beer, there is also a lot of fundraising going on. For instance, the kickoff party on Saturday was a fundraiser for L.A. Kitchen. On Sunday, after we left Phantom Carriage we headed to the Monkish Brewing tasting room because they were having a fundraiser for The SOLD Project. The SOLD Project is a non-profit organization based in northern Thailand whose goal is to prevent human trafficking, child prostitution and sexual exploitation through education by providing scholarships and resources to children at risk. Monkish Brewing’s Beer Evangelist, Brian White, is the Southern California Representative for The SOLD Project and was there to educate and discuss further what The SOLD Project is doing.

fundraiser attendees

Pink Boots Society fundraiser at Three Weavers Brewing

On Monday we attended another fundraiser, this time for the Pink Boots Society scholarship fund which was held at Three Weavers Brewing Company. When we decided to attend the event it was really because it was a fundraiser but when we got there I was personally blown away at the selection of beers that were made available to us. Nothing beats donating to a deserving non-profit and being rewarded with a few outstanding brews.

One thing about trying to keep up with an event like LA Beer Week is that there are so many venues holding events that it is pretty close to impossible to keep up with them all, and it can get expensive! I lay pretty low for the next few days, other than a brief visit to Naja’s Place for the Meeting of the Guilds. The Meeting of the Guilds featured brews from the San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego Brewers Guilds. I blew it on this event by not showing up until it was scheduled to start. To say the event was well-attended would be like saying the Pacific Ocean can be wet. To be honest, I am not sure where this event could have been held to accommodate everyone; perhaps Exposition Park? I was a one and done for that event, but the LA Brewers Guild won the trophy for selling the most beer.

Nate Soroko and friends

Nate and the Smog City Brewing staff

On Friday, Smog City Brewing had San Diego beerlebrity Nate Soroko in attendance as a guest bartender. While I did not exactly see him pouring any beers he did seem to enjoy the beer chugging contests that he pretty much dominated; and sweeping people off their feet. After dinner we headed over to El Segundo Brewing Company to check out the new tasting room they just opened. If you have not been yet, you will love it. It is so spacious and has plenty of seats at numerous tables or the bar itself. This is the beginning of a new phase for El Segundo Brewing and I look forward to watching their future growth.

Saturday was a very busy craft beer day for me, with three individual events to attend. I started the day by attending the 2nd Annual Euro Bierfest at Alpine Village. To be fair, the Euro Bierfest was not an LA Beer Week event, but they scheduled their event before the LA Brewers Guild moved Beer Week up a couple months. This was a great event featuring 62 beers from at least 30 breweries across Europe. In my opinion, The Alpine Village is the best kept secret in craft beer destinations in the greater LA area. You really should stop by there for a look; and I am not just talking about the beer festivals they put on. Their everyday craft beer list rivals most places in the LA area that I have visited.

After leaving there I headed over to Smog City for their second Rarest of the Rare event where they brought out such barrel-aged goodness as their Bourbon O.E. from 2011 through 2015, their collaboration with Beachwood Brewing, Bourbon Collaborative Evil, Infinite Wishes, 2015 Unity with variations and beer cocktails. It was definitely one of those kids in a candy store experiences and there was plenty left over that it pretty much continued on Sunday with a smaller crowd.

David Walker and friends

4th Annual Firestone Walker Trilogy Event at Congregation Ale House

We ended the day out in Long Beach for the last stop of the 4th Annual Firestone Walker Trilogy Event at Congregation Ale House. “The Trilogy” featured Firestone’s David Walker who made stops at all three Congregation Ale House locations; Azusa, Pasadena and Long Beach. Each location featured core Firestone Walker beers and each had at least one special brew that was not readily available outside the taproom. Those included Tequila Merkin at the Azusa location, Bravo in Pasadena and the Maltose Falcons collaboration in Long Beach.

I know that by Saturday I was reading comments by beer industry people on my Facebook feed suggesting that many were glad LA Beer Week was over. By Sunday, I agreed wholeheartedly; it is one thing to attend events but it is another to have to work them while keeping your spirits up. I know lots of people had to go to more events than I did and mine were pretty much voluntary. Thanks to all the breweries, brewers, beertenders and volunteers that gave their time and to the LA Brewers Guild for making LA Beer Week 2015 the success it was. I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us next year. Cheers!

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