... The taste of beer, its live, white lather, its brass-bright depths, the sudden world through the wet-brown walls of the glass, the tilted rush to the lips and the slow swallowing ... the foam at the corners.
Ah, for a brewpub!
What, you may ask, is a brewpub? Well, among other things, it's a beer connoisseur's dream: a brewery, pub and restaurant all in one.
Until about 100 years ago--before the age of the great corporate monopolies, such as Britain's Watney's and our Anheuser-Busch--European pubs and taverns generally offered beer which was brewed on the premises. It was fresh, original and distinctive. It was brewed with care, because the juice of the barley was as respected as the juice of the grape is today.
Because the brewmaster's art was highly respected, the worth of an establishment rested as much upon the quality of its beer as on atmosphere, accommodation or food. To this day, in many fine British pubs, you can hear a regular customer walk up to the bar and ask: "What's your best bitter today? Give me a pint of your best." By which he means, a pint of the day's best. And the publican will tell him which beer, in his informed opinion, is the freshest, best-tasting barrel.
Such a question to an American bartender would probably be ineffectual--to say the least.
Good Old Days
Sigh . . . But wait. Those days are back in Southern California.
At least they're back at the new City of Angels Brewing Company in Santa Monica--the area's first and only brewpub. And what a place it is. The on-site brewery-restaurant is the brainchild of home-brewing entrepreneur Greg Nitzkowski, financial wizard John Krasznekewicz, architect Peter Wormser and brewmaster Dennis A. Miller, who has a Master's in Brewing Science & Technology from UC Davis.
Together, these four dedicated followers of Mr. Barleycorn have created an unusual establishment. The custom-designed brewing vats are visible from the restaurant, doing their duty in gleaming steel behind walls of glass. The innovative architecture and ample parking (a complex just across the street) aside, City of Angels Brewing Company is a taster's delight--and not just for the four different on-site-brewed beers regularly on tap.
The menu was created especially for the brewpub by City Restaurant chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.
Just a sample of what can be washed down with the beer: Beer-Battered Crayfish in honey-mustard sauce, Pig in a Blanket with champagne sausage and Scotch Eggs.
And the beer menu? The restaurant offers a rich, mellow Heavenly Gold, strong, but not too heavy, with a pleasant, malty aftertaste; an Angel Amber is closest to a good German lager or Pilsner: hoppy, but without the bitter edge one so often associates with these imported beers--due mostly to the fact that by the time they reach us, they are past their prime.
A Fuller Flavor
The obligatory City Light is also fine tasting, being brewed with more wheat than other light beers for fuller flavor. And the fourth beer will be a seasonal specialty. Right now it's a dark stout, very similar to an Australian Sheaf Stout in taste and appearance.
So there you are. Los Angeles has finally joined San Francisco, Boston and Washington in making beer respectable again. City of Angels Brewing Company people will answer your questions about the best pint of the day--and you can sit at a 60-foot bar under artist Alison Saar's specially commissioned mural, "Angel Mutts," and watch the suds being brewed.
City of Angels Brewing Company, 1445 4th St., Santa Monica; (213) 451-0096.)