Monday, June 17, 2024

How Long Beach Beer Lab’s Clean & Crispy Beer Fest is more about community than obscure beers

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Outside of the massive Lagerville in Ventura, Long Beach Beer Lab’s annual Clean & Crispy Beer Fest is the region’s largest festival dedicated to light, refreshing beers—and with its return on Saturday, June 22, brings with it the idea that craft beer can move beyond the niche and into the communal.

“Craft beer has finally matured enough to bring out the beer drinkers who seek quality lagers and pilsners.”

These are the words of Long Beach Beer Lab’s co-owner, Levi Fried, who runs the operations with his wife, Harmony, the carb maestro behind the operation’s food offerings. And his choice of words are spot on: Craft beer has long been inundated with a self-assigned sense of superiority—and that, in the beginning, was much needed as American palates

“The general market trend is that we as a beer community need to move toward broader, more palatable, more affordable drinks where people can have at least a couple or three instead of one,” Levi said. “And as far as beer festivals go, it is far more important to embrace the community than an impassioned, obscure niche beers.”

Much like specialty coffee (which has seen a step away from the pretense with and apprehension toward offering “basic” things like flavors, dessert-like creations, and not scowling at drinkers who don’t drink their coffee black and slow dripped), independent beer has seen an array of shifts across the past decade: While West Coast IPAs are still wildly popular—shout-out to ISM Brewing for winning the gold in that very category at this year’s past World Beer Cup, which also happened to be the category with the most submissions—it is now common for breweries to have seltzers, session beers, lagers, and if the brewer is talented enough, a solid pilsner.

Long Beach Beer Lab’s Clean & Crispy Beer Fest proved it was a desirable thing when hundreds appeared last year

The “crispy bois only” movement, birthed out of an antithesis to independent beer’s long, direct mockery of “Natty Ice” drinkers who lean toward the hyper-light macro brews, is just a natural extension of craft beer’s need to evolve. And from a business angle—not just a communal one—it is outright essential.

“Our bestselling beer is our blonde—and it was during COVID and witnessing this that it actually returned me back to the reason I love and drink beer in the first place: It’s a social engagement warmer that brings the whole community together,” Levi said. “And to be frank, a lotta breweries and a lotta beer styles have been segregated into knowledgable, upper echelons headed by douches. I feel the most common beer drinker is just looking for a cold, crisp beverage—and this festival is a reflection of what Long Beach and Southern California want.”

Even more, for Levi and the many brewers in the game, they all really hit the same wall during COVID: When people think of craft, independent beer, they think of obscurity; the mark between Michelob-slash-Miller is quite clear when put against Ten Mile-slash-Trademark.

“The truth is that your local brewery, especially in SoCal, likely has some stellar expressions of those clean and crispy styles,” Levi said.

No doubt: Last year’s inaugural Clean & Crispy Beer Fest—part of the larger L.A. Beer Week hosted by the Los Angeles County Brewers Guild annually in June—was attended by hundreds and featured some of the best in the state: Stretching from Long Beach (with breweries and cideries like Ambitious Ales, Ten Mile, Ficklewood, Syncopated) to just outside of Long Beach (like the vastly underrated and always stellar Burnin’ Daylight of Lomita or Hopsaint of Torrance) to L.A. (Highland Park Brewing) to O.C. (Green Cheek, RIIP, Rad Beer) to NorCal (Fieldwork)…

And it should be no shock that it was as successful as it was, given the Long Beach Beer Lab—especially during and post-COVID—has become an epicenter for communal activities in Wrigley: Whether they are hosting

“There are not a lot of community spaces for running festivals,” Levi said. “Wrigley is very much a community that is enveloped and engrained in Long Beach’s residential culture: There are houses literally across the street—and that is what also makes our events so unique. To see that back parking lot bustling with families, neighbors, friends, visitors… It was wildly rewarding.”

And this year’s lineup is even more impressive: Over 20 breweries—including the majority of last year’s participants—will be on hand.

“This year’s event is gonna be a lot tighter and definitely more brewer centric: I asked the brewers themselves to come out like the owners of Bottle Logic, Ian from ISM, Danny from RIIP, John from Ambitious… It’s a great, premiere event that focuses not on the sales people but the brewers. It’s for the people who really love craft beer and people who just wanna get out and taste a good lager. It has both sides of the spectrum.”

So we know it’s called the Clean & Crispy Beer Fest—but for those of us who don’t know, what is, exactly, a crispy beer?

Think super clear, not necessarily hop-heavy, highly drinkable because of a relatively low ABV—as compared to IPAs, Belgians, even besting some seltzers—and a crispness that makes it downright crushable. Mostly lagers and pilsners, these beers are often dismissed because of their lightness by Hopheads but the reality is that these beers (at least the ones that taste good), take a brewer time and skill to develop cleanliness and nuance in their flavor—and in the macro-beer world, they rule the day, from Budweiser and Coors to Natty Ice.

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But those easily dismissible excuse for beers isn’t what we’re talking about.

When it comes to independent beer, they’re outright special: Though hop-forward beers are going and have gone nowhere, especially in the SoCal scene, where breweries like Beachwood and Stone have created empires with their IPAs, the lack of drinkability with these beers, particularly at festivals, is real: Pounding endless IPAs in the sun can lead to a certain messiness that has given some beer festivals a bad name—and that is where a festival like this comes in.

“Long Beach is undoubtedly a crispy boi city,” Fried said. 

Can we get an amen?

The Clean & Crispy Fest will take place on Saturday, June 22, at the tail-end of L.A. Beer Week, from 1PM to 5PM in the back lot of the Long Beach Beer Lab, located at 518 Willow St. For more information on the festival, click here. Long Beach Food Scene members/Longbeachize readers get a 10% discount using the code LBCRONIES.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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