Written by Tom Becham
(Note: picture of beer in glass and interior courtesy beerrover.blogspot.com)
While I used to live in an absolute beer desert, things have been looking up for the last couple years in Ventura County, California. True, Ladyface Ale Companie is, technically, just across the county line in Los Angeles County in the city of Agoura, but it is only about 40 minutes away from my front door on a good traffic day.
Ladyface has only been open for about a year. That they participated in the 2010 Great American Beer Festival as a brewery while still being so new says that the brewing staff is either very experienced, or are newbies confident in their abilities. They have taken awards at the Los Angeles International Beer Festival, so the GABF may only be a matter of time. Either way, while their beers have not reached the level of greatness yet, I fully expect great things from them in the not-too-distant future.
Ladyface occupies an unlikely spot in an odd suburban strip mall just off U.S. Highway 101. Despite this rather unfortunate setting, Ladyface manages to fairly accurately portray a Belgian brown cafe’. Other than the exposed tin ceiling and mandatory visible brewing vessels (and the persistently sunny weather), Ladyface might well be in Brussels.
Ladyface also keeps up the theme with its lunch and dinner menus, which consist mostly of lighter French-style offerings, like ratatouille, croque monsieur, onion soup and the like. There are also the American brewpub standards, like salads, grilled cheese and a pretty decent burger. While the food is good, it is not a stand-out, especially in a land filled with foodies who have high standards. If the kitchen were to add some more distinctly Belgian menu items like carbonnade a la flamande or mussels steamed in gueuze (both fairly easy to make), it would not only set apart Ladyface’s food, but would also complement their beers even further.
So what about the beer? Well, this is the raison d’etre of Ladyface, and it is where they shine.
First of all, ANY brewpub that makes its own cask ale (or live ale, or real ale, depending on the terminology you favor) deserves some major kudos right off the bat. Cask ale, for those of you who don’t know, is an unfiltered, unpasteurized ale served from the cask without the addition of any nitrogen or CO2. It frequently referments in the cask, and it is a VERY temperamental creature to maintain and serve properly. The yeast is still alive and altering the beer in situ, so cask ale is very much a living product, and requires proper maintenance and serving conditions – to be any good. It is also very rare in the United States (being mainly a British specialty), and generally only to be found in larger venues in San Francisco or San Diego.
Ladyface serves its own cask ale, as part of an ongoing promotion they call “Firkin Fridays” in which a new vessel of cask ale is tapped every Friday. It seldom lasts through the weekend, from what I hear. In the past, I have sampled a truly incredible Porter, aged in bourbon barrels that contained vanilla beans, and a blond ale with whole-leaf fresh Saaz hops. Now, I am not a fan of blond ale. I think it is the ale world’s equivalent of bland, boring “lawnmower beer”. But this cask blond was the perfect vessel for the fresh Saaz hops. It was very, very subtle and reminiscent of a true German Kolsch, with the floral, spicy hops sliding onto the palate after the faint maltiness fades away. An inspired beer.
The standard beers of Ladyface are also good themselves, but require some work to acquire distinctiveness.
Their Blind Ambition Amber is a very pleasant, somewhat malty quaffer. This is the session ale at Ladyface, and I could see drinking this one all day, given the opportunity. But is it not memorable.
The Picture City Porter begins with a blast of coffee on the nose, repeated on the palate. My complaint about this one is that it is a tad dark in color for a porter, and in reality is just a thin-bodied stout. It is one of my pet peeves that American craft brewers don’t seem to know the difference between porter and stout. Since Ladyface seems so knowledgeable of barrel-aging, I would hope that in the future they would attempt a true porter by blending old and new beers, as is customary in true London-style Porters. I’m sure they have more than sufficient expertise to pull it off.
On the more positive side, I truly enjoy Ladyface’s Trois Filles Tripel. Many Belgian-style Tripels bash you on the head with waves of malty sweetness, then fruity tastes from the yeast, with a bitter hoppiness bringing up the rear. Ladyface’s Tripel, rather than hitting you with sweet, fruity and bitter in waves, blends the flavors in a smooth really drinkable manner. The aroma carries scents of banana, apricot and mango. The palate is mildly alcoholic (this brew clocks in about 7.5% ABV, the milder end of the Tripel range), and carries hints of a jammy pineapple. As the brew warms, it tastes more and more like Duvel, the classic Belgian strong gold ale. This one is a winner and dangerously drinkable for its strength.
I also rather liked the Chesebro Double India Pale Ale, much to my surprise. I am not much a fan of IPAs, much less DIPAs or IIPAs. But Ladyface hops its DIPA quite skillfully, with a rather herby hop aroma and a grapefruit rind finish, with slight hints of Granny Smith Apple. Even the non-hopheads can deal with this DIPA.
Besides their own beers, Ladyface also has a pretty good guest tap selection, with selections from several craft brewers in the Western U.S., as well as the requisite Belgian or two. The bottle list is also impressive, and some fairly scarce (and rather expensive) Belgians can be obtained in the bottle. Ladyface will also fill growlers with their own brew for take-out.
All in all, if you are anywhere close to North Western Los Angeles County, I heartily recommend a trip to Ladyface Ale Companie. I tried to find something there I didn’t like, but I simply couldn’t.
Picture courtesy Examiner.com
Tom Becham lives in California, he’s a homebrewer and reviews beer, brewpubs, breweries and beer events for professorgoodales.org.