Los Angeles beer drinkers live in a wonderland. Not only have we seen an explosion in our own brewery scene in the past few years, we have access to the bulk of what West Coast breweries have to offer. Seattle, San Diego, Portland… They know who butters their bread. Even if it is vegan, GMO-free butter. But further afield? There are a handful of truly amazing breweries who have not yet gotten the memo about Los Angeles. And all I want for Christmas is for the following breweries to expand distribution to Southern California.
Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, MI
Founders makes one of those hard-to-find unicorn beers that people lose their minds about once a year (a la Pliny the Younger). Kentucky Breakfast Stout is a bourbon barrel aged stout brewed with coffee and chocolate, and is just one of the impressive brews we’re missing out on here in Los Angeles. Here’s the good news: Founders is a large operation that already ships to most states east of the Mississippi. They have the brewing capacity and the distribution know how to make the leap to the West Coast. Until they work out the details though, do whatever you can to get your hands on a bottle of Founders Rubaeus raspberry ale (beg, borrow, steal, etc). Or you can just settle for pretty much anything from Bell’s, another Michigan stalwart that started shipping to Los Angeles earlier this year.
Jester King Brewery, Austin, TX
Jester King is on the cutting edge of the terroir movement in craft beer. The brewery in Texas uses water from a well on its own property, locally-grown malt, and native strains of yeast to brew Farmhouse style beers. And it’s not just the ingredients that adhere to a local vibe. Most of Jester King’s beers are consumed in situ. The brewery only produces 1,500 barrels of beer annually (context: Stone Brewing Company produces more than 250,000 barrels a year), which means the odds of getting brews like Buddha’s Brew, a sour beer with Kombucha, or Black Metal, an imperial stout, on the regular in L.A. are slim to none. But a girl can dream.
Cigar City Brewing, Tampa, FL
Before 2009, it was nearly impossible to get a locally-brewed beer in Tampa, Fla. Then came Cigar City Brewing. Practically overnight, Tampa went from beer desert to beer wonderland. But getting brews like Jai Alai, a world class IPA, beyond Tampa is a different story. Nearly all of the beer brewed at Cigar City stays in Florida, with a small amount making it to New York City and Philadelphia. The brewery is at capacity for now, and an expansion into L.A. is a long way out according to reps from the brewery. These are beers that are worth the wait.
Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, NY
Based in New York state, Southern Tier Brewing specializes in crisp, clean beers for a developed palate. And more developed palates are demanding Southern Tier each year. The brewery has expanded exponentially from its humble beginnings in 2002, and now distributes more than 100,000 barrels a year to around 30 states. California is not one of those states despite our collective, voracious appetite for craft beer. But I would watch your local bottle shop closely in the coming months and years. The folks behind Southern Tier started construction on an enormous warehouse and distribution facility in 2013, which should help streamline rapid expansion into new markets. And this developed palate can’t wait.