Yesterday was the two-year anniversary party at MacLeod Ale, here in Van Nuys, held at the brewery on Calvert St.
It coincided with one of the hottest days of the year.
A hot wind baked the concrete front yard set with white tents for ticket sales, another tent housing a barbecue preparation area.
A black cook loaded meats into a black steel smoker under a cloudless blue sky.
Inside MacLeod, workers, guest workers and guests hunkered down in dimness, air-conditioned. 30 or more firkins from various breweries were built into groups of six, laid down on inclined, mobile lumber units on wheels. Each cask was plugged on top with cork. And at the bottom each one employed a white plastic faucet for pours.
The Pasadena Scots Bagpipers warmed up in preparation for their opening march through the brewery.
Owner Alastair W. Boase made a last minute run in a small Mini Cooper and came back with bags of ice unloaded by the guest workers and brought in and laid on top of each cask to keep them cool. The drooping, dripping ice kept the beer coldish with the weak efficacy of wet towels on the sweaty heads of Indonesian soccer players on the field at halftime.
Last year, MacLeod held its one-year anniversary.
To me, hyped up on IPA, a lover of Full Sail and Lagunitas, MacLeod served a weak, warm, sweet, low alcohol malty authenticity called British Style Ale.
To my uninformed palate and to my unschooled-in-beer mind, the brews were something new but not always enjoyable.
The ideology of MacLeod Ale was firmly entrenched by a young and serious head brewer who rigidly and strictly obeyed his self-imposed dogma of what constituted proper British beer. Dour and dressed in leather braces and a tweed-driving cap, he affected a uniform of anti-social seriousness. He was obstinate, at times argumentative, sometimes on the warpath with owners. Others respected and admired his fastidiousness, commitment and exactitude. The truth of his tenure at MacLeod is subjective.
At 27, he was the head brewer of a new brewery. So that alone made him an object of envy. And maybe some of an element of Schadenfreude popped up when he fell down and was thrown out.
There was an upheaval within the brewery in late 2015 and the young cultist was fired and replaced with a new brewer.
The happy result, seen in profits and popularity, has been an artistic renovation melding historic beverage preservation with robust technological innovation.
New Head Brewer Josiah Blomquist came from an engineering background but he also had made his own alcoholic beverages, including beer, whisky and other exotic intoxicants. With investment in new equipment, and a new investor named Jerry Cohen, MacLeod now has advanced water purification, new tanks, and new filters to remove impurities. But there is also a fervent energy and openness to allow for colder, stronger, more aggressively flavored beers to come into the fold.
Last year, the one-year anniversary seemed to revel in presenting discussions, where brewers sat on a podium and talked in a panel about their various beers. There were two or three of these, lasting several hours.
This year, there was just one set up and it was dismantled after an hour. Afterward came a variety of jazz performers, including one terrific, 1920s inspired trio of musicians. The choice of music: individual, idiosyncratic, whimsical, embodies MacLeod.
MacLeod Ale today is no longer the ingénue. It occupies sort of a higher ledge above the goofiness of American, macho-man, craft beer. If it were a fragrance house it might be Diptyque or Le Labo where whispers of greatness spread quietly among the cognoscenti, and the scent of cultivated, curated success enters the room confidently without shouting.
Yesterday afternoon, I met one gentleman, Ryan Bell, who worked as a sales rep for a downtown brewery, Iron Triangle. He was dressed in a dark black shirt with company logo and a straw hat over his bearded face.
We walked over to try his company’s ale which was rich, deep, malty and reminded me of Old Rasputin. He said (if I remember correctly) it was somewhere between a porter and a stout and had an ABV of about 9%.
I expected the discussion to continue about beer.
But after I asked him what he did before he was a beer rep he told me he had been a 7th Day Adventist Pastor. And he was now, fully, committedly, devoutly, an atheist.
He said he wrote a blog, “Year Without God” and was the founder of “Life After God” where he wrote, spoke and consulted the happily godless on their journey of self-enlightened rationality un-poisoned by the imagery of the all mighty.
I was in the company, once more, of an evangelist, another hybrid in the spiritual community of Los Angeles whose own self-awakening constituted a new reality and a new philosophy for explaining and understanding existence. That it might be done by imbibing beer and abandoning faith seemed utterly logical to me, especially inside that hot, crowded brewery party after six or more ales.
My mind wandered from the packed brewery to the national scene and back again to the heat wave.
I was thinking of God and God’s successor, Nothingness. I was looking at Men and their Gods: beers and beards. I was wondering about intelligence and stupidity and how they were so often interchangeable. I was uncertain about what I should believe in or fear: Donald Trump, Radical Islamic Terrorism, certain atheism or certain faith, the NRA or Orlando, porter, ale or IPA.
Lubricated by alcohol, surrounded by many flavors of casks, some beers flavored with chiles, vanilla and rosemary, nothing seemed wrong or right, just there for the taking. I was elated by the possibilities of dropping long held beliefs, and flying into new consciousness by picking up new flavors, guided unintentionally by the atheist pastor beer salesman.
On that Sunday summer sirocco I was on the verge of a breakthrough. Or I might just collapse from alcoholic dehydration.
Fortunately, outside, there was Amy Crook, in a peach pleated skirt, whose hyena laugh and flirtatious giggle danced around the driveway as I recorded her. I joined her under the hot tent and helped check in guests. I tore off tickets, and peeled sticky armbands onto arms gleefully carrying glasses into a raucously animated party, one I knew I would later misinterpret truthfully.