Q & A With Rich Marcello of Strand Brewing Company: This Weekend's Bottle Release, Texts From Fans + How the Beer Scene is Like NASCAR
The 4 bottles Strand will be releasing this weekend
Less than two months after Strand Brewing Company celebrated its 3rd Anniversary -- and just over a year after opening its always-busy Torrance tap room -- the foundational South Bay beer-makers are ready for another epic milestone: bottles.
Starting with a two-day kickoff at the tap room this weekend and continuing as 500ml bottles of 24th Street Pale Ale, Atticus IPA, Beach House Amber and Second Sleep Imperial Stout (the rest will come later) appear on shelves of hand-picked beer stores L.A. in the coming weeks, Strand's first foyer into bottling is less business venture and more necessity.
It's a cap on the last 30 months of continual expansion that has seen the brewery sign a distributor deal, increase production twelve-fold and solidify its dominance as not just a craft beer producer in an office park in Torrance, but the beer producer for South Bay.
But joining burgeoning L.A. breweries like Eagle Rock, Beachwood and El Segundo who have taken the plunge to make their product more available to the thirsty throngs is no easy task. We caught up with Strand's co-founder Rich Marcello at Strand's tap room, in the days before he and co-founder/brewer Joel Elliot and their small crew sealed off the final cases for this weekend's celebration, to ask him about the imminent release of Strand's first bottled beers.
Squid Ink: How does it feel finally to see Strand bottles?
Rich Marcello: The thing I'm most excited about the bottles is that for the first time, people can go home and open their fridge and have a Strand beer in there. You can do that with growlers, but to me, the shelf life on a growler is 24 hours. Okay, maybe 48 if you're pushing it and it's kept cold and proper. But we're only open Thursday through Sunday, so there people coming here trying to fill up a growler on Sunday for their boyfriend's birthday which is on Wednesday ... yeah, not a good idea.
SI: So part of the motivation to bottle was to preserve the quality of your product?
RM:Yeah, because ultimately, there is nothing that we take more seriously than our brand and the quality of the beer. Joel and I have worked very hard and fought blood, sweat and tears, and I don't want my beer represented in the wrong way. Nothing is more important.
Tasters at the tasting room
SI: Did you take that into account when choosing bottle shops to sell to?
RM:I think it's exactly how we started with our draft accounts. With our first draft list, there were 12 places: Naja's, Beachwood, Simmzy's, Father's Office, Wolfgang Pucks at the L.A. Live, The Yard, Westside Tavern, Boneyard Bistro -- all serious beer places. And I think it'll be the same with our first bottle accounts. We already have Select Beer Store in Redondo, Ocean View Liquor right up the street, Adams Liquor and Whole Foods.
SI: Nothing outside of South Bay on this first run?
RM:One of the goals of Strand Brewing Company from the beginning was to change the way people view and drink craft beer in the South Bay, L.A. County and then beyond. So South Bay comes first on that list, but beyond is infinite, so I'm never stunted in my growth, but I always know where my starting point is. Someplace like Wally's Wines over in the Westwood-Brentwood area, for example -- they're interested in carrying our bottles. But rather than say, "Here you go," I'm going to do a day there where I will be there the very first day they have our beers for sale and that sets the tone. Now we're not worried. Now we know people and they know us.
SI: Do you think there competition among L.A. breweries?
RM:It's all kind of like NASCAR, in a sense. There are teams that have more money. There are teams that have cooler looking cars. There are teams that no matter what they do, they're the underdog and they never quite finish. There's teams that will surprise you and win once in a while. But the reality is that we're all on the same track and I can't imagine racing with one car on the track -- it would be the most boring sport ever. And if all of them were the same, that would be even more boring. The fact that it's the most watched sport in the United States is because there are so many different factions. And all those guys know and respect and help each other keep their cars on the track.
If I left a 24-hour day at Strand and Jeremy [Raub, Eagle Rock Brewery] called and said, "I really need your help, man. We're folding if we don't get some extra hands over here," I would drive there, work another 24-hour day for free just so he can keep his car out there because it's fun having other cars out there to ride around with.
SI: Were bottles always in the plan for Strand?
RM:It's funny because the original plan was to only bottle beer. Seriously, that was the original business model -- all bottled beers. That all changed when I went out on a preliminary sales run and the lady at this little place I went into said, "It depends." I said, "On what?" And she pointed across the street and said, "I sell the most of whatever they have on draft over there." Then I thought about it: You can go in and get a taster for free at any bar and if you like that beer, then you will say it is worth the $8 or $9 when you see it on the shelf. If I've never had it before, the sell is that much harder. So we came back and totally revamped the plan.
Mock-ups of future poential Strand bottles.
SI: How did you know it was the right time to go back to that original idea?
RM:Strand fans are amazing. Strand fans text me when they are out of our beer at their favorite bar. It's so crazy. Strand fans are the most loyal. Simmzy's in Manhattan Beach told me they better not run out of Strand beer because people get angry when they run out, like they get yelled at. That tells me that maybe people want it in their home. Coming home from a long day of work or play, if you can pull some fresh, local beer out of your fridge and that beer is Strand, that's a "welcome home" to me.
SI: You and Joel have worked your asses off the last three years. Is seeing your bottles on a shelf one way to make it worth it to you?
RM:Seeing it on the shelves is a milestone, but getting a photo text from a Strand fan holding it up in their living room saying, "Thank you. Finally!" That makes it worth it. I get hundred of pictures and texts a week from people drinking Strand. If I think about it too much I will actually get teary eyed. That's the connection I feel like we have with our fans. I know their families, I know where they live. They're part of that Strand family.
Strand Brewing Company Bottle Release Weekend is on March 16 and March 17, at 12 noon; 23520 Telo Avenue, Torrance. Admission is free. White Sand Double IPA and a cask of oaked Second Sleep Russian Imperial Stout will also be tapped.
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