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Northward from L.A.

June, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Depending on traffic- the morning and evening rush hours actually total over six hours of the commuting day -the trip north on I-5 from Los Angeles to the bedroom community of Valencia can take over an hour. Barren landscape and tree-less rolling hills, this bleak town has at least one bright spot. Wolf Creek Brewing Company has been a welcome port in this desert storm since April 1997.

This small- capacity 100 -brewpub is well situated in a grocery store shopping center. A helpful bartendress and friendly barstool locals made me feel right at home. Behind the bar was a four barrel brewing system, framed by a signboard rating each Wolf Creek beer by bitterness. Apparently IBUs (international bittering units) are more meaningful to the local beerdrinkers than alcohol content. Thatís fine with me.

Sample tastes were willingly supplied without even asking. Bald Eagle ESB began sour. Its medium body was pleasantly bitter from British-grown hops. At nearly 7% alcohol, Kodiak Red Ale was complex, warm from its recipe of five different malted barleys. Grizzly Bear Porter was harsh from too much roasted malt. Too thin for style, flavors exuding from this dark-brown grainy brew ran from smoky, in taste and aroma, to chocolatey. Winter Wonderland, a seasonal offering, was spiced with some indeterminable additives and had a fierce alcohol punch to boot.

Not on line when I visited, other rotating Wolf Creek beers include Plains Bison Brown Ale, Yellowstone Wolf Pale Ale, Arctic White Wolf Wheat and Timberwolf Pale Ale. Guest micros, such as Sierra Nevada Celebration, Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar and Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout, round out the beer list.

Wolf Creek is a great little local brewpub, full of charm and friendly folks.

Headed back toward LA (always start your brewpub cruises at the furthest destination), in the earthquake epicenter town of Northridge resides Country Club Brewery & Restaurant. Founded in late 1997 in an old Hamburger Hamlet building, this brewpub has nothing to do with a country club. Although this was only her first week on the job, bartendress Linda was attendant and as considerate as she could be, several times running back into the kitchen seeking answers to my inane beer-related questions.

This sprawling establishment was a bit under-populated for a Wednesday night. And only five of the usually-seven beers were on tap, though all were quaffable. Served mistakenly (as Linda found out later) with a lemon slice, Hip Hop Wheat was done American-style, malty start, hoppy finish- nice and light. Country Club Birdee Pale Ale presented a fruity flavor, leaving a lingering, tingling hop impression. Strong in malt taste, Red Madness Golden Amber (two colors in one name?) was thin with an astringent finish, actually a pleasing sensation. Country Club Stoney Mountain Stout was a half-breed of sorts. Its creamy entrance, reminiscent of an Irish stout, quickly gave way to an Imperial stout closure, tannin, harsh and Herculean.

I was shocked when the thoughtful bartendress pulled out a can of whipped cream. And even more horrified when I saw what she was doing to the tall glass of Pumpkin Porter which I had ordered. Beneath that bed of white fluffy non-dairy goo wafted a cinnamon aroma. Noticeably high alcohol foretold a roasty body. Slightly thin for a porter, and very tart to the tongue, there was little pumpkin to be found amidst the spicy aftertaste.

Itís not often that I venture northward from Los Angeles. The sights, sounds and beer of southern sites like La Jolla, Laguna Beach and San Diego are usually too tempting. My enjoyable evening in Valencia and Northridge will make that decision even more difficult next time.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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