The growth of the craft beer scene in Los Angeles is finally picking up, and new breweries are opening at a fantastic pace to help supply the growing number of taps at new local bars and restaurants. Many of these new breweries start-off by brewing a signature pale ale, or a wheat beer, or an ever-popular IPA. Monkish Brewing Co. has a different approach: they are dedicated to Belgian-style beers with a big dose of signature California creativity.
New Breweries for a New Era of Beer
The South Bay is becoming a hot-bed of craft brewing activity in Los Angeles. The coastal region has several popular restaurants and brewpubs, and it now boasts three operating breweries with several more in the planning stages. Monkish Brewing Co, in Torrance, is the newest operation; they started brewing in February of this year. Brewmaster Henry Nguyen, a LA native, took the plunge to go pro after years of homebrewing, and he’s pouring his heart and soul into making Belgian-style beers with some inventive twists.
Craft breweries have found life in a down economy as people have discovered the simple and affordable luxury of great beer, and a surplus of vacant light-industrial spaces throughout Los Angeles means plenty of real estate for the brewer looking for a home for their operations. Monkish is tucked into a business park off of Del Amo Blvd, and the space holds a 15 barrel brewhouse and a modest tap room where visitors can sample the nine different beers that Henry has developed. The tap room is bright, and the modern fixtures contrast with the turn of the century wooden pew from a San Francisco church that sits prominently along one wall.
Not Your Father’s Belgian Beers
Henry has put together an impressive tap-list of nine Belgian-inspired beers, and we were able to sample seven of them before we toured the brewery:
- Oblate – Blonde ale with chamomile flowers. This had a great grainy character and was refreshing and mild. Very approachable though the chamomile could have been a little more forward.
- Crux – Elderflower spiced single. Light and fruity, the Crux had a nice mild hop character and a distinctly herbal finish.
- Moria – “Black single” with sweet orange peels. Our favorite of the line-up. This dark-yet-light ale was similar to an english mild with a delicate roasted character and strong smokey notes from the use of black malt. Complex in flavor and right around 5%ABV this would make for a great session beer (and a great growler-fill).
- Red-Table – Belgian-style amber ale with pink peppercorns. Red Table showcases brewmaster Henry’s inventiveness and restraint. The balanced ale has a complex malt character with a subtly peppery finish. It would be easy to over-do the peppercorns, but here they don’t overwhelm the delicate european hops. Another great candidate for a growler-fill.
- Pour Toi – Dry-hopped Belgian pale ale. Henry’s response to his hop-head fans, Pour-Toi mixes a big hop aroma with the complex malt-character that is common to many of the Monkish beers. Dry-hopped with traditional European hops, the pale ale has an aroma that is at once familiarly hoppy and uniquely earthy and spicy.
- Floraison – “Dry-flowered” saison. Henry’s farmhouse ale takes the multi-grain approach common to saisons and is then “dry-hopped” with a mix of hops, hibiscus, and chamomile. The result is a medium bodied complex ale with a ruddy hue and a big floral finish. The hibiscus came through the strongest, and the beer seemed like a perfect accompaniment to a summer’s afternoon.
- Rosa’s Hips – Belgian-style brown ale with rose hips. Rosa’s Hips would make for a fantastic autumn beer to slowly enjoy during the coming cooler evenings. It takes some time to unpack all of the heavy toffee and caramel flavors and the beguiling spicy quality, and there is enough alcohol heat (even at just 7.3%ABV) to take notice and keep you returning for another sip.
The Man Behind the Monkish
While showing us around the brewery Henry spoke about his love of beer and his drive to open a brewery. While studying in Scotland for his PhD in Theology Henry began to get bored with beer, but his eyes were opened to more of the possibilities that artisanal beer holds when he had his first Belgian ale. Then there was no going back for Nguyen. He spent the next several years developing his brewing skills as a home brewer, and he focused nearly exclusivity on Belgian-style beer. “I’ve only ever made two or three beers that weren’t Belgian,” he disclosed to us. After difficulty securing a full-time position in Academia Henry decided to take his beers to the people and began raising start-up funds.
The father of three is all-in with his new brewery, and though he is missing sleep, hand-delivering beers to his 50 local tap accounts during the day then brewing through the night, and pouring his beer in the tap room or at local events on the weekends, the passion for the beer is his obvious driving force. While we were shooting some pictures of the brewhouse and chatting with Henry about the local scene he could not hide his exhaustion, but as soon as the conversation turned to his beer and his personal brewing style his eyes lit up and the enthusiasm for the science and art of brewing was plainly evident as he discussed the development of Moria and just how he coaxes the distinctive smoke notes from the grist.
He laughed about the struggles of raising kids and running a brewery nearly single-handedly, and about how he’s had to take a DIY ethos into every aspect of building the brewery. From installing the fermentation tanks and learning to sweat copper pipe to developing business practices and production schedules Henry and his wife Adriana have learned the skills and built an impressive brewery in under a year, and more importantly they are brewing some seriously inventive, well-crafted, and tasty beers! We were impressed by all seven of the beers we tried and won’t hesitate to order any of them at our local watering hole.
Beer. Hope. Love.
If you are even a casual fan of Belgian beers, and you find yourself in the South Bay, you’ve got to stop-in to Monkish to sample their line-up. They’re currently Los Angeles’ only brewery dedicated to Belgian-style beers, and they brew them with the care and aplomb that fits their monastic inspiration.Monkish Brewing Co. 20311 S. Western Ave. Torrance, CA 90501 310.295.2157 Web / Facebook / Twitter Tasting Room Hours