The third iteration of Mohawk Bend’s L.A. IPA Fest is on Saturday, and it’s the place you want to be if you love hops and you want a chance to chat with the brewers behind some of the best IPAs on the planet.
This year I have the honor of being a guest judge alongside two dozen renowned brewers from across California (and a pair of my esteemed beer journo colleagues in the incomparable Sarah Bennett and singular Tomm Carroll). You can read about the details of the event on The Daily Dish, and below you can see my picks for some of the can’t-miss brews slated to be in contention on Saturday.
If you fight the crowds on Saturday to experience the energy of Mohawk when it’s packed with brewers and hop heads jostling for pints of the best IPAs in the state (on the planet?) you’re going to have to wait in line, and you’re not going to be able to get flights. Servings on Saturday will be restricted to half-pint pours, but even without flights IPA Festival is the rare fest that is worth fighting with the crowds. You really can’t go wrong with that tap list, and it pays to just go with the flow and not stress too much about what beers you’re trying when.
That said, these are the six beers that would be at the top of my list to sample and a brief note on how I’ve handicapped them. The best-in-show award could really go any way, but I think that these are some of the front runners that you’re going to want to judge for yourself. (A quick disclaimer – I’m working off a list of beers posted on the LA IPA Fest site, and this is probably not 100% accurate.)
Automatic Brewing – whatever Lee Chase brings. The ebullient Lee Chase has built a mini empire in San Diego based on his impressive brewing skills and his knack for hospitality. I love what he does at Automatic Brewing whether it’s a tightly executed classic style or a more jazzy riff showcasing his creative flair. It is extremely rare to have the pleasure of drinking an Automatic beer here in Los Angeles, and I recommend you order one of whatever he brings to the festival as your second beer of the day.
Why the second beer? I think that when you’re setting up for a day of deep-diving on hoppy IPAs covering all the corners of the style guidelines, it’s helpful to start off with a “calibration beer” — something that you know very well and that you can use to ground your palate. Personally, I’d pick Union Jack or Alesmith IPA depending on if you like a little malt sweetness in your IPAs or if you prefer something bone-dry.
Highland Park Brewing – Bonkers IPA. Bob Kunz is a favorite to go deep in this year’s contest. Highland Park’s entry last year made it to the final table and just missed placing by a few scant points. That was nearly 18 months ago, and you can bet process has been refined at the rising star brewery since then. Festival founder Tony Yanow thinks this will be Kunz’s year, and the biggest question I have is can he keep the fermentation clean enough, and the dry hop character clear enough to compete with breweries that are decades old. I expect HPB’s entry to do very well.
Arts District Brewing Co. – Stolen Valor & HopSaint – Get Out of the Way IPA. These two breweries are vying for the title of best hoppy newcomers, and I’m looking forward to sample what they’re slinging. If you’re unaware, ADB is helmed by Devon Randall, one of the LA beer’s most exciting recent “acquisitions.” Randall developed her skills at Pizza Port Solana Beach, and she’s now cranking out the brews as fast as possible in the Arts District. HopSaint is the new (gorgeous) brewpub concept in Torrance, and brewer duties are being handled by the talented Brain Brewer (formerly of The Brewery at Abigaile). Brewer is an established, if under the radar, star of LA’s IPA scene, and his Poser IPA (brewed at Abigaile) earned the second place spot last year.
Transplants Brewing Co. – Hops Are a Preservative, An Indiana Pale Ale collaboration with Peter David of Your Pics Suck.
Trolololol – This beer began as a lark from the Drumpf of the beer world, Peter David. If you’re not familiar with David’s antics via his Your Pics Suck Instagram, you should catch up on this blithe character. The short version is David is a big fan of what he’s dubbed the “Indiana Pale Ale”, an American original only possible thanks to Jesus Christ and Hoosier hops. You can’t make this stuff up, but evidently you can make that beer. Antelope Valley newcomers Transplants Brewing cooked up a batch of Indiana Pale Ale special for IPA Fest, and they were kind enough to offer me a sample crowler. I can only say two things about this beer: it is certainly not your typical Westcoast IPA, and it is far better than it had any right to be. Beer Guy LA was the first on the scene with a review. If you dig Dogfish Head 90 Minute, you’re going to love HAAP. One way or another people are going to be talking about this beer on Monday morning (your office talks about craft beer around the watercooler, right?), and you don’t want to be the one who missed out on your chance to try a taste of Indiana.
Societe – The Dandy. Look, we all know Societe makes world-class IPAs. The Pupil took the people’s choice at the inaugural LA IPA Fest on name recognition alone (probably), but it had the character to back up the name. The Dandy has a bit more malt character than their driest IPAs, and I expect it will resonate well with judges looking for clean fermentations, punchy aromas, and a balanced (relatively, at least) finish. It will surely resonate with the crowd thirsty for a taste of one of SD’s best.
Noble Ale Works – That’s Umpossible. And finally, Noble Ale Works. Can the winners of the first two LA IPA Fests three-peat on Saturday? If anyone can it’s Evan Price and his plucky band of miscreants. In a field filled with wonderfully winsome beer names it is pretty hard to beat this appro Simpsons reference. I don’t think Noble will take gold for a third time, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it placed and my money is on this brew being the first keg to kick on Saturday.
And one more beer that’s high on my list of things to try (but that isn’t necessarily a recommendation): Modern Times – Orderville. I don’t think it’s much of a secret that the darlings of the SD scene do not do it for me. After an exciting launch there were some quality issues in their flagship brews followed by a long string of misfires for me. I do not understand why they are so beloved by the beer geekerati. The brewery’s ratio of drain-pours to drinkable beer is simply way too high in my experience. That said, I did recently try their Floating World IPA, and it was easily the best beer I’ve had from them, so I’m very curious to see how Orderville (which the brewery seems especially stoked on) stacks up.
Planning to hit up Mohawk Bend for LA IPA Fest? Which of the brews are you most looking forward to sampling this weekend?