Hollywood is ground zero for L.A. beer? At least this weekend
When the first tap at the Hollywood Brew Fest is pulled sometime around 2 p.m. Saturday, it will officially mark the start of an all-day affair celebrating craft beer. But it will symbolize much more.
Organized by Brian Lenzo of Hollywood Boulevard’s Blue Palms Brewhouse, the Brew Fest will bring to an end to what has in many ways been a landmark year for craft beer in Los Angeles. The Brew Fest will be the third and final all-day festival dedicated solely to small-batch brewers this year, and it will take place in a neighborhood that’s rather suddenly emerged as a safe haven for adventurous beer drinkers.
As the Henry Fonda-adjacent Blue Palms has cemented itself as a place to go for a constantly rotating tap list, the last 12 months have seen the arrival of two key beer destinations in the neighborhood. Boho boasts a beer list handpicked by Ryan Sweeney of beer-bar Verdugo, and Essex features a tap lineup from Christina Perozzi, the self-described “beer chick” and former Father’s Office-manager turned author. What’s more, burger-and-beer bar Stout on the Cahuenga corridor should be up-and-running any day now, opening just a short stroll from Boho and microbrew-focused diner Lucky Devils.
"I really hope it's not a fad, and I don't think it is," says Perozzi, who recently published "The Naked Pint: An Unadulterated Guide to Craft Beer" with Hallie Beaune. "That's like saying boutique wines were a fad, and we'll go back to Ernest & Julio Gallo. Craft beer is one of those things that, once you taste it and experience it, you can't really go back to drinking mass-produced, light, fizzy yellow water."
The growth in L.A. beer bars mirrors a national trend. Though overall beer sales were down 1.3% in the first six months of 2009, according to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Assn., the craft-beer market remains somewhat of a bright spot, although it's estimated to represent just 5% of the overall beer industry. The trade group, which dedicates itself to promoting small-market breweries, reports that craft brewers sold 4.2 million barrels of beer in the first half of 2009, up from 4 million from the same period last year.
“It’s definitely competition, but it’s not yet saturated,” says Verdugo’s Sweeney of the burgeoning L.A. beer scene. Sweeney is in the midst of opening a West Hollywood beer bar in the Surly Goat, which he describes as "Verdugo 2.0."
Says Sweeney: "Anyone who gets involved with craft beer, and has a craft beer bar, is doing it out of love and wants the culture to grow. ... You definitely work with each other. There have been instances where we want beer that we can’t get, so we have to group up to buy enough in order to get it out here."
Dedicating yourself to craft beer also involves a heavy emphasis on customer service. When a young woman was spotted at the Blue Palms this weekend trying to order an Amstel Light, Lenzo was willing to serve it to her but not before she tried at least two lighter ales from San Diego-area breweries. She ultimately chose a craft beer from San Marcos-based Port Brewing.
“You can’t look at someone and tell them they’re stupid for drinking Bud Light,” Lenzo says. “That’s what they like -- how dare you? But it’s my job to say, ‘Hey, I’ll get you that Bud Light, but will you try one of these beers on tap?’ I give them some samples, and then they take that. We have [mainstream] beers here because we don’t want to say no and send someone walking out the door. We want to get them in the door, give them what they want and slowly teach them.”
Education is a challenge, says Perozzi, and her book provides an accessible overview for newcomers, as well as the conversational tidbits for the more knowledgeable. "People identify with the brand they drink, and if you insult their beer, you have insulted them," says Perozzi. "Sometimes craft-beer drinkers lose perspective of being new to beer and recommend something that might be overpowering or something they like, rather than what the person would like."
Lenzo’s Brew Fest will bring more than 30 brewers to Hollywood, and he promises rare offerings from San Francisco’s Speakeasy, Pasa Robles’ Firestone and San Marcos’ the Lost Abbey, among many others. The breweries will be spread among Blue Palms and the Henry Fonda, where bands – don’t miss the melodically sloppy slacker punk of the Dum Dum Girls -- will perform.
Though Lenzo promises plenty for the beer nerds – a cask of the just-released spiced cocoa holiday ale Two Turtle Doves from Orange Country’s the Bruery is a must try -- he’s looking for new customers. This is not a day, he says, about simply preaching to the choir.
“The event can’t be totally about beer geeks,” Lenzo says. "The whole idea of the event is to get the Miller Lite, the Bud Light macro drinkers trying the Pilseners from Scrimshaw or Victory -- get them more toward the right side.”
Lenzo's Brew Fest has been postponed numerous times over the last year. He doesn't elaborate, alluding to the difficulties of coordinating with brewers, his neighbors at the Fonda as well as the chore of booking bands. "It’s a new industry," Lenzo says. "It’s a new thing for L.A. Just getting the word out and getting people motivated about it has been the toughest part."
And it's only the beginning. Lenzo, Sweeney and Perozzi sometimes speak as if they're on some sort of mission. Perozzi and Beaune will launch a revamped website in December that will provide a beer-focused, Daily Candy-like newsletter.
"What Brian is trying to do with the Hollywood Brew Fest is what we're trying to do with the book -- bring great beer to the larger crowd," Perozzi says. "The beer geeks are great, but we want to bring craft beer to the masses."
And there may be a day where those masses are sipping on locally brewed Los Angeles beer. Just this month, Sweeney happily notes, Pasadena's artisan brewery Craftsman was featured in Boston-based Beer Advocate magazine, a monthly bible for the suds-obsessed. A sign, he says, of respect.
"For so long, L.A. was viewed as a wasteland. A lot of us are fighting to get rid of that stigma," he says. "No one wants to feel like you’re putting your heart into something and everyone on the outside is kind of looking at you and thinking, ‘You’re not doing anything.’ "
-- Todd Martens
The Hollywood Brew Fest at Blue Palms and the Henry Fonda Theatre, 6126 Hollywood Blvd. Doors open at 3 p.m., and tickets are $45, not including surcharges. VIP tickets for $60 are also available and allow for early entry at 2 p.m. More information here.
Photo credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times