Last year for L.A. Beer Week, I wrote a piece about how L.A. finally has enough breweries to make beer tours actually feasible and three months later, I finally had a chance to go on one myself. A long time ago, I met up with the guys from L.A. Craft Beer Tours because I said I might want to be a tour guide on the buses. They weren’t doing any tours in L.A. at the time, just running trips down to OC or San Diego until the market grew some more. I gave them a shout out in my LABW story, but never heard of their plans to go full-time with the tours up here, so I forgot about it.
Then I came across another brewery tour company called L.A. Beer Hop and their sleek canary yellow bus and simplistic branding scheme (have you seen their use of Instagram on the website?!!) attracted me instantly. Then I met Hal, the owner who looks like the little kid from A Christmas Story all growed up (youthful exuberance and all), and was hooked. So I booked a ride on the Beach Cities tour which was scheduled to take us to El Segundo Brewing Company, Monkish Brewing Company and Strand Brewing Company–all of which are (by L.A. standards) close together.
We took the blue line from Long Beach to the Green Line to the El Segundo station and met up with the Beer Hop bus just as Hal was passing out release forms. On the seats, he had placed awesome beginner beer books like Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide and Randy Mosher’s Tasting Beer, which was awesome for some of the couples on the bus who were excited-to-learn beer newbies. The bus buzzed to life as we all chatted and got to know each other (while Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” blared over the sound system), then we drove a few miles to do something that would not have been possible three years ago–drink Los Angeles-made beer straight from the source.
El Segundo Brewing Company is on Main St. in Downtown El Segundo, a working-class town smushed between an oil refinery and LAX in the northernmost part of what could still be considered the South Bay. Known as L.A.’s hop-loving brewery, El Segundo makes a Citra pale ale, a wheat IPA an export stout and a regular IPA, which I have at various times tried on draft, but have never had the pleasure of going to the tasting room before (though I did once have the pleasure of checking out the Rock N Brews across the street, to which I felt like I was back at SXSW minus the pot cookies).
The sunken room–your eye level is just above the sidewalk–feels a little claustrophobic, but the brewery isn’t much bigger, so it all just adds to the charm. We tasted all four of the aforementioned beers (the Citra pale ale was even better than I remember it being!) plus their seasonal Standard Crude, an imperial stout that is chocolatey but still manages to stay dry. We bought a growler to stash in the cooler on the bus and rode that beast down to Monkish in Torrance.
Most of my friends know my affection for Monkish Brewing. It’s the only brewery I had been to before of the three on the Beer Hop list and it’s the only brewery that I can think of in California that exclusively brews Belgian-style beer (seriously, that’s all he knows how to make). We got a sampler of all of their beers on draft–a number that has nearly doubled since opening last St. Patrick’s Day (they just bought out the warehouse next door to expand)–including mainstays like the Feminist tripel and oddballs like Vigil, a thyme-spiced beer that just made me want to eat a chicken breast.
Owner/Brewmaster/Theology-teacher-by-day Henry Nguyen then showed us all around the brewery, explained how beer was made, and answered questions about what it’s like to try and open a new brewery in L.A. We unfortunately had to leave for our final destination, but I took home a growler of Lumen and the low-key, familial atmosphere at Monkish will keep me coming back for more.
By the time we got to Strand, the sun was setting and we were all pretty drunk. I discovered on the way that playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” is a really good gauge of how drunk a room is. The Beer Hop bus knew all the words.
I was really excited to drink more of Strand’s Black IPA; not only are black IPAs one of my favorite styles, but this one isn’t too roasty and is also made locally! I don’t see it on draft too often, so it was even more exciting to be drinking a fresh version. Also tried their double IPA and 3rd Anniversary Bagheera East IPA, which was spiced with curry or something so it had a weird, but interesting experimental kick.
After Strand, we were driven back to the green line station where we took our growlers out of the cooler and stumbled onto the train with two other couples. Right as we were pulling up to the Wilmington station where we needed to transfer to the blue line, one of the guys that was on the beer hop started projectile vomiting all over the seats in front of him. I asked if he wanted to get off at the stop with us and get some fresh air, and before his posse could answer, in some sort of voice-of-the-universe way that just completely summed up the day’s positive vibes, a cracky-looking black dude watching the whole thing go down just said, “Nah, man. Let it ride.”
L.A. Beer Hop does beer tours around this sprawling metropolis every weekend and is available for special events. Check out the website to learn more.