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The craft beer scene in Los Angeles is still a bit like the Wild West. There's a lot of real estate getting snapped up, there are lots of outdated laws that don't stand up to today's fast paced beer business, and swarms of people are rushing here to stake their own claim.
Dozens of new brewery projects have launched (or are in the process of launching) in massive Los Angeles County recently. There are new barrel aging programs in the South Bay, expansive plans along L.A.'s downtown river corridor, brewpubs in the high desert, and a slew of local homebrewers scouting around for the money to get off the ground.
Here are three promising new L.A.-based breweries, each on their own path and at their own stage on the long journey from pint-sized dream to brewery success.
L.A. River Brewing Company
The four person brew team known as L.A. River Brewing Company consists of friends Tanner Worth, Ryan Truax, Constance Marshall, and Jessica Marshall. The eclectic group features a bartender, a pharmaceutical rep, an L.A. Derby Doll as their head brewer, and a former storyboard artist to manage packaging and marketing elements, but one thing is certain: everyone here loves craft beer. Constance Marshall already has a couple of homebrewing awards under her belt, Ryan Truax and Tanner Worth have more than a decade in the restaurant industry, and the entire team has been helping to collectively hone the L.A. River Brewing brand for a couple of years now.
L.A. River Brewing Company was one of the first local breweries to attempt to use Kickstart for funding. While the campaign ultimately failed—blame an aggressive fundraising benchmark and an L.A. beer culture that wasn't as receptive as it is now—L.A. River Brewing Company did get quite a bit of attention through the online campaign.
Now, the plan is to go all private financing, with a brewpub location in Culver City, ideally near the Expo Line light rail. And until then, L.A. River Brewing will continue to pop up at craft beer events across the Southland, pouring bottles of their Pacific Pale-isades, a citrusy medium pale ale; their Valley Blonde, a crisp, low-ABV session beer, and the Silverlake Hopster IPA, a fun and sharp caramel-toned IPA.
Since L.A. River Brewing Company still technically exists as a homebrew operation, the group is limited to brewing about 17 barrels per year, all of which is bottled and kegged in small batches by hand. With funding fully underway, a 7-barrel system and commercial setup isn't far behind, but for now the team is as lean as ever, saving their cash for the day they cut the ribbon on their new brewpub.
Pipe Dream Brewing
Pipe Dream Brewing founders Brian Holter and Kingsley Toby are collaborating with larger local breweries like Ladyface Alehouse in Agoura Hills, hoping to turn their momentum into a Westside production facility of their own.
Inspired by the pale ales coming out of Firestone Walker and Sierra Nevada, Holter (who spent years working in the wine industry) and Toby, who had a background in the cocktail world, began experimenting with Citra, Cascade, and other hops to try to recreate those pale ale flavors on their personal homebrew kits. Once their Pipe Dream Pale—a 2012 National Homebrew Competition regional winner—began stacking up to some of their favorite California offerings, the pair knew they were on to something. Now, Pipe Dream brews award-winning summer ales, IPAs, and anything else they can get into their tanks.
Which brings us to Holter and Toby's 1/2 barrel custom homebrew system. Run on an all electric HERMS pilot system, the idea from the beginning was to scale down a commercial brewing operation completely, so that scaling back up (with proper funding) would be a whole lot easier down the line. The impressive system takes up an entire one-stall garage and can look more Breaking Bad than homebrewer at times, with flashing lights, built-in wall mounted tap handles and lots of chrome. Now on the cusp of putting together their own 15 to 30 barrel production facility with an attached tasting room, the original Pipe Dream is slowly becoming more and more of a reality.
The Dudes' Brewing
Although The Dudes themselves—Toby Humes, Jeff Parker and Mike Holwick—have only really been brewing commercially since March of this year, the trio certainly learns fast. Despite the laid-back name, The Dudes' Brewing has burst onto the South Bay beer scene, a beachy part of town already teeming with the likes of El Segundo Brewing, Smog City, Monkish, Strand Brewing, and others.
Pallets full of The Dudes' flagship Double Trunk DIPA cans are already leaving their Torrance brewing facility, with their English-style Grandma's Pecan brown ale not far behind. And all of those cans are headed to accounts across Los Angeles, from hip new barbecue restaurants like Roadside Eats to your local Whole Foods beer aisle. It's a good time to be a Dude.
Jeff Parker, the head brewer, is no stranger to the beer business, having worked to get Strand Brewing into position as one of L.A.'s best beer exports. Now, he's teamed up with the business-savvy minds of Humes and Holwick to turn a business plan into a privately funded 30 barrel, 9 vessel system that will brew upwards of half a million gallons of beer when running at capacity. For now, the cans are still being packaged by hand, but soon that too will succumb to the tidal wave of capital that The Dudes' is riding; everyone who works there is already getting an iPad to help monitor the system during brews.
Much like the guys from Pipe Dream, head brewer Parker looked north to Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale when first brewing beer in his home. Now, he doesn't have to drive more than a few minutes to find a spectacular IPA or cooling pale ale, thanks to the boom of breweries operating in the South Bay.
Truth be told, most of Torrance's rise as a home for brewing operations has more to do with the city of Los Angeles' cumbersome red tape, but perhaps that's to be expected in a city so large. For now, the dudes behind The Dudes' Brewing are happy where they are, flush with distribution deals and looking to parlay their fast start into a very successful craft beer future.