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As summer in L.A. begins to heat up, there is nothing like a cold beer to cool you off. This weekend, Angelenos are in for a treat when a group of craft beer enthusiasts open up the first of several craft beer gardens in West Hollywood at 8950 Sunset Blvd.
The event is organized by ColLAboration, a group of craft brew pub owners, to inform beer enthusiasts about craft beers and to put a new twist on beer festivals. The group’s members, Ryan Sweeney of the Surly Goat in West Hollywood, Brian Lenzo of the Blue Palms Brewhouse, Clay Harding of the 38 Degree Ale House and Grill and Tony Yanow of Tony’s Darts Away came together because “it made sense and it’s a way we can get our word out and tell our story and get people interested in craft beer,” Sweeney said.
ColLAboration will now host a series of popup beer garden events in a way they would like to be treated at a beer festival because “most [beer festivals] do it in a way that isn’t fun or comfortable for us,” Yanow said.
“Right now there are a lot of beer festivals, and a lot of people, who don’t really care” about drinking quality beer, Yanow said. “The idea is not drink as many little shots of beer as you possibly can and drink forty beers, but to drink out of full pints with appropriate glassware and sit around with your friends.”
In college, Sweeney was the guy who showed up to parties with his own beer, because whatever people were drinking at the party wasn’t good enough. Now, the passion he developed over time has become a career.
“There were so many incredible breweries in California I couldn’t even get in L.A.,” said Yanow, who claimed his infatuation with craft beer began as a teen.
A Canadian native, Yanow quickly learned of the city, state and federal ordinances that make brewing beer challenging, which led him to open up a tap house.
“In the last year, there has been a huge explosion of interest in craft beer, it’s apparent to anyone,” Yanow said. “I used to go to San Francisco to drink beer, because there wasn’t any place to do it in the area. There was this interest that wasn’t tapped into.”
Now, nearly every bar or restaurant in Los Angeles carries craft beer or at least one option.
“You have to, it’s just not good enough to not offer any craft beer,” Sweeney said.
In 2008, as the housing and stock markets began to sink, and many industries were negatively affected, craft brewers experienced the opposite, expansion.
“It’s kind of unbelievable, in 2008, when we started to head into a difficult economy, I think many of us were concerned we might see a slow down and a time where people might feel like they couldn’t afford a good beer, but just the opposite has happened,” said Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Small Brewers Association (CSBA). “Although the growth has slowed a little bit, the craft brewing segment nationally is the only segment that continues to grow, and continues to grow quite strongly.”
For beer enthusiasts like McCormick, who first got into craft brewing in 1982, the movement has come a long way since craft beer was originally referred to as micro-brewed beer.
“In the mid ‘80s, the term micro-brewed beer was not a household name, and selling something such as a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was a difficult sale,” McCormick said.
Today, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico, Calif. is now widely known and is one of the largest craft breweries in the country, but is still considered a small brewery, McCormick said. A small brewery, as defined by congressional definition, is one that produces less than 2 million barrels a year.
According to McCormick, there are more than 250 different breweries in California, and more than half of them belong to the CSBA.
The CSBA functions primarily as a legislative advocacy group focusing on legislation and other legal issues that affect small brewers, McCormick said.
“California is kind of middle of the road compared to other states,” McCormick said. “It’s less restrictive than some states, but more restrictive than others, but generally the laws do favor small breweries being able to start up and get going.”
But small brewers constantly face the threat of additional taxes, McCormick said, adding that 54 percent of a beer’s cost goes to taxes.
The key to the growth of the industry has been its focus on educating the public about the existence of craft beer brewed in California that rivals quality beers around the world, McCormick said.
“We have a vibrant craft brewing industry in California,” McCormick added.
ColLAboration’s popup beer garden events will also take place later this month on July 16 and July 23 at the same location. The event costs $10 plus a 69-cent service fee, which earns you a custom membership glass that will also grant you access to each ColLAboration event. Beer will range in price $5 – $6.
“We are not fly-by-night beer people, we are in it for the long haul,” Yanow said of the group. “We love the community.”
After years of growth, ColLAboration believes L.A. is finally ready for a new kind of craft beer fest.
“To think five years ago that we would be at the Sunset Strip in front of the Roxy doing a craft beer garden, I would have never believed it, ‘nah, no way it’s so niche’, but now you are seeing it.” Sweeney said.
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