Beer on the Latin Side

Frogtown and Progress–Suavecito

by C. C. Hansen (with notes and comments by Eleanor)

L.A. River near Frogtown. (Photo by Joe Linton, Streetsblog L.A., May 29, 2014)

Despite the copious downpours in So Cal the past several weeks, Eleanor and I managed to get out, escape the cabin fever, and explore our neck of the woods in search of new experiences. As it turned out, our wanderings revolved around the two most powerful rivers in the county — the Los Angeles and the San Gabriel — and put us in contact with parts of greater Los Angeles tied to an older, less media-driven incarnation of our beloved city.

Our explorations led us first to Frogtown Brewing, repeatedly recommended by our epicurean connoisseur and neighbor Travis, reputedly the owner of an idiosyncratic and extensive stockpile of craft beer in bottle and can form.

Frogtown Brewing

Bufo boreas halophilus, the California toad.
(Photo by Greg Schechter from San Francisco
CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Frogtown is a neighborhood that flows along the Los Angeles River, bordered by Atwater Village, Echo Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Elysian Park. In fact, its official name is “Elysian Valley.” Once rich farmland nourished by the river’s periodic flooding, it became known as Frogtown in the 1930s after gangs of Western Toads overran its streets.

These days, Frogtown is an ethnically diverse neighborhood, with a majority Latino population, Mexico being the most common birthplace for residents born abroad. Like many traditionally Latino areas around L.A., Frogtown has been gentrifying. It figures prominently in the one billion dollar L.A. River restoration project, and heck, Shepard Fairey’s had a studio in Frogtown since 2014. There’s an annual Artwalk, and an outpost of the Knightsbridge Theater in Elysian Valley, too. Not to mention a craft brewery or two.

Eleanor and I visited Frogtown Brewing during a lull in a rainy weekend. We tried eight different beers, including “Peach & Desist,” a peach and passionfruit kettle sour (probably my favorite); “Phantasmic Punch,” a Double dry-hopped Double Hazy that uses the hot new thing in craft world these days — “Phantasm,” a powder derived from the skins of sauvignon blanc grapes from New Zealand; and “Dark Hearts,” a chocolate and raspberry pastry stout.

Frogtown Brewing: “Order Here” (Photo by Eleanor)

Frankly, we were underwhelmed. None of the eight beers had enough carbonation. Eleanor said, “Dark Hearts is basically cough syrup, but not as sweet or good.” And either something was off with our palates, or there was a whole lot of peppery essence used in the IPAs (the two west coasts had two different pairs of hops, so it wasn’t the hops) that wasn’t advertised on the menu or on the website. We’re going to have to go back and try it again.

The location is super cool — down near the L.A. River off Fletcher on the way to Silver Lake — and it was bumping for a cold, cloudy Saturday night. Thinking back to neighbor Travis’s craft beer bottle and can collection, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t get a four-pack of Phantasmic Punch to try under maybe more commercial, controlled, and professional (?) conditions.

Beer I wish I’d tried: “Brown Magic,” the second beer in Frogtown’s “Tiki” series, brewed in collaboration with Vatos Who Tiki. Brown Magic is a Black IPA brewed with allspice and coffee.

Eleanor’s Flight

“Dark Hearts” is on the left and “Kinky” is on the right. (Photo by Eleanor)
  • KinkyBlonde Ale, 5.2%; light carbonation, hop flavor delicate, fruity not sweet
  • AetherWest Coast IPA, 7%; Galaxy and Citra hops, cat piss prominent — old friend, bitter taste, peppery, spicy
  • Apollo 18West Coast IPA; smooth, sweet first taste
  • Dark HeartsChocolate & Raspberry Pastry Stout, 8%; cough syrup but not as sweet or good

Chauncey’s Flight

“Survey Says” is on the left, “Bock Paper Scissor” on the right
  • Survey SaysMexican Style Lager, 5.3%; this was a good version of a limey style
  • Peach & Desist – Peach & Passionfruit Kettle Sour, 6%; Chauncey’s favorite
  • Phantasmic PunchDDH Double Hazy IPA, 8.5%; Nelson, Spectrum Citra, and Vic Secret hops with Phantasm; not enough head or bubbles, guava
  • Bock Paper ScissorsDoppelbock, 8.5%; missing that signature malty bock essence; basically a syrupy caramel backed up by heavy alcohol, with a hopeful soupçon of walnut or pecan at the end

Progress Brewing

Many years ago, I trained to be a docent at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, one of five L.A. County jewels of native flora and fauna. Resident ranger Mickey Long always spoke fondly of the crown jewel of the county’s natural areas, Whittier Narrows on the mighty San Gabriel River, and it’s a place I’ve had on my bucket list for years.

After another pause in another deluge on another weekend, Eleanor and I decided the time had come to get the hell out of Dodge and visit this 400-acre riparian woodland. It was awesome to see the river flowing full and discover several lakes teeming with bird life, including a rare sighting of a pair of American white pelicans.

