Northern California has long been a hotbed for craft beers. Tom Acitelli, in “The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution,” states in 1965 there was only one craft brewery in the United States, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Co., as in the wake of the Depression and World War II all of the nation’s small breweries had been taken over or run out of business by mega-breweries. Its Anchor Steam, a unique beer with dark caramel coloring and tastes, not very hoppy, is excellent. First brewed in 1896, it claims to be America’s oldest craft beer.

Anchor Steam has been a favorite of mine since I first had one in San Francisco years ago, but until recently I couldn’t find it in our area. In just the past few months, however, it has turned up sporadically at a couple of local grocery stores — usually in the single-bottle section.

While Anchor Steam is difficult to find, Chico’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has become California’s best known craft beer and one of the most popular nationwide. In fact, it now has a second brewery near Asheville, North Carolina. While its Pale Ale is ubiquitous, Sierra Nevada produces a wide variety of beers, both year-round and seasonal varieties. It currently puts out a “4-Way IPA” collection, with its Torpedo, Black, German and Peach IPAs. In a recent tasting all were good (although the Black IPA tasted more like a porter), but (surprisingly) the Peach IPA was the best — light, but not fruity.

Another NorCal beer widely available in our area is Lagunitas Brewing Co. from Petaluma. Like Sierra Nevada, it produces a host of different styles, and has opened a second brewery, in Chicago. Its IPA is its best-known beer and readily found both on tap and in bottles. It’s very smooth, a little lighter and less hoppy than many IPAs, and very good. I’ve found a number of other Lagunitas in bottles, the best of which is its wheat Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale, which is subtle and citrusy but with some good hop flavors, almost like a light IPA. Highly recommended.

While Northern California has a long — and well-deserved — reputation as a craft beer mecca, Southern California has also developed its own craft beer scene. One of the best known SoCal brewers is Escondito’s Stone Brewing, known for its wide variety of IPAs, especially its flagship Stone IPA, which is everything an IPA should be — hoppy, strong, but not overpowering. If you have never had one, give it a try as you can easily find it in our area, both in bottles and on tap. Stone also brews the fantastic (and wonderfully named) Arrogant Bastard Ale, under its Bastard Brewing line.

My sister lives in Los Angeles (the other L.A.), and on my last visit we checked out a number of the local breweries and brewpubs. The best by far was Golden Road Brewing, located in an industrial section of the city between railroad tracks and the Los Angeles River, where I had a great lunch with my beautiful niece and a flight of excellent beers. Unfortunately, though, Golden Road is currently only available on the West Coast. Keep your eyes peeled for it to come our way.

Firkin Fest
For those of us in this L.A., there is a great beer event on Saturday, April 1, at Moe’s Original BBQ on Dauphin Street —the 4th annual Firkin Festival, sponsored by Moe’s and Budweiser Busch Distributing. A firkin is a tiny keg that holds about 10 gallons of beer. At the festival, 11 local breweries will tap their special beers to compete and see whose is best. Tickets cost $22 in advance and $25 at the door — which includes a souvenir glass, crawfish, beer samplings and a koozie — with proceeds going to the American Cancer Society. Doors open at 2 p.m., with the tapping ceremony at 2:30 p.m. I’ll look for you there!