To Live and Drink in L.A.

Athough its a bit short on microbreweries and brewpubs within its vast sprawl, the greater Los Angeles area does sport a healthy number of unique alehouses, with new ones popping up all the time. A couple of recently opened beer-bar restaurants are particularly worth checking out.

The Found Abbey

by Tomm Carrroll - Celebrator Beer News

The Back Abbey in Claremont may seem like a long way to go for beer for Los Angelenos (even though its still in LA County), but for fans of Belgium Beer and Belgian Bars, it is a trip worth making. Opened in June of last year (2008) by locals and longtime friends (for over 20 years) John J. Solana (proprietor) and Erik Johnson (general manager), The Back Abbey sits in a small historic building - in Claremont Village. In past lives the building was an icehouse, storage space for citrus fruit and a switching station for Southern California Edison. The facade resembles a Spanish-style mission so the name definitely fits.

The bar boasts 28 taps, nearly all of them Belgian, whith a few German beers (including Schneider Aventinus) and Fuler's London Pride completing the list. Perhaps most noticeable is that the draught list features all of the beers from the great Belgian farmhouse brewery Brasserie Dupont (incuding holiday season Avec les Bons Voeux served year-round). Dupont's table beer , Avril, is available in bottles.

"I wanted to focus on the beers from Dupont because they are just so dynamic" explained Solana, who admitted he "adores" Belgian beer. In addition to the usual Belgian suspects, there are also some specialties on the five rotating taps, suchas the tasty but deadly (11% abv) Klokke Roeland amber quadruple from Van Steenberge.

An informed bottle list also heavily favors the Belgians, but with more German and British beers, as well as a few from other countries. In addition, all of the Trappist beers are available, aside from Westleteren, of course. (There is a mixed six pack of Westy Blonde, 8 and 12 on a shelf high above the bar, but it is not for sale). Speaking of shelves, they are mostly occupied by the proper glassware for all the beers served.

Although there is only a 50 square-foot kitchen, The Back Abbey has an eclectic menu featuring fresh, in-season, organic ingredients and custom-made baked goods and soups, thanks to the executive chef Leslie Lakeman. Ther are no freezers or microwave ovens. Standouts include The Back Abbey Burger, a grilled vegetable burger, traditional Belgian-style mussels in chardonnay and, of course, the crispy pommes frittes.

A popular destination since it opened, The Back Abbey has a packed house most evenings, according to Johnson. It may be small, and there is no room to expand (although there is plenty of outside space with tables and chairs and a fire pit out back), but it is a dream come true for its beer-loving owners. "We didn't know what a gastro pub was until we were way into this" Johnson explaiined.