Evangelizing Cask Ale.


 

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Yesterday was the two-year anniversary party at MacLeod Ale, here in Van Nuys, held at the brewery on Calvert St.

It coincided with one of the hottest days of the year.

A hot wind baked the concrete front yard set with white tents for ticket sales, another tent housing a barbecue preparation area.

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A black cook loaded meats into a black steel smoker under a cloudless blue sky.

Inside MacLeod, workers, guest workers and guests hunkered down in dimness, air-conditioned. 30 or more firkins from various breweries were built into groups of six, laid down on inclined, mobile lumber units on wheels. Each cask was plugged on top with cork. And at the bottom each one employed a white plastic faucet for pours.

The Pasadena Scots Bagpipers warmed up in preparation for their opening march through the brewery.

Owner Alastair W. Boase made a last minute run in a small Mini Cooper and came back with bags of ice unloaded by the guest workers and brought in and laid on top of each cask to keep them cool. The drooping, dripping ice kept the beer coldish with the weak efficacy of wet towels on the sweaty heads of Indonesian soccer players on the field at halftime.

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Last year, MacLeod held its one-year anniversary.

To me, hyped up on IPA, a lover of Full Sail and Lagunitas, MacLeod served a weak, warm, sweet, low alcohol malty authenticity called British Style Ale.

To my uninformed palate and to my unschooled-in-beer mind, the brews were something new but not always enjoyable.

The ideology of MacLeod Ale was firmly entrenched by a young and serious head brewer who rigidly and strictly obeyed his self-imposed dogma of what constituted proper British beer. Dour and dressed in leather braces and a tweed-driving cap, he affected a uniform of anti-social seriousness. He was obstinate, at times argumentative, sometimes on the warpath with owners. Others respected and admired his fastidiousness, commitment and exactitude. The truth of his tenure at MacLeod is subjective.

At 27, he was the head brewer of a new brewery. So that alone made him an object of envy. And maybe some of an element of Schadenfreude popped up when he fell down and was thrown out.

There was an upheaval within the brewery in late 2015 and the young cultist was fired and replaced with a new brewer.

The happy result, seen in profits and popularity, has been an artistic renovation melding historic beverage preservation with robust technological innovation.

New Head Brewer Josiah Blomquist came from an engineering background but he also had made his own alcoholic beverages, including beer, whisky and other exotic intoxicants. With investment in new equipment, and a new investor named Jerry Cohen, MacLeod now has advanced water purification, new tanks, and new filters to remove impurities. But there is also a fervent energy and openness to allow for colder, stronger, more aggressively flavored beers to come into the fold.

 


Last year, the one-year anniversary seemed to revel in presenting discussions, where brewers sat on a podium and talked in a panel about their various beers. There were two or three of these, lasting several hours.

This year, there was just one set up and it was dismantled after an hour. Afterward came a variety of jazz performers, including one terrific, 1920s inspired trio of musicians. The choice of music: individual, idiosyncratic, whimsical, embodies MacLeod.

MacLeod Ale today is no longer the ingénue. It occupies sort of a higher ledge above the goofiness of American, macho-man, craft beer. If it were a fragrance house it might be Diptyque or Le Labo where whispers of greatness spread quietly among the cognoscenti, and the scent of cultivated, curated success enters the room confidently without shouting.


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Yesterday afternoon, I met one gentleman, Ryan Bell, who worked as a sales rep for a downtown brewery,  Iron Triangle. He was dressed in a dark black shirt with company logo and a straw hat over his bearded face.

We walked over to try his company’s ale which was rich, deep, malty and reminded me of Old Rasputin. He said (if I remember correctly) it was somewhere between a porter and a stout and had an ABV of about 9%.

I expected the discussion to continue about beer.

But after I asked him what he did before he was a beer rep he told me he had been a 7th Day Adventist Pastor. And he was now, fully, committedly, devoutly, an atheist.

He said he wrote a blog, “Year Without God” and was the founder of “Life After God” where he wrote, spoke and consulted the happily godless on their journey of self-enlightened rationality un-poisoned by the imagery of the all mighty.

I was in the company, once more, of an evangelist, another hybrid in the spiritual community of Los Angeles whose own self-awakening constituted a new reality and a new philosophy for explaining and understanding existence. That it might be done by imbibing beer and abandoning faith seemed utterly logical to me, especially inside that hot, crowded brewery party after six or more ales.

My mind wandered from the packed brewery to the national scene and back again to the heat wave.

I was thinking of God and God’s successor, Nothingness. I was looking at Men and their Gods: beers and beards. I was wondering about intelligence and stupidity and how they were so often interchangeable. I was uncertain about what I should believe in or fear: Donald Trump, Radical Islamic Terrorism, certain atheism or certain faith, the NRA or Orlando, porter, ale or IPA.

Lubricated by alcohol, surrounded by many flavors of casks, some beers flavored with chiles, vanilla and rosemary, nothing seemed wrong or right, just there for the taking. I was elated by the possibilities of dropping long held beliefs, and flying into new consciousness by picking up new flavors, guided unintentionally by the atheist pastor beer salesman.

On that Sunday summer sirocco I was on the verge of a breakthrough. Or I might just collapse from alcoholic dehydration.

Fortunately, outside, there was Amy Crook, in a peach pleated skirt, whose hyena laugh and flirtatious giggle danced around the driveway as I recorded her. I joined her under the hot tent and helped check in guests. I tore off tickets, and peeled sticky armbands onto arms gleefully carrying glasses into a raucously animated party, one I knew I would later misinterpret truthfully.