Feeling thoroughly refreshed and invigorated, we headed to Progress Brewing, less than 10 minutes up the road from the nature center in South El Monte.

Entrance to the Progress brewpub

This community sits on land that was originally part of the 49,000-acre Rancho La Puente Mexican land grant. Today, South El Monte is a relatively minuscule 2.8 square miles, 54% of which the City’s official website says are used for industrial purposes. reveals that around 80% of the South El Monte population identifies as Hispanic or Latino on the latest census.

According to an L.A. Times article BeachRock Bill’s mom recommended, “Back in August, Progress Brewing launched its ‘3.0’ iteration in its new taproom space, its third move in nine years. Since opening in South El Monte in 2013, Progress Brewing has churned out its signature lineup of classic ales, lagers, hard aguas frescas, and specialty beers meticulously crafted by two UCLA- and Caltech-trained scientists.”

What I loved instantly about Progress was that, as I photographed Eleanor walking past the sign in the garage that is basically the brewpub — with a giant patio out back — the 1971 Malo hit, “Suavecito,” started playing on the sound system and in some weird way, I felt I’d come home.

Low Rider? I don’t think so. But I do “drive a little slower” and some people have described me as “a real goer.” And on this day we did “take a little trip” to Whittier Narrows. (Photo by Eleanor)

Maybe it was because I spent some of my formative years in Pacoima, then ethnically-mixed, now majority Latino. Maybe it was because, when I bellied up to order, I got into a great conversation with the on-duty manager (whose name I neglected to ask for). He and the beertender approved the flight Eleanor and I had picked, and so threw in a couple of their own selections, on the house — Mee-Moose-Sa, a barrel-aged sour made with tangerine, tangelo, and orange; and Wild Horse, a saison made with blueberries.

The manager said they were out of their most popular beer, Sandia Loca, which is made with watermelon and chamoy. He told me, “We ran through 28 barrels in three weeks.” So I guess we’re going to have to revisit Progress, too.

Eleanor’s final word? “To the left of what I expected — more fruity, more savory. Good jukebox mix, starting with ‘Suavecito,’ going to Earth Wind & Fire’s ‘Let’s Groove,’ moving on to one of Chauncey’s favorites, ‘Low Rider,’ and then onto quality hip-hop, and more.”

Combined Flight

EmilianoMexican Style Lager, 6.3% ABV
Tasting Notes: Floral, crisp bitterness, corn sweetness
Hops: German Hallertau Mittelfruh and Northern Brewer
Our assessment: lemony horchata flavor — Two Thumbs Up!

Von LindeOatmeal Pilsner; soft, honey, bay laurel note. Details not on the website, but undoubtedly named after the Bavarian scientist, engineer, and businessman, Carl Paul Gottfried von Linde, who “discovered” refrigeration by inventing the first industrial-scale air separation and gas liquefaction processes.

GalileoAmerican IPA, 6.4% ABV
Tasting Notes: Green mango, blueberry, pine
Hops: Idaho 7, Mosaic, and Azacca
Our assessment: initial strong hops with fruit – gooseberry & melon

MustangBelgian Tripel, 8.8% ABV
Tasting Notes: Ripe yellow peach, marmalade, basil
Hops: East Kent Goldings
Our assessment: apples, pear, bourbon

TurnerAmerican Red Ale, 6.8%; Also, not featured on the Progress website, but clearly a nod to longtime Dodger infielder Justin Turner, now of the Red Sox. A local boy, he went to high school in nearby Lakewood, and played ball at Cal State Fullerton, also just a hop, skip, and a jump from South El Monte. BTW, this isn’t the only “Dodger-themed” brew on the list — the website intimates that Walker Brew-ler is a potent 6.9% Hazy IPA…
Our assessment of the Turner: no fruity overtone, toasted malt.

ElectrodomeWheatwine (as opposed to barleywine) w/ Strawberry, Pomegranate and Berries, 11.0% ABV
Tasting Notes: Strawberry cordial, alcohol heat, fruity finish
Hops: Northern Brewer
Our assessment: silky feel, spiked fruit punch, summertime vibes — Two Thumbs Up!

Wild HorseSaison w/ Blueberries | 7.4% ABV
Tasting Notes: Blueberry, pepper, rye
Hops: Czech Saaz, German Northern Brewer

Mee-Moose-SaBarrel-Aged Sour Ale w/ tangerine, tangelo, and orange, 6.3%
Our assessment: Super tart champagne, the beer-lovers alternate to a mimosa — you can easily picture yourself in a crinoline dress with fascinator or jodhpurs and riding crop

The thing I loved about the manager and bartender’s add-ons is that they were a perfect expression of Eleanor’s and my backgrounds: she has memories of picking blueberries at summer camp in Maine, and my parents’ little tract in Arleta-Pacomia, where I played Little League, was still surrounded by citrus groves when we lived there.

Until next time, ¡salud!


— Chauncey B, aka, the So Cal Craft Beer Blogger

Instagram: @socalcraftbeer

Featured image of Chauncey birdwatching at Whittier Narrows by Eleanor

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