Twenty Fourteen saw more craft beer brewed in Los Angeles than ever before (I imagine, though I have no stats to back that up), and the volume of new brews was staggering and inspiring. From incredible IPAs that deftly showcased nouveau hop varietals to acerbic wild ales that pushed palates and challenged the rising tide of craft beer drinkers in the region, 2014 saw a wealth of exciting and memorable new brews made by LA brewers. But any follower of Beer of Tomorrow won’t be surprised by my choice for Beer of the Year. Monkish Brewing’s sublime Selah takes the prize without a second thought.
Monkish Brewing Selah
Called a “farmhouse saison with brettanomyces & gently dry hopped with Galaxy, Mosaic, Sorachi Ace“, Selah is a brilliant example of the sublime fortuity that can sometimes happen in the brewhouse when wild yeasts and dry-hopping are employed. When poured, the hazy golden brew jumps with effervescence that puffs a pillowy mass of foam to the top of the glass, and the pungent scent of tropical fruit and sourdough bread fills the air. It’s heady and intoxicating before you even take the first sip. When the beer was fresh, the brett character was mild and the Mosaic and Galaxy hop aromas dominated the saison’s light body. As the beer has aged, the dry-hop character has faded and the brettanomyces has blossomed into a pineapple-candy explosion tinged by the twang of musty earth that the yeast is prized for.
It is the rare beer that backs up all the flowery language and hyperbolic superlatives that I can toss at it. It is a stunning beer that is emblematic of the best of farmhouse ales while being refreshing, unique, and distinctly Monkish. I simply cannot over-sell this beer.
But oh how I tried. I’ve written incessantly about Selah, assuring it a place as one of Paste Magazine’s 20 Best New Beers of 2014, and covering it thoroughly in the pages of Beer Paper LA. And I’m not alone in my opinion of Selah. Cask Ale LA says, “I’m not sure if there’s such thing as a perfect beer, but Selah is edging pretty close to it“, and the beer rates, while Sean Inman of Beer Search Party says, “I am a big Monkish fan but this beer blew me away”.
The initial bottle run of Selah is long since gone from the brewery, and while a second batch has been brewed following the initial recipe closely, Brewmaster Henry Nguyen says he isn’t sure of the beer’s fate. As the brewery delves further into wild ales and wood fermentation, this new batch of Selah may be metamorphosize into an entirely different brew.
(Nerd Note: The meaning of the Hebrew word “selah” is not known, but it is used extensively in Psalms and the meaning that is inferred from its usages is a moment of rest in the song that emphasizes the importance of the preceding line.
“We thought it was an apt name for our first beer with bretta – hoping people will drink and pause and reflect,” Nguyen says about the name, and in my personal experience I’ve found Selah to be a contemplative beer, and it seems every glass has led me to a bit of introspection into the nature of fermentation and the magic therein. Heady stuff indeed.)
There was an impressive flood of excellent new beers in 2014, nearly too many to fully grasp. From the wave of Session IPAs that broke across the US last spring (Easy Jack from Firestone Walker, Ponto from Pizza Port, and Rudie from SKA Brewing were stand-outs) to some really fantastic lagers (Might As Well IPL from Golden Road got a lot of hype, but it was Venn from Ninkasi Brewing that really left an impression on me) there was so much more to craft beer in 2014 than hoppy IPAs and massive imperial stouts.
Beer Spaceship – Highland Park Brewery
I’m infatuated with the beers that brewer Bob Kunz is cooking up in the backroom of the hipster-paradise bar The Hermosillo, but Beer Spaceship took the brass-ring in the tiny brewery’s first six months. A mid-strength American Pale Ale, Beer Spaceship is all about the Galaxy hops and a bone-dry malt body. Similar to Russian River’s excellent Row 2, Hill 56 all Simcoe pale ale, Beer Spaceship is crisp, drinkable, and delightfully hoppy with a spectrum of bright fruit flavors imbued by the hot new hop variety. Many of Kunz’s brews are worth the drive to Highland Park, but bring an extra growler if Beer Spaceship is on!
Mayberry IPA – El Segundo Brewing Co.
This Mosaic hopped IPA from LA’s best IPA brewery may have technically been released first in 2013, but it was last year that the pungent brew made the big splash. A perfect example of a straight-forward West Coast IPA, Mayberry finds a subtle balance between bitterness and malt and hop aroma, and the delectable Mosaic quality (or “Mo-ness” as I like to say) elevates the IPA above the large field of competitors. I’ve got a weakness for Mosaic hops that is nearly indescribable but if you’ve seen the 2013 film American Hustle maybe you’d understand (bear with me here). In the film Jennifer Lawrence’s somewhat emotionally unhinged character often describes her obsession with the smell of a certain nail polish. She says the sweet smell is tinged by something rotten underneath, and that underlying repulsive scent compels her to keep on sniffing. “I just can’t get enough of it,” she coos to a girlfriend over drinks. That is exactly how I feel about the musty, earthy tang of the Mosaic hops. Underneath their tropical fruit scent is a musk that is beguiling, and Mayberry is one of the best showcases of the hop’s complex flavor. I just can’t get enough of it. The good news is Mayberry will be a year-round release with a big push from the Brewery in 2015, so keep your eyes out for bottles of this brew.
329 Days of Sun Lager – Golden Road Brewing
I’ve written extensively about 329 (see the feature in Beer Paper LA), and this simple light lager is about as far from conventionally exciting as it gets. It’s not a pils, it’s not a helles lager, but the delicately hopped and refreshingly light beer manages to impress even if it doesn’t excite. The secret, I believe is in the malt-bill that features enough acidulated malts to create a depth of malt flavor while remaining effortlessly drinkable. It may not be the brew that beer geeks in LA wanted, but it’s a beer that fits the growing scene (and our balmy climate) perfectly. It also accompanied me on one of my best days of 2014 – my birthday “six pack hang” with The Hold Steady that I got to write about for Paste Magazine. 329 is a demonstration of restraint in the brewhouse that is all too rare in craft beer these days.
What was your favorite new beer of 2014? Let us know in the comments to this post for a chance to win a Beer of Tomorrow schwag-bag!