I’ve been wanting to be friends with Kerry Caldwell since she came into my work and silently drank a Firestone Walker Double Jack at the bar alone. Then, she got hired at Belmont Brewing Company, found a fiancé and now is to be up at 4AM to brew kick ass beer unlike anything the restaurant has ever served (no offense, Blackwell). This schedule severely cuts down on girl hangout time, but does not diminish my admiration for her and all her pink booting! You go, girl!

Q & A With Kerry Caldwell, Assistant Brewer at Belmont Brewing Company: Updating Classics, Bragging Rights + How To Be A Lady Brewer

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Sarah Bennett

In the late 1990s, Long Beach’s Belmont Brewing Companywas at the top of its game. With a longtime homebrewer named David Blackwell at the helm, beers from BBC — which is the oldest operating brewpub in Southern California — began picking up awards at local and international contests. Soon, its Strawberry Blonde became one of the first L.A.-area beers to be bottled and sold in stores.

Since then, however, the craft beer world has changed drastically and BBC’s decade-and-a-half-old pale ale, stout, golden ale and amber recipes — once on the forefront of the industry — have been little competition for the aggressive flavors and experimental styles of modern-day brewers.

Kerry Caldwell — Blackwell’s assistant brewer since last summer — is slowly changing all that.

As one of only two female commercial brewers in the greater Los Angeles area (the other, Caldwell’s friend Hayley Shine, is the brewmaster at Rock Bottom Long Beach), the Idaho-via-Placerville transplant has brought about some small but much-needed updates to Belmont Brewing’s beer program, which today also extends to a sister BBC — Bonaventure Brewing Company, inside the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown L.A.

From suggesting different yeast strains for their year-round brews to making new seasonal beers based on her own recipes (think: black IPAs and British-style old ales), Caldwell is coaxing the independently successful BBCs back into craft-beer relevance.

We caught up with Caldwell early one morning as she watched over a boiling kettle of beer (while wearing pink rain boots) and talked about being a new female in the industry, breaking Blackwell out of his shell and why BBC will probably never brew a triple IPA.

READ MORE AT LAWEEKLY.COM

Wrote an in-print feature about my buddy James’ boutique pedal shop for the OC Weekly. If you are a musician–especially one fond of adjectives like fuzz, reverb and distortion–you should definitely stop by.

Giving these notes some room to breathe

 

Dawn of the Shred Has a Special Effect on Local Sound

Gearheads flock to the Long Beach guitar shop for hard-to-find accessories

On a recent Friday night, Andy Zipf and Sam West were in the far-back corner of East Long Beach’s Dawn of the Shred, warming up for the gear shop’s first in-store performance. Zipf plucked at a new semi-hollow prototype from Wilmore Guitars, the Long Beach-based company that organized the event.

Plugged into a white Marshall amplifier, the handmade guitar sounded warm and clean, almost dreamy in tone. The singer/songwriter smiled to himself; gliding from note to note, he looked genuinely astonished as he faced West at the drum kit. “This guitar is really cool,” he whispered.

“I know,” West slowly mouthed back.

This is the reaction most musicians have when trying out stuff at Dawn of the Shred, a store specializing in handcrafted and small-batch amps, guitars and effects pedals. In its cavernous storefront across from Heartwell Park, you won’t find any mediocre Boss distortion pedals or Fender Stratocaster gift packs—just a generous selection of small, quality brands; select vintage finds; and owner James Demetra, who is more than happy to help you navigate through it all. “I genuinely enjoy selling stuff,” says the scruffy, heavily inked Demetra. “I love those moments when everything clicks, such as when a musician has found what he’s looking for in the store and is playing it through the right pedal or the right amp. It all becomes one, if I can get overly romantic about it.”

READ THE REST AT OCWEEKLY.COM

Now that I have actually been to Belgium, I feel confident in this list of top 5 Belgian-brewerd Belgian IPAs, which is one of my favorite styles of beer. It’s sweet, it’s dry and there are centuries of amazing Belgian beer history brewed into every unfiltered, frothy cup. Let’s just say that drinking De Ranke XX Bitter at Moeder Lambic in Brussels was life changing. Yup, I drank the Belgian Kool Aid.

Top 5 Belgian IPAs: More Fun With European Hops

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Flickr/cheeseslave

Sorry England and Germany — if the American craft beer revolution owes its adventurous and hoppy spirit to any country’s brewing tradition, it’s Belgium’s.

While brewers next door in Germany were stuck abiding by a beer purity law, Belgians were free to experiment with yeast, herbaceous plants and the sour flavors from airborne bacteria, resulting in a varied beer repertoire that includes everything from light and sweet Belgian wits to dark and boozy quadruples.

