You know craft beer has arrived in America when fancy charity fundraiser events boast locally brewed craft beer as the main attraction.
That was the case on Sunday, June 30 at Shade Hotel in Manhattan Beach when the 3rd Annual Waves of Grain fundraiser for the Richstone Foundation brought together 40 (yes 4 times 10) mostly Socal breweries for unlimited pours of the golden stuff.
The event seemed a resounding success, with hundreds of the beautiful people jamming the uber-hip Zinc hotel bar and courtyard at $50 per person, not including food tickets. (Shade Hotel later posted on their Facebook page that the event raised $18,475 for Richstone.)
The food was well worth it however. Shade roasted an entire pig for the event and chopped up that oinker into hundreds of delectable juicy, smoky little carnitas tacos. There were also tri-tip sliders with puffy little brioche buns that perfectly soaked up the juices of the excellently grilled steak. Add big, soft housemade pretzels with a variety of mustards and you’ve got an unbeatable food and beer combo.
Of the 40 or so breweries represented, it seemed like 90% of them were tapping IPAs or something similar. That was a little one-sided for my taste, since I prefer the richer, more complex beers. But I am a big fan of
events like this that present an opportunity to taste lots of different beers in one place. And I do love the hops. It was over 90 degrees and the pours were unlimited, so there were definitely some strategic advantages to such a predominantly light beer offering. That said, there were a good number of outstanding beers to be had.
Nearly all the tappers were volunteers, and bless their hearts for their service, but they knew less than nothing about the beer they were pouring. So the breweries that had knowledgeable reps stood out. The Dudes’ Brewing Co. not only were pouring some of the best beer available at the event, but their owners and brewers were there mingling, talking about their product, meeting their customers and getting feedback.
Toby Humes, one of the co-founders of The Dudes’ Brewing Co. which he opened in Torrance in February 2013 with partners Jeff Parker (Strand Brewing Company’s original brewmaster) and Mike Holwich, said that supporting charitable causes and being involved in the community are important goals for the brewery. “We have causes that are near and dear to our hearts,” said The Dude, which is his official title on his business card. “But we’re a start-up company and we don’t have the deep pockets that the big guys do, so we have to be smart and think about what we’re supporting and make sure it’s something that we really stand behind.”
Aligning the brand with good causes and being involved in the community is obviously an important way for the company to build a good reputation and to get themselves and their product up-close and personal with customers – otherwise, the owner and of the company and the brewers would not be tapping the samples personally at an event like this.
“We’re South Bay brewers, and we’re really into being local. This is a South Bay event filled with locals, so it’s a great opportunity to meet our local customers and get a little feedback from them,” Toby said.
In this case, the cause du jour was The Richstone Family Center, a Los Angeles County-based non-profit organization dedicated to preventing and treating child abuse and violence in families, schools and communities since 1974. Richstone’s programs include child abuse treatment and prevention program, a transitional program for young women coming out of foster care, parent education and an after-school program.
Back to the beer – The Dudes’ 30 barrel facility currently pumps out four beers, including Double Trunk, an imperial IPA, Grandma’s Pecan, an English brown ale brewed with pecans, Juicebox Series: Blood Orange amber ale, and Grinning Face Porter, a coconut porter. They have their own canning facility, although only Double Trunk and Grandma’s Pecan are now available in cans, and their beer is distributed in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego counties and soon will be on shelves in Mexico. They plan to expand to 10 different beers soon, so watch for those new labels at your bottle shop and bar, Toby said.
The Grandma’s Pecan was among the best beers I tasted at Waves of Grain. It is apparently brewed with real Georgia Pecans, not extract. Toby said The Dudes wanted to brew a brown ale that is deeper and more complex that your run-of-the-mill Newcastle (I’m sorry Newcastle – I loved you once, but then I discovered what brown ale can be, and now my needs have outgrown you!). Grandma’s Pecan, at 6.9% ABV is alive with nutty, roasty, caramel flavors and is sweet, like pecan pie.
Duvel had some interesting beer as well. Christina Roberts, Los Angeles Market Manager for Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat, said that Duvel was always looking for community and charitable events that would provide good venues for them to place their beer in. “We love to bring people good beer and give back to the community as well,” she said.
Duvel is one of those huge beer companies that was once a venerable old brewery and now owns a bunch of brands. Duvel’s brands, including Brasserie D’Achouffe, Duvel, and Brewery Ommegang, nonetheless continue to provide fantastic, world-class beers. Duvel was tapping Duvel Single, their new label, no doubt meant to be more accessible to American palettes. The Belgian Pale Ale at 6.8% ABV is billed as a clear, dry, crisp Belgian Pale with medium body, and citrus and herbal hop aromas. It is a solid beer on its own merits, and very refreshing beer for a hot summer day. It certainly has an interesting hop profile for a Belgian, but if you’re into Belgians you may find yourself yearning for more body, yeast and fruity esters.
On a side note, Duvel’s website calls it “Single” because it is not bottle conditioned. But historically, Dubbel, the style launched in 1861 by the Belgian Trappist Abbey of Westmalle, and Tripel, which Westmalle came out with in the 1930s, and the 20th century style Quadrupel, have no relation at all to 1, 2, 3, or 4 times anything. Whatever, it’s beer, and the name is less important than the taste.
Monkish Brewing also had an outstanding offering at the event, especially because their beers stood out among the dozens and dozens of IPAs. They were pouring Oblate, their Belgian-style blonde ale spiced with chamomile, at 6.3% ABV. It was creamy and rich, with fruity, floral notes and that unmistakable Belgian bready yeasty character. They also poured Red Table, what they call a “Belgianized red ale” spiced with pink peppercorns, at 5.6% ABV. This was a really delicious beer, fresh, fruity, a little spicy, with a joyous bouquet of aromas and biscuity flavors.
Utah-based Epic Brewing had a really solid classic Belgian Witbier, which was, again, more notable because it stood out among so many IPAs. But on a 90 degree day, you really can’t beat a Witbier.
Heretic had its Evil Cousin Imperial IPA on tap. As a loyal listener of Heretic founder Jamil Zainasheff’s excellent podcasts on homebrewing on the Brewing Network, I was very excited to try out one his beers. The website hysterically describes it as an “in-your-face hop monster…The hop character in this beer is intentionally on the dank side; big, sticky, and aggressive.” Yeah, that sums it up. This beer is not unlike being deliciously punched in the face with a pine cone. Given that, it is surprisingly smooth and easy to drink.
South Berlington, Vermont-based Magic Hat Brewery was pouring a psychedelic array of beers, including its HiCu, a pale wheat ale brewed with hibiscus and cucumber. They get a lot of credit for creativity. The beer was extremely refreshing, but a little over the top with the cucumber and hibiscus flavors, which kind of drowned out the rest of the beer. Same story with the #9, an apricot pale ale, which tasted good, but was way too fruity for the lightness of the beer.
The list goes on and on – the sheer number of craft breweries was quite impressive, and goes to show how many small craft breweries are out there producing truly outstanding, interesting, delicious beers. The whole LA region is absolutely exploding with great beer, and as importantly, great beer culture, as was seen at the Waves of Grain event. There are more and more events like this where you have the opportunity to taste a huge variety of some of the best beer in the world. If you haven’t yet, you simply must go to one.
The companies and the passionate beer people behind them are as interesting as the beers themselves. If you love great beer, it’s a good time to be living in America. If you don’t love great beer and you live in America, well, then, you just haven’t had a good friend find that beer that will blow your mind and open up the world of beer for you.