The craft beer industry isn't like other industries - it is friendly and collaborative instead of cutthroat or unhealthily competitive. Actually, industry is the wrong word, it's more like a community.
For instance, take the baseball scene. As a Giants fan, I can't help but dislike the Dodgers, our southern California neighbors. Yet, the San Francisco craft breweries hold a special place in my heart (and fridge), but I wish nothing but the best for SoCal breweries - and I know the Bay's craft brewers feel the same.
So, when given the chance to interview the Head Brewer from Hangar 24, a craft brewery based in Redlands, CA (east of LA), that is now being distributed in the Bay, I jumped at the opportunity.
I talked to Head Brewer Kevin Wright at a Beer Revolution tap takeover. We sat around a barrel table and talked shop while the rest of the bar ebbed and flowed around us.
According to one of their press releases, Hangar 24 is one of the top 100 craft breweries in the US. Not only are they popular in SoCal, but their beers are now being distributed in the San Francisco Bay Area. What makes Hangar so successful?
"We are really focused on the local connection," Kevin said, "Our flagship beer is the Orange Wheat, which is grown with local oranges. If you come down to the brewery, you will actually drive through some of the groves where we get the oranges."
Knowing that San Franciscans are such suckers for local ingredients, I could have stopped the interview there, satisfied that readers would believe in this LA brewery's pedigree. Still, Kevin and I continued to talk, and he provided insight into the SoCal beer culture versus the one up here.
"The biggest difference [in CA beer culture] is Northern California has been doing it a lot longer. Sierra Nevada, Anchor, New Albion. Some of the pioneers of the craft beer movement. San Diego has been a hotbed for the past 15 years, while LA has developed in the last five. It is a lot more ingrained up here [NorCal] than it is down south. People [in SoCal] are just as passionate about craft beer, it just hasn't been as big of a fixture."
It would make sense, then, that an LA craft brewery would expand north and try to capture the taste buds of beer drinkers. Distributing their beer up north is one thing, though. Would Hangar 24 build a brewery up here à la Lagunitas in Chicago?
"For now, the plans are distribution. The goal was to get the beer to the people up north that wanted it so they could experience Redlands beer and the Southern California ingredients." Kevin did admit there there were "no plans for a physical location up in NorCal yet...but who knows."
For now, we'll have to sate our thirsts by drinking the beers they will be distributing up here. The list of available Hangar 24 beers is as follows: Orange Wheat, Alt-Bier Ale, Chocolate Porter, Double IPA, Seasonal offerings and the Local Fields series.
What is the Local Fields series?
"Last year it was a series of six beers, each featuring a different local ingredient. This year we are doing those same six, but adding two more," Kevin said. "The most popular last year was a beer called Essence, a double IPA brewed with blood oranges, navel oranges, and grapefruit. Just really interesting interplay of the hop bitterness and the citrus bitterness. The grapefruit brings a lot of bitterness - very different from the hop bitterness. Getting those two to match up with each other was a really fun beer to brew."
The Local Fields series should be available both on draught and and in bottle.
To me, Hangar does what many of the best SF craft breweries do: use local, quality ingredients to make great, unique beers. Just because their brewers are probably Dodger fans doesn't mean we can't enjoy their wares. Think about cracking one open to celebrate a Giants win this season.
Kevin's SoCal Beer of the Moment: Port Wipeout IPA
Kevin's NorCal Beer of the Moment: Sierra Nevada's Celebration