Photo by Diego Mancilla
Last night I attended the grand opening of a new gastropub and brewhouse in the heart of Sherman Oaks called Bluebird Brasserie, one of Tony Yanow’s latest ventures. This eclectic, medieval space will no doubt become one of my favorite watering holes for various reasons, especially since I live only six miles away. Join me on a little journey as we explore different topics such as the significance of craft beer in my life, how Draft In Style was born and why I’m such a big fan of Bluebird Brasserie. However, I’m going to cover some touchy and controversial subjects because the time has finally arrived for me to address this. So to all my craft beer friends who are bitter about the Golden Road acquisition, I’m giving you an opportunity to opt out now. You can continue reading if you’d like, but don’t tell me I didn’t give you a heads up.
I was introduced to craft beer back in 2010 and simply put, that’s when the entire journey began. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was invited to grab a beer at a cool new spot in Sherman Oaks (funny how I’ve come full circle) called Blue Dog Beer Tavern. For those of you who were not old enough to drink eight years ago, let me explain why this cozy little place was so exciting for me. I’ve always been a beer drinker, but like most, was completely ignorant about the limited knowledge we had in the U.S about beer, let alone craft beer. So all I was drinking were Coronas, Heineken or Stella, purchased from the grocery store or enjoying a nice cold one at a restaurant or club. I wasn’t too fond of the dive bar scene because most of them were either super creepy or just not an atmosphere I wanted to be in. Then, lo and behold, I discover Blue Dog Beer Tavern: an adorable little tavern that had a nice vibe, great people and what seemed like a unique (remember, I still don’t know what craft was) selection of beers. So here is where it gets interesting. I was advised to try the St. Bernardus ABT12…a quad! So I go from drinking less than 5% beers to a 10% ale. But here’s the kicker- I didn’t even realize what was going on until my second beer. Up until that point, I had NEVER once checked the ABV of a beer because there was no need- three Coronas would go down like water. But that evening, after my first sip of this delicious abbey ale, I got distracted by all the eating and laughing and before I even knew it, another round had been ordered. It wasn’t until I was finishing up my second glass when I got up to go to the restroom and it hit me…I was extremely buzzed. I felt like I had taken several shots, but all I had was beer. What on earth did I just drink? I was utterly confused but ridiculously intrigued. So after that night, I went on a mission to find more Belgian ales! And this is how it all began.
The next several years were pretty tough. I dreaded special events like weddings and birthday parties because I was miserable without any beer. I would try to enjoy wine but it would put me to sleep. So I would switch to vodka or tequila, but how many shots can you take at a wedding? I didn’t like the idea of getting hammered in a classy setting so I stayed away from the hard liquor too. I would enviously gaze at those around me who were sipping whiskey or anything else out of a nice glass. Why couldn’t I do the same with beer? One time, my brother snuck me out of our cousin’s wedding to a dive bar across the street. It was an absolute hole in the wall and there we were, in formal attire, chugging beer at the bar. But we were only chugging because we were in a hurry to get back to the reception. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just enjoy a glass at the wedding? That was actually several years before the idea for Draft In Style came to me, but the seed had been planted. I wanted to be able to drink a nice beer out of a fancy glass wearing a cocktail dress and heels. That was my vision and now it’s my mission to make this the norm. Okay, so let’s fast forward a bit to a few years ago when Wurstküche, Golden Road and Angel City weren’t the only places anymore serving great beer. The craft beer scene in LA was growing rapidly, which was awesome, however, there was still one thing missing, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it just yet.
