East of Los Angeles is a town called El Monte. Many Angelenos think little of El Monte because it’s hot, working-class and a little down-market — worlds away from luxe Beverly Hills, enlightened Santa Monica, and edgy Venice. El Monte is perennially unhip. I beg to differ. Within the past 12 months, thanks to a Jonathan Gold LA Weekly piece on pho in El Monte, I’ve made the drive from the Westside to the Eastside to power eat through LA's Pho Town. Now I know that El Monte is truly a treasure trove of interesting food adventures.
Last week during spring break, I made my husband Rory and our friend Alec trek out to El Monte. I was looking for Quon Yick, a Chinese American noodle maker. (More on Quon Yick soon.) It was a hot afternoon and Alec had to crank up the air-con as we traversed the 10 freeway eastward away from downtown LA. After Quon Yick, we had an hour to kill before picking up Alec’s wife from work so I suggested we get a drink. Rory said that there must be a beer pub nearby as El Monte seemed like a beer drinking kind of place.
Alec whipped out his iPhone and found a listing for Skyscraper Brewing Company. We imagined a brewery pub place with snacks and a happy hour. Though it was only about 3 miles away, it took us 20 minutes to find it. It wasn’t GoogleMaps but rather the fact that Skyscraper is a functioning brewery, with little signage. In fact, it’s located near some tire and auto-repair shops in a funky part of El Monte. Skyscraper Brewing Company is a real beer factory.
The brewery’s website said that they had tastings from 5 to 8pm and when we walked up, we announced that we’d arrived to taste. We didn’t know what to expect. They were bottling beer and there wasn’t a counter or bar. Soon, a man in a Skyscraper shirt appeared and introduced himself as Phil. On the way into the brewery, I’d noticed a sign about a brewmaster’s named Phil. This was he but he demurred at being called the brewmaster, “I’m the janitor and owner. Want to taste some beer?”
Of course and we moved over to some spigots set into a wall. A friendly, sharp guy in his thirties (my guess), Phil let us taste these three beers:
Bulldozer Honeyweizen: An unfiltered wheat ale with great real honey qualities. I love hefeweizen with Asian food as it’s citrusy. The Bulldozer Honeyweizen combines honey and citrus.
Sancha: Totally cool Mexican-style beer with a sweet, corn quality. Phil said that Mexican beers are traditionally brewed with corn so he wanted to emulate that aspect. I wanted tortilla chips and salsa! Or maybe a zesty Thai or Lao larb with lots of lime juice. This would taste good with any Asian food because of the slight sweet aroma and flavor.
Lug Nut Lager: Phil described this as an Anchor Steam beer. I can’t stand the bitter quality of Anchor Steam but could drink Lug Nut with no complaints. It was round in flavor but definitely full-bodied. I’d have to drink Lug Nut with an earthy dish, maybe an Indonesian beef rendang or something with Chinese sweet bean sauce.
But before I can drink any Skyscraper beer, I have to find it! The brewery is a tiny, growing concern that started 5 years ago. Their beer is seasonal and made in limited production, though they will be expanding soon. Phil said that Whole Foods in Los Angeles carries Skyscraper.
When we checked the WH in Venice, they said that Phil comes in to check up on them but it’s hard to get his beer and keep it in stock. “It’s hard to satisfy Southern California’s thirst for beer. There is just not enough to go around,” the Whole Foods beer guy told us.
Skyscraper is a Southern California beer and I guess I’ll just have to trek to El Monte for it. At least along with the great pho shops, there’s also fantastic beer. El Monte, you’re my kind of food destination!
That said, Phil’s beer underscored the fact that beer comes in many flavors and weights. Microbreweries (even nanobreweries) are popping up everywhere so there is a lot to choose from.
Along with the beer tasting with my dad, it was quite the beer week. I suppose we’re just gearing up for warm weather to come! Or maybe it was just our version of Spring Break?!
If you’ve had Skyscraper, do weigh in. Or, is there a microbrewery that you like? It doesn’t need to be widely distributed. Drink local.