Q & A With Haven Brewing's Dave Larsen: L.A. Beer Week, New Zealand Hops + Stone's First Local Collaboration

Larsen's feet stick out of the barrel during the Haven/Stone collaboration brew day.
Larsen's feet stick out of the barrel during the Haven/Stone collaboration brew day.
Photo courtesy of Dave Larsen

The fourth annual Los Angeles Beer Week might have officially ended with Sunday's festival at Union Station, but there's still one more special LABW brew that has yet to be released. Too bad it's not even ready to drink yet.

That's because early in the morning on Thursday, Sept. 20 -- while many establishments were still setting up for their LABW kick-off events -- Haven Brewing Brewmaster Dave Larsen and Stone Brewing's Steve Gonzales were busy making a milestone collaboration beer at Haven Gastropub + Brewery in Old Town Pasadena.

Though Stone is famous for churning out collaboration beers with breweries as close as Orange County and as far away as Denmark and Japan, the yet-unnamed black rye IPA marks the first time Stone has ever collaborated with a Los Angeles brewery. And its release after several more weeks of dry hopping may just coincide with the late October opening of the craft beer giant's first company store outside of San Diego County, which is going in just down the street from Haven.

Making this collaboration beer even more awesome is the fact that Stone sent not its Brewmaster Mitch Steele or CEO Greg Koch on brew day, but Gonzalez -- the company's Research, Small Batch and Barrel Manager. Gonzalez' experience with experimental beers coupled with Larsen's recent (Haven Gastropub + Brewery opened last December) transition from homebrewing to commercial brewing made the duo the perfect team to create a brew that represents the city's burgeoning beer scene.

We caught up with Temecula-born Larsen last week -- as the collaboration beer was deep into fermentation -- and talked about his first co-brewing experience, Stone's Old Town Pasadena takeover and the ways in which drinking beer is like listening to music.

Haven's Dave Larsen (left) and Stone's Steve Gonzalez get ready to add the hops to their collaboration beer, made on the first day of Los Angeles Beer Week
Haven's Dave Larsen (left) and Stone's Steve Gonzalez get ready to add the hops to their collaboration beer, made on the first day of Los Angeles Beer Week
Photo courtesy of Dave Larsen

Squid Ink: How did you guys score Stone's first L.A. brewery collaboration?

Dave Larsen: Our rep has been talking it up and saying it would be a good idea and so he had a lot to do with it. And then with them moving into Pasadena with their storefront, it just made sense. Since they're coming onto our turf, they thought it would be nice to do a collaboration. We've always been on great terms with Stone and we always carry Stone beers so it's a perfect fit.

SI: How did you and Steve collaborate on this beer before brew day?

DL: We talked several times over phone and emails to think of something that Haven and Stone could both have on tap at any time. We were talking about a few things. I wanted to do an Imperial Pilsner at first, or maybe a session IPA and centerpiece the hops. And then Steve said, "Let's just do an IPA -- I have these New Zealand hops we can use." I said OK, but I already had two IPAs on draft.

So I thought what if we did a black IPA? And he came back and said, "How about a rye IPA?" Perfect. I have a rye beer on the board that we did, but this one we just made is a black rye IPA with New Zealand hops, which is completely different from anything Haven has done and anything Stone has in their catalog. The rye should really complement the New Zealand hops so I'm excited for it.

SI: Have you collaborated with another brewer before?

 

DL: I've just talked on the phone to other brewers about recipes and things like that. Nobody's ever come on a brew day so it was great. He took my lead on a lot because it was our system and I know it best, but at the same time, I was bouncing questions off him, trying to improve the process and in doing that, I think we improved it a little bit more. The brew day went smooth, plus we had a chance to swap stories, which was cool, too.

SI: That first day of LABW, there were Stone events at a bunch of spots in Old Town Pasadena. What was it like down there that night?

DL: I think Stone took over -- they were everywhere. I saw people come in for an hour and say they were going to another Stone event and then they came back. And so it really felt like Stone had huge presence that night. And having the owner of Stone come in and have a couple of beers and hang out at Haven was really cool for me.

SI: Stone's beers defined San Diego's beer culture as hoppy, but L.A.'s beer personality is still sort of undefined. How do you think the beer you brewed represents L.A.?

DL: I just want to make really great beer and I make beers that I want to drink. I like hoppy beers; I love malty beers -- that's why Haven's beer list is kind of all over. We have 5%ABV easy drinking hefs, we have imperial stouts up to 14% and we got single IPAs. I want to make stuff that's different and make our name that way. It's kind of like the city, I guess. I haven't really thought about it too much, but it makes sense to me to have a little bit for everyone.

My philosophy has always been that all beers are not good or bad, they're just different. And I think that every beer has a time and place and so maybe that's why our catalog is more diverse. On a sunny day, you can kick it in the grass and drink our hef all day. You just got off work and just want to have a couple of beers, we have a double IPA or our barleywine. Every beer had a time and place and I don't think people should be hop heads or all into Belgian beer, whatever it is. It's kind of like music in a way. You can only listen to The Cure for so long, you have to throw on some Metallica or something.

SI: How did you start brewing?

DL: This is my first pro gig, but before that I was brewing out of my garage for many many years. I still utilize my homebrew lab all the time. I'll usually do a small batch on my homebrew setup and bring it in to the guys and see what they think. I was very fortunate to work with Haven early on as their sous chef. And living a block away from Haven in Orange at the time, we would kick it in my backyard for hours with my homebrew. So the owners bought a brewery, they came to me and said, "You're gonna be our guy." I think it was a natural progression.

SI: What do you like about brewing in L.A.?

DL: People back home ask me, "Why do you live in L.A.?" and it's because we can do anything here. Maybe we sometimes don't appreciate it because we can go to the beach or go to the mountains in the same day and it's so casual, but it's true with every aspect of L.A. We can go to this show or that show or eat this food or that food. You can get anything here so why not be a hub for great everything, including beer.


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