Friday Night Lights at MacLeod Ale


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I stopped by MacLeod Ale in Van Nuys last night.

The mood was low-key. Scottish music played. People sat on stools in the cool air-conditioning. The servers were jokey.

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Brewer Andy Black, serious and studious as usual, was in back testing his brew for sugar content.

At the new wood tables up front, people sat, drank beer and ate pizzas and truck food from Haute Burger.

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This good looking couple came all the way from Haskell Street in Lake Balboa.

And outside the brewery, as night closed in, the dented cars and steel fences stood motionless as another long, hot day on Calvert Street went dark.

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Beer Bloggers Gather at MacLeod’s.


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Andreas and Andrew.
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Brew Master Andy Black at his work station.
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Linda Whitney: “So many beers, so little time…”

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MacLeod’s held a special event, this past Sunday, for beer bloggers at its new brewery in Van Nuys.

The actual opening is Sunday, June 22 at 14741 Calvert St.

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Co-owner Jennifer Febre Boase.

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Artisanal cheeses, Scottish crackers and biscuits were served alongside pints of The Little Spree (Yorkshire Pale Ale).

The vibe was clean, fresh, friendly and authentic.

There is nothing like it in LA. And it may carve out a new niche of lower alcohol beers brewed authentically British.

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Owner Alastair Boase serves Andreas Samson.
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Hand lettered chalk signs were created by Alastair.

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Jesse Cairnie
Jesse Cairnie

Among the Right Angles


The new community growing up around Lankershim and Magnolia is a place of right angles. Lofts and windows, rooflines and balconies: all are straight and horizontal, crisp and clean.

I walked around here today, mid-day, in the white sun, along Chandler, McCormick, Blakeslee and Magnolia, in-between new apartment rental offices, new hair salons, new trees, into new pie and new beer restaurants.  UPS and Federal Express trucks, moving trucks, street sweepers, security guards and parking violation officials swarmed everywhere, bringing goods and dropping fines.

It was déjà vu for me, remembering my daytime walks in New York City around Tribeca, Soho and Noho in 1988, selling advertising for the brand new New York Press.  The west side of Tribeca was just developing, and people were opening yoga salons, restaurants, and bars and looking at their reflections in the glass, just as they do today.  I was in an urban frontier, tamed, not by the lasso and rifle, but Robert DeNiro and JFK, Jr.

Frenetic, and fast, promiscuous and pretentious, I was full of energy and youth, dressing well, working out, caught up in an endless chase for sex and security and a way up. I ate in every good restaurant on my $15,000 a year salary and ended up with anyone who I laid my eyes on.

And I saw that urge today, as I walked past guys pouring out of the gym, and sexy girls on their cellphones, and the eternal sunshine of the spotless streets, a corporate paradise rented out and made up like a real city, but really just another atomized blot on the desert.

A “friend” of mine, who moonlights as an escort and personal trainer, rented an apartment in one of the large complexes near the Red Line and told me many sex workers inhabited his building.  But in the bright sun, under the bright signs, on the well-swept sidewalks, all is clean and happy and progressive.  And one must remember that one of the largest sex toy companies in the world, Doc Johnson, earning millions and employing hundreds, is headquartered nearby.

Anyone who comes to LA and says he is not a whore is also a liar.  And anyone who attempts to make an honest living here will surely fail.

Carfree Living

Los Angeles does not often impress in civic infrastructure, but this corner and pocket NE of Universal City comes close.

Of all the places in the San Fernando Valley, this one has taken off the most, in self-creation and self-realization, in the last five years.  It has done it by refuting and rebelling against the old car-centered model of Los Angeles.

You don’t need it here. You can get around on your bike, on foot, via subway, and go see an art movie, drink a craft beer, live in a loft, and attend live theater.  You can work out with elliptical trainers, free weights, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and step and dance classes. Live comedy and live readings of short stories are performed at The Federal.  You can go to school, study and earn a degree at the Art Institute of Hollywood.

It’s a young place again, a dense, digital and creative section remade in the style of the early 21st Century. A place where hanging out on a coffee shop sofa is sometimes industrious, and working in an office cubicle is often useless.

Everything in Los Angeles starts as an experiment, and has its day in the sun, so to speak.  Westwood, the Miracle Mile,  Van Nuys, Panorama City, Canoga Park, all were started in a blaze of optimistic boosterism , like a Presidential campaigner, promising a lot and then sputtering and stalling and sometimes falling to pieces.

Along the edges of North Hollywood, the old decay and weedy lots sit, like determined and patient killers, ready to strike back  and take down life. And with a deathly silence the ancient Verdugo Mountains, back there in the distance, watch the silly activities and wait…..

Budweiser Opening in Van Nuys: 1952


Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser groundbreaking, Van Nuys, 1952
Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser groundbreaking, Van Nuys, 1952

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Budweiser

TOP:USC Digital Archive
LOWER 2: LA Public Library

55 years ago, the opening of the Budweiser plant on Roscoe Blvd. was a big event. Costing $20,000,000
and employing 1500 workers, the plant was a large contributor to the post-war prosperity of Van Nuys.

In 1957, the NAACP launched a boycott of Budweiser beer. An NAACP spokesman said that there were only two “Negroes” employed by Annheuser-Busch in their entire Los Angeles operations! Here is a more detailed article about the racial prejudice black workers faced in the 1950s.

Busch Gardens and Bird Sanctuary was part of the complex and a major tourist attraction for many years until it closed in 1976. Here are more photos of that attraction.