I heard that lonesome whistle blow…That isn’t just the name of a Hank Williams song. It’s also a likely refrain for visitors to Golden Road Brewing, a new Atwater Village brewery situated alongside railroad tracks from Tony Yanow, the owner of Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank, and Meg Gill, former sales manager for Speakeasy Ales & Lagers in San Francisco.
On June 18, they welcomed Los Angeles media types to tour Golden Road’s red, blue and yellow buildings, which housed a train changing and loading space in the ’40s for Southern Pacific Railroad, the last stop from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Golden Road’s two acres house 42,000 square feet of real estate and fuel the most ambitious brewery and project in modern Los Angeles history. Yanow and Gill started discussions in December, signed the lease on the space in March, and secured brewing equipment for the first week of July to fuel Golden Road’s initial 15-barrel system.
Gill’s business relationship with Yanow initially involved connecting Tony’s Darts Away with beers, and not just Speakeasy beers. Yanow was so grateful that he visited her in San Francisco and asked how they might work together. She said, “I’ve always been excited about L.A., but just even more excited to work with Tony. I come from the brewery side. I worked at Oskar Blues first. I worked in outside distribution and landed in San Francisco, started in the business in Boulder and then worked in San Francisco for Speakeasy. I come from a sales and distribution standpoint, and Tony’s given me the opportunity to oversee more on this project, so getting to build something from the ground up is a pretty big dream that I could not pass up.”
Yanow respects local breweries like Eagle Rock and Craftsman, but sees room for more good beer, and better distribution, in the country’s second biggest market. Gill echoed his sentiments, saying, “There are 6000 bars in L.A. and we think that playground alone is enough to keep all of us busy for a long time.”
“Of course the most important thing for both of us is that the beer’s got to be great,” Yanow said. Beyond that, they’re inspired by models they admire. “We looked at Oregon and Ninkasi. They’re making great beer and they’re selling beer in-state. We looked at Wisconsin and New Glarus…We realized we have to have a great combination of art and science.” To sure up beer quality, Yanow and Gill recruited Dogfish Head lead brewer Jon Carpenter to return home to Southern California and work as brewmaster.
Carpenter recalls, “Meg called me, we were talking and I was giving her advice on things to avoid, and what to look for in a brewer…” Gill said, “I was like, that sounds like you, Jon.” Carpenter added, “The more and more I thought about it, and the more we conversed over the next month or so, there’s so much that’s great that’s going on here between these guys and everything else, so I’ve invested, not financially, but so much personally, in this project. Everyone wants to do the right thing to make good beer, that I really couldn’t pass that up.”
The master plan includes a canning line, barrel aging and a Golden Road Pub in the complex’s yellow building. Their first two styles are an IPA (Point the Way) and an eponymous Hefeweizen.
Gill addressed the decision to focus on 16-ounce cans instead of bottles, saying, “We all feel like canning is the best thing for beer in volume. It’s better for the beer. Less oxidation. Less light. It’s better for the economics and the freight as well as for the environment.”
I asked how Golden Road Brewing brain trust plans to differentiate themselves from other Southern California breweries, and Carpenter said, “Our focus is not differentiating ourselves, our focus is not creating a unique market, our focus is the three of us getting together and figuring out what really, really phenomenal beers we can make, and we know the market is already out there. We don’t need to differentiate ourselves. We’re not going to focus on what someone else is doing. We’re going to focus on what we’re doing.”
For the name, Yanow said, “We feel like this is a journey, we’re in California, we’re right off the 5 on San Fernando Road, this is the Golden State, and this is the Golden Road.”