After booking and attending a few weddings last year when we started the business, I realized how this concept of style and elegance that’s found in wine culture, or even spirits, is almost non-existent in the craft beer scene. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love going to breweries and totally enjoy the casual setting, but sometimes I’ve wondered where I would go if I wanted to grab a beer when I’m all dressed up after leaving a banquet hall, an art show or the theatre and not stick out like a sore thumb. This is where Bluebird Brasserie comes in. After merely seeing photos of the place online, I knew this Belgian-inspired brewhouse was the answer to my dreaded question before I even stepped foot into the building. Now, please don’t think this is some fancy shmancy place where you can’t go in jeans and a t-shirt, but do keep in mind that it’s chic enough for you to walk in wearing a little black dress and stilettos (or a suit if you’re a guy) and completely blend in. Okay, while I’m at it, let me cover decor a bit before we jump into the beer. The entrance from the busy street definitely stands out with its large, arched windows. Even before entering, I felt the neo-gothic vibe as I stood on the corner of Ventura Blvd and Woodman, impatiently waiting for the little white man to appear so I could cross the street. Upon walking in, I couldn’t stop staring at all the bricks that covered the multiple dome-like wall panels. It wasn’t too loud, nor was it too dark; so far, so good! They had a few TV’s by the bar where I noticed some people watching the NCAA basketball championship game, but by no means did it feel like a sports bar. In fact, it didn’t feel like a regular bar, gastropub or brewery at all. There was some mystical element trickling out of the walls, something eccentric, yet comforting. It was as if we were teleported to one of Victor Hugo’s fictional cathedrals in Europe and could feel Quasimodo hiding in pillars above us. The exceptional customer service definitely added to the mysterious aura, which was a pleasant surprise. It was just the perfect blend of modern and casual, high class but not boujee, modest but elegant and distinctive but familiar. What more could I ask for? But wait, it gets better! Let’s talk about the beer.
A wonderful gentleman named Joe was taking care of us and was beyond accommodating. It was a packed house but Joe made my friends and I feel like we were the only ones there. He gave excellent recommendations and entertained us with a few fun stories, including how one of their house beers was named. The drink menu consisted of several Belgian beers, draft and bottled, and some specialty cocktails. Bluebird’s seven-barrel system is beautifully displayed behind a glass wall, which is still clearly visible, even with bar stool seating facing the glass. The head brewer is Noah Regnery, former brewer at Pizza Port Brewing and Hollister Brewing Company. Just about anyone coming from San Diego’s craft beer scene would be a fantastic addition, but Noah’s background includes a little more than just a decade of brewing- he has won several local, national and international awards. Are you as curious to try some of his creations as I was? They only had three house beers available yesterday- a saison, an amber, named after their hat man, and a tripel, which were all terrific. But it wasn’t until I noticed the nitro faucet and all of a sudden was curious to know what other beers they had lined up. When I asked Joe, he not only told us about the next beer, which is available as of today, but he brought us a taster and asked Noah to stop by our table to answer any other questions we may had. In my very first blog post I talked about the snobbish attitude of non-beer drinkers. Read my #10 reason and you’ll see how accurately Noah depicts exactly what I’m describing. But back to the story, five minutes later comes the wonderul head brewer- a kindhearted and genuninely nice guy, who was just an absolute joy to chat with. Joe popped back a few minutes later with our tasters- a Belgian blonde ale they named Showtime. It was a light, earthy ale, nothing complex at all- exactly as it should be. The finish was a bit softer than usual, which I enjoyed, since most blonde ales these days have too much of a crisp, pilsner-ish quality at the end. We geeked out over some beer talk and Noah shared different stories with us including the amber they named “Chapeau du Jour”, which translates to “hat of the day.” He explained that “one of the hardest things about making beer is coming up with a good name.” Well, lucky for them, one of their co-founders named Danny, made it easy for the others to create a unique name, as they were sitting around the office one day, figuring out what they should call their amber. Here’s why: Danny is known for wearing different styles of hats every day. We’re talking about baseballs caps, fedoras, top hats and even one with a propeller on it. So the beer not only has certain characteristic notes, but is a character itself! Speaking of characters, let’s go back to the blonde ale for a minute. Catering to the locals, Showtime is named after a 90’s TV series that aired on Showtime and was called, you guessed it, Sherman Oaks, as in Sherman Oaks, California. And to take it even further, the clever little logo of the blue bird-morphed hop is symbolic of a jay bird, a native species in California. You like all these fun correlations, don’t you? I do too. Okay guys, the beer was great, the people were amazing and the ambience was lovely. So what was I warning you about in the beginning, you ask? Okay, keep reading.
