The end of the year calls for a lot of ‘best of’ lists and reflection on the previous twelve months. While considering what kind of content I was going to post on CaskAleLA to commemorate 2014 I went through my instagram feed as a way to remind myself of the year and realized that those photos are simply the best and most honest way to reflect on 2014. I’ve broken down the year month by month and chosen an instagram photo to help sum up the year:
January – Bottle Logic Opens
Its rare for a new brewery to open with so much anticipation, and it’s even more rare for that brewery to exceed all expectations of what they are capable of. Since opening their doors in January of 2014, Bottle Logic has been consistently pumping out great beers, whether it’s their core lineup like Double Actuator and She Shot First, or their buzz-worthy Rice lager and the GABF award winning Lageritm dark lager. The guys at Bottle Logic have promised me great things at Firkfest this year, and I’m sure they won’t disappoint.
February – Triple IPA’s everywhere
February brings about Pliny The Younger and all the hypes that comes along with it. 2014 saw a number of events around Los Angeles, allowing beer drinkers to get their 6 oz pour of this much sought-after beer in whatever vibe they wanted. Mohawk offered morning pours along with breakfast, while other places traded pours for larger charity donations. Meanwhile down in the South Bay, El Segundo launched their Power Plant Triple IPA which won over hopheads across the southland as people lined up for growlers (yes, growlers) of this hop bomb. It’s looking like this will be a semi-annual release for El Segundo, so maybe we can all calm down come February and not get so excited about 12% ABV hop explosions.
March – Firkfest
Within hours of starting the CaskAleLA twitter account in 2013, I got a message from Greg Nagel at OCBeerBlog telling me to follow @FirkFest and to look forward to the cask-only festival that was in its early stages of planning. The event finally hit at the end of March and it was one of the best festivals Southern California saw all year, with great beer lineup, manageable crowds and a perfect Anaheim blue sky. Firkfest is back in 2015 on March 21st and this year is going to be bigger and better.
April – King Harbor Opens
It’s hard to keep up with all the new brewery openings in Los Angeles these days, and while it took months for me to get down to Redondo to check out King Harbor, their first full month of operations was April of 2014. Their core lineup features a number of hits, including The Quest single hop pale ale series and Abel Brown, but the highlight for me has been the Swirly, a version of their brown ale with cacao and vanilla added to turn it into an ice-cream cone in a glass. It works amazingly well without being too cloyingly sweet – a perfect beer for the end of a beach day if you ask me.
May – Spring of Saisons
Did anyone NOT release a saison in the spring of 2014? From Stone, to Anchor, to Firestone Walker it seems like everyone boarded the farmhouse train and isn’t looking back. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the bigger California offerings, Los Angeles started to see bottles of Prairie Ales Birra on shelves which quickly became a go-to for me. Local favorites Golden Road also released their Pamplemousse Saison which wins originality points for adding grapefruit to something other than an IPA.
June – Selah is released
Selah, the dry-hopped farmhouse with brett that launched Monkish’s foray into mixed culture brewing is a very special beer and without a doubt my favorite new release of 2014. It’s a perfect mix of flavors: nice clean malt bill, beautifully complex brett character and a dry-hop that’s perfectly dialed in. Selah was also a glimpse of things to come as Monkish went on to release Arrivant, Hem & Haw and Sunset Beer all with brett later in the year. It’s a line-up that’s sure to gain some wider scale attention for the small Torrance brewery and that attention is well-deserved.
July – Macleod Ale opens (for real)
While yes, I’m aware that Macleod’s official grand opening was in June, due to further delays (they ran out of beer!) they had to close up show for a few weeks to get back in working order. So July saw this Van Nuys cask brewery open back up full time. The summer months also brought Macleod’s first seasonal beer – The Crisis – a ‘new school’ pale ale that acts as the perfect meeting point of British and American pale ales. While this is by no means a hop-bomb, it takes a classic soft malt profile from the UK and throws in late additions of southern hemisphere hops to give you that incredible juicy hop character. It was a big hit for Macleod, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing it again fairly soon.
August – Return of Tongue Tickles!
Noble Aleworks’ first win at the LA IPA Fest in 2013 was for Tongue Tickles IPA – a truly masterful IPA from a brewery that continues to impress week after week and month after month. Tongue Tickles hit bottles in August of 2014 and quickly started popping up on bottletrade boards across the country – generating the attention that Evan and his crew so greatly deserves. Noble is one of those breweries that you just can’t sleep on, and I’m always sure to pick up their bottles within days of release as they are readily available across LA and the OC these days.
September – LA Beer Week
LA Beer Week saw a reinvention this year as the LA Brewer’s Guild took over the festivities for the first time since the festival’s inception. The opening party was an expertly organized event that featured not only the best breweries from the Los Angeles area but also from Orange County and San Diego. Highlights for the savvy attendee also included special bottle pours from Smog City and Hangar 24. The following week featured a huge lineup of events at all the best venues around LA, including Cask Force at Beachwood BBQ in Longbeach, Cask & Ye Shall Receive at Macleod Ales and The Meeting Of the Guilds at Mohawk Bend. But the real talk of the festival was the numerous ‘preview’ events of Three Weavers Brewing, which would open its doors the following month.
October –Cask Days
Much of the later part of my year was built around the planning of the California Brewery Feature at Cask Days in Toronto. This festival is one of the best I’ve been to, featuring over 300 firkins from all over the world, a very cool venue at Brickworks in Toronto, an outdoor arcade, food that was second to none and DJ’s playing music all weekend. What really sets Cask Days apart (aside from the ‘cask’ part) is that every detail feels carefully considered. This isn’t just a boozefest – it’s a celebration of Toronto beer and food culture. It was especially fulfilling to hear Torontonians rave about the LA breweries, with Noble’s Naughty Sauce being the first to tap at every session, and Macleod’s Session Gap bitter being used as the official example of English-style bitter, despite having actual British breweries being served 10 feet away.
November – The Festival
Yes – I cheated here as I didn’t take photos at this festival. But what could be better than getting a guided tasting of Cantillon beers with Mr. Cantillon himself? The Shelton Brother’s Festival is without a doubt the pinnacle of beer geek festivals, with just about every ‘whale’ brewery being represented at the beautiful future home of Brouerji West in San Pedro. While a bit barebones in its execution, the quality of the beer certainly makes up for any missteps in organization. Tahoe Mountain showed off a number of beers that will have Angeleno’s clamoring to get bottles from this Northern California brewery into the Southland for 2015 while Austin’s Jesterking and Vermont’s Hill Farmstead showed off their farmhouse ales to an eager public. For the gluten-adverse, there was also a strong cider contingent at the festival, featuring cideries from Canada, New Zealand, France and England that really highlighted how exciting that beverage category can be.
December – Local Bottles Gone ‘Wild’!
As the industry in Los Angeles expands, it exciting to see local breweries pop up on bottle shop shelves. This year saw Smog City launch their bottling program – featuring the incredible Coffee Porter and eventually Sabre-Tooth Squirrel, but in December they released Saison Contraire, their first bottled wild beer. The brewery had these bottles ready back in September but decided to sit on them to let them condition a little longer and it really paid off. The brett character on these is incredibly complex, but the saison yeast still shines through wonderfully. Meanwhile, new kids on the block Highland Park Brewing released their first bottles with Lazy Susan and Vacation w/ Brett. Both of these beers are wonderful examples of the quality that’s coming out Highland Park and they are certainly a spot everyone’s watching in 2015.
What were your highlights of 2014? What are you excited for in 2015? Let me know in the comment section! And as always, you can follow me on Instagram at @CaskAleLA.