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L.A. Has Quietly Become One of America’s Best Beer Cities—Here’s Why

Invariably, there will be lists that tout great beer cities, or top designations for beer lovers. In the United States, places like Denver, Tampa, Chicago, Portland and Asheville get endless, often breathless, coverage and top billing.

One of the country’s largest cities is one that is often overlooked but has quietly been building a beer culture that rivals its better-known counterparts.

Currently, more than 9,200 breweries are operating across America, and California has the most out of any state. San Diego, which pioneered the West Coast IPA and was an early destination for craft breweries, often gets the most attention.

Northern California is home to revered breweries like Sierra Nevada and Russian River Brewing Company. Anchor Brewing, a San Francisco icon that survived Prohibition, was revitalized in the 1960s and is known for its steam beer. And in the early 2000s, Orange County became a hotbed of innovation in beer thanks to companies like Placentia, California-based The Bruery.

“The Los Angeles Beer scene holds so many incredible breweries that are pushing the envelope stylistically,” says Lynne Weaver, the founder and CEO of Three Weavers Brewing Company in Inglewood, California. “The creativity and innovation, along with breweries collaborating, results in rare, one-of-a-kind distinctly Southern California beers typically only found in our tasting rooms. You have to visit to experience them.”

Visiting isn’t always so easy—or at least it must be intentional. And that is a big part of what makes L.A. exciting. Whether it’s a stop at Firestone Walker’s Propagator in Venice for a brett-affected barrel-aged brew, Beachwood Brewing in Long Beach for barbecue and sours or Brouwerij West in San Pedro for a live band and Belgian-style ale, there will often be, befitting L.A., some freeway time involved. But there’s another unifying factor.

“The L.A. beer scene is literally an example of the ‘best ofs’ in craft beer driving innovation for the liquid and the community alike,” says Beny Ashburn, cofounder with her business partner, Teo Hunter, of Crowns & Hops Brewing Co. “Excellence in production, diversity, inclusion and actively focused on achieving racial equity in an industry that has struggled with it. If you want a case study for progress in craft beer, look no further than Los Angeles or Inglewood, California.”

Close up of a woman holding a can of the dopest hazy ipa from Crowns & Hops
Crowns & Hops / Image Courtesy of Christoper Terry

How It Started

Los Angeles was not swept up in the early days of the craft beer movement, but the City of Angels has always had a strong beer history and importance to the larger industry.

Similar to Anchor in San Francisco, the city had two regional brands—Los Angeles Brewing and Maier Brewing—that survived Prohibition, but unlike Anchor, these only made it into the 1970s. Anheuser-Busch had a big presence in the city, opening a brewery in Van Nuys in the 1950s followed by a 17-acre Busch Gardens amusement park in the 1960s. The brewing giant remains part of the local conversation through its ownership of the Golden Road brand.

In the 1970s, when homebrewing came back into fashion (but was still technically illegal) in the U.S., the Maltose Falcons was founded. That club, the first of its kind in the country since Prohibition, was comprised of people sharing their backroom brews. The group first met inside a wine shop in Woodland Hills and remains a vibrant organization to this day through parties, competitions and education.

“L.A. used to be the great craft beer wasteland amidst all the West Coast oases,” says writer, podcaster and homebrewer Drew Beechum. “Homebrewing developed as the dike holding back the vast ocean of Brew 101, Pabst, Bud and Miller. Once the money people noticed you could make money with brewing, they turned to homebrewers in our clubs, the Maltose Falcons, Pacific Gravity, Strand, et al and said, ‘Hey kid, ever dream of making beer for real?’ With that, the homebrew-to-commercial-brew flood gates opened wide, and now we’re flooded with the good stuff!”

HPB Taproom
HPB Taproom / Image Courtesy of James Sullivan

How It’s Going

“Los Angeles is so loosely defined because L.A. County is so sprawling and gigantic, and everything gets lumped into that,” says Ting Su, cofounder of Eagle Rock Brewing, which opened inside of the proper city limits in 2009. “The breweries we have are like little gems that you find in the communities. Even after 13 years, people are still surprised to find us.”

It’s that geographical nightmare and the city’s infamous traffic that helped breweries in the area establish themselves as destinations, often focusing on one or two styles or initiatives, rather than a something-for-everyone model, says Alex Kidd, writer, critic and podcast host.

“It is a pain in the ass to get to Los Angeles breweries,” he says. “You have to have specific intent because getting in the car takes effort. You mean to be where you end up, so you tend to care more when you get there.”

Kidd cites breweries like Monkish, Highland Park Brewing, Beachwood Brewery and Enegren Brewing as standouts that are helping to define the local beer culture. Notably, many of these breweries do not have large national or even regional distribution, so to experience the beer means to experience Los Angeles and its vastly different neighborhoods.

“Los Angeles is a composite of exceptional breweries, and no one of them rules the roost,” says Kidd.

As of early 2023, there were almost 90 members of the county’s brewers guild, a nonprofit group that supports and promotes small brewers.

Alina Torrens, packaging/ cellar operator, Three Weavers with Lauryn Chan, the brewery’s lab manager and brewery dog
Alina Torrens, packaging/ cellar operator, Three Weavers with Lauryn Chan, the brewery’s lab manager and brewery dog (one of three) in Three Weavers’ beer garden / Image Courtesy of Andy Manoushagian

Community, Canned

Bob Kunz moved to Los Angeles in 2006 and worked at Father’s Office, which was way ahead of the curve with its deep and unusual beer list. “They were intuitive to their audience, they created a nice space that had modern design, treated the beer as a premium product and that worked for Los Angeles,” says Kunz, who went on to found Highland Park Brewery, of the influential Father’s Offices in Santa Monica, Culver City and Downtown.

If Los Angeles is known for creativity, the beer scene has been able to make inroads by highlighting flavors but also telling a story. Wine and cocktails are still fashionable at parties and events for the glitterati, but discerning movers and shakers in the entertainment industry have been drawn to the nature of a well-made local product.

“The craft brewing industry is heading toward diversification,” says Weaver, who notes that her brewery is expanding beyond beer to include nonalcoholic beverages, flavored malt beverages with a cocktail influence and is waiting for a winery license to be approved. “The blurring of alcohol industry lines will likely create exciting new beverages.”

The brewers in the city also talk a lot about the cultural diversity and how breweries play into that tapestry. Local beer has given Angelenos another thing to support and cheer on aside from the Dodgers and Lakers.

“Across the board, the L.A. beer community has a thoughtfulness to community and its environment,” says Kunz.

It’s also pushing diversity through ownership and employment, says Eagle Rock Brewing’s Su. “We don’t have as much of a boys club here as some other areas do,” she says. “The diversity of the people has helped to develop a real culture where we can focus on beer education, on high-end pairings and how breweries fit into neighborhoods as a sense of pride.”

That patchwork of community has translated into one of the most amorphous yet vibrant beer scenes you’ll find anywhere in the U.S.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!