When Golden Road was bought out by Ab InBev back in 2015, the craft beer community flipped out…and it hasn’t stopped. Nine out of ten people I talk to absolutely abhor Golden Road and have some harsh, but obviously ignorant comments to make about the people who were involved in the sale. I get it guys. Ab InBev has done some pretty nasty things to the industry, but we’re viewing this entire acquisition backwards. When I tell people that there is an upside to every situation, they argue that the Golden Road sale has done more harm than good. Well, I can now confidently say that I beg to differ.
Tomm Carroll, an extraordinary beer writer, wrote one of the best articles I’ve ever read, which can be found in Beer Paper LA’s November 2017 issue. He gently discussed some controversial topics, including the campaign led by the Brewer’s Association, “Take Back Craft” and how it “admits defeat.” I couldn’t agree more. He also expressed his thoughts on the association’s “independent” craft beer bottle logo or as he calls it, the “ass-up bottle” and what it represents, which most certainly, “has nothing to do with independence.” It was such a relief to know that someone as established as Carroll shared similar viewpoints as I did. I was merely a craft beer enthusiast before starting Draft In Style and was eager to be a part of the industry, but little did I know that I would quickly be turned off by the small thinking mentality that most of the people have. I can’t stand it guys. We can’t look at things from just one angle and play the victim. There is no victim. We’re fighting a civil war, and frankly, it’s just silly. Can you imagine going to a farmer’s market and meeting grumpy artisanal cheese makers? No, because they don’t exist! You’re never going to hear anyone complain about how Kraft Singles is ruining the cheese industry and making it difficult for the others to run a business. In the same way, you would never hear a baker saying that he’s struggling because Wonder Bread is taking up shelf space. Or have you EVER seen the founders of Pizza Rev or Umami Burger making nasty comments about Pizza Hut or McDonald’s? Same industry, different markets. The educated will make better choices, so how about we educate instead of hate? And we can do it quietly! No protest, backlash or victim talk necessary; just make a lot of money and go put it to good use. Enter Tony Yanow. In 2016, he made the following statement: “I’m still the same guy, still the same beer lover, but the difference is now I have some of AB’s money that I’m going to go use for new beer projects.” I remember reading this and thinking that only time will tell. And guess what? It has.
Now, Mohawk Bend and Tony’s Darts Away had nothing to do with the acquisition, so I won’t include them in the list below, but let’s take a little look at what has happened to some of that money, shall we? Last spring, right around this time, I was chatting with one of the bouncers at Spring St Bar when a friend and I were bar hopping down Spring St. I was looking at the big chalkboard draft list up on the wall and telling him how I remember most of the beers from when I started going there in 2010. He then proceeded to tell me that they were in the middle of revamping the entire menu and most of those beers weren’t going to be there anymore. This caught my attention so I asked, “how come?” That’s when I found out about Tony’s involvement in the DTLA scene. We actually started talking about beer education and he mentioned that he learned what the Cicerone program was since the staff was going through “some kind of a new training.” My ears perked up because I only had my first level certification at the time but knew how this “new beer training” would completely shift the craft beer experience in DTLA. And not only is Tony’s involvement bringing education to these bars, but better menus! Being a vegetarian, I struggle to find some healthier options at pubs. Beelman’s, which is just a few doors down from Spring St. Bar, now carries an all vegan menu. Thanks Tony! Although not every establishment in the following list is vegan/vegetarian focused, several of them now are. But the food aside, I’m ecstatic about what Tony and the ABC team have been up to, so check out this list. Here we go: Beelman’s, The Bell Marker, Brennan’s, Library Bar, Sixth St. Tavern, Spring St. Bar, The Stalking Horse Brewery & Freehouse, The Old Chalet (formerly known as The Black Boar), Bluebird Brasserie, Burbank Common (still in development), a new craft beer and pizza restaurant on Green St. in Pasadena (still in development) and I’m sure many, many more.
With the expansion of the ABC Team throughout Los Angeles, more people are going to have access to local brews, which means way more people will be drinking craft beer. In conclusion, all I want to say is, it’s not just about making good beer. Production is not synonymous with distribution. The biggest challenge with the craft beer industry is how much they rely on associations, which frankly, don’t have the skill set to pull it off. Meanwhile, I hope you visit Bluebird and some of the other establishments I mentioned so you can see what I’m talking about. There’s more unification than ever and it’s only going to get better. Cheers!