California might be the state with the most breweries totaling 245 in 2010, but Los Angeles County, with a population over nine million, is still behind with their number of craft breweries. With the recent movement of Alchemy & Science, the newly formed craft beer consortium of Ace Beverage and Mission Beverage, and four more L.A. breweries in development (according to the Brewers Association), L.A. is rapidly catching up to the rest of the craft drinking region of the United States.
Los Angeles beer drinkers are more knowledgeable than ever and are demanding craft brews at establishments like Barney’s Beanery or Big Wangs Downtown, where macrobrews dominate the beer list. Beers like L.A. based Golden Road Brewing Hefeweizen and San Marcos based Port Brewing Mongo IPA are starting to pop up in between Budweisers and Coronas.
It wasn’t always like this. Just five years ago, craft beer was hard to come by. “There weren’t enough distributors down here,” said Ryan Sweeney, owner of three craft beer bars in town, including the newly opened Little Bear in downtown Los Angeles. Due to the limited access to craft, drinkers didn’t have the chance to refine their palates. He recalls the opening of Verdugo Bar, a craft beer bar in Glassell Park about five years ago, “we had to train everyone on everything. Everything was exotic and most of the beers we wanted to get we couldn’t.”
The fact Verdugo Bar didn’t carry Budweiser or Coors was “crazy talk, and people couldn’t wrap their head around it,” said Ryan. But just in five years the landscape has dramatically shifted, the L.A. consumers are smart. Ryan tells us, “people come in now and they know what they are talking about. They are all educated now. I don’t have to explain what an American IPA is.”
And not just craft beer bars, high end restaurants are switching over too, “they know the consumers are asking for it, so they brought it in,” Ryan says. As for the next step, Ryan believes it’s to get the people serving craft beers educated. “One step at a time.”