Sunday, April 30, 2006


Pizza Port Pints

There are three Pizza Port brewpubs in Southern California; you will find them in San Clemente, Carlsbad and Solana Beach.

The one in Solana Beach is said to be the most interesting beerwise, and it is also easily reached by public transport, situated just next to the Solana Beach Amtrak/Metrolink Station.

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner service will take you there in 2 hours from the Union Station in Los Angeles (and with San Diego only some 45 minutes away). Starting from the rather nice San Juan Capistrano station in Orange County, near one of the first missions in California, my 45 minute train trip set me back about 11 dollars one-way, but then the Amtrak tickets are quite flexible.

At first glance the place is a bit disappointing. Solana Beach is surfer territory, and the brewpub atmosphere is definitely young, with the carefree student attitude to go with it. To me that does not mean that the wooden long tables have to be dirty and full of trash. Self-service is ok enough (as long as they care to give back the right amount of change- if not, it just adds to the sloppy impression.) With no growlers available that day buying beer to take home was also not an option.

I had my first tasting of their magnificent Cuvée de Tomme at the Nacht van de Grote Dorst in Belgium with the brewer present- tasting it in the brewpub proved more difficult. However, the beers available (as well as the pizza) are all very good, and there are even a few high-quality guest beers on tap.

I tried Hops on Rye, Shark Attack Triple and SPF 15, with the latter turning out a favourite. Its deep rubyred colour and rich, cloying off-white foam looks appetizing, and the aroma is an interesting mix of caramel, spices and yeastiness. Sweet caramel flavours combine with a spicy, yeasty dryness towards the finish, and you will taste fruity flavours as well as some sour notes on the way. All in all, a very complex Belgian-style ale, a blend of Oudenaards Bruin and a saison.

Southern California has some pretty good ports for potent pints...

Friday, April 28, 2006


On Foot for Lambic Au Fût

Or lambiek van 't vat- lambik from the tap. In Brussels, more specifically in the Anderlecht municipality near the Brussel Zuid station, you can go directly to one source of it. The Cantillon brewery is open every day and is billed as Het Brussels Museum van de Geuze. You can wander around and see the brewery, have a beer at the bar and buy their excellent products at a good price.

Once in the area around the station you may want to drop by Au Laboureur at no 3, Grondwetplaats/Place de la Constitution. Like so many establishments in this part of town you will find a solid Mediterreanean influence - charming, exciting and with its large Morroccan population not without dangers at nighttime.

With your back to the Zuid station you will see the enormous Justitie Paleis on the top of the hill and below it one of the best areas for lambiek in the capital- the genuine De Marollen (Marolles) district. Ploegmans and Het Warm Water- the latter with home-made faro based on Girardin lambiek- are places to seek out.

Unfortunately, many tourists do not venture outside the compact old city centre, but there is hope even for them. Almost next to the Beurs, in Rue Tabora no 11, is the La Bécasse- a Brussels institution serving Zoete (sweet) Lambiek (as well as Witte Lambiek) from Timmermans on tap. The former is essentially a faro made especially for this café- the Witte Lambiek (a wit bier made from spontaneous fermentation) is more commercially available. The café oozes history, with lambiek served from traditional mugs. De Girardin faro served at het Warm Water may be more complex and there are few, if any, Brusselaars in the café, but it is still a highly recommended stop.

With fûts like these just feet away from the Beurs (a stone's throw from Grand' Place) you will easily find your feet in Brussels.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Naja's, Naturally!

Naja's Place is a natural choice for beer tourists visiting LA. You may call it the no 2 beer bar in the LA area (after Stuffed Sandwich), and much easier to reach.
Attractively situated at 154 International Boardwalk, which can be seen as an extension of the Redondo Beach Pier complex, you are just feet away from the Pacific Ocean, represented here by the yacht harbour.

The interior is a bit rough. The music and the food, well indeed the whole atmosphere is miles apart from the family atmosphere prevailing at Stuffed Sandwich. But as at Stuffed Sandwich this is a place that takes it beers seriously. The beer list boasts several vintage beers in addition to the impressive 77 tap beers- making a great choice for samplers- I think you can get 4 for 6 dollars. Some of the vintage beers are sold only with Owner Approval, according to their bottle menu, but in practice it may take quite a bit of convincing for owner Jason to part with any of his older bottles from Alesmith or Stone's. But it is absolutely worth the effort!

The great selection of strong West Coast micros was warming on a cold March evening. Mind you, with only open doors and thin windows separating you from the forces of nature their strong spirit is just what you need.

