Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Steingarten LA

Looking for a new place to grab a brew on the Westside?  I always am, and quite frankly the selection is limited.  Oh don't get me wrong, I love me some Library Alehouse and Father's Office, but neither place is really great for watching a game, and we're right in the middle of NBA playoffs.  The beer curve drops off considerably after those two.  After a few bad experiences at Broadway Alehouse and West 4th and Jane, I think they're off my list, which means the nearest bar that serves craft is Tony's in the Marina.

So it was with that dilemma that I decided to venture a little farther west to the latest addition in LA's ever growing beer scene: Steingarten LA.  I was able to swing by a couple of weeks ago for a Lakers Blazers game to see what they're up to.  The German sounding beer bar keeps a fairly low profile, stashed away on the border of West Los Angeles and Culver City and is really more of a Belgian bar than the name might suggest.

Walking into the bar it was much bigger than I expected and what they lack in signage or website – it's a rather nondescript area on Pico – they certainly make up for with a gigantic space.

On the far side of the restaurant are some great long German Beer Hall style tables.  In addition to the roomy interior and high ceilings, there's a large retractable skylight above the tables that gives the bar a natural light feel that you can't beat.  Ahh, no more wasting the days away drinking in the dark.  You can see by the pictures, that decor is actually quite nice, they've obviously spent some money on the layout and decorating the place.  I especially liked the non-desrcript taps.

There's also a small outdoor area with heat lamps.

Guided under the tutelage of Dave Watrous, who has worked with Broadway Alehouse, the Woodshop Series, and Tony's, the beer selection is excellent.  There are 20 taps, all of which rotate.  The night we were there, some of the highlights were New Belgium's La Terroir, Firestone's Double Jack, Brasserie Dieu de Ciel's Rosee d'Hibiscus, Lost Abbey's Serpent's Stout, Port's Mongo, and many more; American, Belgian, German, Czech, and ahhh... what the hell, British brewing too, all represented here.

Looking elsewhere off their menu of broad and diverse selection of rotating taps, Dave really loves bottle conditioned beers, so their bottle collection has a number of excellent selections.  Here are some highlights, Russian River's Pliny the Elder and Supplication (which we could not resist ordering a bottle of), Mikkeller Rausch Geek Breakfast, Firestone Abacus, Cantillon de Rose Gambrinus and others.

In addition to their extensive beer collection, kept properly stored at appropriate temperatures in their beer cellar and fridge, they are doing mixed drinks.  I'm not as knowledgeable about mixed drinks, but I am a fan.  The charge is being led by Luke Wederbrook who is to spirits what Dave is to beer. Bartenders were mixing up some impressive concoctions, handing out samples, and the bar was littered with some of the most exotic bitters I've ever seen.  On one of my subsequent visits I definitely plan on trying a special hopped up whiskey that I saw on the menu.

They've got a few brand new LCD TVs, which were perfect for sitting at the bar and watching the game.  I wore the appropriate attire:

We weren't exceptionally hungry so we ordered a pretzel and a deer salami sandwich.  The pretzel was pretty good, very soft, served hot with a sweet mustard.  It could have used some big salt flakes, but otherwise we enjoyed it.

The deer salami sandwich was a little harder to pick out from their exotic list of game meat sausages and sandwiches, but we ordered it upon recommendation.  The salami itself was very good, however, the rest of the toppings didn't live up to the salami and overall it was sort of dry.  They're highlighting their sausages though, so next time I plan on trying some of those.

The place was sparsely crowded when we got there at around 7pm, but really hopping when we left around 10pm.  The crowd was a mix of co-workers, groups of friends, and a few dates, mostly in the late 20s to mid 30s range.  On the night, I drank a Double Jack, Serpent's Stout, and finished with one of my favorite Wild Ale's, Supplication.  Megan had a La Terroir, Rosee d'Hibiscus, and split the Supplication with me.

Otherwise it was a great time and the Blazers even won, which was a nice button on the night. I'm actually glad it didn't turn out to be a traditional German Beer Hall.  While I enjoy said places of Bavarian inebriation, I can't help but feel that with the westside Wurstkutche opening in the old Air Conditioning building this summer, we're reaching our tipping point in LA. Steingarten offers its own take on something between European bar and an American Gastropub that gives it a bit of distinct character.  With excellent taps and room to stretch your legs it's a great place to get a beer that I'll be adding to my short Westside list.  Dave has really made sure that the servers all have at least a rudimentary knowledge in beer, which means they can answer your questions and have taken the time to serve your beer properly.  Best of all, Dave has a wealth of beer knowledge he can share with you.  I'll be interested to see how the mixology goes for them. When I was there, it was a about 60/40 beer to mixed drinks and Dave said they're hoping to incorporate some cocktails with beer in them.  Be sure to check it out!

