When Brian Lethcoe cuts the ribbon tomorrow morning, it will mark the “official” opening of Nibble Bit Tabby Brewery, only the second legal brewery within Los Angeles city limits. In fact, Lethcoe, a local boy who was raised in Venice and now lives in Highland Park, has been brewing at Nibble Bit since may and home-brewing for 15 years.
A painter, plumber, machinist and mechanic, Lethcoe began brewing beer for his art shows while studying at Cal Arts. “No one remembers the art,” he says, “but they remember the beer.”
He dropped out of art school after three years but Lethcoe persisted with the brewing. Six years ago, after repeated exhortations from his friends, he decided to go legit.
After three years of research (“and drinking”) he partnered with Light Art Corp. to turn his far-fetched idea into reality. It would become a three-year bureaucratic odyssey only slightly less convoluted than the Mahabharata.
Located in a former sweatshop on the Eastern outskirts of downtown Los Angeles, Nibble Bit Tabby is in a gritty industrial neighborhood just south of the 10 freeway. Inside, Lethcoe has a 7-barrel setup that's capable of producing approximately 220 gallons of beer.
Don't expect any of the wildly over-hopped IPAs that have been all the rage these past few years. Proudly using L.A. tap water, Lethcoe has so far turned out three beers. Uncle Arnie's Irish Red is a mellow beer named after Lethcoe's hard-drinking, hard-living uncle. Eternity St. Pale Ale recalls the days when Broadway was named Eternity St. (Lethcoe is also an avid student of L.A.'s brewing history.) “That is the beer I do for other people,” he says. Nibble ESB, an extra special bitter, is “the beer I do for me.”
Lethcoe dreams of moving into larger quarters across the street and expanding into a solar-powered, 30-barrel facility. Until then, you can find Nibble Bit Tabby's beers at a growing handful of local bars: Down And Out (downtown), Barbara's at the Brewery (Lincoln Heights), The York (Highland Park), Johnny's Bar (Highland Park), Eagle Rock Brewery (Atwater Village), 8 1/2 Tavern (Sherman Oaks), Boneyard Bistro (Sherman Oaks) and Tony's Darts Away (Burbank).
“That's just the yeast farting,” Lethcoe reassures me as his fermentation tanks make C.H.U.D.-like gurgling noises. “You know you're doing something great when you're doing what everybody else is doing,” Lethcoe says, “only you're doing it better.”