Interview: beer pro Clay Harding (38 Degrees Ale House & Grill)

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Craft Beer Los Angeles


What’s the most recent flight you came with and what was your approach?

Let me look at the menu…This one’s kind of a weird flight because I designed it the Friday before I left to San Francisco. Snarling Badger from Grand Teton, which is an Imperial Berlinerweisse, so that’s an off style, very cool. It’s got the general wheat tartness right up front, but then very smooth. It’s not as dry as a traditional Berlinerweisse. It’s got a lot of residual sugar. I think it’s a cool beer. It’s a cool opener, even though it’s 7.5. Then we move into an American porter by AleSmith. I was blown away that AleSmith did an American porter, so I had to put that in there and cross styles with something malty, and try to let somebody’s palate relax before we hit ‘em with something dry. The Acorn Saison by Craftsman is very unique…A very tasty, earthy saison. Not true to style, once again, but it’s dry enough to where you can definitely taste some earthy remnants. Assume it’s the acorn. Then smash you right in the face with Ladyface 3rd Anniversary Quadrupel, with tea added, which is definitely malt forward, big alcohol on the nose. It’s a great finisher for a lot of flights, especially if you want a nightcap. And the tea really comes out at the end. I’ve had a lot of great compliments on that one.

What are some of the fun challenges? You’re not creating a list in a vacuum, since you’re also operating a restaurant.

Right. Well, that’s just it. Running restaurants is an amazing, amazing feat. There are lots of obvious conditions you work in. One is managing a lot of different people, and it’s a big team-oriented thing, managing people that work in different departments and somehow make it all fit into this beautiful experience that you, or I, the guest, are looking to receive where we go anywhere. On the forefront, I concentrate on all aspects. Hire beautiful people from the front to the back that are capable, smart, intelligent people that I can direct through my managers, who are awesome. I have two key managers right now, James Robert Boyle, and James Robert Nyerges. So I’ve got two Jim Bobs that I look to right now. They pass down and organize everything that’s going on…It’s definitely helped me relinquish a lot of duties, hour to hour, minute to minute and day to day, that they can take care of for me, and I can concentrate more on the beer program, which has been great. Lately, I’ve been back in it, whereas sometimes I’m up and down because my attention does get taken away by anything unexpected that happens in our industry.

You’re one of the rare bars that gets a keg of Pliny the Younger, and it’s not the only rare beer that has appeared in 38 Degrees.

No, I’ve been very fortunate.

Is there anything negative about these highly allocated beers?

There’s really no negativity. Sometimes operators feel like they might deserve it, and a lot of times they probably do. That’s something that’s out of my hands, but negative, no. I can’t think of anything negative that an amazing allocated beer does.

In terms of how these prized beers affect the craft beer industry, what is the important impact of a beer like Pliny the Younger.

I look at that amazing hype and publicity, it carries through the whole craft beer culture. It’s reaching out to people nationwide and sparking excitement because it generates so much publication. Everybody’s covering the story of this sought after Pliny the Younger and wondering, What’s it all about?” No matter what, most people won’t be able to taste it, but they might be really interested what this buzz of craft beer is anyways, cause there are a lot of Pliny the Youngers out there. It might not be the same beer, it may not taste the same, but there’s one for everybody to discover. That’s a brilliant thing.

What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work here?

Personality #1. The intelligence to be able to learn what 38 Degrees is as a brand, and understand our sequence of service. Or understand how we present our menu, how we operate in the back of the house. But #1, personality that’s workable with everybody and be part of the energy that is 38 Degrees. I’m a big believer in that.

How much more can you take on? Can you take on another 38 Degrees?

Absolutely. I have no problem with expanding. I’m focused very much on expansion of the 38 Degrees brand. Right now, I would like to open two more. That would probably be very good for 38 Degrees as a brand, and that’s what we’re working at. Because of the structure of this restaurant and how it operates – the formula works, the management system works, all systems are in place to have a fully functional, full-scale, full-service restaurant that runs like a tight ship. It comes down to the good people I’m talking about who we’re grooming as managers. Those are the people that are going to carry on. I’ll always be a face and be at the forefront of any 38 Degrees. I just love to work.

Have you ever brewed a beer before?

I’ve never brewed a beer, personally. I’ve experienced hanging out in different breweries, in someone’s house, brewing, but it’s really not the interest of mine. I do like hanging out in the brewery with my boys while everything’s going on and they have a little downtime. That kind of works, but I’m a little ADD. I like to be doing 10,000 different things at the same time.

Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not at 38 Degrees?

I do like a nice glass of big, jammy California cabernet.

What’s your top selling beer here?

Top selling right now, based purely on style, and I’ve said it before, but there’s even more increased demand for IPAs. It’s blowing my mind right now.

If you could only fill this glass with one more beer, what would be in it?

That’s such a tough question that everybody asks. Every week, people ask that, because they’re just really interested. I’m going to go back to my favorite beer, which is some kind of IPA. I’ll go with a big IPA, some kind of big double or triple IPA, if it’s going to be my last glass. I’m going to let it rock my palate for sure.

Any one in particular?


Address: 100 West Main Street, Alhambra, CA 91801

Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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[…] is served at 38°. According to, 38° Ale House & Grill opened in 2009 by Clay Harding  and his partners, the lively restaurant and bar has become one of LA’s most well-regarded […]

[…] Bar and West Hollywood’s The Surly Goat, Brian Lenzo of Blue Palms Brewhouse in Hollywood, Clay Harding of Alhambra’s 38 Degrees Ale House, and Tony Yanow of Tony’s Dart’s Away in […]

[…] Clay Harding, proprietor of 38 Degrees in Alhambra, CA, hooked us up with passes. The folks in charge then let us cut in front of the line and knock ‘em back till I could feel the alcohol sloshing between my ears. Good thing it was just me and the camera operator, Taylor. Anymore in the crew and we would have emptied every last keg! […]

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