Smog City. If it sounds like the perfect name for the next L.A.-area brewery, that's because it already is. With new local breweries making headlines months before they even open these days, we were caught off-guard when Smog City Brewery co-owner Laurie Porter contacted us after reading our homebrew club roundup to tell us about the brewery's first "tap takeover" tasting at the Yard in Santa Monica next week (we met her husband, Smog City brewer Jonathan Porter, at a Pacific Gravity homebrew club party). A homebrew club is taking over the taps at the Yard? We wondering how that would be possible with the city's tight food regulations.
This is an actual brewery that officially began stocking a handful of local craft beer bars like the Yard since September. If you've heard of them, you clearly get out for a drink more often than we do (lucky you), as the website is still in progress (in the meantime, they are on Facebook and Twitter), there has been absolutely no marketing campaign (not even a "Hey, we just opened!" email), and the beer is only on tap at a handful of L.A.-area bars where the couple know the owners from their years in the beer industry. How refreshingly old-fashioned and homebrew-worthy. Get our interview with the couple after the jump.
Part of the sub rosa nature has been due to an association with Tustin Brewing Co., where Jonathan has been the brewer since 2008. When we sampled the brewery's XPA at the Yard, even the bartender there mentioned the Tustin Brewing affiliation when we said we had never heard of Smog City. However, Smog City is not a subsidiary of Tustin or a new brand for the company, but an independent entity (the couple formed a partnership with Tustin Brewing's owner, Jason Jeralds, to form a new company that operates out of the Tustin facility). "It's more like a sister-type relationship," explains Laurie.
They've also been under the radar by necessity, as finding time to toot their marketing horn has not been the top priority. "With Jonathan still working at Tustin, me the only person doing [beer] sales and deliveries, and we have a 2-year-old at home, we just haven't had much time to focus on getting the word out," continues Laurie. "Clearly I need to do that!"
Marketing aside, what's the brewery's flavor profile game plan? "Hold on a second, you'll have to talk to [Jonathan] about that," she said, handing over the phone.
Jonathan Porter: Well, it's funny -- you talk to a lot of breweries, owners of breweries, and they'll tell you they brew what they want to drink. I wanted to brew something that's different in the market -- that's how I started. But when it comes down to it, I'm brewing what I like to drink, just like everyone else.
Squid Ink: Ha. So tell us a little about the beers.
JP: Our flagship is our L.A. Saison -- light and drinkable, complex but approachable. That's what I think of as our "L.A." beer, and people seem to like it. We also have an XPA, which is lower alcohol but still very hoppy, balanced, approachable. Most of our beers are easy to drink. I want balance. When I make a double IPA, there is a huge hops punch, but there has to be balance. And we've got a chocolate imperial stout right now, and a coffee stout. It's always changing.
SI: We know you're a homebrewer, so how did you get into the professional side?
JP: I started with Tustin Brewing three years ago, in 2008. Before that, I was with BJ's back when they still brewed at their restaurants. I was up in Oxnard for a while, commuting to a [brewing] production facility they had there. And before that, I was at another BJ's out in Brea. That's where I started in 2006, washing tags.
SI: So Smog City is not directly associated with Tustin, but you still work there, too?
JP: Yeah. It's a great relationship. A lot of the beer that I make in Tustin serves double duty. The Saison and the XPA are exclusive Smog City, we sell them at Tustin on tap under that label. The [Tustin Brewing] owner is involved a little, like we have a warehouse that we rent together for cold storage. And all the accounting and bookkeeping goes through Tustin.
SI: You've got a facility where you can make beer, share storage space, and they take care of the accounting? That's more than a pretty great deal. Very little cash investment.
JP: I know. It's definitely good. [Laughs] It's a huge deal to use their facility, to start building our brand and see what sells. We're putting hardly any money into this.
SI: And yet you're still somewhat underground in terms of consumer awareness.
JP: Yeah, we've been a little covert. I've made a lot of friends in the industry, but mainly bars, retail and licensing sorts. That's why we are on tap at certain places, the places [my wife and I] already have relationships with -- she's out there delivering the beer. We haven't gone much further than that yet.
SI: It's hard to imagine just a few years ago no one was seriously thinking about opening a brewery in L.A.
JP: I know. It's been explosive, the beer scene here. It's been crazy. The goal for us has been to open a brewery for a long time, and this situation we have has been almost like a shortcut to it. And it's also so popular right now.
SI: You're having your official "coming out" party of sorts next Wednesday, Feb. 15, at the Yard in Santa Monica. Tell us about that.
JP: Yeah, we've been lucky at the Yard. They're the one bar that has us on tap all the time now. But for the takeover, every beer on every tap will be Smog City beers. Luckily they don't have many taps, only six taps, because we don't have many beers. [Laughs] We definitely couldn't do a tap takeover at Father's Office.
SI: Ha, right.
JP: But actually, we do have pretty many of our own beers now. One of the specialty beers we've got coming up is a sour beer. It's got a very intense mouth feel, because of a high percentage of rye, very tart and full-bodied. I'm excited about that one. And I consider all the beers at Tustin my beers, too, because I re-created everything. When I got to Tustin a few years ago, the beers were kind of a mess, so I re-created them all flavorwise.
SI: So where else can we find your beers around town right now, other than the Yard?
JP: It varies since we've got a limited production right now. Larry's on the boardwalk [in Venice] has us on tap permanently, so does the Yard. Library Alehouse has our beer on and off -- right now they have the IPA. Baco Mercat and Beer Belly [downtown] puts us on pretty often. The Oinkster [in Eagle Rock] has the coffee stout right now, and a new place in Pasadena that just opened, Dog Haus Biergarten, picked up our Saison.
Smog City Brewing Tap Takeover & Brewery Launch Party: Wed., Feb. 15, at the Yard in Santa Monica beginning at 7 p.m.
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