Rory Snipes is the bar manager at Boneyard Bistro in Sherman Oaks, where he’s worked with chef-owner Aaron Robins to create one of the best craft beer programs in Los Angeles. The Seattle native is a veteran of his hometown’s lauded Brouwer’s Café and has applied a similarly impressive approach at Boneyard, where he rotates the establishment’s 42 tap handles constantly while making sure to represent varied beer styles. We recently traded e-mails, and Snipes shared hop-fueled insights that helped to explain his approach.
How did you first become interested in craft beer? Also, tell me how your first job came about that involved craft beer.
When I was a freshman in college I remember asking an older friend to buy beer for me. Having grown up in Seattle I was surrounded by a pretty great craft beer culture, and I wanted to be cool, so I asked him to get me some Redhook ESB. I thought it was the most bitter, disgusting thing I had ever tasted, but I was determined to figure out why so many people seemed to think it was so great (not everyone could be drinking it to impress their friends, right?) so I just kept trying different beers and gradually became fascinated with the variety of flavors that were out there. The first couple of restaurants that I worked in both had beers from local breweries on tap, and I remember thinking it was really cool that the beer was being made a mile or two away. The chefs in both places were really big fans of the local breweries and the brewers would come into the restaurants occasionally, so I saw a sense of community – of a neighborhood pride that appealed to me in the culture. The first job that I had that really focused on craft beer was at Brouwer’s Café in Seattle; a phenomenal beer bar and restaurant with 65 taps and over 300 bottles. They opened a block away from where I was living at the time, and I think I just kind of lucked into a job there. It was really that job that cemented my trajectory into the world of craft beer, while I was there we had a really great group of people who were all really into craft beer, and an owner who was dedicated to teaching us as much as possible about both beer in general, and the beers that we were selling.
What brought you to Los Angeles, and how did you end up working at Boneyard Bistro?
I moved here after being in a long distance relationship for way too long, which makes me part of what I imagine is a very small group of people who move to this city with no desire to work in the entertainment industry. When I first moved here I tried to apply to every bar or restaurant that had craft beer – I combed peoples lists of craft beer places online and drove literally all over the entire city dropping off resumes, but somehow Boneyard never popped up, and I actually applied here by responding to a Craigslist ad. When I sat down to be interviewed they showed me their beer list and two thoughts crossed my mind: This is probably the most interesting beer list I’ve seen in this city- how did I miss this place?, and who are these crazy people with something like 180 beers in a place that seats maybe 40 people? (the restaurant was less than half its current size at the time).
What does a beer need to be to make it onto your tap list at Boneyard Bistro?
It needs to be a beer that I think is either good or interesting, or that I think sounds good or interesting. A lot of the time there is no way to taste these beers before we commit to them, so to pretend that I know exactly what I’m getting 100% of the time is pretty ridiculous, but part of the fun of craft beer is trying something and being really surprised by it.
Is there a beer or style that you always want/need on tap?
There are actually a few that I feel like we always want to have available, but nothing seems to be as necessary as IPA. We try to always have at least one lager, wheat beer and amber ale available for example, and if we temporarily offer nothing in one of those categories people will grumble, but if we’re reduced to only one IPA on tap we have people who seem downright outraged.
Which beer style would you like to see develop a bigger following, and why?
I think that Berliner-Weiss deserves to be more popular in Southern California, especially in the summertime. It’s such a refreshing thirst quencher during hot weather; and low enough in alcohol that it won’t knock you out. Bruery Hottenroth and Telegraph Reserve Wheat are two of my favorite summer beers.
What are some of your most satisfying moments in working with craft beer?
I think it’s really great to watch the local breweries that we’ve supported since they began succeed and grow. The first time that I saw bottles from Eagle Rock or Strand in a store I was really excited, both for them and for the greater Los Angeles beer community. Restaurants and bars that support craft beer are fantastic, but for the city to truly have a thriving beer scene we need the local breweries to thrive, so it’s cool to see them so well received.
Where do you see the Los Angeles craft beer scene in five years?
Alive and well! Hopefully with a new crop of breweries making exciting beer and larger, more established versions of those that currently exist. I think we’ll also continue to see craft beer expand in those venues where it is presently nonexistent or underrepresented. Perhaps the most exciting thing that has been changing with craft beer in Los Angeles over the last few years is its growth in places which are not necessarily craft beer destinations. Chain grocery stores and restaurants have pretty decent craft beer selections where before they had none – this is really indicative of how much more mainstream craft beer has become in this city, and I think that will be much more pronounced in five years.
What’s an aspect of craft beer culture that you’ve found in another state or country that you’d like to see in L.A.?
I would love to see more small brewpubs scattered around different neighborhoods in L.A. Places like Eagle Rock, Golden Road, and Ladyface. There’s such a great sense of community ownership when you can go to a brewpub in your neighborhood and have a beer that’s made right there.
Is there a brewery or beer that you wish you could get in L.A. but doesn’t currently have local distribution? If so, what and why?
Honestly there are so many great breweries out there that don’t make it to Los Angeles that this could be a never ending answer, but if I have to choose one I would love to see Southern Tier beers in our market. Their Blackwater Series Stouts are amazing, and their Pumking pumpkin beer is one of my favorite seasonal beers – it tastes like fall.
Who are some of the other people in the craft beer community that you look to for advice, guidance or inspiration?
I try to allow myself to be influenced by everyone in the craft beer world that I come in contact with: brewers, brewery reps, store and bar owners, bartenders and managers, customers and fellow patrons at other establishments – all of these people have unique insights and I owe them all for helping me see aspects of the community that I may have failed to notice on my own.
What will it take for you to consider the work you’ve done with craft beer a success, if it isn’t already?
I think that every time I can get someone interested in and enthusiastic about craft beer it’s a success. We have really great regulars who trust us to pick out beers for them every time they come in, I can’t imagine a better measure of success than the fact that they always leave happy.