LA Fall Beer Festival: Lagers, Lagunitas and lavishly priced tacos

California’s Bootlegger’s Brewery and Left Coast Brewing at the LA Fall Beer Festival. Photo: Luke Gillman

Lucky bastard Luke Gillman got to go to the LA Fall Beer Festival and this is what he thought about it.

It was a balmy 28 degrees and overcast as the gates opened for this year’s LA Fall Beer Festival on Saturday. The festival’s crew converted the Center Studios lot on the edge of downtown into a wonderland for lightly clothed Angelenos who were in the mood to party while sampling a host of the best beers on the West Coast.

Reminders of Donald Trump’s election win just a few days earlier were apparent as protesters passed the festival with signs in hand on the way to a demonstration, but many locals seemed to think a beer festival was a more constructive way to either deal with their dismay or celebrate their victory, depending on their political shade.

With more than 200 beers on offer, ranging from Samuel Adams and Saint Archer to Lagunitas and Laurelwood, no one was going thirsty. And with LA’s ubiquitous taco trucks on-site, there was plenty of delicious Mexican fare to go with the ales, even if it was ridiculously overpriced – I mean, $US12.50 for a takeaway burrito?

The queues were long but luckily fast-moving. Photo: Luke Gillman

The party vibe was apparent from the moment general admission opened. Pop-punkers Saved By The 90s pumped out retro Cali hits which went down a lot better with the crowd than the dub-step DJ at the Singha marquee, and the singlets and short shorts were out in force.

Before the snaking lines for each brewery got too long, my trusty sidekick Toby and I took the plunge and joined a queue. While the lines moved quickly, the downside was not knowing which beer you were queuing for – with only the brewery’s name visible on each tent you couldn’t see if they were serving their milk porter or their IPA. This proved a little tricky as we planned on starting light on the palate and building towards the heavier darker beers. Nevertheless we bravely sampled each surprise offering.

The first beer of our day was also the least interesting in terms of flavour – the Dog Tag Legacy Lager. Dog Tag Brewing’s partnership with Pabst led to this bland yet thirst-quenching beer. It’s not a drop that will change your life, but it will do the job on a hot day. All their profits go to support charities created or selected by Americans who have lost family in the Iraq War, which might be one reason to try it.

King Harbor brewery opened its doors in Los Angeles in 2014, and their selection at the beer festival included the King Harbor Coconut IPA. Not usually one for an overdose of hops (gasp!) I gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. The coconut scent certainly came through on the nose but didn’t overpower the flavour, with the hops cutting through nicely.

Next up our taste buds headed north to the Heritage Coffee Brown Ale by the Alaskan Brewing Company. Despite being poured into mini plastic steins, this ale held a nice foamy head with coffee and dark-chocolate notes apparent on both the smell and taste test. An ideal winter drink, this brown was a little out of place on a muggy Los Angeles afternoon.

The highlight of the day was Golden Road Brewing’s Back Home Gingerbread Stout. A deep rich brown, this drop bordered on sickly golden-syrup sweet but the ginger and malt notes kept pulling it back in and keeping it drinkable. And making a stout that is a delight to drink in sunny SoCal is a hell of an achievement.

As the kegs began to run dry, the hunt was on for one last beer to close out the festival. Finding the Sudwerk Dry Hop Lager at this juncture was not ideal coming off the back of the Gingerbread Stout, but it certainly hit the spot as the needle continued to rise. It had a dry finish with subtle lemon notes that tickled my nose and left me wanting more. A refreshing drop indeed, this would pass muster as a classy session lager for the arriving Oz summer.

What impressed me most about the LA Fall Beer Festival was the sheer number of Californian brewers who are doing interesting and challenging things. The American beer market has undergone a revolution over the last decade, much like back home, and the increased choice and quality can only be good for those after something different to the standard lager offerings and IPAs that dominate the market. Chatting to the locals, it was clear they were not only knowledgeable about their tipples but also brave enough to try the unusual, which is a winning combination.

All of the day’s proceeds went to Noah’s Bark Dog Rescue who save pooches from shelters and help them find permanent homes. The money raised will go towards providing food and shelter and covering the vet bills for these lucky pups.

Now LA waits for February’s Bock Fest 2017 for the next chance to celebrate everyone’s favourite liquid amber.

Luke Gillman is a Melburnian now living in Los Angeles.

Spot the Garage Project tent at the LA Beer Festival! Photo: Luke Gillman