To the Southland!

When Los Angeles was a beer wasteland, our distaste for traveling there wasn’t really an issue. However, as the beer scene has grown over the past few years, I realized that Merideth and I needed get over this lack of enthusiasm for the SoCal megalopolis. A well-timed email from a new brewery in Agoura Hills inviting us to visit was just the kind of push we needed to help overcome our phobia. Agoura Hills isn’t quite LA, but baby steps…

We couldn’t drive all that distance without making a few other brewery visits. I planned two quick stops before our appointment at The LAB Brewing Co. A shade under five hours after leaving our house, we arrived at a business park just south of downtown Ventura.

The "Hang Ten" at Surf Brewery

Over the past few months, I heard plenty of positive buzz about Surf Brewery. Eager to try their beers, I hardly noticed their homebrew shop at the front as we bee-lined for the bar in the back of the building. Surf had multiple options for beer flights, 4, 6, 8, or 10. Of course, we went for the “Hang Ten” a full set of the Surf Brewery beers.

Enjoying a Oil Piers Porter at Surf Brewery

The ten brews ranged from a rarely seen Cream Ale and German-style Pilsner on the lighter end to a Porter and Black IPA on the dark side. Overall, it was an eclectic mix with two Rye beers and a Belgian-style Dubbel plus the requisite Double IPA.

So pretty...

My two preferences were from the lighter side of the spectrum. The imaginatively named “German Pilsner” was crisp and clean, a great beer for a warm Southern California day (which unfortunately it wasn’t). Lately, I have been drawn to light-bodied, low ABV, hoppy brews. Thus, the star for me was Shaka Extra Pale Ale, a fine example of what I hope to be a big trend in brewing. Merideth agreed with me on the Pilsner but also picked out Oil Piers Porter, which had nice roast and chocolate flavors, as another standout.

Enegren Brewing in Moorpark

It was a short drive inland to our second destination in Moorpark. Where the Southern California urban sprawl meets agricultural California, Moorpark seemed an odd place for a brewery. We found Enegren Brewing in a business park off the main drag through town.

Valkyrie California Altbier

Enegren had two beers, an Alt and an Imperial IPA, both with a twist. The Valkyrie California Altbier, at 6.2% ABV, I guess could be considered an “imperial” Alt. It had the nice caramel malt flavor but with a much heavier body than the German versions we have had. It wasn’t the session beer we drank endlessly in Düsseldorf, but it was delicious nonetheless.

At only 7.5% ABV, Protector Imperial IPA was on the lighter side of the typical Imperial/Double IPA. The citrus and pine hops were somewhat muted, the dominant feature being a really pleasant, fruity malt character. Surprised at first, Protector ended up really working for me. I enjoyed revisiting the beer a few days later at home thanks to the one liter growler I purchased.

Agoura Hills was another few miles down the road. This was our second visit to this city just inside the Los Angeles County line. We visited Agoura Hills first brewery, Ladyface Ale Companie, back in January 2010.

The beautiful glass mosiac behind the bar

The second brewery in Agoura Hills (and the reason we made the trip) is the newly opened LAB Brewing Co. “LAB” in the LAB Brewing Co. name stands for “Live Art of Brewing.” Like many of us in the beer community, the folks at LAB believe brewing beer is much more than science, it is an art form. Located just off Highway 101 in Agoura Hills, LAB Brewing Co was home to a few other forms of creativity, as well.

Housed in an former chain restaurant, LAB Brewing’s cookie cutter space was transformed into a unique setting by art done by locals. There were a number of murals adorning the walls. The most eye-catching piece was the glass mosaic behind the bar.

Meeting us at LAB were Alan and Roger, the head brewer. LAB has a very impressive guest tap selection but we were there to drink the house beers. Our flight had four of the five house brews, Bad Influence IPA,  being the missing beer. New breweries often struggle with learning their kits, but not so at LAB Brewing, where even in its infancy the beers are well-crafted.

The flight at LAB Brewing Co

The Big Ass Red had a really forward hop character, something that makes this sometimes boring style interesting. Take Her Home, Roger’s Belgian-style Tripel, was scarily easy-drinking. My only disappointment was the LAB Wit. While having a pleasant, refreshing taste, it was a bit under-carbonated for my tastes.

The star for both of us in the group was Cold Fusion Java, a coffee Porter. Merideth likened it to iced coffee. Both of us welcomed the coffee addition to the wonderful roasty Porter as it already been a long day.

Bad Influence IPA

Cold Fusion Java was only overshadowed by Bad Influence IPA. Sensing my disappointment that it wasn’t on, Roger poured me a pint from the fermenter. Being dry-hopped with Amarillo at the time, the brew had a beautiful murkiness to it. At 90+ IBUs, there was a tongue-coating, resinous mouthfeel and huge citrus hop bite. Wow! Bad Influence IPA was easily the beer of the day.

Almost as important as beer...

Alan and Roger were equally proud of their food menu, especially the LAB Burger. In fact, the  restaurant was running a promotion that week: try the burger and if it wasn’t one of the top 10 in LA, it was free.

Not being burger eaters, Merideth and I opted for the Meat and Cheese selection from the Charcuterie portion of menu. Meat and cheese are the two other important cogs in a beer geek’s diet.

A toast in the brewery

Our day was an eye-opening experience. With good beer and great hospitality, Merideth and I will definitely need to make more trips to the Southland. Even if we don’t make it to LA proper, we know there is good beer on its outskirts. Thanks to Alan and Roger for their wonderful hospitality.

View all the images from our day in the Southland…