One of our favorite Belgian styles, however, is one that the Belgians didn’t even know they invented: the Belgian IPA.

For nearly a century, Belgian breweries have been combining old-world sweetness with an extra dose of fresh European hops to give certain traditional golden ales a bitter tinge. Only in the wake of the West Coast’s reinvention of gratuitously hop-forward beers, however, has this style been given its own designation.

Light in body, (sometimes) medium in alcohol and heavy on the crisp hoppiness, Belgian IPAs are a perfect summer beer. And while American homages to the style — such as Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, New Belgium’s Belgo and Stone’s Cali-Belgique — are well-crafted, some of the most interesting brews are still coming out of the country that unknowingly invented it.

The only trouble finding Belgian-brewed IPAs, though, is that Belgian brewers don’t call them that. So to help you out, we’ve checked all the foreign labels with hop drawings on them, drunk through everything with the syllable “hop” in the name and come up with a list of the five best Belgium-brewed Belgian IPAs that you can find in your local bar or bottle shop.

READ THE REST AT LAWEEKLY.COM

My first big feature for Beer Advocate Magazine is out in April’s issue. I had a lot of fun researching it and am stoked that they gave me the opportunity to do something like this as excuse to get to know more about things I’m actually interested in! Bought a fresh bottle of Anchor’s 18th Century Old Protrero Rye at High Times. Next stop: homemade manhattans.

GO TO PDF HERE OR CLICK ABOVE

A little backtracking on some of my published work that I forgot to post on here. This was a Checking In On… Q&A with the Growlers that went to print right before they played Coachella. I still think that Brooks (the singer) looks like Chalino Sanchez–or at least some handsome, Italian pop star–especially (especialmente?) when he swaggers all over the stage in his polyester pants washing over your astonishment at his throwback stage attitude with a silky, DGAF stare.

The Growlers: Bigger, Better, Faster, More!

[Checking In On . . .] There’s life after recording with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys

Lineup

Last time we talked to Growlers singer Brooks Neilson (“Further? Fursure!” by Chris Ziegler, Dec. 23, 2011), his bandmates were gashing girls’ heads on a small winter tour and waiting for the album they recorded in Nashville with Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) to find a release date.

The band are still waiting for that date, but that doesn’t mean they’re just hanging out. By the time you read this, they will have played their first set at Coachella and, hopefully, completed recording 20 more new songs on their and their friends’ collections of all-analog devices. It’s all about 2-inch tape, yo.
READ THE REST AT OCWEEKLY.COM

checking in on

March 9, 2012

This is the first in a series of bi-weekly contributions I will be making to the O.C. Weekly’s new in-print column called “Checking In On…” The idea is to catch up with local bands that we’ve covered before and therefore can’t do another big feature on. If you have any suggestions or contacts, please let me know!

Published in print in the March 8, 2012 issue of O.C. Weekly and online here.

Avi Buffalo, Older and Wiser

Post-debut success, Long Beach’s band of teenagers have had some time to reflect—and write more music

In the two years since Southern California first basked in the dreamy guitarwork and lo-fi stylings of Avi Buffalo‘s self-titled debut album, front man Avi Zahner-Isenberg has grown both older and wiser.

A look back in time

Now 21, Zahner has had some space to reflect on his once-rigorous touring schedule—which found the band of teenagers playing coveted slots at mega-festivals such as All Tomorrow’s Parties and Primavera Sound—and the experiences have left him thinking critically about his next steps.

“We were exposed to so much craziness at such a young age. There’s no way around it,” Zahner-Isenberg says. “It was really good in so many respects, but it’s something you have to battle with. Your brain isn’t even fully developed when you’re 18, and all of a sudden, you’re thrown into opening up for epic people whom you’ve looked up to your entire life. What does that do to your head?”

For Zahner, the global exposure that came with being Sub Pop Records‘ latest buzz band only grounded him more. And since returning home to Long Beach more than a year and a half ago, he has been running a home studio (Hood Ranch Dressing), playing music with old friends and writing songs for the next Avi Buffalo album, which will start tracking in a few months. He even released a few experimental solo albums, partially recorded on his laptop while living in the band’s tour van, parked in the driveway of his parents’ house.

Messing around with his home recording equipment also helped him prepare for the band’s upcoming professional-studio time. “I’m really excited because this time we have more experience with recording,” he explains. “Being able to get into home recording has been really helpful. I’m able to have a perspective on what songs are supposed to sound like when we go into the studio. It’s not just the raw chord progressions and lyrics anymore.”

