In early 2013, when Connor Forbes and Kevin O’Malley wrote the first business plan for Indie Brewing Company, session beers were still a progressive dream.
For years, low-alcohol beers had been associated with the tasteless fizzy yellow stuff, and craft beer earned its reputation with boozy IPAs, heavy stouts and other brews that get you buzzed after only a few pints.
But a light, flavorful beer that can be consumed continuously during a single drinking session without causing you to get completely wasted? Many breweries wouldn’t warm up to this concept of a “sessionable” beer until the following year, when session IPAs, yard beers and other easy drinkers started to flood the market.
“Sometimes I want to drink a few and not get drunk,” Forbes says. “Especially in L.A., it makes sense to have something light for the daytime or to drink with dinner.”
Forbes and O’Malley had envisioned a small-batch production facility specializing in thoughtful, low-alcohol beers or, as they call them, SoCal session beers. Forbes, an L.A. native, had some prior experience with session beers; he spent time after college living as a self-proclaimed ski bum in Utah, a state where all beer served on draft is required to be below 4 percent ABV. There he met James Mancuso, and the two began homebrewing together, one batch every week for two years.
When Forbes moved back to L.A. in 2011, Mancuso got a job as a brewer for Uinta, one of Utah’s largest craft breweries, making large quantities of its year-round offerings. He later got a call from Forbes saying that the brewery they had talked about opening while making beer in their Park City apartment so many years ago was about to become a reality. Would he like to move to L.A. and be its brewmaster?
“Once you've been [at a brewery like Uinta] long enough, you've brewed everything,” Mancuso says. “I felt like I was learning less about making new beers and more about large-scale beer production. Indie was a chance to get creative again.”
After bringing another friend, Morgan Keller, into the mix, the Indie Brewing team was complete, and almost three years after Forbes and O’Malley’s first meeting, Indie made its first batch of beer at its Boyle Heights brewery last October.
Packaged in 750ml bottles and sent to shops including Silver Lake Wine, Sunset Beer Company and the Heights Market, Indie’s first release was a seasonal Superfood Saison, a peppery saison that’s not too sweet, despite being brewed with blackberries, goji berries, acai and pitaya.
Since then, they’ve released (and self-distributed to their 35-plus accounts) all three core beers — 7th Street Saison, Port(er) of Los Angeles and Eastside XPA — each one a full-bodied, full-flavored beer clocking in at under 5 percent ABV. The XPA is currently available in 16-ounce cans.
Though they are part of the new surge in breweries that have opened on the east side of downtown L.A. over the last year, Indie is on the other side of the river from the coalition of walkable taprooms in the Arts District. Forbes says they are working on getting approval to open a tasting room sometime this year.
“Making session beers differentiates us, but our identity is not dependent on it,” Forbes says. “We’re going for high-quality beers that have maximum poundability.”