Though Ladyface Ale Companie will be celebrating its third anniversary this week, it was eight years ago -- during San Francisco Beer Week 2005 -- that salt-and-pepper-haired Cyrena Nouzille first thought about opening up a microbrewery in the unlikely L.A. suburb of Agoura Hills.
Back then, there was no Golden Road or Strand Brewing Company making local beer for Greater Los Angeles. In fact, the only production brewery in the city was Pasadena's Craftsman, and there were only a handful of bars that would even serve it.
Nouzille -- a longtime home brewer, artist and stay-at-home mom -- was not motivated, then, by a local scene of professional craft brewers, but instead by a bus trip through her home turf of Marin and Sonoma counties that year, visiting Northern California breweries like Bear Republic, Russian River and Lagunitas, names now nearly synonymous with quality craft beer. She visited their family-friendly brewpubs, saw the community using them as a gathering place and came home with an idea.
"Touring those three breweries, I started thinking about it, and that's when I put it all together: 'Yeah, I want to make more beer,'" Nouzille says. "I spent enough time in major beer cities to see that L.A. had huge potential and that nothing was happening at the time. I came back from that trip and started writing a business plan."
Nouzille had been making her own beer in the fringe L.A. County city of Agoura Hills for about six years. Through the small but impressive network of home-brew friends in the semi-rural community off the 101 Freeway, she met David Griffiths, the head brewer of a local BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse. Would you like to brew Belgian-style beers for a new French-inspired brewpub? He said yes and Ladyface Ale Companie was born.
With an emphasis on handcrafted beer and gourmet food, Ladyface's Alehouse and Brasserie opened in late 2009 as a stark contrast to Agoura's chain restaurants and Bud Light taps. Though it started releasing beers the same month as the equally foundational Eagle Rock Brewing Company, Ladyface is not only on the other side of town from the Populist makers but in another state of mind.
"People think of [Agoura] as being far because the physical landscape change is so dramatic," says Nouzille, whose business card now reads "Boss Lady." "You have the impression that you've come a long way, but you really haven't."
Steeped in Nouzille's love of French culture and Belgian beer (her husband is Français), the place has an old-world vibe that permeates beyond the stained-glass lamps and art nouveau branding. And its outdoor patio -- which faces the scenic Ladyface Mountain for which the brewery is named -- has a European-countryside quality that, combined with Griffith's beers, feels entirely un-L.A.
"The overall theme to all of our beers is Belgian-inspired, but we do a handful of what I like to call 'West Coast progressives,' like using fresh, local ingredients or doing something that's a spin on traditional style," says Griffiths, Ladyface's head brewer. "We also have a slightly different view of beers, so even people that are used to Belgian singels and tripels might find ours a little unique."
Despite little to no distribution outside of the Conejo Valley in its first year, demand for Ladyface's in-house beers grew so much that capacity was doubled by 2011. Year-round offerings such as La Blonde Belgian-style blonde, Blind Ambition Belgian-style amber and more-British-than-West-Coast Ladyface IPA began showing up on tap lists in L.A. proper, convincing the growing number of beer drinkers in the city that imaginative special releases such as its barrel-aged, Abbey-style ales, French-style biere de gardes and sours aged in Malibu Family Wine barrels were worth the drive to Agoura.
Ladyface soon landed on RateBeer.com's list of the top 20 brewpubs in the world, and in 2012, we named it the "Best Brewery in L.A.," solidifying what many already knew: This is not only Agoura's go-to beer destination but one of L.A.'s finest.
"It was always intended to be local, but I also realized that there was nothing going on in LA. either," Nouzille says. "It is humbling and very cool [to get so much attention] because I didn't expect it so quickly. I think that speaks to the need that was there to begin with, that people are clamoring to have that experience with new beer."
Today, Ladyface sits at the foot of its namesake mountain as a stopping-off point for weary 101 travelers and night-crawling Angelenos alike. It hosts epic beer-pairing dinners thanks to executive chef Adrian Gioia and even a monthly women's beer-education forum (similar to Eagle Rock's) called Ladies at Ladyface. Its beers are hand-delivered to bars across west and central L.A., a region that Nouzille cites as its focus wholesale market for the next year.
As one of the early local adopters in the current craft beer revival, though, she says she is excited to see the growing number of local breweries releasing beer in an area once devoid of hometown suds.
"There still is a lot of potential in L.A.," she says. "I'm just amazed at the number of new breweries in the San Diego area that are still popping up, so clearly there's no end to what can happen here."
Visit Ladyface Ale Companie's website for more information on its 3rd Anniversary Week events.
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