Cycling and Craft Beer Just Go Together
To learn the best bicycling cities, we turn to Bicycling magazine. And its editors list the top three two-wheeler towns as Minneapolis; Portland, Oregon; and Boulder, Colorado. So it’s no surprise to find three of the best bike-and-beer experiences in those locales. But before we get to Surly Brewing’s restaurants in Minnesota, Hopworks Urban Brewery’s BikeBar in Oregon, and Oskar Blues Brewing’s CyclHops Bike Cantina in Colorado, there’s a new concept that recently opened in Los Angeles—a megalopolis that, unsurprisingly, did not make Bicycling’s list.
The Cannibal is L.A.’s newest beer-centric eatery, and it comes by way of New York City, although it’s inspired by Belgium, and in particular, one specific Belgian. Named for famed cyclist Eddy Merckx, dubbed “The Cannibal,” the restaurant in Culver City, an enclave of West L.A., broadens the scope of its Manhattan predecessor. Where the New York City space seats about 65, the capacity is virtually doubled on the West Coast. The two spots are co-owned by Christian Pappanicholas and Cory Lane, both carnivorous avid cyclists, and Francis Derby serves as executive chef at both locations.
Vegetarians find something to feast on, too: “We get that a lot,” Pappanicholas says by rote, as he mimics an oft-asked question, “You think all those healthy people will want to eat that stuff?” The Cannibal, which also doubles as a butcher and sandwich shop, features pâtés, terrines, and house-made charcuterie.
The Cannibal goes against the myth that nobody walks—or rides—in L.A. There is a big bike rack outside, and the TV screens showcase cycling events. The space and its wood-fired grill and smokers are geared toward a cozy experience. No small part of that includes the beer selection: nearly 500-plus bottles strong and eight drafts controlled by a new beer tech called a Flux Capacitor that regulates temperature and gas. Southern California native Julian Kurland, an in-house Cicerone, curates the beer list.
Pappanicholas says, “I don’t go crazy about pairings. That being said, there are some wonderful naturals out there.” Rodenbach Grand Cru, a decidedly sour Flanders red ale imported from Belgium, goes great with morcilla (blood sausage). He comments, “The natural sourness goes with aggressive, bloody iron; it’s a good combo.” He also suggests brown ales such as Belgian dubbels or stouts with wood-fired protein like the fatty rib-eye. Naturally, smoked meats such as country ham go amazingly with Rauchbiers—smoked German lagers from Bamberg such as schlenkerla.
If those seem heavy on overseas ales and lagers, Kurland ensures that a good chunk of the list is American craft beer, including some from the Los Angeles area’s growing brewing scene. Kurland is particularly jazzed about Boomtown Brewing’s Ingénue Belgian-style witbier, Three Weavers’ West Coast IPA, and Mumford Brewing’s Black Mamba, which is a dark, hoppy ale sometimes referred to as a Black IPA.
If the lengthy beer menu makes it difficult to narrow down a selection to just one brew, two-wheeled diners who show up in a cycling kit—a bike jersey and those lycra shorts—receive a second beer on the house. Cautions Pappanicholas, “If you pull a 9-liter bottle of St. Bernardus, it is not buy one/get-one [unless] you’ve won the Tour de France or even raced in it, then I’m fine with that.”
Puckishly, Pappanicholas also mentions of the bike hooks on the back wall that he enjoys those disruptive moments when diners look at riders like they’re a bit crazy—when really the riders appreciate getting to keep an eye on their bikes while eating and drinking out.
Christian Ettinger, founder and brewmaster at Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) in Portland, also loves “the clickety clack of bike cleats” in his restaurants. It’s safe to say that Omar Ansari of Surly Brewing in Minneapolis and Dale Katechis of Oskar Blues Brewing feel likewise. This trio of brewing companies in three of America’s best bike bastions go far beyond providing bike parking and selling riding jerseys.
Established as a brewpub in Southeast Portland in 2007, HUB opened BikeBar in Northeast Portland in 2011. Both spots feature a canopy of bicycle frames over the bars, but BikeBar is situated on one of the city’s most trafficked bike highways along North Williams Avenue. Riders will find air pumps and bike tools available to use, and if they ride up lockless, BikeBar will lend them one while they polish off a Peloton steak sandwich or Gear Grinder (a grinder a.k.a. hoagie) washed down with a Gear Up IPA.
In Minneapolis, Surly Brewing, which debuted in 2005, also caters to hungry and thirsty cyclists—but has no relation to Surly Bikes, from Bloomington, Minnesota, founded in 1998. Located along the University of Minnesota’s Transitway, which also allows university buses and emergency vehicles, adjacent to a Nice Ride—the local bike-share program—twin restaurants the Beer Hall and the Brewers Table opened in 2014. Surly Brewing spokesman Ben Bauch says the Beer Hall is the casual-dining eatery that seats some 220 diners plus another hundred in the beer garden, with over 20 taps to slake thirsts. Meanwhile, upstairs at the Brewers Table, with seating for 120 (including the balcony), more adventurous palates find a constantly rotating menu. Popular items at the Beer Hall include the Surly Burger with the faro salad and the Hog Frites topped with pulled pork—and each of them go quite nicely with a pint of Surly Hell, an angelically light Munich-style Helles lager. Upstairs, dishes are available á la carte, and they also offer a four-course tasting meal with beer pairing for $70. Lamb tartare and a rabbit terrine nicely elevate the standard levels of brewery restaurant cuisine.
In Longmont (a doable 15-mile ride from Boulder), patrons roll up to CyclHops Bike Cantina, just one of the five restaurants under the Oskar Blues umbrella but the only one with over 40 tequilas and 25 beers on tap (far less than half of which are house beers). Jason Rogers is the executive chef and brewery partner responsible for each restaurant’s menu. However, with CyclHops—replete with its own bike shop carrying the company’s own REEB brand of bikes (spell it backward) and a full-service repair shop—Rogers fulfills his love of Mexican cuisine. There are a dozen tacos, including veggie-friendly fare such as sweet potato or fried avocado tacos. There’s also queso fondito “en fuego,” melted cheese dip served with flaming tequila. Of all the dishes, Rogers notes, “We chef it around a little bit.” A perfect liquid companion to these dishes, beyond its flagship Dale’s Pale Ale, is the new Beerito, a Mexican-style lager akin to Negra Modelo, even if the style is, historically, a Vienna lager. Asked what a rider who tackled some of the area’s single track could indulge in, Rogers quickly responded with the Carlos Platter. “One of my line cooks is [6-foot-2] and 300 pounds.” The platter comes with two enchiladas, a chili relleno, a pair of crunchy tacos, rice, and beans. “It’s a food trough.” If someone still has a long ride home, the Pinner IPA, a low-alcohol (4.9 percent) IPA with citrus notes aplenty, does the trick.
Finally, one beer menu item that should be compulsory for any restaurant with a big riding clientele is a radler, a.k.a. shandy. Back at Hopworks, Ettinger says the bacon cheeseburger is BikeBar’s most popular order. When he rides in, he insists, “If it’s super hot out I’m gonna hit a radler first, then deconstruct with HUB Lager and a pint of lemonade.” Hopworks Totally Radler, a blend of the lager and house-made lemon soda, is a perfect drink for cyclists (which is what the German word radler means, and Ettinger used to live in Cologne). Then again, a tart and refreshing drink isn’t just for cyclists and, because these beers tend to have half the alcohol content, perhaps it’s an even smarter option for customers who’ll be driving home on four wheels.