Maybe the Best, and Best Cared For, Stout in Los Angeles. Also: exceptional beer menu
- Thi N. Mar 31, 2009 10:20 AM
Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, draft, with nitrous (will somebody explain to me exactly with this means?) at Golden State on Fairfax.
Sensuous, velvety, glowing, everything friggin' nutty flavor under the sun, that high stout glow, complete and total life. Glowing with glow-ecstacy. A great, great, *great* friggin' beer. I've always loved Old Rasputin - bottled, one of the two great stouts of America. But on draft, here, it's about four levels up, and it's perhaps the best stout I've ever had. I've never seen it on draft before, anywhere in SoCal. My buddy, Ira, who I was there with - my partner in beverage crime, my co-orderer of bizarre mainland teas, my experimental test subject for home-roasted coffee, and my compadre de liquor, turned to me three sips in and said, "Jesus, Thi, I think this is the best beer I've ever had in my life."
They *know* how to care for it, here, too.
Stout is a tricky beast, on draft. I don't exactly what it is - I remember searching around for good Guinness on draft in Boston, and finding that a few bars were significantly better and when I quizzed the bartenders on it, they always said something about the vast complexities of handling stout perfectly, and holding it at certain temperatures, and they waved their hands in the air talking about nitrous and chemical balances and texture and I really didn't understand, but I gathered that it was tricky, and it took care to do it right.
This feels right. It has the gorgeous, thick, velvet texture, and that high delicate sharp flavor that doesn't quite become sour.
Their beer menu is fantastic, too. Not only Old Rasputin and Green Flash, two of my total favorites, but one of the only places to get Russian River beers in town. They have Pliney the Elder bottles. The owner said he prefers Pliney in bottles to on tap, because the hemp flavor was stronger. I love the draft version better, but I respect his convictions. They have Allegash Curieux. They have rarities on special, too. They get limited edition stuff, weird-ball stuff. Stuff cured in weird bottles, limited edition experimental runs. I talked up one of the owners - he seems to care, big-time, about his beers.
Did you know they make a beer float? A scoop of Scoops in draft Old Rasputin. I may be going back to get this today. Where else can you get a scoop of Scoops, and Old Rasputin from a perfectly cared for barrel of draft? Nowhere, I'm pretty sure. I'd bet a hundred bucks on it. At least. Maybe a thousand. Depends on my mood.
Anyway: the food's pretty good. They're all into their good ingredients. I saw the other thread - some people were complaining about the food. I can see what they're talking about, a little. It's not friggin' exceptional. The ingredient quality is good. It's pretty yum. But really: I think this place is a *bar*. It's not a restaurant, not in its heart of hearts. They have exceptional beers, that they take care of with all their soul, and then good bar food to go with. Hot dogs and burgers (surprisingly great) jalapeno cole slaw. The burger I had was pretty good, and it was... kind of like a compliment to the Old Rasputin. The Old Rasputin dominated the experience, and the burger kind of supported and mostly stayed out of the way. I'm pretty sure this is intentional, although I don't know.
The place felt pretty Berkeley to me - casually made food with high-end ingredients, and exceptional beer. I asked the owner. He said he was from Berkeley. I said, "That makes sense, dude." He may have said, "Dude," back. I'm not sure. It's a Bay Area thing.
Also: I really appreciate the smallness of the beer menu, and the care of the paragraph-long tasting notes. I think the era of the 400-varieties-of-beer-bar is over (except for weird specialists, like The Trappist in Oakland.) The problem these days is information overload. Golden State is like... a filter restaurant. Like an information portal, like About.com. You're paying for somebody to have tasted every beer and picked out *seven* you should try. It's sort of like going to your friend's house, who knows all the good stuff and keeps shoving good beers he's found into your face and telling you all about them.
Restaurant as informational portal. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
Also: there were tasting notes on what beers would go well with Tai Kim's insane Scoops ice cream style. I appreciate this.
Also: I asked him if he considered carrying Blue Bottle coffee, since his thing is "the best stuff from California" and Blue Bottle is obviously the best in California. He said he'd love to, but the price was prohibitive. He'd have to charge, like, $4-5 a cup. I said, I would totally pay for that. He said: yeah, but most people wouldn't, so it probably is a no go.
Maybe if enough Blue Bottle fans let him know...
Thi, first, thanks for your many thoughtful, passionate and detailed posts !
To answer your question about "nitrous", I'm guessing you probably mean nitrogen. Normal draft beer at most bars and restaurants is forced out of the keg using carbon dioxide (CO2). It's possible that this place is using nitrogen instead (at least for this stout), which produces a much finer bubble and results in a nice, creamy head, especially desireable for stouts. This system best approximates a true, traditional "beer engine" type draft system, in which no additional gas is used - rather, the beer is "pulled" or pumped out of the cask. Few places here in the U.S. use this system, but it's somewhat more commonplace in the U.K.
re: Thi N.
Nitro and nitrous are often mistakenly used in an interchangeable manner. Nitro-glycerin and nitrous oxide conger up similar inferences, but nitrogen is what is mixed with CO2 in certain beer delivery systems.
For a somewhat lively forum on this, you can go to the Beeradvocate website:
This site requires free membership sign up/sign in, but is probably one of the most beer-headiest sites I've found...
It may or may not still be that way, but doesn't Guiness draft come in cans that have a small nitrogen capsule in them that is released when the can is opened? I've heard people ask why Guiness cans have a marble inside, but it's that cartridge that comes loose. Not that anything in a can can ever be as good as on draft, but are their other stouts packaged the same way?
