If there’s a cultural trend running parallel to the exploding L.A. craft beer scene, it’s localism. People want local beer. Why? If you ask Alex P. Davis — Santa Monica native, UCLA Law graduate, tweeter, blogger, and craft beer maven — the answer is simple: because it tastes better.
Davis and I sat down last week at Santa Monica’s Library Alehouse, where he’s been the ‘resident beer geek’ since August. We lingered over a round of Alaskan Smoked Porter, an artisanal ale brewed with malts smoked over alder wood, and discussed everything from urban transportation (Davis is an avid bicyclist and Metro rider) to his philosophy on beer. Davis believes a sense of location to be fundamental to the success of craft brewing, and necessary for its continued growth, reminding me that prior to Prohibition, beer had been a local product, reflective of regional and seasonal peculiarities, providing a sense of time and place.
While the brewer of our Alaskan porter isn’t exactly local to Southern California, the 49th state does have a long tradition of local brewing. After the United States purchased Alaska in 1867, the territory developed its own unique and colorful tradition of beer-making — a practice that was later snuffed out by Prohibition. That is until 1986, when Geoff and Marcy Larson established Alaskan Brewing Company, the first commercial brewery to open in Juneau in 67 years. The Larsons began with Alaskan Amber, an Altbier brewed with a Gold Rush-era recipe dug up from the local archives, a recipe that, in Geoff Larson’s estimation, reflected “Alaska as it was, and as it is today.”
Like the Amber, the Smoked Porter is also rooted in Alaskan local tradition. Larson calls it “history in a glass.” It may be historic, but there’s nothing musty about this beer. The smokey flavor permeates the ale without overpowering it, lending nuance and creating balance. Davis suggests pairing it with Library Alehouse’s Turkey Meatloaf. But as we found, it’s great for conversation, too – so long as it’s not served in a frosted glass.
“A frosted glass numbs the tongue, neutralizing volatiles and killing aroma,” Davis explained.
I confessed that until recently I had always kept a few frosted mugs in my freezer.
“With an industrial lager, it makes perfect sense,” Davis said. “There’s not much flavor or aroma there to begin with.”
He went on to tell me about a recent visit to The Six:
“I ordered an Allagash White, and the waitress served it to me in a frosted pint glass. I stopped her as she turned to leave, and asked for a non-frosted glass. She looked at me like I had an animal growing out of my forehead.”
Better to look like a monster than drink like a heathen, I thought.