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Indie Downtown L.A. Breweries Make Beer for the People ~ Scene Report

9:14 AM PST on January 25, 2019

    [dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]os Angeles beer drinkers, if you’re tired of routinely lining the pockets of big global corporate beer companies to drink the familiar mass-produced brands we grew up watching our grandpas drink — heck, if you want a locally-made craft beer, but don’t want to give your money to Anheuser-Busch InBev — then rejoice. You have lots of delicious new choices in town, thanks to the talented brewers and crews of the DTLA Breweries United group.

    All photos by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

    The local organization of seven independent craft breweries operating in and around Downtown L.A. held their fifth beer tasting festival over the weekend. The sold-out event featured flagship beers, slow sour ales, seasonal brews, and special edition one-off beer creations made by L.A.’s best and newest independent beermakers.

    They include Dry River Brewing, Indie Brewing Company, Iron Triangle Brewing Co., Arts District Brewing Co., Boomtown Brewing, and downtown “veterans” Angel City Brewery and Mumford Brewing.

    All photos by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

    My first stop was Indie Brewing Company. The Boyle Heights brewery just celebrated their third year anniversary the day before the festival. I met a happy crew eager to pour their Pacific Kölsch Highway and the IPA del Rey, two of their flagship beers.

    “They used to just have a kegerator in the back. Now they have close to sixteen beers on tap,” said Indie Brew crew member John Miramontes. The clean-tasting German lager exemplifies Indie’s signature light session beers, the style preferred by many Bud-lifers. “When it comes to Hispanics [and beer], we’re pretty stubborn,” said Miramontes of Indie. The Boyle Heights native was a homebrewer and regular customer first before joining the Indie Brewing Co. to work at the bar.

    Indie Brew sales rep Aaron Kauffman cited the importance of serving the community by making beer and creating a taproom space that appeals to locals. “We cater to our neighborhood and give the customers what they want,” Kauffman told L.A. Taco. “If people here want to watch the Dodger game, we’ll turn on the TV and they can stay as long as they want. They’re welcome here.”

    Miramontes agreed. “The majority of the people who come here are regulars,” he said. “We see regulars as family.”

    Indie Brew crew.

    Although Miramontes and Kauffman concur that Indie’s small Eastside taproom between the L.A. River and the freeway exchanges provides a much-sought space of intimacy for the neighborhood, both also acknowledged that the creation of such intimacy and sense of family for the regulars does come at a cost to others. Like fancy coffee shops, boutique vintage stores, and flipped houses with new horizontal fences, craft breweries usually signal gentrification.

    Miramontes, the Boyle Heights native, remembers the anti-gentrification protests aimed at both Indie and Dry River Brewing when the breweries first opened. “The rent does go up when different businesses come in, I understand that,” says Miramontes.

    “But the brewery does give back to the community,” he explains, citing the use of its space by local artists and neighborhood people to gather to drink good beer made locally. “By offering these light, easy-drinking beers brewed right here, we’re giving gente a chance to expand their beer options [beyond big corporate brands] and expose them to something local they might like.”

    Cary Gross and Guillermo Bugarín of Boomtown.

    Next door to Indie, Boomtown Brewery poured a generous array of lagers and ales for festival goers.

    Boomtown has been making beer since 2014, but their Little Tokyo area taproom is only two years old. Lead brewer Cary Gross heads the brewery’s program of signature “Old World” style beers, including full-bodied saisons, goses, Scottish-style ales, and other European classic styles. “We have eighteen taps at our tasting room,” said Gross. “There’s always a lager, IPA, a Belgian-style ale, and a few others always on tap.”

    Gross poured me her favorite brew, the Nose Job West Coast IPA, 7% ABV. “I like the citrus on the nose,” explained Gross. “It’s not too bitter [for an IPA], and there’s lots of kinds of hops for complexity.”

    Boomtown’s taproom supervisor and events coordinator, Guillermo Bugarín, responded by sharing his favorite, the Finger Guns New England Hazy IPA at 7.8% ABV. The hazy quality comes from being unfiltered, so one tastes more of the full flavor and yeasty qualities of this IPA.

    Gross and Bugarín also brought a special batch of Boomtown’s Altbier (5% ABV), a German-style lager made with a top fermenting yeast, usually reserved for brewing ales. The result is what Gross describes as a sort of “hybrid beer” that pours a clear light-brown amber color and takes on the easier-drinking qualities of a lager with the roundness and complexity of an ale. If you like Victoria or Negra Modelo, head down to Boomtown to try this altbier. It’ll remind you of Mexico’s German beer roots.

    Yvette DeLuna of Arts District Brewing Co.

    A few tents down, Yvette DeLuna poured samples from Arts District Brewing Co., one of the “veterans” of the DTLA Brewers Union open since December 2015. As DeLuna filled my third mini-glass of Arts District’s Üter, an unfiltered German pilsner with a lot of character, she explains how she landed at Arts District Brewing.

    “I started as a bar back, came to the festivals, and just kept talking to folks to show how passionate I was about beer,” DeLuna said. “I’d ask for any job openings, and they finally let me clean the kegs.”

    Now, she’s Arts District’s assistant brewer, working behind the scenes and helping to make the beer she pours. “I do a lot of the cellar work, whatever has to be done for the head brewer,” she explains. DeLuna wants to eventually make beer from her own recipes.

    Arts District’s list of over thirty house-brewed “rad beers” has grown to include an impressive selection of lagers, ales, stouts, and porters. Head brewer Dave Ziolkowski says, “We make beer for L.A. We have a carousel of people that come in, and we have something for everyone.”

    Next to DeLuna and Ziolkowski, head bartender Peter Barajas poured samples of Union Station Pale Lager (4.7% ABV), a signature brew from Imperial Western Beer Company. The newest arrival on the L.A. craft beer scene, Imperial Western beer and oyster bar opened its doors in beautiful Union Station just a few months ago in October, 2018.

    Like its several of its downtown peers, Imperial Western makes a variety of European and American style ales and lagers, from the affordable “five-dollar” hefeweizens and session IPAs, to heavier Belgian, imperial red, and extra special bitter ales.

    Unlike the rest, however, only Imperial Western offers an oyster stout. Barajas’s favorite Imperial Western beer is brewed with West Coast oysters. “You can taste the calcium in the beer,” he says. “It’s pretty good.”

    More than pouring great beer, these independent downtown L.A. breweries are telling the story of our city’s craft beer culture right now, while showing us that the future of L.A. brewing is here.

    It’s female, brown, ethnically diverse, locally loyal, fiercely independent, and better than anything, moving more and more beer drinkers away from conglomerates like Anheuser-Busche InBev, MillerCoors, and Constellation Brands.

    RELATED: A Family-Owned Gastropub in Monterey Park Is Putting an Asian L.A. Twist on Classic Burgers and Brew

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