Unity is a beer that is brewed annually as a celebration of the hard working brewers who have helped build the craft beer scene in Los Angeles. These brewers come together at a host brewery in a showcase of creativity and esprit de corps. For the previous five years, the creation of Unity has happened at Eagle Rock Brewery [ed note], but for LA Beer Week 2015 the collaboration is moving to the South Bay.
[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Official Guide to LA Beer Week 2015 published by Beer Paper LA. Look for the booklet covering the history and purpose of LABW, along with a calendar of events whereever you can find the paper.]
Unity Brew Day
The LA Brewers Guild — who organize LA Beer Week and oversee the Unity brand — held a vote to determine which brewery would host the Unity production, and Smog City Brewery was chosen. On one morning in May brewers and representatives from over a dozen Los Angeles Brewers Guild member breweries convened in Torrance to pitch-in to create the commemorative beer.
Unity, Smog City’s co-founder Jonathan Porter explains, is a drinkable promotion for both LA Beer Week and the young guild which now comprises nearly 30 member breweries. The style for the brew is usually determined by the LABW organizing committee, but this year there wasn’t time for the often protracted discussions about theme ingredients and beer styles for Unity. “There wasn’t a ton of input from the Guild on style,” says Porter. “We came up with the concept and pitched it to the Guild.”
The idea was to create a light, drinkable “tart saison,” though Porter says that, “The Federal government doesn’t like that designation, so now [we call it] a ‘tart saison-style ale.’” Instead of unique ingredients like tamarind and prickly pear that have been featured in past Unity brews, Smog City proposed a complex process for the beer. Porter explains:
“We like to think of it as a take on an Americanized farmhouse ale with our house blend of Belgian saison [yeast ] strains. We are doing a partial kettle souring technique to introduce that tartness: all natural acidity contributed by lactobacillus, and then we are blending that with a [second] batch that’s been brewed ‘the old fashioned way.’”
All of the guest brewers in Torrance were assisting with this “old fashioned” brew, and it was a busy day at Smog City Brewing. Besides the Unity brewing, a fresh batch of Coffee Porter was also being packaged in bottles and kegs, and the beer would be picked up by Stone Distribution that afternoon. There were also kegs to wash and Beer Week events to finish planning.
After the guest brewers knocked-out the batch and began to transfer it to the stainless fermentation tank, Porter drove the brewery’s forklift to Smog City’s barrel aging building located a block down from the main brewery. About one-third of the wort was brewed on the Friday before the collaboration brew day and transferred to a portable winemaker’s tank to sour over the weekend. This would be added to the freshly-brewed wort, but Porter first needed to get the tank back to the brewery. He strapped the winemaker’s tank to the forklift and there were a tense few moments as Porter drove the nearly six thousand pounds of beer down the middle of Del Amo Boulevard for a long block before turning left across the street and into the brewery’s parking lot.
“It’s a little harrowing,” Porter admits. “I just imagine a valve breaking off [of the tank] and beer spraying all over the road while cars splash through it. But really, it’s nothing to worry about,” he quipped.
The tank made it safely to the brewery, and the wort was blended and the yeast pitched. Bottles of Unity were filled at the beginning of June and they will be available at local retailers across Los Angeles in time for LA Beer Week, while a precious few kegs of the brew will make appearances at select Beer Week events.
“We really want to get this out as an LABW and LABG promotion,” Porter said. “The best way is to get it in as many hands as possible. It’s about spreading the word.”
Thoughts on Unity 2015
We had a chance to sample a bottle of the newest Unity on the eve of Beer Week’s Kickoff event, and then snagged a couple more glasses during the festival, and it is an impressive brew.
The lightly tart saison balances complexity with drinkability remarkably. It is both quaffable (especially when sweltering under LA’s summer sun) and dissectible. The sour-mash tartness is relatively clean and bright, and Smog City’s yeast blend produces plenty of fruity top notes alongside a wonderful peppery zing. There is a persistent bitterness in the finish that suggests citrus pith so strongly that you may expect that the beer was brewed with Meyer lemons. The hazy straw-gold ale has a medium body and a soft carbonation which adds to the drinkability. Stock up while you can, because while Unity had a larger bottling run than any other beer in Smog City’s history I don’t imagine this will sit on shelves for too long — especially once the word gets out on how perfect of a summertime brew it is.