Steingarten LA is located at 10543 W Pico Blvd in West Los Angeles.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Victory Baltic Thunder

The Baltic Porter is an interesting style that you don't see too many of in your daily beer travels.  Despite what the name suggests, the style originated in 18th Century England, but was named Baltic because they were mostly made for export to Russia.  Countries along the Baltic coast such as Poland, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, and others enjoyed the beer so much that they took up their own production of it.  That's why most Baltic Porters you'll find are from those regions or from American Craft Breweries who are interested in the style. 

The interesting thing about this style though is that despite the porter name, it's actually a lager.  The style should ideally have roasted malt flavors and aromas with a smooth mouthfeel.  You might have a little bit of hop flavor depending on the brew, but ideally it should take a back seat in a major way to the heavy toasted malts. 

The Victory version of this beer is a tribute to the Baltic God of Thunder and has a fair amount of head with a thin roasted chocolate aroma.  The color is a very nice ruby brown.  My first sip is immensely complex with loads of roasted grain flavor. 

There's a lot of chocolate mixed with toasted grains laced with the most ever so slight hints of coffee.  The alcohol content is on the higher side at 8.5%, but the beer remains immensely drinkable with a smooth mouthfeel conjuring flavors of cherries and dates supporting the bold toasted grains.  There's just the slightest hint of a chalky mouthfeel towards the end of the sip that keeps this beer from being a five-star, but any flaws in the brew certainly wouldn't be due to flavor.

Because it's a lager it maintains a light body despite its bold flavors.  This one is real pleasure to drink.  Ideally, this would be great to pair with heavy barbeque, but tonight I'm just having some roast chicken.  I'm curious if it could also hold up to some chocolate desserts?  The malts are just rich and sweet enough that I think they might.

I picked up my bottle at the liquor store on Pico just east of 20th St in Santa Monica, but chances are BevMo or Beverage Warehouse will have this one.  Definitely call to check first.

Baltic Thunder: ****

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Estrella Damm Inedit

You don't often hear about beers from Spain.  Spain, along with much of Southern Europe is far better known for its winemaking than its beer drinking.  Historically, this stems from the Mediterranean region's warmer climates, which were more ideal for growing grapes than hops.  However, we're starting to see some more experimental and hand craftd beers coming out of places like Italy and Spain, and we owe the historic winemaking countries at least the decency of drinking their beer. 

The Witbier, or White Ale as it's also known, is a wheat beer with a cloudy appearance that first appeared around the eleventh century.  Wit means white, which comes from the color and cloudy appearance of the beer.  It was one of the first beer styles brewed with hops although ironically today most versions let hops take a back seat to flavors like orange and coriander.  The style has enjoyed immense success in many countries and with multiple variations.  There are different variations of light and dark witbiers, but most often you'll find them on the paler side like this one.  In that case, what you're looking for is notes of orange and corriander with a creamy texture and maybe a slightly acidic finish. 

Having poured Senor Estrella here, I see it has a pale straw appearance with just a hint of cloudiness.  Head retention is fairly decent, although I'm not seeing a lot of lacing at the moment.  A lot of orange in the aroma mixed with some other spices, sort of a freshness to it.  There's a slight funk going on here where it should be floral, hard to tell what it is; nothing as strong as a lambic, but there's something a little out of character.  Not much carbonation, which would help to make it a bit creamier, however, otherwise the body is alright..

Tonight I'm pairing this with some Thai food from Bangkok West, which is all wrong, but obviously I didn't have time to plan this one out.  Ideal pairings would be something lighter that won't overpower the light body and flavors of this beer; think seafood like mussels and salmon, or chicken and game hen in the bird world.

While the flavors are all in the right place, there's something missing that should be bridging them a little better.  The orange, while very strong, finishes a little watery letting the hop acids strike where there should be more a little more body and richness of flavor.  This means the bitterness is abandoned a little bit naked and cold in the wind and what you're left with is a weak citrus flavor.  Overall, this beer just doesn't pack enough of a punch to really leave a mark. However, if you're still interested in trying it I've seen it popping up all over town.  You can find it's fancy starred bottle at Umami Burger, West 4th and Jane, BevMo, The Bazaar on La Cienaga, Santino's Tapas Wine bar on Lincoln, and the liquor store at Ocean Park and 28th.

Estrella Damm Inedit: **

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Back to School!

