With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. The fifth state we’re sipping from is The Golden State, California. Now, in all fairness, tackling this state isn’t like taking on the rest: California is the most populous of the 50 States, it has a GDP that would rank about 7th or 8th in the world, according to the CCBA the state houses roughly 554 craft breweries – which increases roughly 20% per year, and It’s the foundation upon which craft beer came to be in America today. The bulk of the state’s breweries are found in the population centers in the Bay Area, the Central Coast and Metropolitan Los Angeles, and San Diego. As of 2013, the state ranked 1st in total production (2.9 Million Barrels), 1st in economic impact ($4.7 Billion), 1st in total breweries and 19th in breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Assocation.
Given the sheer girth of the state’s presence among the national craft beer community, we’re going to break California up into three regional articles – with some history for each and add in a few more breweries per region… because I mean seriously, over 544 fucking breweries? That’s crazy.
History of Central California and Metropolitan Los Angeles Craft Brewing
Considering the strength and early production success of Northern California’s brewers, it’s curious how much time passed before some truly successful brewers began to crop up elsewhere in the state. It might surprise you that the oldest micro/craft brewer to be established outside of Northern California, that’s still in existence today, is SLO Brewing which was founded in 1988 in the small Central Coast college town of San Luis Obispo.
The first and still largest brewer to be distributed from the region is Firestone-Walker Brewing. Originally founded in the Buellton area (roughly halfway between SLO and LA), they’ve been creating unique oak barrel offerings since 1996. They originally set-up shop on Adam Firestone’s family vineyard in Los Olivos, then moved into their present HQ in Paso Robles and continue to brew smaller, barrel-aged batches at their Barrelworks location in Buellton. Known for their uniquely crafted ales and lagers, they are one of the only brewers to utilize a commercial sized Burton-Union system, possibly explaining their nearly 20 years of award winning success.
The first brewer to pop-up in the Los Angeles metro area was Bayhawk Ales in the Orange County town of Irvine. Up and running since 1994, Bayhawk is the county’s largest operating brewery, predating many of the brewers a few hours South in San Diego. The oldest existing craft brewer in Los Angeles is Eagle Rock Brewing, located in the neighborhood of the same name, in existence since 2007. While it’s hard to understand LA’s late entry into the craft beer world, aside from its notoriously expensive and complicated water situation, the Southland has exploded with so many breweries over the past 5 years that we’re quickly losing count… making it that much harder to select only 6 brewers below!
More Craft Brewers We Like and You Should Check Out in the Region
Beachwood BBQ– Open since2011, this Long Beach taphouse just won Large Brewpub of the Year for 2014 at GABF (along with 9 other medals in 4 years), features 23 rotating taps (including guest beers) and offers some of the best pulled pork around. Their original location, a BBQ joint with a craft beer bar in neighboring Seal Beach, has been keeping it real since 2006.
The Bruery – Considered by many to be the best small batch, barrel-aged brewer on the West Coast, The Bruery was founded by Patrick Rue in 2008. This Placentia based powerhouse regularly cranks out the most experimental beers around as well as some of the most highly-sought after, including their huge bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout Chocolate Rain and their annual anniversary releases.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing– This Buellton based brewery was founded by the father and son team of Jim and Jaime Dietenhofer in 2010. Over the past 5 years they’ve been awarded 11 GABF medals for their classic European styles such as their Danish Red Lager and Surfliner Lager Kellerbier. They currently operate four taprooms on the central coast, with two more opening this summer.
Golden Road Brewing– Always focused on the environment and fostering the region’s love for IPA styles, founders Meg Gill and Tony Yarow have been a stalwart presence on the LA scene since 2011. Distributing cans only and with their seasonal IPA releases benefiting Heal the Bay and other local charities, Golden Road has been one of the fastest growing and most successful brewers in the Southland.
Bottle Logic – Only open since March of 2014, these Anaheim based brewers have already seen plenty of success in the short time they’ve been in existence. With a science based theme, plus 74 beers and one GABF Gold already under their belt, it’s anyone’s guess how far these guys can go with their inherent proclivity for artisan ales.
Phantom Carriage – Open since January, this Carson based purveyor of intense Belgian styles blew us away with their offerings on tap at Cascade Brewing for this year’s CBC in Portland. Their name comes from a 1921 Swedish horror film which aptly suits their horror themed warehouse location. While they only have a pilot brewhouse on-site (full batches are brewed at the amazing Monkish Brewing) and aren’t distributing yet, Phantom Carriage is already making some of the best sour beers around today.