Since the songs are already written for the new album—some of which are (à la San Pedro‘s Minutemen, he says) 20 to 50 seconds long—Zahner’s concern now is balance. What is the right mix between hi-fi and lo-fi? How do you prepare your songs for recording, but still leave room for spontaneity? Can you avoid sacrificing depth and vibe for cleanliness?

Working with fellow local musicians during the past few years of downtime, both through Hood Ranch Dressing Studios and performances with the Wild Bunch, as well as other friends’ bands, has brought Zahner closer to answering these questions. But reconnecting with his circle of talented friends may have been beneficial in another, more important way.

“At the end of the day, you have to go back to those people whom you’ve played with for years who in some ways haven’t gone through that so you can humble yourself and realize why you’re playing music,” he says. “As long as I’m connected to those people, then I’m emotionally sound.”

Where’s The Band?

At The Yost Theater Last Night

Originally published online at OCWeekly.com

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Lydia Chain

Where’s the Band? Tour
Yost Theater, Santa Ana
Feb. 7, 2012

Whatever happened to the golden days of emo when the singers on stage were just as weepy and insecure as our high school selves? Stalwarts, such as those who played the second installment of the Where’s The Band? tour, apparently are dropping their backing musicians, embarking on solo careers and transforming into legitimate singer songwriters.

The result is ideal for their maturing demographic, but it definitely takes some getting used to. The show brought six band-less frontmen–including Dustin Kensrue (Thrice), Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Chris Conley (Saves the Day), Anthony Raneri (Bayside), Ace Enders (The Early November) and Evan Weiss (Into It. Over It)–to a full house at the newly hosting Yost Theatre, giving each a quick 30-minute set to do with what they choose.

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Lydia Chain

Conley sat on a black leather bar chair center stage and took requests from the audience, all of which were off Saves the Day’s first three albums. In his signature wail that is both grating and comforting, he sang “Rock Tonic Juice Magic” from Through Being Cool, “3 Miles Down” from Can’t Slow Down and ended the set with “At Your Funeral” off Stay What You Are. At one point, he noted that he had written some of the songs he was singing when he was 17, but the idea of time passing was rendered null by the slight frame and sweet ’90s lesbian ‘do that maintained his current age to be not a day over Junior prom.

A quick unplug and a handshake sufficed for set changes throughout the night, and once Pryor took his standing position in front of the stage’s solitary mic stand, he ripped into “All Eyes,” a song from his folk-rock side project The New Amsterdams. In addition to solo songs such as “Confidence Man,” which–inspired by a tourmate’s backstage comment on his fedora–culminated in a segway into Bruno Mars’ portion of “Billionaire,” Pryor also took requests for old school Get Up Kids songs. Instead of finishing the set with the ballad “I’ll Catch You” as is the norm for his acoustic tours, Pryor instead opted for the upbeat “Better Half,” “a love song written a long time ago.”

As promised in our previews of this event, Pryor, Enders and Ranieri did end up channeling their inner barbershop quartet for a brilliant cover of “Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie(between parts, Enders even mimicked Kermit’s awkward dance moves).

Hometown hottie (yes we just called him that) Dustin Kensrue headlined the night with a diverse set of newer Thrice songs, indie-rock covers and multiple solo numbers about how much he loves and needs his wife. After an evening of failed sing-a-long attempts and emotionless faces from those young folks closest to the stage, Kensrue’s bluesy solo songs finally woke up the crowd, getting lips moving and iPhones filming through the last jam of the night–a Tom Waits cover of “Down There By the Train.”

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Lydia Chain

The set list wasn’t much different than the Troubadour show a few nights prior, but the friendly attitudes from all of the performers still gave the show a personal touch. Each casually dropped insider info before playing older songs and interacted with the audience through both requests and random-story asides. Several also talked out their thought processes about which requests to honor and were honest about being scared to try songs they hadn’t practiced in a while.

Instead of these artists being the unreachable frontmen of our favorite bands as they might have been years ago, the Where’s the Band? format strips away the intimidation factor built into traditional audience-performer relationships and presents these guys as real dudes who could just as easily been your buddies having this show in your living room.

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Lydia Chain

Though remnants of these bands’ weepy and insecure heydeys are worth revisiting on nights like these, it is good to know that our guilty pleasures are capable of adult feelings too.
The Crowd: Sober couples cuddling with each other and lots of lonely guys wearing either saggy beanies or lowercase “a” Angels hats.

Critic’s Bias: I was secretly hoping for a sweaty, intimate, fist-pumping acoustic session like the ones that went down at Chain Reaction circa 2003.

