The Brewers Association‘s consumer website, CraftBeer.com, asked visitors to the site to choose their “favorite craft beer bar” in their home state by filling “out a short survey about what makes it so great including atmosphere, staff, beer selection and special events.” Over 9,000 people voted between August and December of last year. More of a popularity contest, so I’m not sure it’s fair to call them the 51 Best Beer Bars in America, but still the results are interesting. California’s top vote-getter was the Twisted Oak Tavern, in Agoura Hills. I confess I’ve never heard of it, but then Agoura Hills is in Southern California, in west L.A. County.
But I can name some pretty great beer bars in California, even quite a few in that part of the state with great reputations. How is this the best one in the state? It’s also a brewpub, sort of, although according to a newspaper article they refer to it as a “restaurant located at the former LAB Brewing Co. space in the Agoura Hills Town Center. The brewery continues to operate on the premises.” They seem to have a full bar, and of the thirty taps, eight of them are house beers, and the rest are mostly local, with another fourteen bottles and cans. But the original LAB Brewing Co. opened sometime around late 2011, and the new space — the one that is the best bar is California — opened March 25, 2015. That means it was open for four months when voting opened, and just nine months when it ended. I’m sure it’s a nice place, but I have a hard time believing it’s better than any number of great bars, like the Toronado (either one), The Trappist, Hamilton’s, Blue Palms Brewhouse, Beer Revolution, 38 Degrees, Urge, Naja’s, Stuffed Sandwich, O’Brien’s, Capitol Beer & Tap Room, Monk’s Kettle, Library Alehouse, Tony’s Darts Away, Boneyard Bistro, La Trappe, The Bistro, Blind Lady, Lucky Baldwin’s, Good Karma, Tiger Tiger, Father’s Office, ØL Beercafe, Barclay’s, Zeitgeist, Live Wire, The Good Hop, Taps, Harry’s Hofbrau, Congregation Ale House, Original Gravity Public House, The Surly Goat, The Hopyard, Jupiter, Lanesplitter and the Public House at AT&T Park, to rattle off a few that come to mind.
It’s not listed at all on Beer Advocate’s L.A. Beer Guide, suggesting there at least fifty better bars just in the L.A. area, let alone the state. In fact, it has no listing at all, though the now-closed LAB Brewing still does. The same is true for RateBeer, too, which similarly does not yet list the best beer bar in California, only its predecessor. So it’s too new for either of the premiere beer listing websites, but still got more votes than countless great beer bars in California. Not knowing how they got the most votes, or why, it’s hard not to consider ballot stuffing, or a campaign of getting people to vote for them. I hate to be so hard on a place I don’t know, but given how many California bars they appear to have bested in being voted the state’s best bar, it’s difficult to comprehend.
To be fair, the Falling Rock won Colorado, which I fully endorse, and the same with Saint Paul’s Happy Gnome, Asheville’s Thirsty Monk and Max’s in Baltimore. Unfortunately, I’m not as sure about many of the rest. Of the 51, only 11 have been open since at least the 1990s or earlier. A perplexing five of the bars on the list opened in 2015, and another three the year before, in 2014. A total of 25, or nearly half of the list, opened in 2010 or afterwards, meaning half of the best beer bars in America are around five or less years old. I’m sure it’s the curmudgeon in me, but that just doesn’t seem like enough time to build a reputation that you’re the best in your state. But despite my objections, congratulations to the bars who got the most votes. I’m sure they’re all worth visiting and enjoying a few beers.