This weekend I finally got a chance to check out Public School 612 in Downtown LA.  Since LA is a big city and it's often hard to get around to different neighborhoods, I thought I'd share some pictures and experiences with you.  Add this to your list of places to drink craft beer in Downtown.

In case you haven't heard about PS612, I suggest you read my earlier post about the concept bar from last month.  The bar opened in early March and has been pretty packed since it opened.  I went with a few friends on a quiet Sunday to sample some of the food and brews.

The ethos behind this gastropub, which shares an entrance and kitchen with the Daily Grill on 6th and Flower, is that they're giving you an education in food and beer; trying to elevate the experience and taste-buds of their customers.  Hence the back to school theme.

The place looks really amazing and has the advantage of being completely new and remodeled.  The money they put into making it feel like a singular place really shows: soft lighting, hardwood tables, and paisley wall paper.  The bar is wide and is beautifully presented and best of all they've installed 2 dart boards in the back adding themselves to the short list of bars that serve good beer and have games.  The crowd seemed like late 20s to late 30s and a mix of co-workers taking some time to blow off steam, a group of friends sharing a drink, and a double date or two.  We were there pretty early on Sunday so it wasn't too crowded and the place felt very spacious, but it isn't hard to imagine it bustling with a late night crowd.

On to the beer...  Sad to say they lost their impressive Peachy Folder menus that were presented to me at the concept dinner.  They've been replaced by the old composition books with the black and white fronts.  Not a bad substitute, but the Peachys would have been awesome.  They're sporting about 20 taps with about one representation from every major style.  I asked about rotations and the bartender said they're working on that.  For now they have the resident taps listed below.  These aren't super geek out rare beers, but they're standards and classics in each style and they far surpass what you'll find in the sports bars down the street.  Beers like Racer 5, Black Butte Porter, Allagash White, Arrogant Bastard, 1903, Rasputin are all excellent gateway brews for beer geek novices to explore different styles and expand their knowledge of breweries.  While I stuck to draughts this time, I was very interested to see that they had Orval, Curieux, Telegraph's Stock Porter, and Wipeout IPA in bottles.... next time.

 A cheers to kick off the afternoon.  I started with the Echt Kriekenbier, I was very happy to see it come in the proper glassware, looks like Hallie trained the staff pretty well.

You order at the bar and they bring out to you at your table, so it's a perfect place for ordering a bunch of small dishes and taking your time with them.  First course was the Huevos al Diablor, or deviled eggs.  Notice the jalapenos on top.  These were great, I've always been a deviled egg fan.

Next up was the fried chicken.  This was probably one of my favorite dishes.  It was real pieces of chicken with a thin, but solid breaded crust, none of this amalgamated chicken with cereal on the outside nonsense.  They came with great Siracha Ketchup and BBQ Mustard dipping sauces: subtle touches that set places apart from your run of the mill bars.

We then had the Short Ribs, cooked in Dragoon's Irish Stout.  Some of the folks were only so-so about this one, but I really liked it and enjoyed the mashed potatoes which were drenched in a caramelized onion au jus.  Behind that you can catch a glimpse of the Lamb Burger.  Maybe I'm just not a lamb burger fan, but this one didn't really do it for me.  The bread, arugula, and cheese were all well thought out, but perhaps I just prefer beef burgers.  Lamb burger fans will probably rejoice though as it was cooked perfectly.

By this time I was ready for my second beer.  It's been a while since I've had anything from Eagle Rock Brewery, so I tried their Solidarity, which is a English Dark Mild Ale.  Very glad to see that PS612 is supporting the local breweries as well.

Here's a nice picture of some of the Saison DuPont that Megan was drinking.

Next up for food was the Wild Mushroom and Taleggio Lavash Pizza.  This was probably the food highlight of the afternoon.  Arugula, mushrooms, and Taleggio galore, but what really made it was the hints of chili flakes and truffle oil, really delicious!  I'd like to try this one again paired with some of the lighter Belgian ales they have tap.

The afternoon wouldn't be complete unless we tried their beer float, made with Young's Double Chocolate Stout, and signature PB+J cookies and milk.  The float was great, they nailed the amount of ice cream to beer ratio perfectly.  I'd like to see them branch out and offer some other flavors of ice cream or styles of beer.

Overall, I was pretty pleased with my trip to PS612.  Sitting by the big windows and looking out on the busy streets of Downtown made me happy I was inside drinking a beer and relaxing.  Despite being on the busy corner of 6th and Flower and sharing a space with Daily Grill, the bar maintains its own space, which is a relaxing space to have a quick bite and drink a good beer.  Often it's difficult for new bars that stem from existing franchises to maintain their own identity, but PS612 definitely has personality and character.