Once while dining at Incanto, a restaurant in San Francisco, I ordered an Anchor Steam beer. "That came from down the street," said the waiter. "It doesn't get more local than that."
Anchor Brewing Company, which has been operating since 1896, wasn't exactly down the street from Incanto. But it was less than three miles away, and I was impressed. Los Angeles isn't there yet in terms of local craft beer, but we're getting there -- and fast.
I spoke with John Coltharp, a beer, wine and spirits expert, about our emerging craft beer culture, and he agreed. "The scene is very much in its infancy, but it's full speed ahead. Craft beer in LA has a long way to go, but it is really exciting right now."
"We have the luxury of having great craft beer cities around us," Coltharp continued, "and we emulate very, very well in Los Angeles."
Coltharp is a spirits expert thanks to his time at downtown LA bars Seven Grand, a whiskey joint, and Caña, a rum bar. For the past two years, he's been working with Chef Casey Lane and head bartender Justin Pike on the cocktail program at Tasting Kitchen in Abbott Kinney.
Now he's moving on to manage the bar at The Parish, Lane's English gastro-pub concept opening in June. To shape The Parish's 21-tap program, he plunged headfirst into Southern California's craft beer world. Barring one cider from San Diego, he'll be serving craft beers exclusively from Los Angeles and Orange County.
Craft beer, made in small batches with a commitment to quality and flavor complexity, defies definition. There are no official standards that differentiate craft beers from micro brews or "banquet beers" (the term for mass-produced beers made by the big three: Miller, Budweiser and Coors), which is part of what makes the scene so complex.
For example, said Coltharp, most people don't know that Coors makes Blue Moon, a popular "handcrafted" brew. "It's fairly subjective, and it's up to the consumer to decide that they're drinking a craft beer," said Coltharp.
On the other end of the spectrum, just because a beer is brewed by a small, independent operation, there's no guarantee that it will be any good. "I had a beer that was made in LA that was awful," remembered Coltharp. "I could tell they were using substandard products to brew it, that it was a beer that was meant to be sold that didn't cost a lot to make."
So what's a beer lover to do when it comes to deciding between local or micro or craft or independent? Don't get be so hung up on it, advised Coltharp. "If your beer tastes great, then that's great. And it doesn't really matter what it's called."
After swimming in craft beer for months, Coltharp has come up to the surface to reveal the best of what he found to The Huffington Post -- and it is delicious.
The best beers, breweries, brewpubs and craft beer bars across Southern California.
Name: The Bruery Location: 715 Dunn Way, Placentia, CA 92870 Drink Up: Tasting Room Hours are Friday (4-10 p.m.), Saturday (4-10 p.m.) and Sunday (12-6 p.m.). Restaurants that serve Bruery beer include Local, Pizzeria Mozza and City Sip. Check out more here. Must-Try: The Mischief, a highly hopped Belgian-style ale. -- John Coltharp A Bruery worker adds cherry puree to an oak aged lambic. Photo courtesy of Facebook: The Bruery
Name: Strand Brewing Co. Location: 23520 Telo Avenue # 2, Torrance, CA Drink Up: Strand's beer is served at Golden State, The Oinkster, and Boneyard Bistro, to name a few places in LA. See the whole list of restaurants here. Must-Try: The Beach House amber ale. It's a phenomenal beer. -- John Coltharp A scene from the Strand's tasting room. Photo courtesy of Facebook: Strand Brewing Co.
Name: Eagle Rock Brewery Location: 3056 Roswell Street, Los Angeles CA 90065 Drink Up: Visit the public tap-room (bring your own food!) on Saturday (4-10 p.m.) and Sunday (12-6 p.m.). Eagle Rock beers are also served at some of these restaurants: Allston Yacht Club, Lazy Ox Canteen and Mohawk Bend. Check out the entire list here. Must-Try: The Solidarity Black Mild is one of the most interesting beers in LA right now -- John Coltharp. The Eagle Rock Brewery crew. Courtesy of Eagle Rock Brewery
Name: El Segundo Brewing Location: 140 Main Street, El Segundo, CA 90245 Drink Up: Visit the Tap Room on Fridays and Saturdays (4:30-8:30 p.m.) and Sundays (3-7 p.m.). You can find El Segundo beers at Beer Belly, Library Alehouse and The Yard. See a list of all restaurants and bars here. Must-Try: The Citra pale ale is amazing -- John Coltharp. El Segundo staffers hard at work. Photo courtesy of Facebook: El Segundo Brewing Co.
Name: Bootlegger's Brewery Location: 401 S. Richman Avenue, Fullerton CA 92832 Drink Up: Visit the brewery for tours and pours Thursdays and Fridays (4-9 p.m.), Saturdays (2-9 p.m.) and Sundays (12-6 p.m.). Find Bootleggers beer at Salt's Cure, The Cat & Fiddle and Umami Burger in Los Feliz. Enter your zipcode to find more locations. Must-Try: Their Knuckle Sandwich is a double IPA. It's seasonal and hard to find, but really amazing. -- John Coltharp. Photo courtesy of Facebook: Bootlegger's Brewery.
Name: Beachwood Brewing & BBQ Location: BBQ is located at 131 1/2 Main STreet, Seal Beach CA 90740. The Brewery is located at 210 E. 3rd Street, Long Beach, CA 90802. Visit Because: Beachwood Brewing & BBQ is one of the best brew pubs in Southern California, consistently rotating their offered expressions. They have a brewery inhouse, and they distribute some beer too. -- John Coltharp Photo courtesy of Facebook: Beachwood BBQ
Name: Ladyface Ale Companie Location: 29281 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills CA 91301 Visit Because: They make a lot of delicious Belgian-influenced beers. -- John Coltharp Photo courtesy of Facebook: Ladyface Alehouse & Brasserie
Name: Mohawk Bend Location: 2141 W. Sunset Boulevard, CA 90026 Visit Because: It's one of the largest selections of tap beer in LA. It's 90 percent California beer, all craft and nothing remotely bland. -- John Coltharp Photo courtesy of Facebook: Mohawk Bend
Name: Far Bar Location: 347 E. 1st Street, CA 90012 Visit Because: It's just a small place, but it's definitely developed a reputation for carrying some of the best craft beers in and around Southern California. -- John Coltharp Photo courtesy of Facebook: Far Bar
Name: Verdugo Bar Location: 3408 Verdugo Road, CA 90065 Visit Because: For true craft beer, it's considered the best in LA. There are tons of crazy bottles available, and they usually have all kinds of special craft beers. -- John Coltharp Photo courtesy of Facebook: Verdugo Bar