After a nice session at Naja's Place it is nice to know that there is a good bus service back to LAX City Bus Center. Bus no 232 from Long Beach will bring you there safely from the crossroads between Torrance Blvd and Pacific Coast Highway in around 40 minutes. The bus stop itself is a sobering ten minute walk from the Redondo Beach Pier.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


LA Beer Bar Base: T.H. Brewster

In the vast metropolitan area of LA finding a good base is essential for exploring the beer scene. One good choice is Four Points LAX by Sheraton. It brands itself as The Beer Hotel, thus setting it apart from the dozens of other hotels lined up near Los Angeles International Airport- LAX. Its claim to fame is T.H. Brewster's, the hotel bar that serves up craft beers from America and beyond.

True, there are many better beer bars in Los Angeles. Also, passion for (and knowledge of) beer was not the most obvious feature among the bar's Hispanic staff. Inconvenient for this beer tourist was the change in dates for the monthly Beer Appreciation Night since the hotel last updated their web page.

Still, it makes for a perfect last place of call to reflect on the day’s event and enjoy a jolly good night-cap. And many of the American micros on offer at the hotel bar have enough power in them to put a jet-lagged tourist to sleep. As if the great beds and the surprisingly quiet rooms (given the pretty good view of the cockpit of incoming planes) did not already help you get your beauty sleep. (You might already have guessed that the area around the hotel does not score high on charm.)

An added bonus is the proximity to the LAX City Bus Center situated 400 metres away (as well as the Burger King just across the road for cheap fillings until midnight). And if you insist on driving, all the big car rental companies are just a few blocks away on the same road, the appropriately named Airport Boulevard.

A high four points goes to the wonderful North Coast Old Stock Ale, enjoyed at T.H. Brewster. The place deserves a similar high rating.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Stuffed Sandwich

Last month this blogger got a beery business trip to South California. Los Angeles may not be on the top of anyone's list once you have covered Hollywood, Beverly Hills and the usual tourist spots. However, for anyone with the slightest interest in craft beer Los Angeles really proves to be a city of angles.

The archangel Gabriel should be proud that it is in the San Gabriel district of Los Angeles that you will find the best beer bar of them all, a deli shop with the unpretensious name Stuffed Sandwich. It has to be said, in all earnesty, that the working-class (and in Los Angeles context that easily translates into Hispanic) district of San Gabriel holds few other attractions.

Such a heavenly place comes with certain commandments:

Commandment no 1: Be hungry
This is a deli where the regulations say you have to order food in order to drink. So fix your food order first- and the sandwiches are quite good (even if it is all served on plastic and is quite greasy).

Commandment no 2: Buy a beer glass
The deli owners hate washing up so here it is all plastic (or even blue-collared paper cups). Despite being a blue-collar area of the metropolis that is not what you would like like to enjoy world-class beers from. After ordering the food look to the right where the glasses are for sale. You may have have to go to the toilets- sorry, restrooms in American English- in order to wash them, but then again you have come a long way to enjoy the beers at this place anyway.

Commandment no 3: Bring a rucksack
Stuffed Sandwich has a great selection of beer (some hidden from the menu, behind more ordinary bottles) – it may well be the best beer shop in Los Angeles County. If you're found worthy, you may be allowed to buy some real rarities.

Commandment no 4: Bring an attitude (if you have one)
The owner, Sam the Beer Nazi, may or may not bring up some goodies. It is up to him- he decides what he wants to let go of, so if you are knowledgeable of (especially) Belgian and American beer, show it with passion! (But if you’re not, do not pretend, as Sam knows his beers). At the end of the day, and very unususual for Americans, Sam does not accept tips. Do not even think that thou can pay thou way into His favour!

Commandment no 5: Go public
There is very little chance that you will stay in San Gabriel after the closing time of Stuffed Sandwich at 8 pm. And it does not help that some US West Coast craft beers may feel like giving you wings. Unless you have your own private angel, called Designated Driver in US lingo, you'd better go public. And it is easier than you think, even if it surprises the Americans you meet and drink with. (Before pouring me the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, a hop-head's wet dream of 120 IBUs, and not to mention 21% ABV!, Marlene, Sam's wife asked me with a concerned voice: "Do you have to drive far to your hotel, sir?"

From downtown LA's magnificent Union Station, well worth a visit in itself, bus no 78 (in the weekdays also no 378) passes by no. 1145, E Las Tunas Drive every half an hour (or every hour in the evening). It may stop quite a few times underway- Americans are not too fond of walking- but in 40 minutes you should be there. Get off at the crossroads with Willard St., between San Gabriel and Rosemead.

Stuffed Sandwich may well be the Kulminator of the New World- a star of a new Promised Beer Land!

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