The South Bay Is America’s Newest Craft Beer Capital

Monkish, Smog City, Strand, Phantom Carriage—the list of great South Bay craft breweries just keeps getting longer

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Way back in the nascent days of Los Angeles’ craft beer awakening, Strand Brewing Company settled about 600 miles deep into a sprawling business park on the south end of Torrance. That was 2009. Since then, Strand has opened a taproom to showcase their West Coast IPAs and started bottling their hoppy delights. They’ve also gotten more than a few brewing neighbors. In fact, the collective communities known as the South Bay have more breweries per capita than any other district in the Southland.

El Segundo Brewing Company opened in El Segundo in 2010, Monkish Brewing Company and The Dudes’ Brewing Company opened in Torrance in 2012, and Smog City Brewing Company set up nearly across the street from Monkish in 2013.

When Henry Nguyen and his wife were looking for a place to open Monkish, they wanted to find a spot in the South Bay, but felt like Torrance was already taken.

“We didn’t want to step on any toes. Strand was already here,” Nguyen says.

But after looking around, Torrance just kept coming up as the answer to all their problems. The city’s permitting process was far less baroque than that of Los Angeles, and real estate was cheaper. Plus, it was a community they could grow into—and right near where they grew up.

The guys at Strand gave Nguyen their blessing. Their offerings, after all, would be completely different. Strand rocks some killer IPAs while Monkish focuses on Belgian beers. The Monkish taproom quietly opened for business in March of 2012.

By the time Jonathan and Laurie Porter came to town in 2013, looking for a place for Smog City, Torrance had become an even friendlier place for craft brewers.

“I think we caught them off guard,” Laurie Porter says, referring to city officials in Torrance.

But the various governments of the South Bay caught on pretty quickly. Becoming a craft beer destination could be a great thing for a place not known as a cultural hub.

“We’re a much more nimble city,” says Danny Santana, senior planner for the city of Torrance.

The permitting process to open a taproom takes eight to 12 weeks in Torrance, according to Santana. In dramatic contrast, the city of Los Angeles takes eight to 12 months (see: Eagle Rock Brewery), and the process is much cheaper in Torrance, about $3,800 to Los Angeles’ minimum fee of $6,500. Santana says that Torrance never advertised itself as a craft beer destination—brewers spread the word themselves.

And what a destination the South Bay has become with Torrance as the epicenter. On any given Saturday, party buses crowd the parking lots of the various taprooms. Uber and Lyft drivers idle outside waiting to take patrons to the next brewery on the list. Bachelor parties and brewery crawls stumble from tap room to tap room. This is the downside of becoming a beer hotspot, according to Nguyen.

“We’re stop two or three out of six,” Nguyen says of the brewery tours that roll around the South Bay these days.

People are ripped by the time they get to Monkish, and they’re mostly not there to learn about the intricacies of Belgian brewing.

“They come in and demand the four hoppiest IPAs. Well, we don’t make IPAs,” says Nguyen, who often finds empty Coors Light cans (why don’t you just punch a craft brewer in the face?) in the parking lot after the buses roll out.

Nguyen says the curse of regional popularity is that you can become known more as a collective destination than an individual, unique brewery, but he acknowledges that he’s in the minority—most South Bay brewers say the more the merrier.

And, of course, things are getting merrier every day. Absolution Brewing Company was consecrated in Torrance last year, Phantom Carriage rolled into Carson in January, slinging sours and funky saisons from its horror-themed taproom (personal favorites: Bergman, a wild ale that tastes like sour gummy bears, and Lugosi, an Oud Bruin with a veritable oubliette of flavorful depth), and Hop Saint, a brewpub on the west side of Torrance, is expected to open by the middle of this year.  Just three more reasons that the South Bay is every bit an American beer capital as Portland or Fort Collins, Colorado.

While the lines at Monkish or Phantom Carriage aren’t Disneyland-caliber yet, a word to the drunken-crowd averse among you: weekdays are your friends.