Regarding the 'nitrous', it's not really nitrous (nitrous oxide) but nitrogen gas. Most beer gets its bubbles from CO2 either naturally or using forced carbonation, but some porters and stouts get nitrogenated with a mixture of nitrogen and CO2. This gives it a slightly different mouthfeel and causes the bubbles to flow downwards. *Edit* - too slow on the post.
Thanks for the great review I'll have to check that place out.
Old Rasputin on tap is not that rare at the better beer bars.
Russian Rivers are not hard to find on tap either.
A little while back the Verdugo had three taps going with the tiny bubbles...
I don't recall the other two but I had the Shakespere Stout yes tiny bubbles = goodness.
They have had Pliny on tap for a while now and when it was in they also got the much rarer Pliny the Younger and also Concencration both on tap. Well the Younger comes only on tap for now.
If you need a Pliny fix and can't make it to a bar Whole foods started carrying them a little while ago as well as good beer places like the RedCarpet.
Where else *here* can you get Russian River on tap? Father's Office is the one place I've seen.
I have a sense of, wandering around the Bay Area, being able to find stuff like this easily, but I've been pretty stoppered up in L.A. Any suggestions of what else counts for you as a "better beer bar" out here?t
Beverage Warehouse in Mar Vista also carries Pliney bottles. And I've seen bottles of the Salvation/Damnation at the wine store in Eagle Rock, next to Brownstone Pizza.
I gather nitrogen and stout is tricky, because I've had it at a few places where it introduced this nasty, sour-ish flavor. I gather (from chatting up bartenders, but don't trust me too far here, because this is not exactly careful research done in a sober frame of mind) that doing nitrogen is riskier - if you don't do it just right, it screws with the taste. It's *definitely* done right at Golden State.
I love the tiny bubbles.
re: Thi N.
As you said the Fathers Office has RR on tap and so does the Verdugo (Pliny) but both of these places have dedicated handles for these RR beers. So basically if I want a Pliny on tap I can go down to the FO and have one. Stuff that is hard to find are seasonal or limited release beers on tap which are here today, gone tomorrow and maybe never coming back. Like when the Verdugo had Fantome on tap. This was rare for the country not just the city.
You should check out the Verdugo but if you are there to savor beer go early after 10 it can get really busy. They open at 8pm. Also ask if the owners are in they are really cool about talking beer. They would have no problem explaining the ins and outs of nitro.
I suggest you order the Rogue and then ask for a taster of the Rasputin and you can do a mini tasting and compare flavor notes. You can figure out which one you like the best on nitro.
I don't know why the Verdugo doesn't get more props as it is really one of the best beer bars in LA. LA times did a whole article on local beer bars. It was rated 22 in the city. (scratches head).
If your lucky they will have the Black Marlin Porter on tap (it's waiting on deck right now). Here's the kicker, it's not the regular batch you can get in the bottle. This is the special release barreled aged version.
LA is looked down upon as the bastard child of beer for the larger West coast cities.
SD, SF and Portland they all laugh at us as our beer culture is lagging behind them.
We only have one respectable brewery Craftsman and most people in LA don't even know we have that.
LA is starting to catch up as we see more beer establishments opening up with quality beer. There has been more bars with good taps opening up in the last 3 years then probably the last twenty. Hopefully another local micro brewery will be opening soon in GP/ER. Golden State sounds like a welcome additions to our city. Recently another place with great handles just opened up next to Amoeba records. I believe it is called Boho.
To me, what sets apart the great beer bars from just the good, are ones that have owners who actively seek out the seasonals and special releases for their patrons. The Verdugo is one of those places also Lucky Baldwins and the Blue Palms (even though BP looks like an airport bar (smile).
The Verdugo and Daily pint both brought in Pliny the Younger for their patrons.
If you are seriously into the beer you actually were frothing to get a glass of this stuff.
People in SD waited up to an hour in line (like a high school keg party) for a 10 ounce glass of the Younger. The line went out the front door into the parking lot.
To me, these types of places make up a good beer bar. They are about getting the best of what is out there and into their patrons glasses.
I'm gonna check out The Golden State sometime in the next few days thanks for the recommendation.
If you tell the Golden State dude about your beer obsession, he'll clue you in on the special stuff in the back. There's the regular beer menu on the back of the main menu, the special beer menu taped to the counter by the register (with the seasonals and experimentals), and then the stuff that's in Jason's head - like the hundred-dollar bottles of RR Temptation that's lon discontinued and that he picked up a case of on eBay or something like that. He was telling me about getting in cases of rare stuff, telling his regulars, and selling out within a night or two.
I just took a road trip to take some friends to the RR source, so...
Anyway: thanks again for the Verdugo rec - sounds *fantastic*. I'm going soon.
re: Thi N.
Hey Thi thanks for the heads up. I'll make sure to give him the secret beer handshake(smile). I've had Temptation on tap along with a lot of the other Tions. 100 dollar a bottle is too steep for my blood. I can't speak for the rest of beerdom but for most folks I know it's more about tasting the releases on tap if possible. For the special release bottled stuff a trip to the brewery during the release is the best way to go and best price. For obtaining special releases that are out of state or out of production there are beer networks to set up dollar for dollar beer trades. The mark up on bottles can be pretty steep.
Once again thanks for all the great info.
Josh the Tion series (barreled aged) is a lot harder to come by.
That is what makes it so special that a place like the Verdugo was able to get Concencration (their latest barreled aged beer) on tap.
I picked up a bottle locally but it's because I was told about it coming in. A lot of times the really special beers never make it on to the show room floor. They hold these beers in the back cooler for their regular customers. If you start patronizing a really good beer establishment see if you can get your name on e-mail list for special releases.