Like the unique craftsman housing style that dots Pasadena, Calif. just north of downtown Los Angeles, Craftsman Brewing Company is a Los Angeles tradition. In fact, the micro-brewery owned by brewer Mark Jilg has been creating craft beer in Southern California long before many breweries in the region were so much as a whiff of hops to their founders.
Craftsman is different than many of its newer micro-brew siblings. It’s somewhat mysterious; you have to know them and seek them out to find them. Their website is under construction, and it seems perpetually so. The brewery itself is not open to the public; nor is there a tasting room. Craftsman is not an easy, fan-accessible tasting experience, in other words.
But what this brewery has to offer once you taste their beers, is plenty of old school craft. Making small-batch brews that are served for the most part in the LA area, founding owner and brewer Jilg remains committed to taking risks, offering a wide variety of beers and tastes, and relying on the true beer connoisseur to discover and enjoy the cutting edge brewery’s offerings.
It’s been only in the last two years that Craftsman fans can quaff a few in a tasting room of sorts, Highland Park’s Maximiliano, a restaurant known for crisp pizzas, inventive vegetable dishes, and light pastas in a casual but hip setting. Here Craftsman serves up what is considered its signature brew, the 1903 Lager. Crisply bitter hops are offset by sweet herbal notes and a heady, grain-rich malt. It carries a reasonable 5.6% ABV. Wheat beer lovers may be carried away by the richer Heavenly Hefeweizen, a traditional Bavarian beer style. Craftsman mixes a light wheat taste with strong notes of orange, spices, and banana in this one. The banana taste on the palette offers a delicate connotation of banana bread – if it was drinkable with a clean finish. Both the Hefeweizen and Craftsman’s Poppyfield’s Pale Ale have 5.5% ABV, but there the similarities end. Poppyfield’s is a true English pale ale with a refreshing citrus taste and caramelized malt that’s easy to swallow. Craftsman has also come up with a Maximiliano House Beer, a session lager with slightly sweet herbal notes, redolent of thyme and oregano, the flavors of the restaurant’s marinara sauce.
Maximiliano’s has come to be known as the spot to try Craftsman’s seasonal brews, which pop up on draft along with its year ‘round offerings. Depending on the season, Craftsman offerings from sour beers to it’s unusual wine and beer hybrid, Cabernale, appear on the menu. Along with Maximiliano’s, eastside mainstays such as the Oinkster and Lucky Baldwin’s are other dining spots that serve Craftsman’s tastes.
Why such a low profile for the twenty-year-old-plus Craftsman? Jilg chose his brewery’s name well, as it’s all about the craft for him. Fan adulation is keen, and especially so considering the beers are so challenging to come by. Reviewers and fans alike laud Jilg’s refusal to “sell out,” by doing anything as conventional as marketing Craftsman bottled. Spend any time at Maximiliano’s and it’s easy to hear beer aficionados of all stripes sing the praises of Jilg’s unique brews. Fan favorites include their rich Edgar’s Ale Russian Imperial Stout and their light Belgium Triple White Sage. With a quiver of over fifty brews, Craftsman has what it takes to please the most discerning beer drinker – as long as he or she has the persistence it may take to find the brews for tasting.