Last Sunday was the 5th Anniversary party for Blue Palms Brewhouse. This annual festival is one of the most hyped events on the LA scene that I hadn’t previously attended, so it had a lot to live up to. It did, but not without a few minor warts.
(Editor’s Notes: I’m not cagey about my love for Blue Palms Brewhouse, and it we were pretty disappointed when we realised we’d be traveling for a family wedding during the Fifth Anniversary Party. Thankfully, long-time supporter of Beer of Tomorrow offered to provide us some coverage of the event. Please welcome the Beer of Tomorrow Chief Kiwi Correspondent Hamish Cameron to the site! Hamish has a passion for craft beer and a blade-sharp palate. We’re very happy to finally have him on the hook for a post!)
(Read an overview of the event and some background on Brian Lenzo and Blue Palms in John’s article in the Daily Dish)
The event is divided into two main sections, the bar area of Blue Palms Brewhouse (with the lobby of the Music Box) and the Beer Garden, a fenced-off area of car park surrounded by pouring trucks, trailers and tents. Between the two areas were over 80 beers, most rare or unusual, so sadly my accomplice and I could barely scratch the surface with our standard-issue ten drink tickets each. We surveyed the thoughtfully provided list of pouring options (thanks Blue Palms!) and made a short list, then as we circulated, we surveyed the people we spoke to about their favourites. I’m pretty confident we got to most of the highlights, but I’m sure you’ll make me sad about something I missed in the comments.
There were so many good beers; too many to list, even from the 26 names and increasingly scrawled paragraphs in my tasting book. Most other beer festivals have a few duds. Whether they’re mediocre beers, styles you don’t like, or just particular beers that you’re not feeling on the day, they’re there. Well, there were very few of those. There were excellent tropical single and double IPAs, excellent bourbon-barrel-aged stouts, excellent sours and wild ales, all the craft scene darlings… at least, all the heavy-hitting darlings. Just like last year, there seemed a general lack of lighter styles. There were a smattering of Pilsners, Berliner Weissen and Saisons about the place, but they were obscured by a forest of seriously solid brews. Thankfully the water coolers were accessible, convenient and always full.
With that in mind, here are a few beers that I found myself repeatedly recommending:
- Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA: I’d not managed to try this yet, so I jumped in the quite manageable and fast moving queue when the 1pm special release time came around. Those tropical notes did not disappoint and despite the nose promising an intense palate, it was rich and sweet without being overpoweringly so.
- Monkey Paw Oatmeal Pale with Lychee Fruit: Disclaimer: I love fruity hoppy beers with a passion that would have me arrested in a more puritanical age. Sadly, I didn’t taste any lychee on this, but the grape skin and orange did it for me anyway.
- Noble Naughty Sauce: (of course of course) What needs to be said about this creamy, pale, coffee-bean masterpiece? Well, that, apparently.
- Telegraph Obscura Vulpine was our pick of the sours. The sweet/sour sucker punch of balsamic vinegar with a balanced palate and a distinct malt finish had us checking our calendars to fit in a trip to Santa Barbara to check out the rest of the Obscura range. (Honourary mention to Almanac’s Dogpatch Sour which was also magnificent.)
- Bourbon-Aged Beers: If you like rich bourbon notes, Hanger 24 Pugachev’s Cobra, Bruery White Chocolate, and TAPS Remy Russian Imperial Stout are all must-tries. Those, along with Firestone Walker Parabola which was also on tap, are all at least as good as a certain high-profile bourbon-aged stout currently appearing locally.
- It’s not a style I’ve familiar with (yet!) but Almanac Flowering Gose was a very refreshing break from the domination my palate was suffering from the weighty beer list.
In the “I’m glad I tried them” column:
- Stone 17th Anniversary Götterdämmerung: The tropical nose on Stone’s 17th Anniversary blend is fantastic, but the dancing fruit notes barely distract from the bitter sap base of the palate. It’s been said more than once that I’ve killed my hop taste buds. This beer proved that that is not the case.
- Kinetic It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time: If they were aiming for Reeses Peanut Butter Cups with a layer of sweetness, they nailed it. I love PB&J, but not for me.
- Wandering Aegnus Ciderworks Anthem Chili: deserves a mention if only for its sneeze inducing properties! A curious blending of apple cider and chili flavours, but a hard one to smell.
Recommendations from the Crowd:
- Alpine 19/10 O’Brien’s Anniversary IPA: This one could have equally appeared here, or on my top list, or on a list of weird beers of the event. In all honesty, I don’t know what an Orange Creamsicle tastes like, but I imagine it’s a lot like this… but hopefully with a less bitter palate! The line for the special release of Alpine’s excellent Nelson IPA was one of the longest of the day. This brewery is definitely on my San Diego to-do list.
- Rhinegeist Truth IPA: Brian Lenzo deserves a lot of credit not just for assembling such a diverse list of weird and wonderful (mostly wonderful) beers from Southern California breweries, but for offering up interesting out-of-state beers to the local craft community like this Cincinnati IPA worthy of a place among the west coast style.
- Founders Brewing Co out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of the top rated breweries in the US and Founders Double Trouble was the beer that Beer of Tomorrow ticket winner Brittany had been most excited to try. It didn’t disappoint her and it didn’t disappoint me either. I’d like to do a side-by-side tasting with its antipodean namesake.
- Phantom Carriage Muis: This beer has been generating a bit of buzz recently, and it was another refreshing counterpoint to the heavier beers. It was also one of the few beers being poured by the brewer, a feature of last years event which seemed to have waned somewhat this year.
Beachwood had two IPAs on show, Hot Tub IPA and Denver Jackhammer (the latter was mislabelled on the program, not the only such error), and were another local brewery represented by the brewer himself. These two were typically excellent IPAs from what may well be my favourite LA area brewery.
Alesmith Speedway Stout with Vietnamese Coffee had the misfortune of being the only beer on my list that tapped out before I got to try it. Or rather, I had the misfortune of not getting to this one in time.
Aside from the great beers on offer, the most impressive aspect of the event was the very manageable crowd size. I can’t compare to previous years so I’m not sure if the abundance of competing events over that weekend had any effect on the size of the crowd, but there were few queues worthy of the name. The special releases attracted sizeable lines, but the serving staff efficiently dealt with those. The line for complementary pork belly tacos was also long, but I not so long that we needed to dispatch a runner to refill our glasses. Aside from the tacos, there was a tent where a full set of food options could be ordered and delivered to one of the numbered tables. Unfortunately, those tables may have been the scarcest resource on the day, so food ordering was a tricky proposition. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the tables were one of the few shady spaces in the Beer Garden; it wasn’t an unusually hot day, but nevertheless there was little shelter from the California sun.
All-in-all, one of the better events on the Los Angeles beer calendar, so if you missed it this year, make a note not to next year. Just bring sunscreen, a couple of friends and a tasting strategy.
Hamish is an ancient historian, game designer, and craft beer lover of kiwi extraction. His tastes in beer lean towards the hoppy and fruity. You can read his beer related and infused ramblings on twitter (@peregrinekiwi) and longer notes on beer and his games on his blog (www.ardens.org).