Camarillo Gets Hoppy with Institution Ale Company
Just over the hill outside north LA along the 101 Freeway is Camarillo, a seemingly barren craft beer wasteland best known for its strip malls and outlet stores. But tucked away in a far off corner of an industrial park off Lewis Rd. is Institution Ale Company, where Roger Smith and his two sons, Ryan and Shaun, are brewing up some seriously awesome beers.
You may remember reading about Institution from the recap of our visit to Wade’s Wines, where we got the chance to sample their White Walls IPA, a deliciously hoppy wheat IPA brewed with 100% Citra hops (my favorite!). At that moment, we realized there was something special going on at Institution and that we had to check it out.
From the second I walked in the doors at Institution, I knew this was a match made in hoppy heaven. Out of the 8 beers on tap, 6 of them were some variety of a hoppy ale. A lot of times, we see breweries try really hard to maintain a diverse beer lineup so as to appeal to all kinds of beer drinkers, which is an excellent strategy. But at Insitiution, it was really refreshing to see them just focusing on brewing great beer that they like to drink. It doesn’t hurt that we just happen to share their love for bitter, fruity, floral, tropical hoppy ass beers!
With my fate laid out ahead of me, I decided to start off with a taster set to get a good grasp on their entire lineup. First up was a hoppy session red ale called Sedation, which promised citrus flavors on top of a lighter body. I didn’t get much of the citrus flavors out of this one, but it was mellow and highly drinkable.
Next, I tried their double dry hopped session IPA called Coherence. This beer was AWESOME. Great tropical, citrusy, fruity flavors with just the right amount of alcohol (5.5%) and a really clean crisp finish. I’ve had a bunch of session IPAs lately. This one takes the cake.
Up next were two beers from their Progress Pale Series, which focuses on a single dominant hop varietal for flavor and aroma. On this day, they had their Simcoe version, which had a nice orange-pine flavor, and their Amarillo version, which had more of a lemony-pine flavor and a super crisp finish. Both really good beers, but not something my hoppy palate would gravitate toward a second time.
Then came their West Coast IPA, aptly named Institution. This was a decent take on the genre, with an extremely pine-forward taste and a subtle sweet malt background. I’m a big fan of the West Coast style of IPAs, and I could see this being a favorite for many IPA drinkers, but it didn’t have the bite I typically look for, and just wasn’t very memorable among the current sea of hop-forward IPAs we see in the market today.
But with the next beer, Institution went and knocked me right off my barstool. In my taster glass was a Double IPA called Incoherence, a suped up version of their session IPA, boasting aromas of citrus and melon and a strong flavor of bitter grapefruit. You know those IPAs where as soon as you drink it, your tongue immediately soaks up all those hop resins and becomes uncontrollably juicy? This was it. At 9%, it had that hint of malty sweetness that is expected of a beer of this size, but was balanced amazingly well. So well, that I had to order myself a full pour of it. And then a growler to take home. Yup, that good.
Besides those hoppy beers, I also tried their oak coffee stout, Frantic. Even though this is Hopped LA, I still like to enjoy a nice stout every once in awhile and Institution’s Frantic was no disappointment. I’m a coffee lover, so the chocolatey espresso taste mixed with a touch of hazelnut and blackberry really hit the spot. Next time I’m in the mood to switch things up, Frantic is definitely one I’d look to.
All in all, every beer I had at Institution was artfully crafted, super flavorful, and brewed with imagination and care. There’s been a few times I’ve visited a brewery with 5+ hoppy beers and all of them end up being mediocre at best. Not at Institution. Head brewer Ryan Smith has got something really good going on, and the only possible thing I could be disappointed with is that White Walls was out while I was there.
They’ve got an expansion in the works, so be on the lookout for Institution Ale Company at your LA area watering hole, hopefully later this year. If you can’t wait, just visit the tasting room. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it.