“At Angel City we don’t have acres of fields around us, but we do have a killer rooftop with a great hop garden.” That statement appears on the back of the Angel City Brewery’s limited edition Rooftop Ale, a medium-bodied, golden beer collaboration between brewmaster Dieter Foerstner and resident gardener and guru Ramutis “Ray” Narkevicius. You can think of it as the roof-to-bottle movement.
“We essentially found Ray on Craigslist,” laughed Foerstner, whose newest beer pays tribute to the citrus groves that once lined the area. Back in 2012, Angel City was looking for a way to discard their spent grain and decided to post an ad online. Narkevicius, a Lithuanian aircraft mechanic born in Australia, was the first person to respond. At first Narkevicius used the leftover malts to feed his chickens or make compost for his home garden in Silver Lake; it was just a local gardener caring for his plot of land, so to speak. But as the amount of spent grain dumped onto Narkevicius increased–making it impossible for him to hold his end of the bargain–an idea came to them: Why not build a rooftop garden? And furthermore, why not grow hops, a fundamental beer ingredient?
Narkevicius donates his time, coming to the brewery headquarters once every two days. The garden has a stunning panoramic view of DTLA. On one side Narkevicius grows various kinds of produce: pomegranates, dragonfruit, and black mission figs. The end goal is to someday incorporate them into future beers. “I’ve been thinking about these San Joaquin grapes,” says Narkevicius. “They’re disease-resistant.”
Adjacent to the fruits and vegetables are blue 55-gallon drums used to grow Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus hops for the Rooftop Ale. Narkevicius devised his own drain-back irrigation system, and put coconut husks at the bottom of each drum to act as a filter. “The way he draws up schematics is amazing,” says Foerstner. “He’s like Da Vinci in that way.”
The Rooftop Ale is a light and citrusy pale ale—a great complement to the vegetal, grassy aroma that wafts from the garden. Narkevicius describes the whole thing as a grand “experiment.” They were able to harvest just under 14 pounds of hops, but he insists they have their sights set on a much larger yield for the next go-around. In the meantime, Narkevicius is busy toying with pH levels of the water and drawing up other ideas to expand his operation.
After showing me a young pomegranate he paused for a moment and took a swig of his beer. The sun began its descent, and the yeasty smell from the brewery hung in the air. It was a day’s work in the garden; and DTLA had never felt more magical.
Angel City’s Limited Edition Rooftop Ale will available in 22oz bottles and on draft at the brewery’s Public House.
Angel City Brewery, 216 S. Alameda St., Little Tokyo, 213-622-1261