Like so many award-winning brewers, Devon Randall didn't set out to make beer for a living. And after getting her start at some of San Diego's biggest names in craft beer, she definitely never thought she'd be doing it back in her hometown of L.A., which only began to boast a beer scene of its own in the years since she left, nearly seven years ago.
Yet the low-key 30-something, who is the brewmaster at Arts District Brewing Co., is a stellar addition to downtown L.A.'s booming beer community. "I really strive to have a balanced tap list," she says. "I try to have a little bit of something for every mood and everybody." Her ability to make consistent, quality beers in a variety of international styles — from Baltic porters to Scotch ales to IPAs — makes her exactly the kind of talent L.A. needs to draw in new drinkers and turn the city into a next-level beer town.
Randall's road back to L.A. is itself a testament to her dedication for variety. After the Westside native graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in mass communications, she spent years working in L.A. real estate marketing, writing blurbs about pricy homes for a paycheck that allowed her to barely scrape by.
But she took note as her then-boyfriend joined Pacific Gravity Homebrew Club and made monthly brews in their kitchen. She fondly remembered her time in college working at Raleigh's, a Telegraph Avenue craft beer bar with 20 semi-rotating taps from Sierra Nevada, Anchor and Stone. Back in 2000, the Oakland bar was ahead of the game when it came to craft brews. When that relationship ended, Randall bought a homebrew kit of her own, started attending regular homebrew club meetings and, eventually, was brewing on her own about once a week. "I don't know what it was, but I found myself really choosing beer over everything else," she says.
Randall looked into local breweries where she could get some more hands-on experience, but Eagle Rock Brewery was still only on the verge of opening, so while in San Diego to interview for another real estate marketing position, she stopped by some of the breweries to see if they needed any help.
Then she got the gig that launched her career in the beer industry. The Lost Abbey, the San Marcos powerhouse known for making both hoppy American-style beers and European barrel-aged experiments, said she could volunteer. Still living in L.A. at the time, she slept on a friend's couch in San Diego and worked for free for four months until a job opened up. "Lost Abbey was the perfect place to work first because it's production but it's also creative," she says of her time working in all facets of its brewery production. "You're never doing the same thing every day because they're always coming up with new ideas."
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Then she began to develop her own ideas, when she took over as head brewer at Pizza Port Solana Beach, where she medaled at the Great American Beer Festival for her oatmeal stout.
Now an award-winning beer maven, Randall moved back to L.A. in 2015 to become the brewmaster at Arts District, a new project from the craft cocktail masterminds at 213 Hospitality and Brian Lenzo of Hollywood's Blue Palms Brewhouse. Last October, she took home another GABF medal, a silver in the Smoke Beer category for Cowboy Curtis, a smoked porter.
Of the 20 or so house beers on tap at any given time at Arts District, nearly all are traditional styles, free of fruity additions or in-your-face adjuncts, meaning that the party-going crowd that plays skeeball and cornhole in the 300-capacity brewery can sip American ambers, saisons, Schwarzbier and even an English Summer pale ale, made in homage to Raleigh's, the pub that for Randall started it all.
"I guess it's more fun trying to stay ahead of the trend than just doing what the trendy people are doing," she says. "I don't think I'll be making any New England IPAs anytime soon. Let's go for the next thing."