All Photos by Jack Burke
Barrel Down is a hip industrial-chic beer hall in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. With forty taps – that’s right – forty, twenty of which are core brew offerings, twenty rotating – there are plenty of exciting craft beers to taste, and a sleek, minimalist environment to do it in. Adding even more to a beer-lover’s dream is the spot’s new monthly “tap takeover” series. Coming right up September 2nd, Modern Times, the craft brew purveyor out of San Diego will be holding forth all night with six of their beers.
Along with the beer, there’s beer cocktails, and a wide range of dining options. Barrel Down has a full Sunday brunch, entrees like fish and chips, and perfect beer drinking snacks like apple cider sprouts – Brussel sprouts with a tangy flavor twist. Our favorites were crisp and addictive cauliflower popcorn that comes with malt ale, ginger aioli and chili lime vinaigrette, and a shrimp slider in a brioche bun, with the shrimp coated with a well-seasoned corn meal crust.
While a small patio also provides seating, the place to be is inside the long, narrow bar, with clean wooden lines, exposed brick, and high ceilings.
While the setting is modern and fun, and the bar snacks upscale and tasty, Barrel Down is, as is should be, really all about the beer. Bar manager and beer list cultivator Jason Hamilton is a certified Cicerone. Don’t know what that is? Well, we didn’t either. “There are three levels of certification,” Hamilton explains. “Currently I’m at certified beer server. It’s all about knowledge, from what one is serving and how to properly store beer, to in-depth sensory evaluation of beers. With forty taps,” Hamilton laughs, “being more tech savvy about draft lines and flavor testing is important.”
In anticipation of the Modern Times tap takeover, we tasted the microbrewery’s Blazing Worlds. This hoppy amber ale has an ABV of 6.8% , featuring Nelson, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops, which offer a rich fruity taste. The beer itself is dry, crisp, and has notes of both fruit and bread. Next came Grazias Vienna Cream Ale from Hess brewing, a creamy, smooth beer with strong notes of chocolate, vanilla, and toast, which offers a rich full taste and a dark malt profile. We also tasted two sours. The Holy Gose from Anderson Valley, which was deliciously light, served up a slight sour pucker along with clean, strong notes of salt water, coriander, and hops to go with its relatively mild 4.2% ABV. It’s a beer that’s meant for summer afternoons and repeated tasting. Grand Teton’s Snarling Badger is a sour wheat with a stronger sour flavor and a 7.5% ABV. It’s as rich as the Holy Gose is light – an interesting contrast. Our last taste was of Alpine’s Hoppy Birthday Pale Ale, which is a light, refreshing ale that tastes a lot like an IPA.
The variety of tastes we tried mirrors the approach of Barrel Down overall. “We have the ability to support local craft breweries and expose people to the great flavors without being ostentatious,” Hamilton notes. “We make sure our bartenders know our products and can describe them, but we also recognize that some people just want to come in and have a drink without thinking too much about it. Others really want to know about their beer.”
Hamilton certainly knows plenty, including how to offer customers the best possible product. “We want to see lacing and head retention on the glass. We have double trunk lines with a glycol system to make sure that the beer is properly cooled at 34 degrees,” he explains. Barrel Down sources its beers from craft breweries around the U.S., and tries to learn as much about these sources as it can. “We believe there’s a story behind every beer and we like to tell that story to our customers,” Hamilton attests. And if customers are looking to craft their own brew, Barrel Down has that covered, too, with home brew classes offered on the mezzanine level above the bar every second Saturday.
Out of his forty taps, does Hamilton have a favorite? We got a smile and this dissemination “My favorite beer is the beer I’m tasting at the time you ask me.” Of course it would be hard to choose a favorite from among the wide variety of core and rotating brews, but we’re guessing Hamilton will choose a Modern Times draft as his favorite come September 2nd.
Are you “down” with that?
- Genie Davis; all photos by Jack Burke