Overheard in the Crowd: “Are you awake? You better get into this shit!”

Random Notebook Dump: Why was someone requesting Limp Bizkit?

BA MAG

January 20, 2012

Finally had a chance to scan in my first two bylines for Beer Advocate Magazine, which is the monthly publication of beeradvocate.com. Since they don’t put their mag’s stories on the website, I have to scan them in for non-subscribers to read, but if you’d like to subscribe, it’s pretty cheap and each issue contains a wealth of craft beer information including trends, interviews, beer reviews and more!

The January issue features lots of Long Beach love including an interview with Julian Schrago at Beachwood BBQ and BRewing (not done by me) and a roundup of local bars and bottle shops as part of the magazine’s “Destinations” series (done by me). I also wrote a little side bar about creative funding methods for upstart breweries that was used in the main feature story about new breweries that opened in 2011. Next up for me and BA: a feature on the intersection of craft brewing and craft distilling. Keep an eye out for it in the March issue!

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artpaper

January 5, 2012

For the second year in a row, I have had the honor of being published in Austria, writing a story for a Vienna-based publication called ArtPaper.

ArtPaper is an arts supplement that is thrown into a Sunday issue of the city’s Der Standard newspaper four times a year and is organized by MAK-Vienna, the Museum of Contemporary Art. MAK has a satellite location in Los Angeles and because of the deep connection between Austrian architects and the West Coast, it is called the MAK Center for Art and Architecture. This is all to say that the people in Vienna like to check up on us once in a while and get updated on how MAK-L.A. is doing, specifically with its MAK-Schindler scholarship program which supports and houses eight artists a year while they create projects based on this Euro-L.A. connection.

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How Dennis Owens and Club Good Foot got the masses on the dance floor

originally published in July issue of City Beat Long Beach, available online here.

“All good things must come to an end,” Dennis Owens says of why his long-running dance club Good Foot will be ending after 13 years this September. “It’s time.”

The funk and soul club—which can still be found every first Friday at Que Sera—has been a Long Beach institution since Owens and best friend Rodi DelGadillo dropped their rock roots in order to start DJing. Since then, Good Foot has been sharing danceable deep cuts and funky hits alike with endlessly diverse crowds every month in a setting that only our city could provide.

Owens and DelGadillo grew up on these streets, going to late-’80s punk shows at Fenders Ballroom and watching early ska acts on stage at Grand Central Station before playing in a series of local bands together. After their last band, power-poppy Action League, split up in 1998, the duo decided that they were burned out on rock music and turned their interests towards the music being spun at area clubs they were attending (such as La Conga at the Foothill and Garden Grove’s Golden State Soul Society).

At the time, Owens had been collecting records for more than a decade, but his interest in vinyl only increased as he became introduced to a new swath of lost funk, soul and Latin rhythms. The biggest influence on Owens’ shift from performing in bands to DJing, however, was Science, a drum-n-bass club in Santa Monica. There, he watched people lose themselves on the dance floor, flailing about as if possessed by the music.

“It set the standard of what I wanted to do with Good Foot,” he says. “They didn’t care how they looked—they were totally into it. That’s what music should do.“

With an ear for funky riffs and a passion for keeping feet moving, the transformation from Dennis Owens to DJ Dennis Owens didn’t take long. And soon, this former ska-band singer and part-time substitute elementary school teacher was the most wanted DJ in Long Beach.

But 13 years later, a lot has changed. Owens has returned to rock music as the bassist for now-touring local band Free Moral Agents. DelGadillo lives in Japan, where he DJs an Osaka soul club. Many of the first generation attendees—who were in their early 20s when Good Foot started—are now settled down with families. And where there was once a void of clubs of its kind, there are nights that cater to similar crowds such as Secret Affair at Alex’s Bar.

And so after one last summer, Good Foot will be retiring on a high note, but it’s spirit won’t be gone forever. A Very Good Foot Christmas will still happen as it has every December 25 (“It’s a family reunion”) and DJ Dennis Owens will sporadically live on at L.A.’s Space is the Place, the 10-year-strong roller disco he also co-founded.

Even after the last song plays on the club’s final night—which happens to also be Owens’ 39th birthday—Good Foot will be remembered as the gathering place for the bravest dancers who aren’t afraid to get swept away by the music and let loose on the Que Sera floor.

“All I’m doing is something I believe in and it’s amazing to me that people relate to it on that level,” Owens says. “It’s an honor to me. I’m humbled by that.”

Club Good Foot at Que Sera, 1925 7th St, http://www.goodfoot.org. Every second Friday. 9PM. 21+.